Strangers at Home

History and Subjectivity among the Chinese Communities of West Kalimantan, Indonesia


This is an ethno-historical study of Chinese from West Kalimantan, Indonesia that, unlike other Chinese Diasporic studies, takes its departure from the “away” position. The study aims to interrogate how, where, and in what terms “home” is defined for the stranger. Through examining historical events such as the Japanese Occupation, the repatriation of overseas Chinese to China, and ethnic and state violence in West Kalimantan, this study highlights the plight of the Chinese as political orphans in search of a home that eludes them, whether in Indonesia or China. Through a rich array of different kinds of data, including oral histories and memoirs of the Communist underground, this book offers novel perspectives on the role of history in subject formation.

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Hui Yew-Foong, Ph.D. (2007) in Anthropology and Southeast Asia Studies, Cornell University, is a Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. He has conducted multi-sited field research in Indonesia, East Malaysia, China and Hong Kong.
“Here are two treasures for the reader. On the one hand the book offers a highly nuanced and sensitive exploration of the identity dilemmas of diaspora-dom as they affect a particularly conflicted Indonesian community…On the other hand Strangers at Home provides for the first time a reliable insight into the conflicts of the 1940s and 1960s which tore apart a corner of Indonesia which was exceptionally ‘Chinese.’ … More importantly, he has gained the confidence of key Chinese-Indonesian informants sufficient to tell their story personally and evocatively.”
– Anthony Reid, Professor Emeritus, The Australian National University, author of Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce.

“This excellent study of the Chinese minority of West Kalimantan follows the community through its experience of violence, repression and rejection since the Second World War. Uniting hard-to-find written sources with oral history, it characterizes the pull of the Chinese homeland against physical and spiritual roots in the Indonesian birthland and will contribute to our understanding of diaspora communities in a wider context.”
– Mary Somers Heidhues, author of Golddiggers, Farmers, and Traders in the “Chinese Districts” of West Kalimantan, Indonesia.

“In this important and theoretically sophisticated book, Yew-Foong Hui has demonstrated how the Chinese of West Kalimantan construct their past and present against (or within) the state and regional identity-formations… In short, he has made a very valuable and brilliant contribution to Indonesian, ‘Chinese,’ and, more broadly, diaspora studies, ethnicity and nationalism.”
– Andrew Willford, Department of Anthropology, Cornell University.

“This is an important and penetrating book; Hui showcases his first-rate skills both as an ethnographer and as an historian in this fascinating study. The Chinese of West Borneo have a fascinating story as a collective, and they have found a very able chronicler in Yew Foong Hui. This is outstanding work by an important new voice in the field.”
– Eric Tagliacozzo, Editor of Indonesia and Director Cornell Modern Indonesia Project.

"[Strangers at Home] examines the shifting positions and subjectivities of overseas Chinese individuals and communities responding to the complex politics of postcolonial Indonesia and China over the past sixty years...Drawing much of his data from primary sources, including memoirs, oral history, and ethnographic inquiry, [Hui] subjects these materials to detailed and meticulous analysis...[and] has uncovered many new sources with multiple ways of reading between the lines that should inspire others to continue in his path."
– Sharon A. Carstens, Portland State University, in Journal of Asian Studies 72.1 (2013).

"Hui Yew-Foong has written a highly nuanced ethnographic monograph on how the Chinese of West Kalimantan, Indonesia, negotiate their stranger-subjectivity with their host locale. [...] All in all, its theoretically novel ethnographic approach, and pioneering research [...] make this a key reference work for future scholarship in the fields of the Overseas Chinese and Indonesian regional studies."
– Guo-Quan Seng, University of Chicago, in Southeast Asian Studies 3.1 (2014).

"... a powerful account of the trials and tribulations of the Chinese communities
of West Kalimantan, Hui Yew-Foong continues this rich tradition, melding regional
history and an ethnic minority study in a way that recalls the best that Indonesian
studies has to offer."
– Jamie S. Davidson, Cornell University, in Indonesia 97 (2014), pp. 131-133.
Section 1: Introduction
Chapter 1: The Chinese Diasporic Subject as Stranger
Section 2: Looking for Home in a Foreign Land
Chapter 2: The Japanese Occupation and the Chinese Anti-Japanese Movement
Chapter 3: Post-War, Pre-New Order
Section 3: The New (Dis)Order: Making Strangers at Home
Chapter 4: Recovering a Place in History: Narratives of Violence
Chapter 5: The Vicissitudes of the Communist Underground
Section 4: Negotiating Estrangement: Between Cosmology and the Social
Chapter 6: The Phenomenology of Spirits, or the Presencing of the Other
Section 5: West Kalimantan as Home
Chapter 7: On the Politics and Poetics of Home
Epilogue: The Uncertainty of Strangers

For those interested in studies of Chinese Diasporas, Chinese ethnography, modern Indonesian history, Cold War history, migration, ethnic and state violence, as well as subject formation in post-colonial states.
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