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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 29, No. 13. 1966.

Chinese in South-east Asia — a new history

Chinese in South-east Asia — a new history

The Chinese have never been supporters of lost causes. When the Kuomintang government of China was driven off the Mainland to Taiwan, many of the Chinese in South-east Asia shifted their support to the new Communist government in Peking. The overseas Chinese saw little virtue in supporting a falling regime for it was the will of Heaven that it should fall. They held to the traditional belief that a dynasty gained the "Mandate of Heaven" by virtue of which it had the right to rule—so long as that rule was effective and strong. When it began to falter, it was thought that the dynasty was losing the Mandate of Heaven and defeat meant that the Mandate had passed to the victor.

This is one of several theories about the political loyalty of the overseas Chinese put forward in "The Third China" by Prof. C. P. Fitzgerald. Prof. Fitzgerald is Professor of Far Eastern History at the Australian National University, Canberra. He visited Victoria University last year to deliver a series of special lectures on China.

"The Third China" is a short (108 pages) handbook on the Chinese communities in South-east Asia. There are at present about 14 million Chinese living throughout Southeast Asia, and playing an important role in the economic life of the region.

Professor Fitzgerald begins with an account of how the Chinese came to be in South-east Asia. Chinese contact with South-east Asia can be traced back to the second century A.D. But the main influx of Chinese came after the arrival of European traders in the area. Chinese merchants came to act as middlemen between the Europeans and indigenous races. And unskilled Chinese labourers also followed European commercial development as mine and plantation workers.

What was at first regarded as a transient population, eventually became settled and permanent; and as one country after another gained independence the Chinese became regarded as problem minority groups. Because of their initiative and enterprise the Chinese have established themselves in almost every country as the dominant entreoreneurial group. Their economic power has been resented and even feared by the governments of the new independent states. But what has given most concern is the support shown by many overseas Chinese to the Communist government in China.

Discussing the appeal of Communist China to the overseas Chinese, Prof. Fitzgerald has these comments to make: "So long as China, the immense, ancient, and now once more powerful homeland of the Chinese communities is under a Communist government, that system will continue to exercise an attraction for those whose education and outlook is predominantly, or entirely, Chinese. What came from China was acceptable, even if it was wholly unfamiliar ... when the Chinese governtionary movement turned from reform of the monarchy to republicanism, this drastic aim was perfectly accepted by the Chinese communities in South-east Asia, who themselves, one and all, lived under colonial regimes which gave them no political rights at all and did not extend any form of democratic government to the people of these countries But as republicanism and democracy were what the Chinese were adopting in China (or trying to), these strange doctrines were at once assimilated, and became 'Chinese.'

"It is hard to see how, or why, this mental pattern should be broken now. China is dominant, so Communism is Chinese, too, and the Chinese Communists are busy proving that it is much more Chinese than Russian."

"The Third China" is a concise history that gives the casual reader a quick review of how and why the Chinese migrated to South-east Asia, and what they have been doing there. It is a book that throws out enough facts to make the subject interesting, but is not too detailed and involved to confuse the picture. Because of the book's brevity "The Third China" is not likely to rank alongside major academic studies on the overseas Chinese by men such as Victor Purcell and William Skinner. Nor is it likely to rank alongside other great books Prof. Fitzgerald has written on China itself.

But "The Third China" is important in so far as it attempts (and succeeds) in making an interesting and reliable afternoon's reading out of what is a very involved and complicated subject.

The Third China, by C. P. Fitzgerald. Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd. 1965. 108 pages. 15/-. Reviewed by John D. Harlow.