When the PRC Penetrates the Northern Thai Borderland: Nationalist Chinese descendants and the Influence of the PRC and Taiwan

Feb 19 12:00–1:30pm
Common Room, 2 Divinity Ave., Cambridge

Aranya Siriphon (Lecturer, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Chiang Mai University; HYI Visiting Scholar)
Discussant/chair: Michael Herzfeld (Ernest E. Monrad Professor of the Social Sciences, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University)

Co-sponsored with the Harvard University Asia Center

This talk will examine how and why new Chinese migrants (xin yimin) have greatly increased in number in the northern Thai borderland since the 2000s. As transnational economic flow intersects with the PRC and Thai states’ policies and authorities, distinctive border cultures have emerged. The speaker will illustrate the migration process and trans-border trade practices, highlighting local perspectives on the impact of recent Chinese mobility into the northern Thai borderland and examining how local inhabitants, especially local Thai and Lao traders, have adapted their trans-border trade under newly challenging conditions. She will focus on the social changes experienced by “diasporic Chinese” borderland residents under the influence of the PRC and Taiwan as they compete with each other for influence at the northern Thai border. A particularly important finding results from the intensive implementation of the PRC’s overseas Chinese policy. The Qiaoban (Office of Overseas Chinese Affairs) has been especially active in engaging and leveraging diasporic Chinese borderlanders. This policy and its operation have had significant success among the ethnic Chinese of northern Thailand. In contrast, the active efforts of the PRC to engage nationalist Chinese and their descendants have been notably unsuccessful in recent years. This is because, for the nationalist Chinese, their experience of suffering during the 1949 civil war and their political identity as bearers of anti-communist sentiment are still active forces. At the local villages, moreover, while Taiwan’s influence over the nationalist Chinese has gradually decreased over the past decade in terms of aid, assistance, and support as a result of national politics in Taiwan, the PRC has gained more diplomatic influence. The situation has resulted in internal divisions and tension among different generations in the nationalist Chinese communities.