Revisiting the Imagined Communities: Identities, Nationalism, and Social Activism

Title: 1248 | Revisiting the Imagined Communities: Identities, Nationalism, and Social Activism
Area: Border Crossing and Inter-Area
Stream: History
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Justin Wu, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, United States (organizer, presenter)
Zardas Shuk-man Lee, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, United States (presenter)
Venera R. Khalikova, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong (presenter)
Cemil Aydin University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, United States (chair, discussant)


Academic works have long focused on how people formulated various types of “imagined community” in different geopolitical contexts. Benefiting from the blossoming scholarship on global history and inter-Asian connections, this panel enriches the discussion of “imagined community” by exploring the following questions: How did the power dynamics in the (post-)colonial contexts and respective government’s (in)action prompt people across Asia to seek new identities? How did the people advocate multiple visions of “imagined community” by drawing on global events and circulation of ideas? How did the new sense of local, national, and/or regional identities shape their understanding of the wider world?

The papers in this panel cover extensive territories in Asia and the United States from the Second World War to the present. Using archival and ethnographic records, the papers provide cross-border and diachronic perspectives on the relationship between grass-root political activism and the formation of identities. Individually, the papers focus on Pan-Indian nationalism in Southeast Asia during the Second World War; anti-Japan protests by Hong Kong and Taiwanese students in the United States and their articulation of Chinese identity in the 1970s; and the reflection on “home(s)” for Hong Kong Indians during the 2019-2020 protests and the COVID-19 pandemic in Hong Kong and India.

Panel Abstracts:
Discovering China in the United States: Hongkonger and Taiwanese Activism in the United States and the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands Dispute
Between 1970 and 1972, overseas ethnic Chinese (mostly Hongkonger undergraduate and Taiwanese graduate students) staged a series of protests in the United States in response to the outbreak of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands dispute. Similar protests also broke out in Hong Kong and Taiwan, among other places in the world. Initially a unified movement to declare Chinese sovereignty over the islands in dispute against Japanese claims, the movement quickly became divided. Coinciding with President Nixon’s shock announcement of visiting the People’s Republic of China, the PRC’s entry to the United Nations, and the emergence of global Maoism as a popular anti-imperialist ideology, a number of ethnic Chinese students openly declared their support for the PRC as the “true” representative of China, even if this entailed that they would not be able to return to Taiwan (the Republic of China). This bottom-up push for unification and choosing the PRC over the ROC has significant impact on the discourse of identity formation among these overseas ethnic Chinese students. Drawing on written accounts and oral interviews, this paper looks at how these ethnic Chinese students imagined “China” and conceptualized their Chinese identity at a time when they could not visit mainland China. It also discusses their effort to promote Chinese culture (often with Maoist connotation) in the U.S. and how this protest movement influenced them to pursue careers related to serving China in different means.

"Unity, Faith, and Sacrifice": The Indian Independence League and Pan-Indian Nationalism in the Second World War
“For the first time in recent history, Indians abroad have been politically roused and united in one organization,” Subhas Chandra Bose declared in October 1943. During the Second World War, the Axis Powers sponsored anticolonial movement across the world against the British, French, Dutch, and American Empires. In Asia, Japan and Germany supported the activities of the Indian Independence League (IIL), which was formally established in Thailand in June 1942 and was chaired by Subhas Chandra Bose. Intending to liberate India from the century-long British colonial rule, the IIL strengthened itself by recruiting members in many parts of Asia, such as Burma, Thailand, Malaya, Singapore, Indochina, and Hong Kong. To unify “Indians” of varying backgrounds and from different parts of Asia, the IIL attempted to create a single identity for the Indians. This paper investigates how the IIL cultivated Pan-Indian nationalism in Southeast Asia from 1942 to 1945. Drawing from oral interviews, private papers, and interrogation reports of prominent IIL members, as well as the understudied lecture series developed by the IIL, this paper will address the questions pertinent to Pan-Indian nationalism: What did it mean to be an Indian during the Second World War? How did Pan-Indian nationalism work hand in hand with Pan-Asianism? And how did the IIL appropriate the discourses of science, religion, Shintoism, and Gandhi’s political ideology to forward its vision of secular nationalism against the British Empire?

Where is Home? Political Participation and the Strategies of Belonging Among Various Groups of Hong Kong Indians During the 2019-2020 Protests
“We are all Hong Kong people” – a group of Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities was chanting on a Sunday afternoon in October 2019, amid the months-long anti-government protests. Until that day, ethnic minorities had remained mostly invisible in the protests, but the situation changed when one of the local pro-democracy activists was attacked, allegedly by men of South Asian descent. These rumors sparked fear among Hong Kong’s Indians and other South Asians that the protesters will take revenge. To avoid escalation, the ethnic minority activists and shopkeepers organized a campaign of giving free water bottles to the protesters as symbols of solidarity and common identity. However, not all Indians participated in such open displays of solidarity. In fact, many of my interviewees explained that they either disapproved or found the participation unnecessary because “it wasn’t their fight.” Among 36,000 Indians in Hong Kong, only 19% are born locally, but they often more closely follow the politics “back home,” i.e., India. For example, reacting to the situation around the proposed Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which led to violent protests all over India, the opposing groups of Hong Kong Indians organized the anti-CAA and pro-CAA rallies. In this talk, I examine how Indians in Hong Kong talk about “home” and enact their membership in the “imagined community” of heung gong yan (Hongkongers) and/or desi log (here: Indians). Broadly, I demonstrate how global and regional transformations such as the rise of China influence the strategies of belonging among various Indians in postcolonial Hong

This panel is on Wednesday - Session 02 - Room 3

Go to Room 3