Anh Sy Huy Le
Michigan State University
Anh Sy Huy Le is a PhD candidate in modern Vietnamese history at Michigan State University. His interest lies at the intersections of Chinese diaspora studies, urban history, and the history of colonialism and empire. He has been conducting dissertation in Vietnam, Singapore, and China this year with the support of a year-long SSRC Mellon International Dissertation Research Fellowship. This multi-sited dissertation project explores the parallel processes of Chinese migrations and settlements in southern Vietnam, and the transformation of Saigon as a French colonial and global port city. His research has appeared in the Journal of Migration History, Journal of Vietnamese Studies, and Southeast Asian Studies.
「 “Leaves Falling Back to Its Roots”: Chinese Migrants, Repatriations of Remains, and Colonial Modernity in French Cochinchina, 1892–1893 」
This paper examines an enigmatically short-lived, yet revelatory moment of political and social contestations in colonial Saigon regarding the exhumations and transfers of almost 2000 mortal remains of deceased Chinese from Saigon-Cholon to southern China in 1892. Starting in the 1890s, leaders of the Cantonese congregations in the colonial capital of French Cochinchia initiated a prolonged petitioning process to demand bureaucratic leniency, increased legal and administrative capacity, and logistical accommodation from the French colonial authority in order to implement this large-scale movement of bodily repatriations out of the port of Saigon. Triggering emotional hysteria and outpouring oppositions from within the Chinese communities, the French government cracked down on the underway operations, citing their legal inhibitions on the ground of public health hazards and practical impediments to colonial regulations. This paper shows how French colonial ideology, rooted in its civilizational claims to scientific and hygienic modernity, constituted a hegemonic biopolitical discourse that demonized traditional Chinese burial practices as a menace to the “health” of the colony. It also elucidates the complexity of inter-ethnic co-existence in a shifting urban landscape and the fraught nature of Chinese diasporic politics in colonial Vietnam wherein trans-local Chinese practices—in this case, burials and commemorations of the dead—ran counter to the modernizing imperatives of an expanding colonial state.