Asian
Migration

Co-sponsored by the Institute of Chinese Study at Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, Asia Research Center at Fudan University, Henry Luce Foundation Project on Port Cities Environments in Global Asia, and NYU Shanghai University Communications

From August 26 to the 28, the Center for Global Asia at NYU Shanghai held its 2019 Annual Conference on the theme of “Asian Migration.” Between 1850 and 1930 there was unprecedented growth in Asian migration due to the widespread political and economic transformations in Asia that were associated with European expansion. Around seven million people from Qing and Republican China settled in Southeast Asia during this period. Many also went to South Asia and Europe, while others arrived in Africa and the Americas, embedded within the indentured labor movement and drawn by the California Gold Rush respectively. Moreover, about six million Indians settled in Southeast Asia, and millions of others migrated to Africa, Australia and the Americas as indentured laborers. Migrations of Chinese and Indians continued throughout most of the twentieth century up until the present day. The geographical mobility of women and men from Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia, and West Asia within and beyond Asia paralleled the movement of Chinese and Indian migrants. This movement of Asians has shaped the history and culture of different regions of the world, fostered cross-regional connections, led to the spread and mixing of religious beliefs, created different cuisines, and complicated the concepts of national and cultural identities. Given the complexity of the theme that was investigated at the CGA’s fourth annual conference, panelists agreed that it was not sufficient to explain migration through material circumstances and discourses alone, nor by investigating the types of infrastructure, sociocultural formations, ecological changes, and new modes of knowledge that result; it also meant confronting the conceptual elasticity of the term “migration” and uncovering the historical connectedness of individual Asian societies.

Conference participants represented a range of institutions, including the University of Singapore, the University of Hong Kong, Tsinghua University, Shiv Nadar University, Rice University, the University of the Philippines, the National Taipei University of Education, Michigan State University, Nanyang Technological University, the Institute of Ethnology at Academia Sinica, Waseda University, National Chung Cheng University, Peking University, Jilin University, Korea University, and Duke Kunshan, as well as NYU, NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Shanghai. In addition, this year our participants included artists, performers, and non-academic professionals engaged closely with the social and political worlds of migrants and migrations in Asia.

Thematically, the conference covered a wide range of topics and places, including transgendered migrants’ experiences as refugees in Thailand, Turkish and South Asian tourists as travelers through imperial realms, and Chinese foodways transmitted across immigration routes to the United States. The question of what it means for a country to be a land of immigration – especially any nation traditionally considered to be “homogenous,” such as Japan or Korea – was explored by several speakers, as was the question of legal immigration restrictions and the social effects such barriers have had upon migrations of Asian populations within Asia and beyond. These issues were also raised in the stimulating and provocative keynote address delivered by Brenda S.A. Yeoh of National University of Singapore, entitled “Transnational Migrations, Plural Diversities, and Spaces of Encounter in Singapore.”

The conference was generously funded with support from the Center for Global Asia at NYU Shanghai, the NYU Shanghai University Communications, Fudan University, the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, and the Luce Foundation.

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