Organized Panel Session
In recent decades, the thesis of transnationalism provides a new paradigm to understand the connections between diasporas and their homeland. But how about the connections among diasporas across different foreign jurisdictions? As far as migrants from China and their descendants in maritime Asia are concerned, other than forming bamboo networks (co-ethnic Chinese business ties), what could bind the separate Chinese overseas communities together?
My case in point is the export of pouchong tea (a variety of oolong tea with a lighter degree of fermentation) from Japanese Taiwan to British Singapore between 1895 and 1942. While existing studies attribute the expansion of the pouchong tea industry in colonial Taiwan (1895-1945) to Japan’s agricultural modernity, this paper examines the efforts of the Taiwan Tea Merchants Association (TTMA). Its founders including the Fujian born, Java-based merchant Guo Chunyang (1860-1935). He actively sponsored the Revering Confucian Movement, led by Kang Youwei’s disciple Chen Huanzhang (1880-1933). Such movement, identifying Confucianism as the ethno-symbol of Chinese, gained popularity in the elite circle in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Java in the 1910s and 1920s.
After 1928, the momentum of merchants-initiated trade networks and cultural movement waned with the spread of Chinese anti-Japanese nationalism to Southeast Asia. In the following decade throughout the end of the Pacific War, Japan encouraged the TTMA to explore new markets in Manchuria and tightened control over the merchants’ cultural activities.