Organized Panel Session
This year, on the occasion of 100th anniversary of China’s famous May Fourth movement, it is worth recalling that ‘May Fourth’ happened on ‘June Nineteenth’ in Singapore, and arguably on ‘August First’ in Kuala Lumpur. This paper examines the May Fourth movement in 1919 as an ‘event’ (Cohen 1998) unfolding at temporal and spatial remove in the overseas Chinese press in Malaya, through a reading of Chinese-language newspapers in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Drawing on new thinking about public spheres in colonial spaces that push beyond Anderson and Habermas, it uses the event as a case study to show how and why, in the colonial public sphere, the medium of print served to convene diasporic publics that were distinct and disconnected from Chinese publics in Beijing, Shanghai and other centers of the May Fourth movement. In the multilingual public sphere of colonial Malaya, the event’s timelines and reportage in different language presses converged and diverged as the crisis unfolded. Difference was shaped by a multiplicity of factors: temporal delays in global telegraph communications, staggered moments of colonial violence, alternative geographies of attention within the newspapers’ reading communities themselves, and the existence of different scales of affinity, for example with regional diasporic movements. The paper argues against both a culturally unified conception of ‘the Chinese diaspora’ and ‘the transnational Chinese press’, and for a more contextualized understanding of the difference that the twin frames of ‘colonial’ and ‘diaspora’ make to our understanding of a public sphere.