Organized Panel Session
This paper examines interwar Chinese-language Southeast Asian studies (or Nanyang studies) from the perspective of a historian’s diary in 1933. Hsu Yun-Tsiao (1905–81), prior to becoming a canonical Nanyang historian in post-war Singapore, was a Chinese sojourner who taught in the Malay-Muslim Thai South of Patani. Hsu arrived just after the 1932 Siamese Revolution and the Japanese Empire’s invasion of northeast China, and left for Singapore in 1938.
In Hsu’s diary, Thai, Chinese, and Malay scenarios and concerns unfold in at least three temporalities—the historical, the transitional, and the anachronistic. Using this framework, I examine how Hsu’s textual and political desires interact in the following cases: Hsu translates ethno-nationalist Thai discourses of world-historical consciousness, but purveys the KMT’s civilizational policy of overseas Chinese education and campaigns against Bangkok’s suppression of Chinese schools in the 1933 revival of the Private School Act of 1918; Hsu observes nascent anti-imperial consciousness in Southeast Asia, while limiting his travel to “Chinese” historical sites around the Thai South and Malay North.
While Hsu’s personal diaries allow for a “genetic criticism” of his scholarship, I am interested in extracting from them Hsu’s ideas on time and modernity in Nanyang historiography. My biographical approach to Hsu’s work, which supplements the usual approaches of genealogical and journal histories, highlights several pre-war modes of thinking that persist in Hsu’s post-war scholarship, and aims to rethink the discipline’s periodization, historical method, and melancholic narrative of Nanyang studies’s rise and decline (1940–81).