Yin CaoJun 28, 2022
From Policemen to Revolutionaries: A Sikh Diaspora in Global Shanghai, 1885-1945
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Shanghai became a cosmopolitan hub with communities of Japanese, British, Russians, Jews, and others including Indians – most of whom were Sikhs. The story of Indians in Shanghai has however been largely elided. From Policemen to Revolutionaries: A Sikh Diaspora in Global Shanghai, 1885-1945 (Brill, 2017) by Yin Cao uncovers the lesser-known story of Sikh emigrants in Shanghai across the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, from their arrival in the city in 1885 through the end of World War II in 1945. Cao argues that the cross-border circulation of personnel and knowledge across the British colonial and the Sikh diasporic networks, facilitated the formation of the Sikh community in Shanghai, eventually making this Chinese city one of the overseas hubs of the Indian nationalist struggle. Initially brought in as policemen by British colonial authorities to discipline the local Chinese population, Sikhs in Shanghai transformed into anti-colonial revolutionaries. Shanghai became a conduit within Indian anti-imperial connections that linked the Punjab to Canada and California. Rather than just doing a local history of Shanghai’s Sikhs and just seeing Shanghai as a gateway to China, Cao places this community within a global context and sees Shanghai within a transnational network in East and Southeast Asia and beyond, stretching from India to North America. By adopting a translocal approach, this study elaborates on how the flow of Sikh emigrants, largely regarded as subalterns, initially strengthened but eventually unhinged British colonial rule in East and Southeast Asia.
Yin Cao is associate professor and Cyrus Tang Scholar in the Department of History at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. He studies global history, modern Indian history, the British Empire, and India-China connections.
Shatrunjay Mall is a PhD candidate at the Department of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He works on transnational Asian history, and his dissertation explores intellectual, political, and cultural intersections and affinities that emerged between Indian anti-colonialism and imperial Japan in the twentieth century.