If tales of China’s radical ‘opening up’ to the world over the last 30 years imply that the country was somehow ‘closed’ before this, then one need only think of Beijing’s dalliances with various potential socialist allies during the Cold War to dispel this impression. There is, moreover, another equally important case in which people linked to ‘China’ were involved in transnational affairs at this time – namely that of overseas Chinese populations throughout the world. And, as Taomo Zhou
’s fascinating Indonesia-centred account shows, in Southeast Asia the Chinese outside China were intimately entangled in a vast among of what was going on at this time on the diplomatic and political level.
Drawing on a trove of archival and fieldwork-derived material from multiple locations, Zhou’s Migration in the Time of Revolution: China, Indonesia and the Cold War
(Cornell University Press, 2019) presents a rich account of the Indonesian-Chinese population’s involvement in regional and global affairs, mainly between the 1940s and the 1960s but also either side of this tumultuous window of time. As entertaining as it is rich in new insights, the book nimbly moves between China and different parts of Indonesia’s vast archipelago, in doing so painting a picture of the limitless diversity to migrant and diasporic experience and, in the process, helping us see apparently monolithic events like the Cold War in very human terms.
Ed Pulford is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam. His research focuses on friendships and histories between the Chinese, Korean and Russian worlds, and northeast Asian indigenous groups.