Prof Gregor Benton
Chinese in the Cuban Revolution. 2007-8. A study, on the basis of materials by Chinese-Cuban and Cuban veterans, of the Chinese community in Cuba and its relations with Cuban political movements. The project aims to rescue from oblivion the history of what was, proportionately, the most important Chinese community outside Asia, and is funded by the British Academy.
Chinatowns worldwide. 2007-9. The study compares Chinatowns in countries that accept or exclude migrants; compares Chinatowns in a single country, to show the importance of context; and explores each Chinatown’s historical evolution, to demonstrate how culture and identity change over time. This methodology subverts essentialism and brings new perspectives to the concept of “Chineseness”. The study is written from archival research and interviews in China, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Europe, the United States, and Japan.
The research challenges the essentialising of diasporan-Chinese identity by studies that misrepresent how ethnic Chinese perceive themselves, relate to other Chinese abroad, and view China. The issue of “Chinese identity” becomes more complex still when generations with few or no ties to the “ancestral homeland” are factored in. The methodology is comparative. Chinatowns are often said to reflect “homeland” social and cultural practices, yet a cross-country comparison reveals a wide range of influences on ethnic-Chinese identity. The project is funded by the British Academy.