"With GIRTA, I was able to spend a bulk of fun and productive time at these two county archives and conduct oral interviews among overseas Chinese communities."

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Travel Report: Siling Tao

Siling Tao, a master's student in the Department of History, received a Graduate International Research Travel Award (GIRTA) to further her research in China.

October 08, 2019

GIRTA provided me with a great opportunity to take my first step to become a historian. During the summer of this year, I collected historical documents, primarily in southeast China. I had been conducted my research in two counties Huian and Jinjiang in Quanzhou city, Fujian Province, China. My research topic will examine the everyday life experience of family members of overseas Chinese people and returned overseas Chinese people in Fujian province from 1949 to 1966, especially their working, eating, learning, and family life.

By collecting and analyzing related cases, I wish to explore the following questions:

  • How was the category of overseas Chinese people formed in the People’s Republic of China?
  • As a special category, what was the relationship among overseas Chinese people and ordinary villagers (without overseas relations) in a kinship-based society? 

Several sub research questions will also be raised:

  • How did the perception of ordinary villagers who had no overseas relations towards transnational households influence the life of overseas Chinese people?
  • How was this perception used by the local cadres to mobilize the masses in Mao’s era?

With GIRTA, I was able to spend a bulk of fun and productive time at these two county archives and conduct oral interviews among overseas Chinese communities. I brought my own research questions and curiosities, immersing myself into the unique stories of overseas Chinese. I chatted with returned overseas Chinese who were in their sixties or seventies, were conversable and were willing to share their own stories with me. One of my interviewees said, there has been a long time that no one interested in these stories. He is grateful to talk to me. By chatting with these people, I feel that it is my responsibility to record their stories as a history student.

With GIRTA, I expanded my research beyond Quanzhou. I also spent time in the University Service Center at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Special Collections at Hong Kong Baptist University Library. As a major entry port in the 1950s and 1960s, many returned overseas Chinese came to mainland China through Hong Kong or exiled to HongKong when the situation got worse in mainland China. Many Hong Kong newspapers at that time, recorded the situations of overseas Chinese in the PRC. Inspired by the materials I read in Hong Kong, I found some interesting angles which can be written in my thesis, like overseas Chinese special store and overseas Chinese new villages in Mao’s era.

It was GIRTA that enabled my first field trip as a history student. It allowed me to have this wonderful experience and learn how to do research as a history student.