Warmest congratulations to our research team member Christopher Cheng who has been awarded a doctoral degree from Western Sydney University.
Dr Cheng with his supervisors Prof Ien Ang (left) and Prof Denis Byrne (right)
The title of his doctoral thesis is 'Australian Migrant Heritage in South China: The Legacy of Diaspora-Funded Schools in Twentieth Century Zhongshan'
This interdisciplinary study addresses a problem of intellectual concern at the intersection of the scholarly fields of heritage studies and migration history: How to recognise and manage the heritage of a shared past beyond the boundaries of the nation-state? Existing research and conservation practice on sites of migrant heritage in Australia conventionally considers events and places related to the immigrant experience after they arrive in Australia, but not their continuing links to migrant places of origin overseas. An exception to this is the China–Australia Heritage Corridor project—an Australian Research Council-funded Discovery Project initiated by researchers at the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University to document the diasporic dimension of Chinese migrant heritage to Australia in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Under the umbrella of the China–Australia Heritage Corridor project, this doctoral thesis specifically explores the social and architectural dimension of the Chinese diaspora’s educational philanthropy in the period from the early twentieth century until the present. It helps reveal how Chinese migration to Australia ultimately resulted in the socio-material transformation of the native home of migrants in the Pearl River Delta of China’s Guangdong Province, specifically in relation to the construction and operation of modern schools there. This thesis presents a dual—qiaoxiang and diaspora—perspective that disrupts the conventional understanding of migrant heritage as defined by the nation-state. The study is the first of its kind to examine how the Chinese diaspora relates to the material heritage of the diaspora-funded school setting in China. Diaspora-funded schools were unique socio-material assemblages that first emerged in southern China in the early twentieth century. This thesis reveals how the modern school shaped a new way of life and future for the qiaoxiang. The socio-material legacies of the diaspora-funded school buildings are a testimony to the generosity of the donors, but the schools may also become a burden for donors and their descendants, requiring maintenance and continuous improvement. Since the 1980s, Chinese migrants in Australia (and their descendants) continued the tradition of erecting new schools and renovating old ones as a way to contribute to the qiaoxiang’s future. But this second wave of construction only lasted until the turn of the twentieth-first century, after which China no longer depended on the diaspora as a funding source for schools. The thesis concludes that Chinese-Australian migrant heritage in China remains relevant to both China and Australia. It testifies to the history of their mutual entanglement and place-based attachment, as well as improving intergenerational relationships. It also has potential to strengthen the transnational ties established by the history of diaspora philanthropy.
A copy of Dr Cheng's PhD thesis is available online from Western Sydney University's library website:
We wish Christopher success, happiness, and all the best for his future endeavours!
For more information about Christopher's bio and his research in Zhongshan, please see this article (in Chinese) published in Zhongshan qiaokan (Zhongshan overseas Chinese newsletter)