De-historicising the Second World War: Diaspora, nation, and the overseas Chinese

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On 25 June 2011, a group of seventy Malaysian and Singaporean Chinese set off from the Ee Hoe Hean Club in Singapore in a convoy of 21 private cars, bound for Kunming, China. The motorcade would replicate a route travelled in the late 1930s, when groups of overseas Chinese volunteers from Malaya responded to a call by the Chinese government of the day to serve as drivers, mechanics, labourers, and nurses on the last land link between China and supplies from the outside world, the Burma Road. The choice of Singapore as the starting point for this commemorative journey is understandable, and in fact rather obvious once one comes to know something about Nanyang Chinese nationalism during China’s war against Japan. Between 1937, when the Sino-Japanese War began, and 1942, when Singapore fell to invading Japanese armies, the British colony was the epicentre of China’s overseas war relief movement. The Federation of China Relief Fund of the South Seas, which was the largest overseas Chinese relief fund organisation in the world, had its headquarters on the island. It raised nearly C$200 million for the war effort, and was responsible for sending volunteer labour and troops to China and the Burma Road. From across Southeast Asia, thousands of Chinese converged on Singapore, where they were marshalled by the Federation before being sent north by train or ship. Yet 70 years on, no monument to the volunteers exists in Singapore. Nor have they ever been a part of the nation’s strictly managed war narrative, which has focused exclusively on the Japanese occupation of the island. China nationalism was not the only wartime political movement among the Chinese population. From the moment Britain declared war on Germany, the Anglophone population, too, mobilised for hostilities. This rallying occurred despite the fact that there was no imminent threat from Nazi Germany to Singapore, or to any of the Empire’s Far Eastern possessions for that matter. Still, there was a vested interest in a British victory. Many donated cash for the war effort, volunteered for armed service, and some even found themselves in distant theatres of conflict. Once again, in the country’s war histories, we see no mention of this.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Pacific War
Subtitle of host publicationAftermaths, Remembrance and Culture
EditorsChristina Twomey, Ernest Koh
Place of PublicationUnited Kingdom
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781138092075
ISBN (Print)9781315815541
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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