The Chinese Overseas in Malaysia in an Era of Change: Remembering Lee Poh Ping is published to remember the late Prof Lee Poh Ping, a former faculty member at Universiti Malaya. The genesis of this volume of published work was a conversation the editors (Lee Kam Hing and Cheong Kee Cheok) had with Prof Lee Poh Ping several years ago about his work on the Chinese overseas in Malaysia. At that time, and after a brief hiatus, he had published several papers on this topic with us. With a few more projects in the works, he opined that we would have enough to produce a volume of writings on a subject very close to his heart. In the following years, these projects produced published papers, rendering his original idea a feasible endeavour. Unfortunately, he passed away before he could realise this project. As his close colleagues of many years, we feel the completion of his proposed project is the best way to honour his memory.
The Chinese Overseas in Malaysia in an Era of Change: Remembering Lee Poh Ping is more than just about Prof Lee, however. The study of the Chinese overseas is an important area of academic inquiry in its own right, with the passage of time bringing about changes both in the study focus and in the community under study itself. In the former case, the early focus on business networks has given way to issues of identity in host countries. With regard to the latter, the migrant community has witnessed intergenerational change. With more and more of the community born and raised in host countries, the very nature of this community is being transformed. With the younger generations losing touch with China, the idea of whether this community constitutes diaspora, defined as having a close relationship with the country of origin, is called into question.
The dramatic rise of China as an economic powerhouse has complicated the equation further. This rise has turned on its head the prevailing notion of the country of origin as less developed than the country of destination. While no longer closely linked with their homeland, few Chinese overseas would fail to recognise the new China’s attraction, if not as a potential place to do business, at least to identify with it culturally and with a sense of pride. This rise also has potential consequences for Chinese overseas’ host countries, both in terms of their relations with China, and their perceptions of the Chinese overseas.
These developments are only beginning to be explored. The work editors did in this book represents just the beginning of research that we are confident will surely follow. In this sense, we hope that its contents, for instance in the chapter comparing motivations for Chinese overseas’ financial flows between generations, open the door to more varied research on the Chinese overseas. In doing so, it will help dispel any perception that after several decades, research on the Chinese overseas is reaching its limits.
These new developments aside, the editors also hope that readers of this volume will find in its chapters the richness of the subject and the many dimensions that the study of Chinese overseas covers. Many studies dealing with specific communities in particular locations reveal both commonalities and differences that raise questions as to whether the community as a whole can be adequately categorised and compared with other diasporic communities. Research gaps also exist despite the already copious amount of research, an example being details of remittances to China, which another chapter of the book addresses. Further, individual- or firm-level studies, much less frequently researched, can yield many insights that have hitherto not been revealed. And even at this level, some areas are better traversed than others. As an example, cases of business success far outnumber studies of those who fail—in business or to adapt to their host countries.
The editors hope that The Chinese Overseas in Malaysia in an Era of Change: Remembering Lee Poh Ping, in looking back and memorialising their colleague’s academic accomplishments in an area to which he made major contributions, also looks forward to new avenues of research yet to come.