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October 23rd, 2013 – Imagining the Nanyang: On National Culture, Postcolonial Archipelagoes, and the Idea(s) of Southeast Asia, presented by Brian Bernards (USC)

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Nanyang, the “South Seas,” is the traditional Chinese term for Southeast Asia. Framed by a history of Chinese travel, migration, settlement, and localization in Southeast Asia, the term evolves from signifying a space of “southern barbarians” in the continental Chinese imagination to express a regional network and archipelagic itinerary of cultural affiliation for settler communities (and their descendants) in postcolonial narratives on and from Southeast Asia. Writing the South Seas traces the transcolonial expression of the Nanyang in modern Chinese literature and explores its transnational and translingual articulations in postcolonial literature from Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. Transcending exclusionary and homogenizing forces of nation, race, and ethnicity, Chinese and Southeast Asian authors invoke the Nanyang to recognize sites, types, and moments of colonial encounter, ethnic and linguistic creolization, and place-based cultural, political, and ecological activism. Their narratives rewrite dominant paradigms of national culture that repress or elide these “mixed histories” under discourses of race, indigeneity, diaspora, assimilation, and even multiculturalism.

This event was made possible, in part, with generous support from the USC Department of American Studies & Ethnicity (ASE).

Brian Bernards is Assistant Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Southern California. With Shu-mei Shih and Chien-hsin Tsai, he is co-editor of Sinophone Studies: A Critical Reader (Columbia University Press, 2013). His work has also been published in Postcolonial Studies and the Sun Yat-sen Journal of Humanities. Along with Duncan Williams and Velina Hasu Houston, Brian is a co-organizer of “Critical Mixed-Race Studies: A Transpacific Approach,” a Mellon-Sawyer Seminar on the Comparative Study of Cultures at USC (2013-14). He was a visiting scholar at the National University of Singapore’s Asia Research Institute from 2008-09, where he conducted research for his current manuscript project on the Nanyang, the “South Seas,” in Chinese and Southeast Asian postcolonial literature.