chapter  7
Between Sovereignty and Capitalism: The Historical Experiences of Migrant Chinese
Pages 16

In this comparative part of this publication, Chapters 8 and 9 seek to tell the story of two vast empires trying to transmute into nation-states. The comparability between India and China is largely due to the convergent challenges instituted by the historical process of globalization, and by the divergent responses produced by the different historical structures. In this chapter, I compare the experience of Chinese laborers in the USA and the Dutch Indies. To be sure, the order of the comparison between this and the other two essays is quite different: in one, we have a dependent variable of a largely laboring population of a few millions; in the other two cases, I study elite self-and nation-formation within civilizational areas. Yet from their different angles, each comparison reflects how the variables of capitalism, nationalism and Enlightenment history interact with the particular historical locus to produce a shared but distinctive history. The present moment is one of high visibility of diasporic and migrant

communities. They are often celebrated as cosmopolitan, in-between communities of self-starters and drivers of success of the countries from which they or their ancestors emigrated. Yet to this day, there are entire classes of immigrants who occupy a desperate niche in the economic and political system of nation-states that is a kind of purgatory. It is estimated that about 100,000 Chinese are smuggled out of China every year by Triads and other snakeheads under the most dangerous conditions that make human smuggling during the early twentieth century seem benevolent. The conditions of work in the sweatshops are numbing and unhealthy, and intermittent raids by the authorities make their lives full of terrifying suspense.1