China’s Opera Diplomacy and the Chinese Diaspora in 1950s-1960s Bangkok and Singapore

The Politics of Art in Southeast Asia Seminar Series

About the Seminar

Chinese dialect opera and troupes, which formed an important part of the everyday ritual and entertainment life of the Chinese immigrants, had circulated in and among the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia since the early twentieth century. The Chaozhou-dialect opera, originated from Shantou (a coastal city in South China) and were mostly patronized by diasporic Teochew communities, had been making sojourning tours across Southeast Asia for over a century. However, their routinized traveling pattern between hometown Shantou and Southeast Asian diaspora was disrupted by the Cold-War geopolitical changes, headed by the socialist state PRC, the British anti-communism in Singapore and Malaya and the U.S. allied Thai military government respectively.

This seminar unravels how Chaozhou opera practitioners and engaged businessmen in several nodal points (Shantou, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore) struggled to adopt new practices, and formed transnational alliances and networks to carry out the circulations of Chaozhou opera in this turbulent era. Whereas socialist China had been using Hong Kong as a window to export its reformed socialist ideology through the circulations of Chaozhou opera films to Southeast Asia, different diasporic societies (e.g. Bangkok and Singapore) responded differently due to their differentiating local politics and social environment. Connections and interactions with communist China through Chaozhou opera, hence, was cast in struggles with contested languages of transnationalism, nationalism, anti-colonialism and leftwing socialism amongst the Chinese diaspora. Entangled with multiple local and global forces, Chaozhou opera in 1950s and 1960s Bangkok and Singapore needs to be understood as a complex integration of traditional performing art, business practices and new socialist ideology of the era.

The seminar is supported by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.

About the Speaker

Dr Zhang Beiyu
 obtained her PhD degree in the History Department in National University of Singapore. She is now working as a Post-doctoral Fellow funded by the Macau Talent Program in the University of Macau since 2019. Her research interests include Cultural History of Chinese Diaspora, Sino-Southeast Asian Interactions, Global History, Ethnomusicology in Asia. She is currently working on the monograph project entitled “Touring Diaspora Across the Seas: Chinese Theatre-Troupes in Nanyang, 1900s-1980s”.


For registration, please click here. Registration closes on 26 September 2019.



Sep 30 2019


3:00 pm - 4:30 pm


ISEAS Seminar Room 2