The Elastic Co-Ethnic: Multifaced Southeast Asian Diasporas in Early Reform-Era Shenzhen


Ethnic Chinese communities outside mainland China played an important role in fueling China’s economic takeoff. Beyond the common narratives about diasporic contribution to China’s marketization, this talk discusses how “diaspora” was deliberately made into an open category by the PRC’s policymakers to maximize capital inflow into the special economic zones, where preferential treatment was given to overseas investors and manufacturers. The strategic slipperiness of the concept blurred the boundary between “domestic” and “foreign”, allowing investors from Southeast Asian countries with complicated political relations with Beijing to enter the mainland under the label of “Chinese overseas”, while allowing the intelligence networks the PRC cultivated in Southeast Asia in the 1950s to be repurposed for commerce. The strategically flexible diaspora thus served as a policy device which opened up the Chinese economy, allowing PRC to transcend beyond the Cold War.

About the Speaker

Dr Taomo Zhou is an Associate Professor of History at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Her first book, Migration in the Time of Revolution: China, Indonesia and the Cold War (Cornell University Press, 2019), won a Foreign Affairs “Best Books of 2020” award and an Honorable Mention for the 2021 Harry J. Benda Prize from the Association for Asian Studies. Zhou is currently working on her second book project tentatively entitled “Made in Shenzhen: A Global History of China’s First Special Economic Zone” under advance contract with Stanford University Press.


This is a hybrid event which will be held at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute (ISEAS).

Attending the Event In-person at ISEAS

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Attending the Event Virtually via Webinar

To join the event virtually at the specified date and time using your internet devices, please register here to receive your unique login link for the webinar via the zoom platform.

If you have questions for the speakers, please key in your questions via the Q&A, stating your name and affiliation. The moderator will field them to the speakers during the Q&A session.


Mar 26 2024


2:00 pm - 3:15 pm


ISEAS Seminar Room 2 / Webinar