Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

1 - "A Child in a Stranger's Home": Domestic Labor, Trafficking, and Child Migration in British Malaya, 1900s-1930s

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Virginia Suite C, Lobby Level

This paper explores the suppression of the mui tsai practice (the employment of young female domestic bondservants) in British Malaya from the analytic lens of migration governance and intimate labor. In the early-twentieth century, over a million Chinese female migrants, including young girls traveling as mui tsai, landed on the shores of the Malay Peninsula. Their journeys across the South China Sea occurred at a critical juncture in global history. During this period, an emergent international regulatory regime increasingly drew rigid distinctions between “voluntary” migration and trafficking. The policing of female migrants, particularly those suspected of working as prostitutes or mui tsai, intensified with the widespread enforcement of passport control, border checkpoints, and deportation policies. At the same time, the colonial government of Malaya actively encouraged the settlement of young Chinese women, prized for their reproductive labor, to offset the gender disparity and to promote a “home life” amongst the immigrant community in the Peninsula. By exploring these contradictory impulses to regulate female migration, this paper underscores both the global and colonial dimensions of the mui tsai controversy, which drew in reformers and politicians in the metropole and colony, as well as the International Labor Organization. It demonstrates how changing conceptions about childhood, women’s work, and migration management ultimately led to the abolition of the mui tsai practice in British Malaya.

Sandy Chang

University of Texas at Austin, South Carolina

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1 - "A Child in a Stranger's Home": Domestic Labor, Trafficking, and Child Migration in British Malaya, 1900s-1930s



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