Development and Urbanization
This paper examines the state-diaspora relations of the People’s Republic of China through a comparative study of the Chinese Hometown Associations (CHTAs) in Hong Kong, Taipei, Penang and Singapore. While CHTAs have thrived against the backdrop of China’s rising global influence and growing Chinese overseas migration, they differed in terms of proximity towards China and the embeddedness in the host communities. Using interview, ethnography and archival research, we identified the trend, impetus and functions of the CHTAs. We found a general trend of revamping and revival of CHTAs. The impetus for restructuring was originated from the immigrant communities’ voluntary actions but further appropriated by the deepening intervention of the Chinese overseas and united-front works that aimed to make CHTAs pertinent across borders and generations. Accordingly, the functions of CHTAs have extended from providing mutual aid, preserving Chinese culture and networking business opportunities, to enhancing inter-group sociability and constructing a common identity. Moderated by local identity and prior experiences, these associational practices were more robust in Penang and Hong Kong but less so in Singapore and Taipei. The findings revealed that the role of CHTAs in the four cities are reconfigured over time by a political process that differentiated the perceived social distance between the immigrant and the host communities. This paper underscores that China’s state-diaspora relations are more embedded in temporal and local dynamics and less determined by the scale of Chinese capital investment and government intervention.