Literary / Media Histories of (Post)colonial Southeast Asia 12 March 2021 9:30 AM

Symposium: Literary / Media Histories of (Post)colonial Southeast Asia

Friday 12 March 2021, 9:30 to 11:30 AM (US Pacific time / Los Angeles) on Zoom

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Elizabeth Wijaya. Assistant Professor of Visual Studies, University of Toronto. The Time Between Nations: Emerging Localities in Blood and Tears of the Overseas Chinese and Spirit of the Overseas Chinese.”

Abstract: Until they were discovered by Asian Film Archive in the China Film Archive and restored by the China Film Archive, Blood and Tears of the Overseas Chinese (Tsai Wen-chin, Singapore, 1946) and Spirit of the Overseas Chinese (Wan Hoi-ling, Singapore, 1946) were considered lost films. Produced by China Motion Film Picture Studio, both films in the melodrama mode overtly document anti-Japanese resistance during the occupation. Beginning with newly-arrived migrants from China just before the Occupation and ending in its aftermath, Spirit of the Overseas Chinese alludes to the National Salvation Movement and Singapore China Relief Fund Committee’s efforts to aid China while Blood and Tears of the Overseas Chinese revolves around guerilla efforts during the occupation. In both films, ethnicity, recent voyages and affiliation intertwine with the invocation of China as the nation (guo) and the unitary force of Chinese ethnicity. Yet, this patriotism takes place in a transitional time before new formations of nation-states—Singapore’s self-governance and eventual independence and the victory of the Communist Party of China in the 1949 civil war. This paper pursues the tensions between formal and informal institutions of the state and the affective contradictions in the gaps between ethnicity and nationalism in a time between nations.

Speaker bio: Elizabeth Wijaya is Assistant Professor of East Asian Cinema in the Department of Visual Studies and the Cinema Studies Institute at the University of Toronto, where she is also founding curator of an online archive of East and Southeast Asian short films. For 2018–2019, she was a President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Minnesota (Twin Cities). She contributed a chapter on Singapore filmmaker Chiang Wei Liang, “Three Ecologies of Cinema, Migration, and the Sea: Chiang Wei Liang’s Short Films,” in Ecology and Chinese-language Cinema: Reimagining a Field (Routledge). She has published in Parallax and Derrida Today and co-edited a special issue ”Survival of the Death Sentence” for Parallax. She is working on a book manuscript, Luminous Flesh: The Visible and Invisible Worlds of Trans-Chinese Cinema. Her research has been supported by the Taiwan Fellowship (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Taiwan), the Tan Ean Kiam Postgraduate Scholarship in the Humanities (Tan Kah Kee and Tan Ean Kiam Foundation, Singapore), and Lee Teng Hui Fellowship (East Asia Program, Cornell). She completed her PhD in Comparative Literature at Cornell University. She is also co-founder of E&W Films, a Singapore-based production company.


“Migratory Times, Diaspora Moments: Films as Archives of Migration and Memories.” Jessica Tan.

“China Relief Fund 南洋华侨筹赈祖国难民总会.” Chinatownology.

“Ambivalent Fatherland: The Chinese National Salvation Movement in Malaya and Java, 1937-1941.” Harvard University Asia Center.

Nadine Chan. Assistant Professor of Cultural Studies, Claremont Graduate University. Cinematic Artifactuality and Postcolonial Memory.”

Abstract: Film registers time in a particularly uncanny way, one that reproduces temporalities resonant with postcolonial life. As technologies of deferred memory, colonial films are artifacts that bear meaning upon how we remember (or dismember) the colonial durabilities that remain with us today. This talk traces the afterlife of one particular colonial educational film called Proudly Presenting Yong Peng (1953) made during the Malayan Emergency into our postcolonial present.

Speaker bio: Nadine Chan is Assistant Professor of Cultural Studies (Film and Media) at Claremont Graduate University. Chan has articles published in The Journal of Environmental Humanities, Cinema Journal, Studies in Documentary Film, Periscope for Social Text, Spectator, and the anthology Screening Race in American Nontheatrical Film (Duke UP). Chan’s manuscript-in-progress, A Cinema Under the Palms: Colonial Worldmaking in an Unruly Medium examines cinema as a worldmaking and terraforming technology through the framework of counter-colonial “unruliness.” Her second project focuses on complexity, futurity, and uncertainty in visualizations of the Anthropocene. Her work has been supported by an SSRC research fellowship, a Harper-Schmidt postdoctoral fellowship at UChicago, and a Global Asia postdoctoral fellowship at NTU, Singapore.


Malayan Emergency 1948-1960 – Cold War Documentary.” The Cold War.

A New Life – Squatter Resettlement.” Colonial Film Catalog.


Cheryl Narumi Naruse. Assistant Professor of English and Mellon Assistant Professor in the Humanities, Tulane University. Theorizing the Singapore Anthology as Postcolonial Form.”

Abstract: This talk discusses how ideological and economic influences of UNESCO, local writing competitions, and the labor demands of manufacturing economy combine to establish the anthology as a key aesthetic form for nationalist expression in Singapore. The anthology is a literary form that has been otherwise ignored by postcolonial studies in favor of the novel. I examine what the Singapore anthology’s unexpected emergence as a popular literary form in the twenty-first century reveals about literary and national relations amidst capitalist pressures from the state and from the global literary market.

Speaker bio: Cheryl Narumi Naruse is Assistant Professor of English at Tulane University where she teaches classes in postcolonial literature from Asia and the Pacific Islands. She is currently completing her book manuscript, tentatively titled Postcolonial Capitalism: Setting Singapore as Global Asia. Naruse’s publications include articles in biography, Genre, and Verge: Studies in Global Asias as well as a chapter in Singapore Literature and Culture: Current Directions in Local and Global Contexts (Routledge). She has also co-edited a number of special issues: “Literature and Postcolonial Capitalism” for ARIEL; a Periscope dossier with co-panelist Nadine Chan, “Global Asia: Critical Aesthetics and Alternative Globalities” for Social Text Online, and “Singapore at 50: At the Intersections of Neoliberal Globalization and Postcoloniality” for Interventions. Her research has been supported by a postdoctoral fellowship at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore (2015-16). For the MLA, Naruse served as the inaugural chair of the Southeast Asia and Southeast Asian Diasporic Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies Forum (2018-19). She is also the Southeast Asia section review editor for The Year’s Work in English Studies (Oxford UP).


The rise of the anthology.” Joy Fang.

Contemporary Literature from Singapore.” Weihsin Gui.

Philip Holden. Independent scholar. Translocal Translation: World Literature and the Southeast Asian Port City.”

Abstract: Since independence in 1965, the city-state of Singapore has become a global city, and what Jini Kim Watson has termed an “aspirational city” as a model for the Global South. Yet its literary texts, with a few exceptions, remain resolutely local in terms of publication and readership. My paper considers Singapore’s paradigmatic historical development as a Southeast Asian port city. Attending to the circulation of literary texts in such a context requires a movement beyond analysis that opposes port to city, that simply sees the cultural hybridity and literariness of the text critiquing structures of colonial and postcolonial governmentality. Rather, such texts emerge as translocal exercises in place-making, machines for the production of class-based locally embedded identities that are not simply national. Such a realization enables a reconsideration of lacunae in contemporary discussions of world literature, especially those concerning implied readership and processes of translation. If time permits, I will illustrate my discussion with reference to the writings of Han Suyin, Kuo Pao Kun, Alfian Sa’at and Latha (K. Kanigalatha).

Speaker bio: Philip Holden retired in 2018 as Professor of Literature at the National University of Singapore, having worked for 25 years in higher education in Singapore. His work in auto/biography studies includes the book Autobiography and Decolonization: Modernity, Masculinity and the Nation-State, and a number of scholarly articles in major scholarly journals such as biography, Life Writing, a/b: Auto/biography Studies, and Postcolonial Studies. He has also published widely on Singapore and Southeast Asian literatures, is the co-author of The Routledge Concise History of Southeast Asian Writing in English, and one of the editors of Writing Singapore, the most comprehensive historical anthology of Singapore literature in English. He is presently studying Counselling Psychology at the University of British Columbia, Canada.


Always Already Translated: Questions of Language in Singapore Literature.” Philip Holden.

An Interview with Alfian Sa’at.” Nazry Bahrawi.

Autobiography.” Alfian Sa’at.

Organized by Southeast Asia: Text, Ritual, Performance (SEATRiP) at the University of California-Riverside. Co-sponsored by UCR’s Departments of English, History, and Media and Cultural Studies.

Questions? Please contact Weihsin Gui at weihsing “at”