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Tricky Business: Divorce and Diaspora in Mao’s China

October 13, 2014 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

Portrait image of Shelly Chan wearing a black shirt

Monday Seminar:

Shelly Chan

Resident Fellow (2014-2015)

History, UW-Madison


This seminar draws on a larger book-in-progress, entitled “Diaspora’s Homeland: Modern China in the Age of Global Migration,” and a forthcoming article in The Journal of Asian Studies (February 2015), entitled “The Case for Diaspora: A Temporal Approach to the Chinese Experience,” to rethink “diaspora” conceptually as a series of moments, rather than as a set of communities. In Chinese history, “diaspora moments” emerged whenever emigrants and their kin were recognized as key players, positively and negatively, in China’s restructuring vis-à-vis others in the world—a process that often revealed the depth and politics of global connections and their impact on China. The seminar will focus on one such moment in the early 1950s when the new Communist Party-state promoted free marriage and divorce rights to women living in transnational marriage with overseas men. Portrayed in the archival record as hopelessly dependent on remittances and too oppressed to realize their feudal conditions, these rural women seemed to stand in the way of China’s transition to socialism. Surprisingly, the campaign quickly backfired, revealing how the women and their villages had been thoroughly embedded in global circulations, as well as how China itself was also dependent on them for socialist constructions.


Shelly Chan is an Assistant Professor of History at UW-Madison, holding the new position of Asian diasporas since 2011. Her work focuses on diaspora in the Chinese experience, asking how it created and transformed Chinese history, culture and identity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. With articles soon to appear in The Journal of Chinese Overseas and The Journal of Asian Studies, Chan is also the recipient of a Junior Scholar Grant from the Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange in 2014-15. Chan received her Ph.D. from the University of California-Santa Cruz in 2009, where she trained in modern Chinese, East Asian and world history. Her other interests include gender, ethnic, postcolonial and cultural studies, as well as Southeast Asia. Before coming to UW, she was Assistant Professor of Pacific and Asian Studies at the University of Victoria in Canada. She is at work on a book entitled Diaspora’s Homeland: Modern China in the Age of Global Migration.


October 13, 2014
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
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University Club, Room 212
432 East Campus Mall
Madison, Wisconsin 53703 United States