Mei Feng Mok: « Negotiating Community and Nation in Chợ Lớn: Nation-building, Community-building and Transnationalism in Everyday Life during the Republic of Việt Nam, 1955-1975 »

[ndlr] Présentation par Christoph Giebel de la thèse de Mei Feng Mok sur Cholon et sa population sous la République du Viêt-Nam de 1955 à 1975. Chronique publiée avec l’autorisation de son auteur.

Ref.: Mei Feng Mok, Negotiating Community and Nation in Chợ Lớn: Nation-building, Community-building and Transnationalism in Everyday Life during the Republic of Việt Nam, 1955-1975, University of Washington, History, PhD thesis, Chair: Christoph Giebel, 2016.

It is with great pleasure that I announce to VSG a newly minted Ph.D.

On 8 June 2016, at the History department of the University of Washington, Seattle (USA), Mei Feng Mok successfully defended her dissertation « Negotiating Community and Nation in Chợ Lớn: Nation-building, Community-building and Transnationalism in Everyday Life during the Republic of Việt Nam, 1955-1975. »  The dissertation is based on a variety of sources in Vietnamese, Chinese, French and English, most notably rare and rarely-used Chinese-language newspapers from Chợ Lớn.  Examiners were Laurie Sears, Sasha Welland, and Christoph Giebel (chair);  Moon-ho Jung and Madeleine Dong added guidance at earlier stages of research.  Before coming to UW, Mei Feng Mok earned an MA in History at the National University of Singapore (NUS) with Bruce Lockhart.

Focusing on social life ordered around markets, native place congregations and temples, schools and work places, hospitals and medicinal halls, sports clubs and restaurants, private homes and public leisure places, Mei Feng deftly provides a rich tapestry of Chợ Lớn’s Chinese community, particularly its middle class, and the changes it underwent over time.  She situates Chợ Lớn in multiple relations: as one center of greater Sài Gòn, economic conduit for the southern Vietnamese hinterlands, socio-cultural hub for Chinese communities throughout Indochina, nodal point in transnational Chinese exchanges linking San Francisco, Hong Kong, China, and Singapore, and contributor to Cold War-era and Taiwan/ROC-centric sinophonic articulations.

The dissertation is organized into four main chapters:  

  • 1) Chợ Lớn’s built environment and human geography, its lived and shared spaces;  
  • 2) Education from kindergarten to adult learning between local and transnational networks and the state;  
  • 3) Sports and competitions over disciplining bodies and controlling social time;  
  • and 4) young adulthood, women in the public sphere, and socialization into multi-layered networks through marriage, work, philanthropy, and other ways of accumulating and spending social capital. 

Here Chợ Lớn emerges as a site of contestation between diasporic community interests, a « nation-building » Vietnamese state, and the transnational Chinese world not easily negotiated by individuals and further complicated by war, violence, and ideological divisions.

 Mei Feng’s work is bound to make significant contributions to a variety of fields:  e.g., to social history (and here everyday urban life) of which Việt Nam Studies are still desperately starved, to the growing body of studies on the Republic of Việt Nam (and a rare one where the RVN simply « is » rather than « fails »), to conversations about diasporic/minority communities with multiple identities in Việt Nam (and elsewhere), and to our knowledge of overseas Chinese and the dynamic currents in the Cold War-era transnational Chinese world.  Mei Feng will now take her talents and work to a Post-doctoral Fellowship position at the Asia Research Institute (ARI) in Singapore (NUS) where this important and exciting dissertation may well turn into a marvelous book.

 
Congratulations to Dr. Mei Feng Mok!
 
C. Giebel

UW-Seattle

Source : VSG

Image « à la une » : Le marché de Binh Tây à Cholon en 1960.