The Lure of Diaspora: Diaspora Discourse,
Accented Style, and Sinophone Malaysian Culture

By Wai-Siam Hee

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 33, no.2  (Fall 2021), 205-257

This essay uses Ng Kim Chew and Ah Niu’s works to demonstrate the lure that diaspora signifies for Malaysian Chinese communities. It often appears that only by responding to this lure and leaving Malaysia can Malaysian Chinese prove their talents. On the one hand, this move reacts to the cosmopolitanism called for by diaspora discourse; on the other, it sublates the potential of localization and denies the abilities of the local Malaysian Chinese. This shows that diaspora, as criticized by Shu-mei Shih, has become a guiding value of contemporary Malaysian Chinese discourse.

The essay historicizes the current “diaspora-as-sacred-value” and “against-diaspora” debates enacted predominantly by Ng Kim Chew and Shu-mei Shih with reference to Malaysian Chinese localization. It examines the origins and development of Malaysian bumiputera privileges (Malay and other indigenous peoples’ special rights) in order to demonstrate how it constructs a Taiwan-resident Malaysian Chinese diaspora discourse, emblematized by the author and critic Ng Kim Chew. This diaspora discourse excludes the Malaysian Chinese “localization discourse” and creates a theoretical link between localization and the “original homeland” myth of bumiputera privileges. This essay examines the master-slave structure of Chinese-Malay relations in Ng Kim Chew’s short stories, demonstrating how characters of other ethnicities are animalized, stereotyped, or demonized by the Chinese heroes.

The essay also reflects on the difficulties and legitimacy of Malaysian Chinese localization by employing Sinophone theory to explore the “accented style” and the identity of local sensibility evident in the accented film Ice Kacang Puppy Love by Ah Niu. Ice Kacang Puppy Love’s descriptive framework for Chinese-Malay relations, as in other Sinophone Malaysian films, is not confined to standard ethnic templates. This film not only deconstructs the “master-slave structure” of Chinese-Malay relations found in Ng Kim Chew’s works but also creatively morphs it into a criticism of Sinification discourse and the patriarchy.