Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Comparative Literature and Literary Theory

First Advisor

Xiaojue Wang


Decolonizing counter-narratives to Malaysia's official national history are insufficient to account for the complex legacies of nationalism in Malaysia, and its relationship with Chineseness, race, and colonialism. This dissertation close reads the fictional works of three contemporary Mahua (Malaysian Chinese) authors – Zhang Guixing, Ng Kim Chew and Li Tianbao – to argue that Mahua identity is haunted by a nationalistic Chineseness deriving from late 19th and early 20th century mainland China, which defines itself on the basis of an archaic, civilizational imaginary, with undertones of racial and cultural purity. This conditions Mahua political and cultural identity during flashpoints of Malaysian history across Malaya (now Peninsular Malaysia) and Borneo (now partially East Malaysia), spanning anti-colonial Hua-dominated communist movements during the Cold War, such as the Sarawak Communist Insurgency (1962-1990) and the Malayan Communist Party during the Malayan Emergencies (1948-1960 and 1968-1989); and Hua literati responses to a post-1969 renewal of the politics of Malay indigeneity. By complicating recuperative but reductive accounts of Hua communism that stress their nationalistic contributions, and subverting diasporic fascination with a literary and cultural China (wenhua Zhongguo) ideal, their fictional histories provide postcolonial critiques of the legacies of Hua nationalism, revealing how it appropriates and translates turn-of-the-century nationalistic Chineseness as a response to local and regional politics. They deconstruct the appearance of static universality and unbroken temporality that forms part of the discourse of nationalistic Chineseness, and propose an alternate, mobile understanding of Chineseness that guards against ethnocentric Hua nationalism.