In the early twentieth century, thousands of women from the Samsui area of Guangdong, China migrated to Singapore during a period of economic and natural calamity, leaving their families behind. In their new country, many found work in the construction industry, with others working in households or factories where they were called hong tou jin, translated literally as “red-head-scarf,” after the headgear that protected them from the sun. In Singapore, the women have been celebrated as pioneering figures for their hard work and resilience, and in China for the sacrifices they made for their families. Kelvin Low explores the lives and legacy of the Samsui women, both through media and state representations and through the oral histories of the women themselves. Thus, his work sheds light on issues of their identity, both publicly constructed and self-defined, and explores why they undertook their difficult migration. Remembering the Samsui Women is an illuminating study of the connection between memory and nation, including the politics of what is remembered and what is forgotten.
This book is a fascinating study of the Samsui women who migrated in the early twentieth century from Sanshui in China to what is today Singapore to work, among other occupations, as unskilled laborers in the construction industry … the wealth of materials consulted – from textbooks to films to oral histories – is impressive, making the book a salient resource for those interested in both Asian migrations and the politics of social memory-making.
This book is laudable research on how issues and discourses have been revolving around Samsui women … [it] is empirically rich and theoretically intriguing. It is worth recommending to those who are interested in gendered migration and social memory in national history.
Kelvin Low’s investigation into remembering Samsui women uncovers the ways in which memory plays a pivotal role in the nation-building project of any country (re)born. His comparative analysis of memory creation tells us much about the ways in which Singapore and China remember their pasts, in terms of what they choose to include and how they choose to do this.
Remembering the Samsui Women forensically displays just how memory works on many different levels and contexts, highlighting the intersections of different memory projects. It uses interesting original oral history material alongside the analysis of art, literature, and film, and is underpinned by a strong historiographical grasp. Low’s book will be particularly useful for those with interests in gendered migration histories and in state attitudes to "remembering" minorities.
1 Chinese Migration and Entangled Histories
2 Politics of Memory Making
3 Local and Transnational Entanglements
4 From China to Singapore
5 Beyond Working Lives
6 Samsui Women, Ma Cheh, and Other Foreign Workers
Conclusion: Social Constructions of the Past
Glossary; Notes; References; Index
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