Skip to navigation – Site map

HomeIssues133Book ReviewsTRÉMON, Anne-Christine. 2022. Dia...

Book Reviews

TRÉMON, Anne-Christine. 2022. Diaspora Space-time: Transformations of a Chinese Emigrant Community. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Junmin Liu
p. 91-92

Full text

1Despite the unprecedented success of Shenzhen in China’s economic development, there has been a conspicuous lack of academic attention devoted to the city. While the prevailing narratives of the Shenzhen phenomenon primarily highlight the top-down policies and initiatives of the central government, grassroots-level sociocultural negotiations undertaken by local communities have also been instrumental in shaping the city’s trajectory. In particular, rural villages such as Pine Mansion have been largely overlooked and under-researched in the broader discourse on the city. To address this gap in the literature, Anne-Christine Trémon employs Pine Mansion – an entity she calls the “lineage village community” (p. 13) – as a case study to explore the complex interplay between diasporas and local residents, as well as the implications of outmigration in contemporary Chinese society. The stories of Pine Mansion provide a microcosm of Shenzhen’s urbanisation processes and China’s evolving position on the global stage over the past few decades.

2The book derives its content from an abundance of ethnographic data and a meticulous examination of archival sources. It is organised into eight chapters, each of which scrutinises a particular facet of the evolution of diasporic relations. The first chapter traces the historical trajectory of diasporas from Pine Mansion over the course of the past century. Drawing upon sources including the lineage genealogy and recent surveys, this chapter offers a comprehensive overview of migration from the village, placing it within a broader historical context. The author identifies two main migratory periods, which witnessed a degree of “lineage agency” (p. 34) and reflected the larger sociopolitical trends within the country. The designation of Shenzhen as a Special Economic Zone in the 1980s ushered in a new era and gave rise to a new class of “hypermobile entrepreneurs” (p. 46), who adopt more flexible strategies of mobility for accumulating capital. The author shows that the links between overseas destinations and the village have weakened over time.

3The following chapters revolve around three key issues: economy, practice, and narrative. First, Chapters Two and Three delve into the landscape of economy through the lens of overseas donations and shareholding companies. Financial flows in the forms of remittances and donations can be interpreted as “scalar strategies” (p. 51) of the actors, who deploy and valorise the values of both overseas destinations and the village of origin. Prior to China’s economic reforms, such overseas contributions served as a way of maintaining ties with one’s native village and provided donors with a sense of legitimacy regarding their eventual return. The accumulation of capital facilitates not only upward social mobility for subsequent generations, but also the establishment of “local financial autonomy” (p. 70) in contemporary times. The village has maintained continuity in its territorial structure and economy, characterised by the principles of collective ownership and redistribution. Such a land-based collective economy has undergone a transformation from the previous agricultural collectives to contemporary cooperative shareholding companies. These shareholding companies have a hybrid nature in that they operate on the principles of both the market economy and the traditional collectivist mechanism that emphasises morality and equalisation. In this sense, the lineage reemerges as a “corporate entity” (p. 73) in which community members participate in what the author refers to as the “moral economy of surplus” (p. 94).

4Second, Chapters Four, Six, and Seven respectively examine three types of collective practices regarding the negotiation between local inhabitants and the diaspora. Chapter Four illuminates how the people mobilised to defend two of their valued sites amid the process of neoliberal urbanisation. As a response to the city’s funeral reform during the 1990s, the lineage erected a mausoleum around the founding ancestor’s tomb and temple to safeguard the tomb from the state’s policy of economic development. The mausoleum serves as a “territorial anchorage” point (p. 101) to recentre and relocalise the lineage in the village community. In a similar vein, the establishment of the primary school, which is named after the founding ancestor, indicates the lineage’s effort to break the pattern of segmentation and embrace the principle of public good. Both of these village landmarks can be considered heterotopias and heterochronias – “alternative places and temporalities” that are distinct from the rapid pace and policies of urbanisation (p. 98). Nevertheless, the author points out that the mobilisation strategies employed in their defence are still closely tied to the logic of urbanisation, thereby generating homotopic and homochronic places in the context of social reproduction.

5Chapters Six and Seven focus on the return of ancestral worship rituals and emigrants from overseas destinations to the village of origin. The reconstruction and relocalisation of ancestral worship rituals generate a “spatiotemporal fusion” (p. 159). The rituals serve to unite people from disparate localities and temporalities while simultaneously underscoring the diaspora’s classification as a group that is both geographically and temporally distant. Local adjustments of speech and action can be observed throughout the course of the ritual, such as the downplaying of social hierarchies within the lineage and the elimination of prostration. The reinvention of local traditions, in addition to the symbolic placement of overseas relatives in a remote past, is indicative of local villagers’ strategies of legitimation in response to state policies and the evolving nature of diasporic relationships. Not only have the rituals returned, but the emigrants themselves as well. The Tahitian Chinese group’s journey to their native homeland and their quest for roots can be viewed as a process of “refamiliarisation” (p. 168) and “wayfinding” (p. 179), which seeks to establish a spiritual reconnection between the diaspora and their ancestors.

6Third, Chapters Five and Eight investigate the evolving narratives related to diasporic relationships. Chapter Five charts the evolution of the narratives pertaining to the geomantic attributes (fengshui 風水) of the village. The changing discourse on geomancy captures the intricate financial interplay between overseas kin and local inhabitants, as well as the sociopolitical structures governing mobility and immobility, which the author calls “sociodicies” (p. 122). In principle, lineage members are expected to occupy a similar social stratum, and yet the geomancy discourse proves to be a powerful means of explicating the existing inequities. The rapid economic transformation of the region in recent decades has led to a gradual erosion of the disparities in living standards between the village and overseas destinations, thus rendering the situations morally assessable. Once again, the diasporic community is viewed as a “separate class” (p. 133), occupying a different space-time continuum. Chapter Eight explores the dilemma of situating Overseas Chinese within official discourse, which results in “a sense of both global belonging and estrangement” (p. 189) for the diaspora. On one hand, the state emphasises a sense of global brotherhood in an ethnic context and recognises a moral responsibility to assist distant relatives; on the other hand, the legal status of the diaspora as foreign citizens, coupled with their lack of close kinship, curtails their actual interactions at the local level.

7Overall, this book presents a compelling case study of Overseas Chinese and contributes to the field of diaspora studies in two significant ways. Firstly, by directing attention towards the “localities of departure and origin” (p. 8), an area generally overlooked in migration research, the book provides a nuanced understanding of the complex diasporic relationships and the multifaceted role of lineage in the local context. Second, the book adopts a processual approach to anthropology, placing a strong emphasis on the issue of scale throughout the process. The author distinguishes two dimensions of scale, scope and valence, and proposes a “ternary core/periphery/semiperiphery framework” (p. 51) that highlights changing relations rather than a rigid dichotomy between a Global South and a Global North. Against the backdrop of Shenzhen, a symbol of China’s success in globalisation and urbanisation and the prevailing “triumphalist discourse” (p. 85) that comes with it, the stories of Pine Mansion take on even greater significance as a reminder of the past that tends to be forgotten by the nation.

Top of page


Bibliographical reference

Junmin Liu, “TRÉMON, Anne-Christine. 2022. Diaspora Space-time: Transformations of a Chinese Emigrant Community. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.”China Perspectives, 133 | -1, 91-92.

Electronic reference

Junmin Liu, “TRÉMON, Anne-Christine. 2022. Diaspora Space-time: Transformations of a Chinese Emigrant Community. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.”China Perspectives [Online], 133 | 2023, Online since 01 June 2023, connection on 02 October 2023. URL:; DOI:

Top of page

About the author

Junmin Liu

Junmin Liu is a PhD candidate at the College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra ACT 2601, Australia (

Top of page


The text and other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

Top of page
Search OpenEdition Search

You will be redirected to OpenEdition Search