The Tiananmen Diaspora: Student Migration and The Transpacific Remaking of Chinese America

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The Tiananmen Diaspora: Student Migration and The Transpacific Remaking of Chinese America

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Although the 1989 Tiananmen Square Crackdown (Tiananmen hereafter) is known and studied worldwide as one of the most important Chinese events in the 20th century, its vital and enduring impact on Chinese America has hardly been explored. My dissertation uncovers and analyzes how Chinese immigrants’ diasporic activism, writings, and memories reveal the constant and contested impact of Tiananmen on Chinese American cultural politics. What I call the “Tiananmen diaspora” includes over 54,000 U.S.-based Chinese students who received lawful permanent resident status and became naturalized American citizens through the U.S.’s Chinese Student Protection Act of 1992, dozens of Tiananmen student leaders and intellectuals who resettled in the U.S. after 1989, and Chinese immigrant writers and artists whose works have engaged the memory of Tiananmen. Relying on archival sources, news reports, literary works, visual arts, and performance in both English and Chinese, I explore how the Tiananmen diaspora has generated new and often contentious racial, class, gender, postcolonial, and settler-colonial dynamics across the Pacific in their immigration, diasporic politics, and memory. While scholars and the general public consider Tiananmen as an incident within China that heightened the divide between the U.S. and China at the end of the Cold War, the formation of the Tiananmen diaspora proved to have penetrated and integrated the U.S. and China on economic, political, and cultural levels, shifting the dominant Cold War ideological binary to a shared interest in neoliberal capitalism. I argue that the Tiananmen diaspora has remade Chinese America from a U.S.-based ethnic community to a transnational cultural and political formation deeply entangled with both the protracted Cold War binaries and the dominant neoliberal capitalism across the Pacific. Reorienting American studies and Asian American studies through Chinese and the Chinese diasporic lenses, this dissertation shows that China and the Chinese diaspora have been active participants in the remaking of Chinese America. It demonstrates that studies of race and racialization must be reckoned with the mutual transformation between Asia and America beyond the commonly recognized pan-ethnic parameters in Asian American studies.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. July 2021. Major: American Studies. Advisors: Erika Lee, Josephine Lee. 1 computer file (PDF); ix, 315 pages.

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Zhang, Lei. (2021). The Tiananmen Diaspora: Student Migration and The Transpacific Remaking of Chinese America. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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