The online social world of Fuzhou Chinese migrants in New York, 2004-2016: hometown websites as a primary source for overseas Chinese studies.

Author:Chiu, Ann Shu-ju
 
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Most Chinese Americans today originated from specific villages in the provinces of Guangdong and Fujian. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, some villages published their own local qiaokan (emigrant region newsletter) to keep their emigrants informed of local matters and to provide them with a communication forum in their hometown. Such serials were discontinued in the People's Republic of China (PRC) after 1949 because of unfavorable policies toward Overseas Chinese. They revived in the 1980s when the PRC initiated an open-door policy to cement the social relations with Overseas Chinese.

Based on the studies of qiaokan published from the 1980s to the mid-1990s, Chiu and Yen (2016) find these publications were dominant in Jiangmen City and five counties of western Guangdong: Xinhui (; ancient name Gangzhou), Taishan (former name Xinning), Kaiping, Enping, and Heshan. These were the hometowns of most immigrants during the late nineteenth century. In contrast, qiaokan are underrepresented in the Fuzhou region of east Fujian, the home region of most new Chinese immigrants to North America since 1980. (1) It is therefore difficult to use qiaokan as a primary source to study how they sustain the social relations and cultural practices of their hometowns in their residential societies. Many emigrant villages of the Fuzhou area are located at the mouth of the Min River, the main artery river of Fujian Province that leads to the ocean. Situated in eastern Fujian, the Fuzhou area comprises Fuzhou City and the ten counties of Fuqing, Changle, Minqing, Lianjiang, Yongtai, Luoyuan, Pingnan, Pingtan, Gutian, and Minhou. This area is the largest source of new illegal emigrants from China since the early 1980s. It is also hard to find primary documents related to the legal statutes, treaties, and government policies toward Fuzhou migrants, let alone their emigrant remittances, drafts, and family letters.

To know Chinese American history, we need to study the primary documents of the Chinese American experiences (Lee and Sasaki 2016). Early settlers formed their organizations based upon common identities of dialect and locality in immigrant societies. Their publications not only reveal much of their immigrant history and development in their host societies, but also their interactions with emigrant villages in China. The Chinese University of Hong Kong Library (2016) holds Chinese overseas clan, dialect, and trade association publications. These migrant associations are a primary source for studying the migration history of Chinese Americans. The firsthand materials contain rich narratives of Chinese immigrants and their organizations. However, the majority of such publications relate to the Chinese overseas associations established in the latter half of the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. And the diasporic tradition of Fuzhou Chinese in New York only began in the late 1970s.

With few primary documents available to consult, researchers conducted their fieldwork in Fuzhou emigrant villages (Chu 2010) and New York's Manhattan Chinatown to study these undocumented workers. Manhattan Chinatown has been a Cantonese settlement since the mid-nineteenth century. Scholars have begun to notice that the existing Chinatown has remained unchanged as an ethnic enclave even as it has become occupied by a different Chinese language group. Kenneth Guest (2003) portrays the physical settings, religious institutions, and psychological voyage of new undocumented Fujianese workers beside the Manhattan Bridge in the late 1990s. Through his description of flower shops catering to wedding ceremonies and other rituals on East Broadway, Dale Wilson (2006) senses that the Fuzhounese reinvent certain traditions to transform the sociocultural landscape of Chinatown in the early 2000s. These rites are used to distinguish their own ethnic identity from that of the Cantonese or Americans. Xiaojian Zhao (2008) further analyzes the regional identity construction of the Changle people, who make up 80 percent of the Fuzhou population in Chinatown. To Zhao (2008), the Yidonglou marketplace incident is an impressive subethnic mobilization of Fuzhou migrants from Changle. To resist a rent increase and new lease deposit, small vendors and shop owners demonstrated against the shareholders of the Yidonglou shopping mall, a landmark on East Broadway. In 2004 the Changle American Association organized its immigrants in this demonstration. I argue that the virtual hometown associations, fujianese.com and 88Yidonglou, can update these scholarly works in the following years to reflect the social development of this speech group in New York City. Via the online social world of new Fuzhou migrants, multiple dimensions can be added to analyze the nuance of these sub-ethnic activities from 2004 to 2016.

Fujianese.com began in 2004 and was continued by 88Yidonglou in 2010. They are the online communities empowered by a group of Fuzhou migrants with a common subethnic cultural identity to social network with their compatriots in the United States. The boundaries of a community, as Eriberto Lozada (2003) puts it, have "always been 'virtual'--real only when people culturally recognize and acknowledge the power that creates rigidity of these boundaries" (p. 799). I argue that a new genre of community based on kinship and friendship rhetoric was emerging among recent Fuzhou migrants with the development of information and communication technology (ICT). Such hometown websites can be new primary documents to see how Fuzhou migrants social network with their subethnic counterparts to sustain their social relations and cultural knowledge of the past.

FUJIANESE.COM AS A HOMETOWN WEBSITE OF FUZHOU MIGRANTS

Fujianese.com was established in late 2004 and earned the financial support of Abacus Federal Savings Bank in Manhattan Chinatown. Abacus Bank emulates its competitor, Western Union, to sponsor the online forum of Fujianese migrants. As my interviews in Fuzhou reveal, it was quite common for an immigrant to remit U.S.$2,000 per month as of July 2007. The remittance amount would be larger on Mid-Autumn Festival and Chinese New Year. When one Chinese bank allowed undocumented immigrants to remit less than U.S.$2,000 without identification, Western Union, the largest and most well-established American money transfer company, faced losing their monopoly on the market. Hence, they launched a major advertising campaign in Fuzhou emigrant communities in New York. Western Union sponsors the special memorial publications of Fujianese hometown associations. In contrast, Fujianese.com appeared as a hometown website for Fuzhou migrants in relation to its Cantonese counterpart in New York, the website of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA).

The CCBA has governed Manhattan Chinatown since 1883 and coordinated its sixty affiliate associations. As Ann Chiu (2012) points out, the Fujianese.com members mapped in their minds a Chinatown based on a locality/dialect group division. With old Cantonese immigrants on Canal Street and Mott Street and new Fujianese immigrants on East Broadway, the old-timers dominated the socioeconomic resources while the newcomers were marginalized. If East Broadway carries a symbolic meaning to Fuzhou migrants, it is loaded with locality and a cultural identity. That explains why they preferred having it renamed by the city in 2005 as "Fuzhou Street" rather than "Lin Zexu Way," which carries more patriotism than emotional attachment to their home region. To help their Fujianese associations win the bidding of the Chinese Archway project, they raised an online debate over the Visitor Information Kiosk funded by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC). They criticized the monopoly of the CCBA and old Cantonese associations in the...

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