Identity in Time of Crisis: Chinese Migration during the First Half of the 20th Century in Surat Thani

Tawirat Songmuang

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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From the third to the seventh centuries, the area now known as Surat Thani was called the Panpan Kingdom, whose rulers sent tribute missions to China. From the seventh to the fourteenth centuries, Surat Thani was the regional centre of the Srivijaya Kingdom. In the thirteen and fourteenth centuries, it was a place where Chinese merchants uploaded their cargoes for transportation overland before returning to China. In the early twentieth century, Surat Thani became an important port where migrants from across China met, a diversity which made the characteristics of migrant communities and their associated networks rather complex. This research explores Chinese migration and the transformation of ethnic Chinese identities during the first half of the twentieth century in Surat Thani by observing the role of Chinese temples and their schools. Drawing on diverse primary materials, historical artefacts, oral history interviews, together with an engagement with the secondary literature on the subject, the research found that the industrial revolution and colonisation led to a huge migration of Chinese into Surat Thani from the late nineteenth century. The Chinese established their native-place associations through the construction of temples and schools to serve migrants who spoke common dialects based on their birth regions. They saw themselves as Hokkien, Cantonese, Teochew, Hainanese and Hakka. After encountering the modern concept of the “nation-state” and the movement to use a Chinese national language based on Mandarin as the language of instruction in Chinese schools in the late 1920s, diverse ethnic Chinese consciousnesses were gradually transformed into a united national Chinese consciousness. During the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), many Chinese politically and culturally identified with their motherland. Therefore, they contributed to the Chinese war effort to help China fight against the Japanese. When Japanese troops landed in Surat Thani in 1941, the Chinese armed themselves to resist. During World War II, the Chinese were largely split into two groups: those who supported the Japanese and those who did not. In the post-war years, the Chinese were again essentially divided into two: pro-Chinese Nationalist Party and pro-Chinese Communist Party. In brief, the migrant communities in Surat Thani and also in greater Thailand had fluid and complicated characteristics that were susceptible to change over time.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Tsai, Weipin, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Jul 2019
Publication statusUnpublished - 2019


  • Chinese Migration
  • Chinese Diaspora
  • Chinese Identity
  • Chinese School
  • Chinese Temple
  • Southeast Asia
  • Thailand
  • Surat Thani
  • Southern Thailand
  • Peranakan
  • Sino-Thai
  • transnationalism

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