Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Bardhan, Nilanjana


In this dissertation, I explore how crossing national borders has made me aware of the many identity borders that I have crossed as a transnational Chinese, and how I am caught up in identity politics between the “Chinese,” who do not necessarily always identify as “Chinese” in the transnational context. However, as a racialized group in the U.S., transnational Chinese are perceived as a homogeneous population, usually through racially (“Yellow Peril” or “Chinese Virus”) and politically (“Red Scare”) charged lenses measured by Western/U.S. binaristic and hierarchical standards. Therefore, in this research project, I problematize dominant U.S. race logic, i.e., the White/Non-White binary, for its limited capabilities of understanding and explaining identity, communication, culture, and power in an increasingly interconnected world; and I also call for an alternative theorizing of race and identity in the transnational context. Border crossings within the conditions of contemporary globalization have intensified interconnectivities and complicated how we comprehend and communicate our identities. It thus becomes essential to find ways to “unsettle and restage” racial and cultural differences in the context of globalization (Shome & Hegde, 2002a, p. 174-5). With a different skin color, speaking English with a foreign accent while being perceived as “Model Minorities,” transnational Chinese have lately been ascribed with another pathologized identity label: “Chinese Virus,” which may be understood as an extension of the “Yellow Peril” rhetoric. Furthermore, within the Chinese communities, due to historical reasons, colonialism, political unrest, and civil war, many Taiwanese and Hong Kongers identify themselves very differently from mainland Chinese. When crossing borders to live together in the U.S., the identity tensions among Chinese ethnicities in addition to the interracial confrontations between transnational Chinese and local racial groups only make understanding what it means to be Chinese on the racial landscape of the U.S. even more complex.I weave together Yep’s (2010) notion of thick(er) intersectionalities and Kraidy’s (2005) description of transnationalism to build my conceptual framework. On the one hand, thick(er) intersectionalities advocates for more complex and embodied ways of theorizing intersectional identities and “the interplay between individual subjectivity, personal agency, systemic arrangements, and structural forces” (p. 173). On the other, transnationalism helps make sense of transnational identities with “a shifting location of contradictions that straddles multiple viewpoints,” which cannot be defined “in binary and essentialist terms” (Bardhan & Zhang, 2017, p. 288). I thus examine why an in-depth, transnational understanding of Chinese identity is necessary and how to move toward such an understanding, including that of racial, cultural, linguistic, and political identities of transnational Chinese living in the U.S., especially in the context of the current trade tensions between the U.S. and China, two nations tightly connected economically while largely differing culturally and politically.Methodologically, I employ a mixed-method approach by applying autoethnography and in-depth interview as my primary research methods. The dissertation mainly addresses three research questions through a communicative lens: 1) What does it mean to live in the U.S. as transnational Chinese? 2) How do transnational Chinese make sense of Chinese-ness(es) in such a context? 3) What is at stake in understanding Chinese-ness in a transnational context that necessitates an alternative theorization of race to the dominant/White U.S. race ideology? The findings show that there is no singular definition of what Chinese-ness(es) is(are) and what it(they) entail(s). It is a thick and fluid concept that is unique to each transnational Chinese based on their lived experiences and subjected to their own understandings while also constrained in the larger social framework by Chinese and U.S. cultural scripts and contexts. Chinese-ness, to transnational Chinese, cannot be compartmentalized in the limited identity categories specific to either cultural context. Being exposed to a broader world with multiple cultural references, they are flexible enough to creatively identify, dis-identify, or even counter-identify with either their avowed identities, or ascribed identities, or both in either or both cultural contexts. The complexities, specificities, and particularities of their transnational identity experiences, thus, cannot be adequately understood within the confines of simple intersections of U.S.-centric identity categories. I conclude that Chinese-ness(es) is local and global, racial and ethnic, cultural and political, and spatial and temporal. There is no such thing as a singular, uniform Chinese-ness. Not even in the imaginary. This study may contribute to critical intercultural communication scholarship by situating knowledge of race, identity, and power in a very specific and complex context that includes the U.S. but is transnational in scope. Further, with an aim to provincialize dominant U.S. race logic, it makes an effort to transnationalize and internationalize theorizing of race and identity. Finally, speaking in a voice from a non-Western perspective currently situated in the West, I practice self-reflexivity throughout my writing with the hope of avoiding re-essentializing identity, race, and power in a covert “oppressor-oppressed” Manichean dualism that I attempt to deconstruct.




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