As someone who has studied history for much of my life, I have found the past fascinating. But it has always been some grand and even intimidating universe that I wanted to unpick and explain to myself.
Wang Gungwu is one of Asia’s most important public intellectuals. He is best-known for his explorations of Chinese history in the long view, and for his writings on the Chinese diaspora. With Home is Not Here, the historian of grand themes turns to a single life history: his own.
In this volume, Wang talks about his multicultural upbringing and life under British rule. He was born in Surabaya, Java, but his parents’ orientation was always to China. Wang grew up in the plural, multi-ethnic town of Ipoh, Malaya (now Malaysia). He learned English in colonial schools and was taught the Confucian classics at home. After the end of WWII and Japanese occupation, he left for the National Central University in Nanjing to study alongside some of the finest of his generation of Chinese undergraduates. The victory of Mao Zedong’s Communist Party interrupted his education, and he ends this volume with his return to Malaya.
Wise and moving, this is a fascinating reflection on family, identity, and belonging, and on the ability of the individual to find a place amid the historical currents that have shaped Asia and the world.
“A charming intimate modest autobiography of the childhood and schooling of a great historian of China, justly acclaimed in Malaysia, China, England, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore. How a wise Chinese mother and a headmaster in Ipoh, Malaysia taught their only son to love learning in and out of China in transition.” – Ezra Vogel, Harvard University
“As the doyen of Chinese studies and the Chinese in Southeast Asia pens the memoirs of his early days in Malaya and China, history come to life in a most intimate way. What could lead to a rootless confusion becomes a capacious cosmopolitanism.”– Prasenjit Duara, Duke University
Wang Gungwu, formerly vice chancellor of the University of Hong Kong, is emeritus professor at Australian National University and university professor at the National University of Singapore. He was awarded the Fukuoka Asia Culture Prize in 1996. He is the author of some 20 books, including The Chinese Overseas, published by Harvard University Press.