The China Quarterly

Research Article

Old Linkages, New Networks: The Globalization of Overseas Chinese Voluntary Associations and its Implications*

Hong Liu


Together with Chinese schools and newspapers, voluntary associations (shetuan) have long been regarded as one of the “three pillars” of Overseas Chinese societies, playing an important role in the evolution of Chinese diaspora communities. As such they have been extensively studied and documented, and this broad range of works lays the foundation for our knowledge of the subject. The existing literature, however, seems predominantly concerned with shetuan's political and socio-cultural activities in domestic settings and within the national boundaries. Little attention has been paid to questions of why and how Chinese voluntary associations operate and function in a cross-national and inter-regional environment and what effects those transnational movements have had on the socio-economic conditions of qiaoxiang, the ancestral hometowns of the Chinese diaspora. Correspondingly, there has been insufficient appreciation of the intimate and institutionalized links between shetuan's increasing and conspicuous international presence and the flourishing Chinese business networks, often characterized as informal relationships based on personal and family ties.