A graduate of Chinese and Indian history from SOAS, I have lived and worked in East Asia and in Europe moving from corporate to NGO work. With this PhD I have returned to my deep-seated interest in food and identity, culture and history, and my affinity to South and East Asia.
This thesis evaluates whether South Asians in the Pearl River Delta can belong to a multicultural China. As China ascends to the role of world's leading superpower in the 21st Century and comes to terms with its identity as an immigrant-receiving country, this thesis argues that South Asians in Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Macau use food to belong to the ordinary community (Garner 2007) as a way to belong to the region. The strategies they pursue and the work that they do with food both marks and unmarks their racial identity. But strategies also highlight class, locality and religion, creating a South Asian culinary identity ambiguous enough to move them into a fragmented Cantonese mainstream. These strategies are viable in a delta region that is 96% Chinese, with enduring but also equivocal beliefs in racial hierarchies, and an oftentimes productive blind spot concerning South Asian identity. Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Macau also deploy a politicised ethnolinguistic cultural identity at different scales in order to secure better political outcomes from China's central government in Beijing. Whether ignored, embraced or rejected, South Asian cooks and food attend to these distinctions in highly networked spaces such as grocery stores and restaurants, to more civic spaces such as food festivals and heritage projects.
I identify with my three-city field site in the same way that my South Asian interlocutors do, as a multi-sited reality (Hage 2005). In this reality resources, such as historical claims, money, ingredients, cooks, and ideas of good taste and a good life in one site are called upon to aid or to hinder strategies in another. The thesis is based on twelve months of fieldwork, following this circulation of resources in archives, grocery backrooms, queues at the border, professional and home kitchens, festival stalls and government offices.
Hong Kong and Beyond: Mapping the City’s Networks’ Postgraduate Workshop (January 2019); Gendered, Racialised, and Classed Labours (November 2018);
European Association of Social Anthropologists (August 2018); Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery (July 2018); Agriculture, Food & Human Values Society [AFHVS] and the Association for the Study of Food
and Society [ASFS] (June 2018); British Library Food Season (May 2018); SOAS Food Forum (January 2018); International Conference on “Chinese Food and Culture in Local and Global Perspectives (October, 2016); Society for East Asian Anthropology (June 2016); Hong Kong Anthropological Society (May 2016).