My decision to publish this story came about when I met a group of heritage activists in Singapore. They made me more conscious of the personal dimensions of the past. 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 and to anyone else who shared my desire to know. Even when I read about the lives of people high and low, I looked from a critical distance in the hope of learning some larger lessons from them. In time, I realized how partial my understanding of the past was. I was using a platform that was dominated by both European historiography and elements of my Confucian self-improvement background.
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 multi—cultural 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 the 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. ” — 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
About the author: Wang Gungwu is emeritus professor at Australian National University and university professor at the National University of Singapore. He is the former vice chancellor of the University of Hong Kong. Wang is the author of more than twenty books, including The Chinese Overseas and Anglo-Chinese Encounters since 1800: War, Trade, Science and Governance.