H-Diplo Roundtable XXIV-19 on Kung, "Diasporic Cold Warriors"

christopher ball's picture

H-Diplo Roundtable XXIV-19

Chien-Wen Kung, Diasporic Cold Warriors: Nationalist China, Anticommunism, and the Philippine Chinese, 1930s-1970s. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2022. ISBN: 9781501762215

23 January 2023 | https://hdiplo.org/to/RT24-19  
Editor: Diane Labrosse |
Commissioning Editor: Dong Wang | Production Editor: Christopher Ball


Introduction by Dong Wang, Lived Places Publishing, New York. 2

Review by John Fitzgerald, Swinburne University and Australian Strategic Policy Institute.. 5

Review by Gavin Healy, University of Michigan.. 8

Review by Bradley Simpson, University of Connecticut. 11

Response by Chien-Wen Kung, National University of Singapore.. 14




Diasporic Chinese in Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Latin and South America during the Cold War are increasingly drawing the attention of scholars, as new geostrategic situations arise in response to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) ambition to alter and harness the whole world. Chien-Wen Kung’s Diasporic Cold Warriors contributes to the already burgeoning literature that examines how anti-Communism, identity politics, as well as ethno-cultural and long-distance nationalism thrived in the Chinese community in the Philippines from the 1930s to 1970s. Philippine-Chinese experiences are manifest in long periods of Philippine history and the global outreach of the Kuomintang (KMT, the Nationalist Party) under Chiang Kai-shek’s rule. The then KMT party-state—the Republic of China (ROC)—which was defeated in mainland China by its archrival, the CCP, in 1949 before retreating to Taiwan, held the China seat as one of the five permanent members at the United Nations Security Council from 1945 to 1971, when it was replaced by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Thus, as Kung points out: “Far from being irrelevant to the present, the KMT’s historical interventions in postcolonial Southeast Asia are antecedents of the PRC’s involvement in the region in our time. We cannot study one without the other.”[1]

The three reviewers, John Fitzgerald, Gavin Healy and Bradley Simpson, are unanimous in their positive assessments of the outstanding value of Kung’s book for work on Cold War Asia, diplomatic history, intra-Asian studies, KMT transnational history, and Chinese overseas. According to Fitzgerald, Diasporic Cold Warrior “maintains that anti-Communism served as a platform for struggle over the redistribution of wealth and status within the Philippines Chinese community—not unlike Communism were it permitted to flourish.” On the other hand, Fitzgerald suggests that the Catholic ecumene in the global anti-Communism movement deserves careful consideration, for it may be key to explaining why Chinese communities in the Philippines were so hostile to Communism when Communist ideology and the PRC presented neither a challenge nor a threat in the period between the 1930s-1970s.

In his review, Healy comments on the agency of Philippine Chinese in their anti-Communism not only as ideology but also for practical purposes “to establish their reputations, build relationships with Filipino elites, and compete against one another for power within the community.” More engagement with pre-KMT Chinese migration and society in the Philippines might have strengthened the book’s readability to general readership. In appreciation of Kung’s empirically based deep research, Simpson notes that “Kung has demonstrated the need for an expanded regional conception of PRC/ROC rivalry in East and Southeast Asia centered on diasporic communities.” Questions remain of how local Philippine Chinese perceived the politics of anti-Communism in other parts of Asia and vice versa.   

Chien-Wen Kung reaffirms the need to flesh out the interconnectedness among Asian places and societies which have been each other’s point of reference in regional and global anti-Communism projects. Kung also echoes Fitzgerald’s suggestion that more studies can be conducted for a better understanding of the interlinkage between the Christian ecumene and anti-Communism in Asia.  

The June 4th Massacre of 1989 in Beijing generated the first strong wave of academic interest in civil society and public sphere in China.[2] In the twenty first century, we are witnessing a second wave of intellectual pursuit that departs from Sino-centrism in research, that embraces today’s democratic Taiwan “as a model for developing nations,” and “a symbol of the accomplishments of the 1911 Revolution.”[3] With Chinese overseas providing instrumental financial, public opinion, organizational, moral and human support, the 1911 Revolution brought about the Republic of China (1912 to the present, albeit on Taiwan), thus replacing the last imperial rule of Qing China. As Frederick Mccormick wrote over a century ago, “if this is a Cantonese-made rebellion and revolution, as some claim it is, then it is a monument to the laundrymen, truck-growers, section-hands, miners, servants, and shopkeepers of the United States, as well as to the Cantonese merchants, manufacturers, and shippers of the East Indies and Oceania.”[4] The agency of overseas Chinese in different transnational, international, national and local contexts can hardly be underestimated. Kung’s book furthers this observation by alerting us to the complex making and unmaking of Chineseness, anti-Communism, Communism, and anti-anti-Communism among Philippine Chinese, many of whom historically hailed from Fujian.       



Chien-Wen Kung is an Assistant Professor of History at the National University of Singapore and the author of Diasporic Cold Warriors: Nationalist China, Anticommunism, and the Philippine Chinese, 1930s-1970s (Cornell University Press, 2022). His scholarship has also been published in Modern Asian Studies, the International History Review, and Asian Ethnicity. Born and raised in Singapore, he received his Ph.D. in Modern Chinese and International and Global History from Columbia University. With funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and National Heritage Board in Singapore, he is currently working on a cultural history of Singapore-China-Taiwan relations in the 1970s and 1980s.

Dong Wang is Asian Studies Collection Editor at Lived Places Publishing in New York, director of the Wellington Koo Institute for Modern China in World History in Boston, Mass. and NW Germany, research associate of the Fairbank Center at Harvard University since 2002, a member of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, and an elected Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Among many publications, her single-authored books in English include Tse Tsan Tai (1872-1938): An Australian-Cantonese Opinion Maker in British Hong Kong (2023), The United States and China: A History from the Eighteenth Century to the Present (2021) and Longmen’s Stone Buddhas and Cultural Heritage: When Antiquity Met Modernity in China (2020).

John Fitzgerald headed the Asia-Pacific philanthropy studies program at Swinburne University after serving as China Representative of The Ford Foundation in Beijing from 2008-2013. He was the elected President of the Australian Academy of the Humanities from 2015-2017 and currently sits on the advisory board of the Australian government’s National Foundation for Australia-China Relations.  His recent books include Cadre Country:  How China became the Chinese Communist Party (UNSW Press, 2022) and (ed) Taking the Low Road: China’s Influence in Australian States and Territories (Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 2022). He has a Ph.D. from ANU and held a Fulbright postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is a graduate of the University of Sydney.

Gavin Healy is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Michigan’s Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies. He completed his Ph.D. in modern Chinese history from Columbia University in May 2021. His research focuses on foreign sightseeing in the People’s Republic of China from 1949 to the late 1970s, examining how personnel within the state tourism bureaucracy struggled to balance the use of tourism as a form of political, historical, and cultural representation with the demands of developing a revenue-generating service industry in a socialist economy.

Brad Simpson is Associate Professor of History and Asian Studies at the University of Connecticut. He is the author of Economists with Guns: Authoritarian Development and US-Indonesian Relations, 1960-1968 (Stanford, 2008) and the forthcoming The First Right: Self-Determination and the Transformation of International Order (Oxford, forthcoming). His next book will explore the transnational politics of Indonesian authoritarianism during the reign of General Suharto (1966-1998).





This standout study of cold-war politics among Chinese communities in the Philippines works on many levels, with multiple moving parts, all held together by a simple paradox. Among Chinese diaspora communities in southeast Asia, anti-Communist sentiment was strongest in this country where the risk of Chinese communist subversion and appeal of Communism among local communities was weakest. Why were Chinese communities in the Philippines so hostile to Communism when communist ideology and Communist China presented neither a challenge nor a threat?

In probing this question, Chien-wen Kung offers readers a richly detailed account of what it meant to be Chinese and anti-Communist in the Philippines during the Cold War, what local Chinese anti-Communism reveals about relations between the Republic of China on Taiwan and the government of the Philippines, and how Chinese communities featured in the polity and society of the Philippines then and now. 

We learn that despite their relatively small numbers, which totalled 270,000 in 1959, Chinese in the Philippines were the region’s most generous donors to the Kuomintang (KMT) and the fiercest of anti-Communist ‘Cold Warriors’ overall. In the 1950s and 1960s, KMT headquarters in Taiwan regarded its Philippines branches as its most energetic partners in fighting Communism; US intelligence judged Philippines Chinese to be the least susceptible to the appeal of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) among all overseas Chinese communities. After the founding of the PRC in 1949, Chinese Communism offered less of a challenge to the Philippines than it did to Thailand, Indonesia, Malaya and Indochina, which saw significant return migration to the PRC and in some cases PRC-linked insurgencies on their home soil. And whereas the Philippines government extended a welcome mat to the KMT, other states in the region were as hostile to KMT interference in local community affairs as they were toward Chinese Communist penetration. On any measure, the strength and persistence of hostility to Communism among Philippines Chinese communities needs to be traced to something other than promises or threats from Communist China.

The book argues that the strength of anti-Communism in the Philippines can be attributed to the international status of the ROC on Taiwan, to the welcome that Taipei received in Manila, and above all to the role played by the KMT as a loose transnational constellation of party branches, state agencies, and civic organisations that drew members and affiliates together in an Asia-wide anti-Communist ‘ecumene’ linked hierarchically with ROC Taiwan.

The author offers a number of contingent features that set the Philippines Chinese community apart from its peers in Southeast Asia in partial explanation for its relentlessly anti-Communist stance. For one, it was an exceptionally homogeneous community, with over three quarters hailing from a single prefecture (former Quanzhou Prefecture) in Fujian Province. Secondly, most Chinese residents were denied Philippines citizenship and were left with little choice but to retain extensive links through the KMT to ROC Taiwan, where they were registered as citizens. It was no easy matter for an anti-anti-Communist (let alone a Communist) Chinese resident to survive and prosper under the watchful eye of local KMT party branches or a government in Manila which effectively outsourced management of the community to authorities in Taipei.

The book offers chapter-length studies of the KMT’s early years in the Philippines; the destruction of the pro-Communist left and rise of the KMT after the Japanese occupation; the refashioning of local Chinese community identities under Cold War conditions; ROC-Philippines relations in the Cold War; Philippine-Chinese visits to ‘Free China;’ the role of education and culture in transnational anti-Communism; and signs of resistance to this expanding anti-Communist ecumene.  Anti-Communism envelopes the story but does little to hide the constant struggles that took place within the Chinese community among local Kuomintang factions, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, and official representatives of ROC Taiwan, thrown together in a kind of distorted class warfare, waged from below, and targeting the wealthy among them. The book maintains that anti-Communism served as a platform for struggle over the redistribution of wealth and status within the Philippines Chinese community – not unlike Communism were it permitted to flourish.

The book concludes with reflections on the changing status of Philippines Chinese once ROC Taiwan lost international standing with the PRC’s admission to the United Nations in 1971 and Manila recognising Beijing in 1975. From that time forward, the local KMT network started to crumble, Taiwan’s role in Chinese language education diminished, Chinese schools were ‘Filipinized,’ and citizenship procedures were simplified for foreign nationals (including Chinese born overseas) while younger generation Philippines Chinese became increasingly integrated into wider Philippines society. The book concludes, as it begins, by showing that the fate of Philippines Chinese was inextricably bound up with fate of Taiwan and the ruling KMT party from the beginning to the end of Asia’s Cold War.

Methodologically, the book is quite adventurous. While situated in empirical history and tracing a strong narrative arc around archival sources and personal papers, it engages at the same time with the emerging field of inter-Asia cultural studies, pioneered by Chen Kuan-Hsing and others working to decolonise knowledge production about the states and societies of Asia.[5] Similarly, the book’s signature idea of an intra-Asian Anti-Communist ecumene draws on anthropologist Susan Bayly’s studies of postcolonial Asia.[6] This close engagement with post-colonial and inter-Asia studies is clearly illustrated in the book’s attenuation of the role of the US in the Philippines’ experience of the Cold War. Although mindful of the legacy of five decades (1898-1946) of American colonial occupation preceding this period, the book relegates the US to a minor player in the community’s Cold War engagement: East Asia’s Cold War was “waged not by the United States… but by Asian countries and peoples working with each other” (2). Anti-Communism, like Communism, was not comfortable with the country’s colonial past.

In this history, agency rests with the regional Kuomintang network that was headquartered in ROC Taiwan, and with the government of the Philippines, and with local community members who enjoyed networked relations with communities elsewhere in the region. On these points the book achieves its author’s ambitious aspiration to imagine a global Chinese history that explores how Chineseness is made and unmade, from one site to another, by drawing on the lived words and experience of Chinese peoples in their many local settings.

While exemplary in its attempt to restore agency over Cold War anti-Communism to the peoples and states of Asia, the study retains one feature of earlier Cold War studies in Asia that merits further consideration – the overtly secular approach of the social sciences generally. One overlooked feature of the Philippines Chinese community that set it apart from its peers in the region was its pattern of religious practice and belief, or what could be called its religious ecumene. The book’s creative adaptation of the term ecumene could have been elaborated further to embrace this religious dimension.

In the social sciences, an ecumene refers to a common field of human interaction or to networked spaces defined by ties of ideological sympathy among like-minded actors. In Christian religious circles, an ecumene customarily refers to a universal communion of believers transcending differences of ethnicity, nationality, and statehood. As it happens, one of the distinctive features of Philippines anti-Communism during the Cold War was its connection with a wider Catholic ecumene.[7] The Catholic connection is noted in passing but not closely integrated into the narrative or the argument of the book.

In the period under review, it is estimated that almost two-thirds of Philippines Chinese considered themselves Roman Catholics. It would be surprising if they did not engage with the global anti-communist Catholic ecumene that extended from underground resistance among countries in Eastern Europe, to support for underground Catholics in the People’s Republic of China, to more public anti-Communist agitation among Catholic congregations in Vietnam and Latin America.[8] The scale and impact of this global Catholic anti-Communist movement was unrelated to the degree of Communist threat in a particular country or the appeal of Communism from one site to the next. Through sympathetic ties and routine ritual performances, adherents in places where Communism presented little challenge or threat were tied empathetically to fellow adherents who were suffering (they felt) under Communist tyranny. A threat to one appeared a threat to all.

American colonial authorities, post-colonial advisers, and Christian and Mormon missionaries were contemptuous of the lingering Spanish influence of Catholicism in the Philippines. This may have counted for something among the majority of Philippines Chinese who counted themselves Catholic.  Indigenous Catholicism arguably linked Chinese in the Philippines more closely to the universal Catholic ecumene extending from Manila to Saigon to Warsaw to Milwaukee than to Cold War strategists in Washington. 

Historians of diplomacy will find Diasporic Cold Warriors a welcome addition to the growing library of historical studies placing diplomatic relations in their social, cultural, and domestic political settings.  For students of intra-Asian cultural studies, the book offers a compelling argument for close archival reading. For historians of Chinese overseas it suggests exciting new lines of inquiry.



The story of the relatively small overseas Chinese community in the Philippines has not been well represented in the historiography of the Chinese diaspora. This book, narrating a history of the Philippine-Chinese community during the Cold War, is thus a welcome contribution to the field. Yet far more than just filling a lacuna in the scholarship, Chien-Wen Kung’s Diasporic Cold Warriors makes an important intervention that may change our understanding of how Communism and “anticommunism” helped shape political and ethno-cultural identity among different segments of the Chinese diaspora.

The first two chapters of the book describe the activities of the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party, KMT) and Chinese Communism in the Philippines prior to 1949, when the Republic of China (ROC) party-state was defeated in the mainland and relocated to Taiwan. These chapters broaden the pre-1949 history of the KMT from a mainland-centered focus, examining the KMT from a transnational perspective starting from its early days in China’s post-imperial order. In this early period, the KMT’s position among the Chinese diaspora in the Philippines was still tenuous. While the KMT experienced an uptick in support following its consolidation of power on the mainland in 1927, it still had other rivals for support among the Philippine-Chinese community. Chinese leaders in the Philippines looked to the KMT less for ideological reasons and more for institutional legitimacy and the KMT’s support for their rights. The US colonial government, which, for its part, was eager to retain the benefits of Chinese merchant activity, was willing to delegate responsibility for Chinese society to local Chinese leaders and ROC representatives.

After the end of World War II, the KMT allied with the Philippine government to root out the Chinese political left, arresting, deporting, and sometimes killing Chinese Communists. After the Philippines gained independence in 1946, the Philippine government continued to allow local Chinese leaders supported by the KMT to exercise control over the Chinese community, a system Kung refers to as “shared sovereignty,” borrowing a concept introduced by Stephen Krasner.[9] This system of shared sovereignty played out in two major ways: education and citizenship. The Philippine government outsourced Chinese education to private institutions, many of which were KMT-run. And by embracing the principle of jus sanguinis under the ROC Nationality Law, the Philippine government sanctioned the ROC’s authority over the local Chinese community. Kung notes here that the system of shared sovereignty he describes for the Chinese community in the Philippines was unique among the KMT and the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia, a difference that he ascribes in part to the much smaller Chinese population in the Philippines. In Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Malaya, by contrast, Chinese communities were at least several times larger, and these states sought to nationalize their Chinese populations and limit the local influence of the Chinese state. 

The middle chapters of the book delve into anti-Communism among the Chinese community in the Philippines during the Cold War. Adopting Michel de Certeau’s notion of “tactics,”[10] Kung asserts that anti-Communism in the Chinese community in the Philippines was not exclusively, or even primarily, an ideological position; it was also a social phenomenon that included a broad array of strategies for Chinese in the Philippines to establish their reputations, build relationships with Filipino elites, and compete against one another for power within the community. As Kung describes in these chapters, the KMT’s growing influence among the Chinese community in the Philippines owed much to a climate of fear and anti-Chinese prejudice, with the practice of anti-Communism becoming a marker of identification with both the ROC and with the Philippine state. At the same time, allegations of Communist sympathies could be a weapon employed within the Chinese community to marginalize opponents.

These chapters also show that the relationship of shared sovereignty could be fraught, requiring renegotiation over time. This is vividly illustrated by the case of the mass arrests of suspected Chinese Communists by Philippine military intelligence forces in December 1952. In contrast with similar cases in Indonesia and Thailand carried out with the cooperation of the ROC government, the arrests in the Philippines took place without ROC involvement, and many of those arrested were in fact KMT members. Only years of lobbying by local Chinese leaders and ROC diplomats secured the release of these detainees, most of whom were in actuality not connected to any Communist activity.

While perhaps the heart of this book lies in the story of anti-Communism among the Chinese community in the Philippines in the 1950s, chapter 6 moves into the 1960s and chapter 7 pushes into the early 1970s. Chapter 6 describes tours of Taiwan organized for Philippine Chinese by the ROC government and local Chinese civic organizations in the Philippines. Interestingly, the itineraries for these tours of the ROC, including factories, schools, model villages, and infrastructure construction projects (163), closely match the itineraries for contemporaneous tours of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for overseas Chinese and other travelers,[11] as well as those of tours for PRC travelers to other socialist states.[12] Kung describes these tours as a form of “experiential nationalism,” an experience in which the ROC sought to establish Taiwan not as a “home” (jia) – for indeed it was not the native place of any of these visitors – but rather as “a place from which one’s native places in China, ‘sucked into a black iron curtain,’ could be reclaimed” (163).

Finally, the case of the independent-minded China Commercial News described in the seventh and final substantive chapter illustrates how in the 1960s and early 1970s, in contrast to the mass arrests in 1952, the KMT was able to more fully exercise shared sovereignty. The more than decade-long campaign against the China Commercial News and its publishers shows the KMT working to maintain ideological conformity, even when those who veered from KMT orthodoxy were not Communists. Yet the China Commercial News case represents one of the final acts in the KMT’s exercise of power over the Chinese community in the Philippines, as over the course of the 1970s the Philippine state normalized relations with the PRC and asserted control over Chinese educational institutions.

Making extensive use of ROC and KMT archives, as well as articles from the Philippine-Chinese press, this book is meticulously researched and clearly organized. It will be of particular interest to scholars of the Cold War in Asia and triangular relations among the ROC, the PRC, and the nations of Southeast Asia. The book assumes the reader will have some familiarity with the history of the KMT; further background on Chinese migration and society in the Philippines prior to the KMT’s 1927 consolidation of power might have helped to make it more accessible to non-specialist readers. This, however, is a minor quibble.

Diasporic Cold Warriors takes its place as an important contribution to recent groundbreaking scholarship on the Chinese diaspora in Asia. It is particularly useful to read the book alongside Taomo Zhou’s recent monograph on the Chinese diaspora in Indonesia, Migration in the Time of Revolution,[13] as the two books show the strikingly different ways that the Indonesian and Philippine states, and the Chinese communities within them, engaged with the KMT/ROC, the PRC, Communism, and the question of citizenship. Yet Kung’s book is not singularly, or even primarily, state-focused. Indeed, one of the greatest strengths of Diasporic Cold Warriors is its attention to the social implications of anti-Communism and the interplay of the cultural and political aspects of Chinese ethnic identity. Those features alone would make the book essential reading for historians of the Chinese diaspora in the twentieth century.



Chien-Wen Kung’s Diasporic Cold Warriors: Nationalist China, Anticommunism, and the Philippine Chinese is a deeply researched and elegantly conceptualized study of the Philippine Chinese community’s involvement in the Asian Cold War. It joins Taomo Zhou’s Migration in the Time of Revolution as a pioneering model of a new kind of Cold War history rooted in the social turn, transnationalism, and diaspora studies.[14]  Kung’s book also strongly suggests that historians ought to view the intra-Chinese conflict between supporters of the Nationalist Party (KMT) which fled to Taiwan in 1949 and the Communist party as a crucial driver of local cold-war conflict that is every bit as important as bilateral or trilateral rivalries between the China, the United States, and the Soviet Union.

Kung argues that a succession of Filipino governments after 1946 embarked on a project of “shared sovereignty” with the KMT which allowed local Chinese leaders “supported by a Chinese state, to manage their own affairs” (9). Philippine willingness to effectively outsource the governance of local Chinese communities to the KMT stemmed from shared ideological affinity as well as limited state capacity. He suggests that historians should understand the KMT as a “transnational party-state” (7) which worked through local business, educational, political, and cultural networks to mobilize and govern overseas Chinese in the name of anti-Communism, partly to compensate for its own comparative weakness and vulnerability. Anti-Communism as Kung defines it was a “set of localized and transnational social, cultural, and political practices” whose aims were performative as well as ideological (11).

The outmigration of Chinese in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century transformed the politics of late colonialism in Southeast Asia. Colonial governments and anticolonial movements alike viewed local Chinese with suspicion and often sought to proscribe their social and political roles, especially as the conflict between the KMT and Communist Party deepened after 1927. Through 1941 both the Communist Party and KMT sought to organize Philippine Chinese, though with only modest success, partly because organizations such as the General Chamber of Commerce sought to maintain their independence from both sides. After the Japanese surrender, the deepening civil war in China sparked violent conflict between local supporters of the KMT and Communist Party that intersected with an uprising by the Communist-led Hukbalahap movement in the southern Philippines, which some Philippine Chinese supported. Local KMT officials pressed their advantage and “entered into an alliance of convenience with the Philippine police and military against a resurgent Chinese left,” supporting the political persecution and even deportation of leftist Philippine Chinese (73).  At the same time, the treaty of recognition between the new Philippine government and the Republic of China (ROC) accorded the latter the right to establish and operate schools for Chinese nationals, effectively ceding control of local education to the KMT (69). The Philippine government’s more deliberate embrace of the KMT was initially an outlier compared to neighboring governments like Indonesia’s, which sought to assert greater control over and periodically persecuted local Chinese communities to bolster their own nationalist credibility.

Over the next decade, the KMT consolidated its control over a range of civil, business, cultural, and educational institutions in the Philippine Chinese community. As it did so, local KMT leaders promoted a civic identify that was grounded in a totalizing anti-Communism that they hoped would demonstrate their loyalty to the Philippine government (87). The hunt for a rapidly dwindling number of actual domestic Philippine Chinese leftists created myriad opportunities for people who wielded anti-Communism as a resource in the pursuit of more personal or pecuniary aims, including gangsters, con-men, and businessmen seeking to eliminate rivals (89-95). Kung’s detailed, intimate portraits of prominent Philippine Chinese like the intelligence operative Edward Lim demonstrate that anti-Communism was not just an ideology but a public and private performance, one that had to be repeated on a daily basis lest one be accused by even more committed actors (98-99).

By the end of the decade, the KMT had cemented its control over Philippine Chinese life and successfully melded support for itself with the broader cause of anti-Communism. It founded organizations such as the Philippine Chinese Organization in Support of Anti-Communist Movement (1951) whose membership and leadership overlapped with other civic, business, and educational associations like the General Association of Chinese Schools, creating constant pressure to publicly demonstrate one’s commitment to anti-Communism. Kung observes that “cultural life and schools in particular became the principal sites for propagandization, mobilization, and activism in support of the ROC” (125). The KMT also forged transnational ties between Philippine organizations and regional counterparts through the formation of the Asian Peoples’ Anti-Communist League in 1956. These efforts persisted even in the face of campaigns by the Philippine government later in the decade to curtail the economic and political influence of Chinese Philippine citizens. In 1962 and 1970 the KMT even cooperated with the Marcos government to prosecute and deport the Philippine Chinese editor and publisher of the Chinese Commercial News as alleged Communists, though the evidence against them was scant and the case stoked widespread anti-Chinese sentiment that adversely affected the broader Philippine Chinese community (181-213).

The KMT and ROC’s influence in the Philippines began to decline rapidly after the Nixon Administration’s opening to China and Manilla’s establishment of diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1975. This suggests that we must understand KMT/ROC influence in the Philippines at least in part as the shadow cast by US recognition of Taiwan as the legitimate government of China through the end of the Vietnam War. The United States is present here, but largely off-stage as a structuring influence through the provision of aid and broader patterns of military and political support for successive Filipino administrations. The KMT’s success in directing the ethnic and imagined national loyalties of Philippine Chinese towards a territory that most had never visited is a testament to the power of its associational politics and ability to project sovereignty at distance.  But it was also a reflection of the profound vulnerability of a Taiwan whose survival depended in part on convincing its neighbors that it was a functioning state. The willingness of successive Philippine administrations to “share sovereignty” (7) with Taiwan was likewise a function of its still embryonic state capacity, a need which had dissipated by the early 1970s.

Kung’s excavation of a quarter century of KMT dominance of the Philippine Chinese community raises a number of broader considerations about the way we think about the Cold War in Asia. Along with Taomo Zhou, Meredith Oyen, and others, Kung demonstrates the need for an expanded regional conception of PRC/ROC rivalry in East and Southeast Asia centered on diasporic communities.[15] More so perhaps even than US-Soviet, Sino-US, or Sino-Soviet rivalry, intra-Chinese rivalries and the KMT’s intensive, decades-long effort to mobilize Philippine Chinese under the twin banner of ROC nationalism and anti-Communism profoundly distorted local politics. Anti-Communism was both a glue and a resource that local Philippine Chinese could deploy to suit their own purposes, often to profoundly antidemocratic ends, but it also carried broader implications for Philippine politics. One question Kung might have usefully explored in greater detail is whether the KMT/ROC project in the Philippines helped to create the political climate in which President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972, a decision that was likewise justified in the name of anti-Communism.

Kung also demonstrates the power of a transnational frame for narrating the history of anti-Communism in East and Southeast Asia, and perhaps globally. Anti-Communists in the Philippines, South Vietnam, Taiwan, Indonesia (after 1965), and Malaysia mobilized through and around states, sharing intelligence, repertoires of tactics, resources, ideology, and legitimacy, as Colleen Woods and Max Fibiger, among others have shown.[16] How can we connect the KMT/ROC’s diasporic project with the broader transnational project in which it was embedded? Should we view anti-Communist internationalism in Southeast Asia as part of a broader transnational movement, as Kyle Burke argues, or should we view it primarily as a series of regional projects?[17] How did local Philippine Chinese think about the politics of anti-Communism elsewhere in the region and their contribution to it? Kung’s research, though grounded in a range of archival sources from the US, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Singapore, does not speak in great detail to these broader connections.

These questions aside, Diasporic Cold Warriors admirably succeeds on its own terms. Deeply researched and persuasive in its arguments, it demonstrates the narrative and interpretive possibilities of Cold War histories that decenter great power conflict and foreground local and transnational politics.



I thank John Fitzgerald, Gavin Healy, and Brad Simpson for their generous reviews of Diasporic Cold Warriors and thoughtful questions. I have long admired Fitzgerald and Simpson’s scholarship and learned much from Awakening China and Economists with Guns.[18] I am also grateful to Dong Wang for organizing the roundtable and for giving me an opportunity to reflect, in print, on the book, just over half a year after it was published.

I am delighted that Diasporic Cold Warriors has found an audience among specialists in the typically distinct fields of modern Chinese and Cold War Southeast Asian history. Like Taomo Zhou’s Migration in the Time of Revolution, my book uses post-1945 Chinese migration history to connect these fields, but focuses on the Republic of China (ROC)-Kuomintang (KMT) party-state and the Philippines rather than the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Indonesia.[19] As Fitzgerald writes, and I explain further in the conclusion, the book is meant to be a contribution to something I call, drawing inspiration from Sinophone Studies and Critical Han Studies, global Chinese history.[20] Rather than centering ‘China’ (a polyvalent, constructed entity), it “explores how Chineseness is made and unmade, from one site to another, by drawing on the lived words and experience of Chinese peoples in their many local settings.” To use Fitzgerald’s own idiom, the Chinese nation that the KMT sought to ‘awaken,’ well into the latter half of the twentieth century, existed beyond the borders of the mainland and Taiwan. I have often had to explain this in my conversations with Area Studies specialists on China.

As with China-centrism in the field of modern Chinese history, conventionally conceived, this book also departs from the US-centrism and state-centrism of much cold-war Southeast Asian history. In part because of the accessibility of US government sources, scholars from Simpson to Daniel Fineman to Edward Miller have produced excellent monographs within the ‘US-Southeast Asian Country X’ framework.[21] I have also made use of US archival materials, but I am not a US foreign relations historian. In reading these materials, I could not help but notice the limits to US influence and involvement in Philippine-Chinese society, a relatively unimportant subset of an otherwise important cold-war client for the United States. Conversely, state archives in Taiwan such as Academia Historica teem with information on this society and suggest that the ROC was far more interested in and embedded within it than the United States was. In the Philippines, grassroots sources produced by ethnic Chinese organizations and collected by the Kaisa Heritage Center likewise underscore the ROC and KMT’s preponderant role in diasporic society and culture. All this explains the book’s “attenuation of the role of the US in the Philippines’ experience of the Cold War,” in Fitzgerald’s words. It explains why, as Healy writes, the book “is not singularly, or even primarily, state-focused” and attends to the “social implications of anti-Communism and the interplay of the cultural and political aspects of Chinese ethnic identity.” Simpson very kindly describes Diasporic Cold Warriors as a “pioneering model of a new kind of Cold War history rooted in the social turn, transnationalism, and diaspora studies,” although I can hardly claim to be the first person to study cold-war social, cultural, and diasporic history or cold-war history that “decenter[s] great power conflict and foreground[s] local and transnational politics.”[22] I appreciate that Fitzgerald reminds me of my intellectual debt to Taiwanese cultural theorist Kuan-Hsing Chen. His call for “using the idea of Asia as an imaginary anchoring point” so that “societies in Asia can become each other’s points of reference” encapsulates what I am trying to do in the book.[23]

Let me now turn to reviewers’ specific questions and comments. Simpson and Fitzgerald are both interested in the broad theme of anti-Communist internationalism in Asia that features in my book, but approach it from different angles. Citing Kyle Burke,[24] Simpson asks, first, if we should “view anti-Communist internationalism in Southeast Asia as part of a broader transnational movement,” or if anti-Communist internationalism was “primarily…a series of regional projects.” Second, he wonders how far local Philippine Chinese paid attention to and were involved in the politics of anti-Communism elsewhere in the region. I do not think that the first question is an either/or question, although (with apologies to Chairman Mao Zedong) I am leaning to one side – Burke’s. East and Southeast Asian anti-Communists joined broader transnational movements, as Burke explains in tracing how the Asian Peoples’ Anti-Communist League (APACL) expanded from its founding in 1954 in South Korea to encompass participants from beyond Asia and become the World Anti-Communist League in 1967. As Hao Chen points, it was the ROC’s Ku Cheng-kang, a close ally of Chiang Kai-shek, who initiated efforts at globalizing the APACL by approaching the Latin American Anti-Communist League in 1957.[25] And as former Japanese prime minister Abe Shinzo’s assassination reminds us, there remains much to be uncovered about the Japanese right and the South Korean Unification Church as drivers of not just regional but global anti-Communism. That said, further research is also needed to explain how the dynamics and concerns of regional anti-Communist projects intersected with, but were not identical to, those of the global anti-Communist movement. Graduate students, over to you.

As for Simpson’s second question: Philippine-Chinese anti-Communists were aware of what was happening elsewhere in Southeast Asia, but focused their energies on the Philippines, China, and the Chinese diaspora rather than, say, on the Vietnam War, the Malayan Emergency, or the Cold War more generally. References to these events in propaganda specifically meant for local Chinese consumption suggest that regional and global anti-Communism mattered to Philippine-Chinese anti-Communists to the extent that it imbued their specific, ROC-centered diasporic nationalist cause with wider significance. But these persons, unlike the likes of KMT Standing Committee member Ku Cheng-kang and Filipinos such as Catholic ideologue and APACL activist Jose Ma. Hernandez, rarely ventured beyond their limited transnational spheres. For example, Chapter 5 of Diasporic Cold Warriors shows that several Philippine-Chinese anti-Communists participated in the second meeting of the APACL in Manila in March 1956. However, they do not appear to have attended other APACL meetings held in other countries, unlike Ku and Hernandez. A handful of Philippine Chinese KMT members such as Cua Siok Po later joined the overseas Chinese affairs section (Section Three) of the KMT Central Committee in Taipei, as Chapter 7 details, but their imaginaries and work were again circumscribed by Chineseness.

Fitzgerald perceptively notes that the term ‘ecumene,’ which I use to describe intra-Asian anti-Communism, has a religious dimension, and suggests that Catholicism deserves more than a passing mention. I would love to have been able to discuss Catholicism and Christianity more extensively; given not only the religious landscape of the Philippines but also ROC president Chiang Kai-shek’s Protestantism and South Vietnamese president Ngô Đình Dim’s Catholicism, I thought a lot about religion during my archival research. But to my surprise, the Philippine-Chinese anti-Communist propaganda that I read was thoroughly secular in outlook, albeit with occasional references to the materialism and anti-traditionalism of communism. Such propaganda drew extensively upon generic KMT discourses that emphasized a Chinese nation under attack by ‘Communist bandits’ (‘banditry’ being a classic trope in imperial Chinese narratives of legitimacy). Philippine-Chinese anti-Communists dutifully reproduced such tropes. None of their biographies suggest that they were religious. Nonetheless, I agree that more can be done on Asian Catholicism and Christianity during the Cold War in the vein of Mitchell Tan’s work on the transnational networks of Dim’s ‘personalism’ and Joshua Tan’s forthcoming Ph.D. dissertation on the migration of Chinese Christians.[26]

Finally, Simpson would like to know more about whether the “KMT/ROC project in the Philippines helped to create the political climate in which President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972, a decision that was likewise justified in the name of anti-Communism.” The long answer to this question can be found in Chapter 7, in which I explore how the ROC Embassy, local KMT activists, and the Philippine military collaborated in 1970 to persecute and deport two liberal Chinese newspaper editors, Quintin and Rizal Yuyitung, who had published supposedly seditious, pro-Communist articles in support of the PRC (but not either of the communist parties of the Philippines). As one of the Yuyitungs’ lawyers has argued, Marcos ordered the arrest and deportation of the Yuyitungs in order to condition the people to accept authoritarian measures against liberal journalists. This being said, we should not overstate the significance of the Yuyitung affair to the declaration of martial law. It takes up four pages in Joseph Scalice’s monumental, 908-page dissertation on the coming of martial law that will soon be published in two volumes by Cornell University Press.[27] Unlike events of the 1950s, the Yuyitung affair was the only prominent episode involving suspected Chinese Communists or Communist sympathizers in the Philippines during the seven years of Marcos’s presidency before martial law was imposed. If anything, the spread of KMT-ROC influence in the 1960s, before the founding of the Communist Party of the Philippines (a Maoist organization) in 1968, had helped quell fears of Chinese Communism in the Philippines among Filipino elites such as Marcos.

Again, I thank the reviewers for taking time to read and comment on the book and H-Diplo for enabling this most enjoyable conversation.


[1] Chien-Wen Kung, Diasporic Cold Warriors: Nationalist China, Anticommunism, and the Philippine Chinese, 1930s-1970s (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2022), 222.

[2] Dong Wang, “Restructuring Governance in Contemporary Urban China: Perspectives on State and Society,” Journal of Contemporary China 20, no. 72 (November 2011), 723.

[3] George T. Yu, “The 1911 Revolution: Past, Present, and Future,” Asian Survey 31, no. 10 (October 1991), 895. Recent work can be seen in Rachel Leow, “The Patriarchy of Diaspora: Race Fantasy and Gender Blindness in Chen Da’s Studies of the Nanyang Chinese,” Twentieth-Century China 47, no. 3 (October 2022): 243-265; John Fitzgerald and Hon Ming Yip, eds., Chinese Diaspora Charity and the Cantonese Pacific, 1850-1949 (Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong Press, 2020); James Leibold, Reconfiguring Chinese Nationalism: How the Qing Frontier and its Indigenes Became Chinese (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007); Dong Wang, “The United States in the Indo-Pacific before World War II: Trends, Strategic Thinking, and Diplomatic Realities,” in Routledge Handbook of US Policy in the Indo-Pacific, ed. by Oliver Turner, Nicola Nymalm, and Wali Aslam (London: Routledge, 2022), 7-20.

[4] Frederick Mccormick, The Flowery Republic (London: John Murray, 1913), 228.

[5] Chen Kuan-Hsing, Asia as Method: Toward Deimperialization (Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2010).

[6] Susan Bayly, Asian Voices in a Postcolonial Age: Vietnam, India and Beyond (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

[7] Colleen P Woods, “Bombs, Bureaucrats, and Rosary Beads: The United States, the Philippines, and the Making of Global Anti-Communism, 1945-1960.” Ph D Dissertation, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 2012. On Catholicism and the Cold War elsewhere in Asia, see Kevin Doak, “Catholicism and the Cold War in Japan.” In Jason Morgan, ed., Information Regimes during the Cold War in East Asia (London and New York: Routledge, 2020), Chapter 6.

[8] Teresita Ang See, The Chinese in the Philippines: Problems and Perspectives (Manila: Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran, 1990).

[9] Stephen D. Krasner, “Building Democracy after Conflict: The Case for Shared Sovereignty,” Journal of Democracy 16, no. 1 (January 2005): 69-83.

[10]Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Randall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984).

[11] See, for example, Paul Hollander’s stridently anticommunist summary of such travel accounts in his Political Pilgrims: Western Intellectuals in Search of the Good Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), chapter 8.

[12] See Gavin Healy, “Touring the Socialist World: The Political and Cultural Economy of China’s Outbound Tourism, 1956-1965,” Twentieth-Century China 46, no. 1 (January 2021): 83-102.

[13] Taomo Zhou, Migration in the Time of Revolution: China, Indonesia, and the Cold War (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2019).

[14] Taomo Zhou, Migration in the Time of Revolution: China, Indonesia, and the Cold War (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2019).


[15] Zhou, Migration in the Time of Revolution; Meredith Oyen. The Diplomacy of Migration: Transnational Lives and the Making of U.S.-Chinese Relations in the Cold War. The United States in the World (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2015); Laura Madokoro. Elusive Refuge: Chinese Migrants in the Cold War (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017); Jeremy E. Taylor and Lanjun Xu, Eds. Chineseness and the Cold War: Contested Cultures and Diaspora in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong (London:: Routledge, 2022); Enze Han, “Bifurcated Homeland and Diaspora Politics in China and Taiwan towards the Overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia,” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 45:4 (2019): 577–94.

[16] Colleen Woods. Freedom Incorporated: Anticommunism and Philippine Independence in the Age of Decolonization. Cornell University Press, 2020; Mattias Fibiger, Suharto’s Cold War: Indonesia Southeast Asia, and the Cold War (Oxford, forthcoming).

[17] Nicholas Grant, Winning Our Freedoms Together. African Americans and Apartheid, 1945–1960 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2017), 117-138; Kyle Burke, Revolutionaries for the Right: Anticommunist Internationalism and Paramilitary Warfare in the Cold War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018).


[18] John Fitzgerald, Awakening China: Politics, Culture, and Class in the Nationalist Revolution (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997); Bradley R. Simpson, Economist with Guns: Authoritarian Development and U.S.-Indonesia Relations, 1960-1968 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008).

[19] Taomo Zhou, Migration in the Time of Revolution: China, Indonesia, and the Cold War (Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 2019).

[20] On Sinophone Studies, see Shu-mei Shih, “Introduction: What Is Sinophone Studies?,” in Sinophone Studies: A Critical Reader, ed. Shu-mei Shih, Chien-tsin Tsai, and Brian Bernards (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 1-16. On Critical Han Studies, see Thomas Mullaney, James Patrick Leibold, Stéphane Gros, and Eric Vanden Bussche, eds., Critical Han Studies: The History, Representation, and Identity of China’s Majority (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012).

[21] Simpson, Economists with Guns; Daniel Fineman, A Special Relationship: The United States and Military Government in Thailand, 1947–1958 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1997); Edward Miller, Misalliance: Ngo Dinh Diem, the United States, and the Fate of South Vietnam (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013).

[22] In addition to Zhou’s work, see Meredith Oyen, The Diplomacy of Migration: Transnational Lives and the Making of U.S.-Chinese Relations in the Cold War (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015); Masuda Hajimu, Cold War Crucible: The Korean Conflict and the Postwar World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015); and Michael Szonyi, Cold War Island: Quemoy on the Front Line (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

[23] Kuan-Hsing Chen, Asia as Method: Toward Deimperialization (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), 212.

[24] Kyle Burke, Revolutionaries for the Right: Anticommunist Internationalism and Paramilitary Warfare in the Cold War (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2018).

[25] Hao Chen, “Resisting Bandung? Taiwan’s Struggle for ‘Representational Legitimacy’ in the Rise of the Asian Peoples’ Anti-Communist League, 1954-57,” The International History Review 43, no. 2 (2021): 257. On Taiwan-Latin American Cold War relations, see Justina Hwang, “Cold War Courtships: Authoritarian Anti-Communism and Developmental Diplomacy in Latin America and the Republic of China, 1960-1975,” (Ph.D. diss., Brown University, 2017).

[26] Mitchell Tan, “Spiritual Fraternities: The Transnational Networks of Ngô Đình Dim’s Personalist Revolution and the Republic of Vietnam, 1955-1963,” Journal of Vietnamese Studies 14, no. 2 (2019): 1-67. Joshua Tan is a Ph.D. candidate in History at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

[27] Joseph Paul Scalice, “Crisis of Revolutionary Leadership: Martial Law and the Communist Parties of the Philippines, 1959-1974,” (Ph.D. diss., University of California Berkeley, 2017), 480-483; the first volume is The Drama of Dictatorship: Martial Law and the Communist Parties of the Philippines (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, forthcoming).