This paper is a reflection on how the Kolkata Chinese community has utilized a notion of heritage over the past ten years to re-assert a sense of belonging in the city. The Kolkata Chinese community is part of the wider Chinese diaspora which settled in the Indian sub-continent during colonial times. Kolkata is an important site for this relatively under-researched diaspora, as it is the only city in the region to have developed a close-knit ‘community’ structure through its networks of associations, schools and places of worship. Kolkata is also one of the few places where a sense of ‘community’ remained after the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict, which affected the lives of Chinese Indians at various levels. Large-scale migration of the community ensued to several places, but most notably to Toronto, where Hakka members of the community have regrouped.
Faced with dwindling numbers and following wider socio-economic forces that have influenced the place of minority ethnic communities in the city, the Chinese community has increasingly used heritage as a practice of belonging. Moving between ideas of ‘community heritage’ and ‘urban heritage’, such practices continue to re-shape the engagement of the Chinese community with Kolkata’s urban space.
Jayani Bonnerjee is Assistant Professor at O.P. Jindal Global University. She is currently working on a book on the Kolkata Chinese community and the idea of cosmopolitan city that draws on her PhD (Queen Mary, University of London) and postdoctoral work (Centre de Sciences Humaines, New Delhi). Jayani has wider research interests in postcolonial urbanism in Asia and critical geographies of diaspora. Her work has been published in the Journal of Intercultural Studies, South Asian Diaspora and Global Networks.
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