Ke Jung-san. "Never Go to Nanyang? The Historical Memories and Exhortation in the Keh-huan-gua from
Southern Fujian." Journal of Chinese Ritual, Theatre and Folklore 179 (2013.3): 185-222.
Keh-huan (migration overseas) is the common memories of overseas Chinese from coastal provinces. Many of their forefathers migrated to
Southeast Asia (Nanyang) in search of a living. In their native hometowns as well as their destination countries, there circulated many keh-huan-gua (songs of migration overseas) that narrate these emigrants’ bitterness of a life torn away from one’s homeland. Min-nan ( Southern Fujian) has been one such renowned homeland for many overseas Chinese. Naturally keh-huan-gua abound. Some of the huan-kheh (emigrants) labored under harsh conditions, yet still fell short of making ends meet. In their despondence, they eventually returned home and lamented, “Never go to Nanyang,” “It’s not true that livelihood is easy overseas.” In historical records, however, the facts appear to be in sharp contrast to such pleas.
In this essay, I investigate and analyze the historical memories and messages of exhortation in the keh-huan-gua. The hardships and challenges such emigrants had to encounter also hit their families in hometown hard and shattered many emigrants’ dreams. In the keh-huan-gua, also known as Coolie Songs of the Chinese Laborers, the emigrant narrator exhorts his fellow countrymen never ever go to Nanyang. However, when we look into the lyrics closely, we come to realize one critical fact, i.e., “If you have no relatives to help you, don’t ever go to Nanyang.” In other words, supposing one has relatives or friends in Nanyang, support from this chain-migration network would make his expedition, instead of bitter, rather promising.
Therefore, the more convincing exhortation in these keh-huan-gua lies in a wife’s caution to her husband travelling abroad, “Let me advise you three things, abstain from alcohol, women and gambling,” and in contrast, the prodigal son’s remorse over his debaucheries.
In such light, the keh-huan-gua offer constructive advice and admonishments for the hopeful emigrants. It also indicates a weakening of the traditional notion that urges one to stay put instead of venturing afar.
Also in Journal of Chinese Ritual, Theatre and Folklore:
柯榮三。〈善人‧善書‧善念――陳江山及其《精神錄》的版本流傳與思想探源〉。《民俗曲藝》190 (2015.12): 129-89。
Ke Jung-san. "Philanthropist, Morality Books, and Benevolent Thought: An Analysis of the Editions, Circulation, and Philosophical Thinking of Chen Jiangshan’s Jingshen lu." Journal of Chinese Ritual, Theatre and Folklore 190 (2015.12): 129-89.