Investigating the Representations of the Bruneian Chinese in Contemporary Plays

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Smith Boonchutima
Thanis Bunsom
Grace Voon Sheong Chin


The ethnic Chinese diaspora in post-independent Brunei Darussalam has widely been regarded as strangers in their own home in spite of their recognizable economic contribution, social status and high education. Approximately 42,700 Bruneian-born Chinese are currently living in the country, the majority of whom do not have Bruneian citizenship. They are labelled either stateless or permanent resident, which prevents them from acquiring rights and social welfare available to the citizens of the country. Interestingly, the marginal position of the ethnic Chinese population, a result of the country’s national philosophy of Malay Islamic Monarchy, has been captured and portrayed in recent dramatic plays written by a group of university students. In this study, we analyzed the representations of Chinese characters in three plays from the book.  In the spotlight: Bruneian plays in English (2012), a collection of plays written by students of Universiti Brunei Darussalam. In the first play, Two sides of a coin negatively addresses a Chinese character, Mr. Wong, who, despite not appearing even once, is stereotypically referred to by the Malay characters as an extravagant spender facing bankruptcy and considering suicide. The play associates the Chinese with their obsession over material wealth.  In the shadow of the Kemboja, the second play, depicts two Chinese characters, Ah Chu and Ah Lan, as caricatures representing the laughable image of the Chinese with their superstitious, talkative and prying characteristics. The final play, The reunion dinner, gives us a unique perspective through the story of a Chinese female protagonist. Aisyah, adopted by a Malay family, is seeking reconciliation with her past and calling for equitable places for the Chinese in Brunei. As a conclusion to this study, the representations of ethnic Chinese in Brunei are marginal; they are caricatures and presented as negative individuals whereas the Chinese character that has a central role manifests negotiations and ambivalence of her multiple identities.


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Author Biographies

Smith Boonchutima, Faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University

Smith Boonchutima, Assistant Professor Faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University

Thanis Bunsom, School of Liberal Arts, King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi

Thanis Bunsom, Assistant Professor Corresponding author. School of Liberal Arts, King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi

Grace Voon Sheong Chin, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Universiti Brunei Darussalam

Grace VS Chin, Ph.D., Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Universiti Brunei


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