Matthew Ng and Nicki Chow. Photo: ABC.

A Chinese court has sentenced Chinese-born Australian businessman Matthew Ng (吳植輝) to 11½ years in jail for bribery and other charges. Ng’s travel company, Et-China (易網通旅行集團) competes with the state-owned Lingnan Group (嶺南集團), and some say that the case was orchestrated so that Lingnan could take over a lucrative subsidiary of Et-China.

After the verdict, Ng told his wife to take the family back to Australia:

Handcuffed and separated by a barrier, Ng told his wife, Niki Chow, to go home to Australia as soon as possible. He then reached for her hand and kissed it before collapsing in tears. “He thinks it [China] is too dangerous and not good for the children,” Ms Chow said later.

Ng’s request brought to mind Aiwha Ong’s study of transnational Chinese businessmen and their families in the 1990s. Highly mobile Hong Kong businessmen (known as “astronauts”) often spread their families around the world as a strategy to get residency rights in Western countries, a sort of insurance policy in case the 1997 handover of Hong Kong did not go smoothly. While the astronaut husband shuttled back and forth across the Pacific, the wife would take care of the kids in North America or Australia.

The astronaut as a trope of Chinese postmodern displacement also expresses the costs of the flexible accumulation logic and the toil it takes on an overly flexible family system. [...] Wives thus localized to manage suburban homes and take care of the children–arranging lessons in ballet, classical music, Chinese language–sarcastically refer to themselves as “widows” (and computer widows), which expresses their feeling that family life is now thoroughly mediated and fragmented by the technology of travel and business.

In this case, Chow’s husband is out of the picture, not because business is going well but because it has gone horribly awry. Their family life is fragmented by the technology of travel and business and by the tricky politics of overseas Chinese people working and investing in the People’s Republic.

Ong, Aihwa. 1999. Flexible citizenship: the cultural logics of transnationality. Durham: Duke University Press.

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