This article inquires into how “the personal” assumes specific positions relative to truth claims constitutive of twentieth-century national and international documentary systems. It analyzes migration of those identified as Chinese in and out of Burma during the late 1930s and 1940s. The focus is on how individuals, networks of people, and institutions presented and relied on information about families, physical appearance, personal interviews, and affective ties to make sense of migratory patterns resulting from Japanese military expansion.
The article argues that by the mid-1940s a layered inscription of citizenship, loyalty, and labor via “the personal” formed the basic structure of meaning mobilized in identification documents. It traces the specific ways in which this emerged around practices and policies developed to monitor and control Chinese migration within the Burma-China-India nexus. These structures not only prescribed particular evidentiary standards regarding personal interactions and signifiers that became part of national and international norms, but they also created hierarchies of affect and emotional attachment deemed appropriate for particular groupings of people, spatial designations, and material exchanges.
The focus on the personal is part of an effort to continue interrogation of Asia and its constitution as object of knowledge and lived experience in the past, present, and future. This article attends to the “the personal” as a site of potentiality to be analyzed historically as well as opened up through a continuous rethinking of Asia and the racialized relationship among nationality, state, and international orders.