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Dissertation/Book Project

Scholars have carefully studied the history of Indonesian communism from its inception in 1914 to its destruction after 1965 with a noticeable exception between 1927 and 1945. The justification is simple—the Dutch authorities crushed the Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI) completely after its unsuccessful revolts in 1927 and exercised tight political control in the remainder of the Dutch colonial period. Communism also played an insignificant role under the Japanese occupation due to the effective military suppression of clandestine activities. Historians commonly describe Indonesian communism during this period as generating lasting impact on Indonesian politics by providing a useful ideological weapon for carrying on anti-colonial struggles, but it lost its organizational significance as a cohesive force to mobilize the masses and gather them under the common political banner. Such claims are problematic for two main reasons: First, historical writings concerning Indonesia’s wide array of anti-colonial struggles, communism included, have been mostly following a nation-state-based paradigm; The second is that current scholarship tends to equate the history of Indonesian communism to the history of the communist party (PKI).

Entitled “Estranged Comrades: Global Networks of Indonesian Communism, 1926-1932," my doctoral dissertation examines Indonesia’s ongoing communist movement beyond the colonial borders after the 1926/27 PKI revolts by focusing on its global connections. I argue despite the party’s collapse in the aftermath of the uprisings, Indonesian communism persisted internationally in three “worlds” of global networks, namely international fugitive networks, the international policing networks, and networks of the Comintern-dominated international communism. Specifically, the movement continued in the fragmented fugitive networks; yet, these groups took drastically different directions due to the split of the party leadership. Additionally, Indonesian communism existed as an existential threat throughout the remainder of the colonial period and loomed large in the world of international policing. Moreover, Indonesian communism remained marginal in the world of international communist revolution, but those stayed close with the course of the Comintern gained the authority in shaping the narratives concerning the PKI’s failure in the 1920s, which served as an essential source of legitimacy for reclaiming the party leadership in the 1940s.​​

My research project has taken me to various libraries and archives across Indonesia, Singapore, and the Netherlands from 2015 to 2017. In the course of my study, I am very fortunate to have received generous support from the Department of South & Southeast Asian StudiesDutch Studies ProgramInstitute of International StudiesCenter for Chinese Studies and Center for Race and Gender at UC-Berkeley. I also held the Lee Kong Chian Research Fellowship at the National Library of Singapore from 2016 to 2017; as well as the Brill Fellowship at the Leiden University Library and Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) in 2017. The project is ongoing and I hope to eventually develop it into a book manuscript.

Transparency for Development (T4D)

Since 2015, I have been working for the Transparency for Development (T4D) project, a joint initiative by Harvard Kennedy School and the Results for Development Institute. We asked: Instead of being passive service receivers, can citizens hold their governments and other care providers accountable for delivering better services? How to empower communities to engage in transparency and accountability (T/A) activities to improve health, education, and other development outcomes? With a particular focus on maternal and newborn health (MNH), the T4D project seeks to investigate whether community-led T/A interventions can improve the outcomes of public services.


As one of the two project ethnographers in Indonesia, my job was to study the mechanisms and contexts of the T4D intervention and how it affected the local communities. Between 2015 and 2016, I conducted intensive field research in three low-income villages in South Sulawesi, an area far removed from the country's economic centers. On top of the case studies, I also compare my result with other ethnographers' work in Indonesia and Tanzania. We hope to unearth the important factors that influence how citizens experience, and react to, participatory development programs in distinct local contexts.


Having completed our fieldwork, we are working on a book that seeks to reflect on a number of critical issues surrounding ethnographic study and international development.

Academic Papers

English articles:

Chinese articles


Book reviews:


Work in progress:

  • Xie, Kankan. “Estranged Comrades: Communism, Identity Politics and Interwoven Networks of the Late Colonial Malay World, 1927-1942.” Based on Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, December 2018.

  • (With Stephen Kosack, et al.) Experiencing Participation: Community-based Healthcare Intervention in Indonesia and Tanzania.

* Book project of the Transparency for Development (T4D) project, Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Harvard Kennedy School.

Presentations, Workshops and Conferences
  • Workshop on the Natural History of Destruction: Asia's Long World War II, 10/5/2018, Columbia University, New York, NY, US 

  • The Millennium-NUS Theory Symposium: The Cold War in Asia, 7/23/2018, National University of Singapore (NUS), Singapore

  • Association for Asian Studies (AAS) Annual Conference 2018, 3/23/2018, Washington, DC, US

  • Invited talk at the Nanyang Research Institute, 11/22/2017, Xiamen University, Xiamen, China

  • The Asian Arc of the Russian Revolution Conference, 11/16/2017, Yale-NUS College, Singapore

  • Workshop on the Comintern and the National, Colonial and Racial Questions, 9/21/2017, McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada

  • Invited talk at the Leiden Southeast Asia Seminar Series, 8/10/2017, KITLV, Leiden, the Netherlands

  • Lee Kong Chian Research Fellowship 2017 Professional Sharing Session, 3/1/2017, National Library, Singapore

  • Lee Kong Chian Research Fellowship 2017 Public Sharing Session, 2/17/2017, National Library, Singapore

  • Convention of the Chinese Community of Political Science and International Studies (CCPSIS), 7/19/2016, Beijing, China

  • The 11th Singapore Graduate Forum on Southeast Asian Studies, 7/13/2016, National University of Singapore (NUS), Singapore

  • The 3rd International Conference on Chinese Indonesian Studies, 3/17/2016, Tarumanagara University, Jakarta, Indonesia

  • UC Graduate Student Workshop for Southeast Asian Studies, 4/24/2015, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA, US

  • Berkeley-Stanford Graduate Student Conference in Modern Chinese Humanities, 4/17/2015, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA, US

  • "Identity in the Making" Graduate Conference in Dutch Studies, 12/3/2014, UC-Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, US (Organizer)

  • International Conference on Malay Studies, 6/1/2014, Beijing Foreign Studies University, Beijing, China

  • The 16th Annual Southeast Asian Studies Graduate Student Conference, 3/1/2014, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, US

  • Graduate Colloquium on Indonesian History, 7/10/2013, Leiden University, Leiden, the Netherlands

  • “Asia in Transition”—the 2013 UW/UBC Graduate Asian Studies Conference, 4/12/2013, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, US

  • Berkeley Student Journal of Asian Studies (BSJAS) Annual Symposium, 4/4/2013, UC-Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, US

  • “SEA Change” Conference on Southeast Asian Studies, 3/9/2013, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA, US

  • The 6th Asian Graduate Forum on Southeast Asian Studies, 7/14/2011, National University of Singapore (NUS), Singapore

  • The 6th Biannual Northeast Conference on Indonesian Studies, 2/19/2011, Yale University, New Haven, CT, US

Research Experience
  • 2017 Dissertation research under the joint fellowship (Brill) at KITLV and Leiden University Library, Netherlands

  • 2016-17 Dissertation research under the Lee Kong Chian Research Fellowship at the National Library, Singapore

  • 2016 Dissertation research under the John L. Simpson Memorial Research Fellowship in Jakarta, Surabaya & Medan, Indonesia

  • 2015-16 Ethnographic research for the Transparency for Development (T4D) Project, South Sulawesi, Indonesia

  • 2014 Archival research on the network of Asian radical intellectuals, International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, Netherland

  • 2013 Pre-dissertation fieldwork on Indonesian late-colonial history at KITLV, Leiden, Netherlands

  • 2011 MA thesis fieldwork on Malayan left-wing movement at libraries, archives, and museums in KL & Penang, Malaysia

  • 2011 Archival research on Indonesian Chinese communities during the early-independence era, Jakarta & Surabaya, Indonesia

  • 2010 BA thesis archival research on the Anti-Japanese Struggles of Nanyang Volunteer at Yunnan Provincial Archive, China

  • 2010 Kinship Systems of the Javanese Immigrant: A Case Study of Kampung Ampangan, Kuala Selangor, Malaysia

  • 2009 Minangkabau Matrilineal System (Adat Perpatih) Kampung Beranang, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia

  • 2009 State-driven Development Programs  (MARA) for Malaysian Bumiputera Communities, Malaysia

  • 2008 Sustainable Development in Poverty-Stricken Areas: A Case Study of a Sundanese Plantation, West Java, Indonesia

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