Dr. Fiona Lee
Researcher . Writer . Teacher

Dr. Fiona Lee is a literary and cultural studies scholar. Her research explores histories of decolonization and the global Cold War through the study of literature and the arts, with a focus on Malaysia and the Asia Pacific. Research interests include postcolonial and critical theory, world/global anglophone literature, 20th and 21st centuries literary histories of the Asia Pacific, language politics, race/ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and cultural studies. She has published essays on Malaysian literature, art, cinema, and culture. She is currently a Senior Lecturer in the English Department at Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur (Dec 2021 -). Before joining UM, she held academic appointments at the National University of Singapore, Asia Research Institute (2014–2016) and the University of Sydney, Australia (2016–2021).

Latest Publications

Invincible Communists, Invisible Labor, Interwoven Lives
September, 2023

Essay on The Asian American Writers’ Workshop as part of “The Rainforest Speaks: Reimagining the Malayan Emergency” essays and stories from a new generation of writers grappling with the Malayan Emergency.

Three artistic works, recently showcased in Kuala Lumpur and beyond, suggest why it matters that we think about the history of the Malayan Emergency in concert with the contemporary COVID-19 and climate emergencies.

Full Essay

By the Book: Malaysian Fiction and What It Says About Us
September, 2022

Podcast on BFM 89.9, The Business Station

In anticipation of Malaysia Day, we discuss how English fiction in Malaysia has evolved, and what our literature says about the country, culture, and our aspirations. We close off the conversation with recommendations of local fiction to check out.

Produced by: Lee Chwi Lynn, Sharmilla Ganesan


Feminist Collaborations: In Conversation with Lan Duong
January, 2022

In August 2021, Amy Tong and I had the privilege of speaking with Lan Duong about her poetry, scholarship on diasporic Vietnamese literature, art, and cinema, and community arts activism. The interview, “Feminist Collaborations: In Conversation with Lan Duong” is now published in Southeast Asia Review in English and is part of a special issue on Transpacific American Literature.

We embarked on a wide-ranging conversation about the relationship between creative practice and critical scholarship, theorising and practising feminist collaboration, right-wing politics in Asian immigrant/diasporic communities, and the importance of situating refugee narratives within broader histories of imperialism and settler colonialism. In sharing her work with us, Lan offers a glimpse of the exciting, much needed work happening in the field of critical refugee studies.

Full Article

Barbarian Invasion: Malaysian New Wave’s return to self
December, 2021

My review of Barbarian Invasion 野蛮人入侵 (2021, dir. Tan Chui Mui), a riveting meditation on motherhood, transnational Southeast Asian cinema and the demanding sacrifices involved in filmmaking.

Full Article
Malaysia Design Archive: A Digital Undercommons

Malaysia Design Archive: A Digital Undercommons
July, 2021

In 2019, I embarked on a project with Malaysia Design Archive (MDA) to explore how its archival practices and engagement with the arts and activ- ist communities presented opportunities for theorizing the notion of archives anew. Emerging out of this ongoing collaboration, this essay considers the significance of digital information communication technologies in shaping MDA’s mission, history, and growth.

Full Article

Invisible Threads
June, 2021

Essay on artworks by Sharon Chin for the Protest and Recuperation exhibition at the Wallach Art Gallery,
Lenfest Center for the Arts, Columbia University.

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Neutralizing English: Han Suyin and the language politics of Third World literature
April, 2021

The writings of Han Suyin during her sojourn in British Malaya from the 1950s to 1960s are a rich archive for understanding how the Cold War’s impact on postcolonial nation-building contributed to the remaking of English as a supposedly neutral language. Han styled herself as a spokesperson for China to the English-speaking world during the early decades of communist rule. Her writings arguably helped to fashion English as a transparent medium for representing Asia, a conception of language that informs global literary publishing today. Yet her work, which was influenced by her participation in the Afro-Asian Writers Conferences organized in the wake of the 1955 Bandung Conference, as well as her experience of living in Malaya during the colonial counter-insurgency against communists, also offers insights on how English’s neutrality ought to be understood in relation to forestalled Third World movements and racialized antagonisms in postcolonial nations.

Full article
seacc stories

The Subject and the Partner in Malaysia: A Discussion with Fiona Le‪e‬
April, 2021

Dr Thushara Dibley speaks with Dr Fiona Lee about a unique research project she’s been managing on cultural archives in Malaysia, where her research partner is also the subject of her research.



“Han Chinese racism and Malaysian contexts: cosmopolitan racial formations in Tan Twan Eng’s The Garden of Evening Mists.” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 20.2 June 2019: 220-237. [pdf]

“Epistemological Checkpoint: The Novelization of the Malayan Emergency in Han Suyin’s …And the Rain My Drink.Postcolonial Text 9.1 (2014). 1–14. [pdf]

“Spectral History: Unsettling Nation Time in The Last Communist.” Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies 39.1 (March 2013). 77–95. [pdf]

Book Reviews

“Review: Cindy Hing-Yuk Wong, Film Festivals: Culture, People, and Power on the Global Screen.” Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media 3 (2012): n. pag. [link].

“Review: Homay King, Lost in Translation: Orientalism, Cinema, and the Enigmatic Signifier.” Interventions: International Journal of Postcolonial Studies 14.2 (2012): 319–321. [pdf]

“National Ghosts and Global Literature.” Reviews in Cultural Theory 1.2 (2010): n. pag. [link]


“Reading the Transnational in the Local. Or, How the Local Travels: The Case of Survival Guide Untuk Kampung Radioaktif.” In Media Res: A Media Commons Project. January 25, 2012.

The Frontline of Privatizing Public Higher Education.Possible Futures: A Project of the Social Science Research Council. November 28, 2011.