This article examines the rise of the international refugee regime in Asia, focusing on the work of the International Refugee Organization in repatriating overseas Chinese from mainland China back to their homes in Southeast Asia from 1947 to 1956. It looks both at how the International Refugee Organization inherited this repatriation project from its predecessor—the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration—and its survival after a civil war installed a new, Communist government on the Chinese mainland. Doing so reveals the extent to which both Chinese governments had to rely on outside assistance to fulfil an important task of maintaining positive ties between Chinese abroad and the homeland. Using research from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs archives in Beijing and Taipei, as well as records from relevant parties in the British and American governments, this article places the repatriation programme and the larger efforts of the International Refugee Organization in Asia in a broader context of regional foreign relations and the origins of the Cold War.
1 Holborn, Louise W., The International Refugee Organization, A Specialized Agency of the United Nations, Its History and Work 1946–1952 (London: Oxford University Press, 1956), p. 15.
2 In this case, unwanted remnant troops proved as likely to be Chinese as Japanese, as both Vietnam and Burma struggled to remove Nationalist troops from occupying their borderlands with China.
3 On the history of the overseas Chinese as a subject of political, economic or security concern to Southeast Asian governments, see Kuhn, Philip A., Chinese Among Others: Emigration in Modern Times (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2008); Wang, Gungwu, The Overseas Chinese (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002); Lary, Diana, Chinese Migrations: The Movement of People, Goods, and Ideas over Four Millennia (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2012).
4 See Salomon, Kim, Refugees in the Cold War (Lund: Studentlitteratur, 1991); Loescher, Gil, The UNHCR and World Politics: A Perilous Path (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001). Studies of the American response to the displaced persons crisis have also centred on the much larger scale efforts in Europe; see Shephard, Ben, The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011); Genizi, Haim, America's Fair Share: The Admission and Resettlement of Displaced Persons, 1945–1952 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1993), pp. 67–68.
5 Reinisch, Jessica, ‘“Auntie UNRRA” at the Crossroads’, Past and Present, Supplement 8 (2013), pp. 70–97.
6 For example, Mark, Chi-Kwan, ‘The “Problem of People”: British Colonials, Cold War Powers, and the Chinese Refugees in Hong Kong, 1949–62’, Modern Asian Studies 41, No. 6 (2007), pp. 1145–1181; and Davis, Michael G., ‘Impetus for Immigration Reform: Asian Refugees and the Cold War’, Journal of American-East Asian Relations 7, Nos. 3–4 (Fall–Winter 1998), pp. 127–156.
7 Elaine Lynn-Ee Ho, ‘Transnational Identities, Multiculturalism or Assimilation? China's “Refugee-Returnees” and Generational Transitions’.
8 Woodbridge, George, UNRRA: the History of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (New York: Columbia University Press, 1950), pp. 372–374.
9 In Chinese, the 行政院善後救濟總署.
10 Woodbridge, UNRRA, p. 375. The official UNRRA history offers a fairly sanguine assessment of cooperation between the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and the China National Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (not to mention Communist Liberated Areas Relief Administration), through it does admit that early activities were ‘marred by disagreements, inefficiency, and considerable friction’. Woodbridge, UNRRA, p. 376.
11 The tension between China's anti-imperialism and transnational cooperation with the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration is demonstrated in Mitter, Rana, ‘Imperialism, Transnationalism, and the Reconstruction of Post-war China: UNRRA in China, 1944–7’, Past and Present Supplement 8 (2013), pp. 51–69.
12 The record of the China National Relief and Rehabilitation Administration proved to be something of a mixed bag. By all accounts, it managed to achieve at least some of its goals, though numerous accounts document the pervasive corruption that governed all of its transactions. See, for example, Chapter 8 of the admittedly polemical memoir from former United States Foreign Service officer Kerr, George, Formosa Betrayed (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1965).
13 僑務委員會送來 ‘卅二年集僑務統計’, 55, 18/1677, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Archive (MOFA), Number Two Historical Archive, Nanjing, China.
14 UN Economic and Social Council, Third Year, Seventh Session, Report on Progress and Prospects of Repatriation, Resettlement, and Immigration of Refugees and Displaced Persons, Foreign Office (FO) 371/72049, Public Records Office, The National Archives, Kew, UK (PRO-TNA).
15 僑務委員會海外各地華僑復員及人民申請出國證明限制辦法摘錄, 1944–46, 370/29, Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission (OCAC), Nanjing.
16 僑務委員會第二二九次常務會議議事日程, 19 September 1945, 370/10, OCAC, Nanjing; 僑務委員會第二三零次常務會議議事日程, 9 October 1945, 370/10, OCAC, Nanjing. The United States was among the destination countries for returnees that proved sceptical of missing paperwork; in one case, many Chinese visiting Hong Kong on the eve of the war lost their paperwork when the city fell to the Japanese. Replacing paperwork was possible but time consuming, and American consuls were so wary of fraudulent entries that it could be challenging. Memorandum by American Consul General Canton, 14 June 1946, 130.00, Box 3, Canton Security General, Record Group (RG) 84, US National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD (Archives II); Tina Mai Chen, ‘Chinese Residents of Burma as Refugees, Evacuees, and Returnees: The Shared Racial Logic of Territorialization in the Regulation of Wartime Migration’.
17 僑務委員會廣東僑務處報告書, 1946–48, 28/1/3, File of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission, Guangdong Provincial Archive, Guangzhou, China.
18 Greene, Katrine R. C., ‘Repatriating China's Expatriates’, Far Eastern Survey 17.4 (25 February 1948), p. 45. Less often articulated but certainly at play was also the fact that the Chinese in Southeast Asia came to be seen as middlemen and collaborators with European colonial regimes by the local populations; though not everyone who migrated was a merchant or a master of import/export trade, enough Chinese filled these positions in places like Vietnam, Malaya, and Indonesia for anti-colonial movements rising up after the war to oppose Chinese return. The extent to which local nationalists dictated returns as opposed to European colonial officials differed by location and was often in flux. Kuhn, Chinese Among Others, pp. 286–299.
19 Memo to Glen E. Edgerton, Maj Gen, USA, Dir UNRRA China offices, from DH Clarke, Dir Repat Branch Office, UNRRA HK, 22 September 1946, 370/77, OCAC, Nanjing. The Philippines flat out condemned them, saying that they could not accept any system in which the UNRRA, not the Philippine Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was responsible for screening migrants. 菲律賓外交部電復中國外交部拒絕華僑經由聯合國善後救濟總署駐香港辦事處發給旅行簽證返回菲景, 23 November 1946, in Repatriated Overseas Chinese After World War II: A Documentary Collection, Vol. II (Taipei: Academia Historica, 2004), pp. 303–304.
20 Greene, ‘Repatriating China's Expatriates’, p. 46.
21 Telegram to Chang Peng-chun in New York from MOFA, 2 October 1946, 642/0049, 國際難民組織指南 (11-INO-05758), Ministry of Foreign Affairs Archive, Academia Sinica, Taipei, Taiwan (MOFA Taipei).
22 The division of labour between the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and the China National Relief and Rehabilitation Administration was quite clear: the international organization was responsible for shipping, food and medical supplies aboard ship, and escort personnel along with leading the way on negotiations with foreign governments. The Chinese government's organization under took care, maintenance, and transportation to the port of departure. See UNRRA Committee for the Far East Report, 3 June 1946, 642/0049, 國際難民組織指南 (11-INO-05758), MOFA Taipei.
23 Holborn, The International Refugee Organization, p. 31.
24 Frank S. Adams, ‘IRO Constitution Submitted to Members by 30–5 Vote’, New York Times, 16 December 1946. The split in the final vote demonstrates the extent to which refugee work in Europe became engulfed in Cold War politics, and supports the arguments of scholars suggesting that the International Refugee Organization helped to further divisions between the Eastern and Western blocs.
25 Mitter, ‘Imperialism, Transnationalism’, p. 61.
26 僑務委員會廣東僑務處報告書, 1946–48, 28/1/3, File of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission, Guangdong Provincial Archive, Guangzhou, China.
27 Report on 5th Part of 1st Session, PCIRO, 18 February 1945, FO 371/107252, PRO/TNA.
28 The United States was committed to paying 45.75 per cent of the International Refugee Organization budget. ‘China Announces Adherence to IRO’, New York Times, 25 April 1947. When China did finally sign on, the New York Times hailed the decision as ‘a complete surprise’.
29 Greene, ‘Repatriating China's Expatriates’, p. 47.
30 Washington Embassy to Nanjing MOFA, Telegram 4571, 15 April 1947, 642/0049, 國際難民組織指南 (11-INO-05758), MOFA Taipei.
31 Greene, ‘Repatriating China's Expatriates’, p. 47.
32 Washington Embassy to Nanjing MOFA, Telegram 4571, 15 April 1947, 642/0049, 國際難民組織指南 (11-INO-05758), MOFA Taipei.
33 我國應參加國際難民機構案, n.d., 642/0049, 國際難民組織指南 (11-INO-05758), MOFA Taipei.
34 Holborn, The International Refugee Organization, p. 767.
35 There was an additional reservation about the financial arrangements, ensuring that Chinese funds paid on overseas Chinese repatriations would count towards China's overall contribution as well as allowing them to pay their contributions in instalments. Memorandum of Conversation, IRO Constitution, 24 April 1947, IRO Constitution, December 19, 1946–May 31, 1947, Box 4, Records Relating to the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees, Country Files, 1938–41, RG 59, Archives II.
36 Amusingly, the British described the American delegate, Mr George Warren of the US Department of State, as ‘a fundamentalist’ who believed any interpretation of the International Refugee Organization Constitution that did not align with his own reading of it was ‘heresy’. Despite this, the British and American governments were usually allied in their positions at International Refugee Organization meetings. Report on 5th Part, 1st Session, Preparatory Commission of the International Refugee Organization, FO371/2046, PRO-TNA.
37 Preparatory Commission of the IRO, Far East Office, Narrative Report, May 1948, FO 371/72052, PRO-TNA.
38 International Refugee Organization Far East Office, Narrative Report September 1948, 370/77, OCAC, Nanjing.
39 Repatriation of overseas Chinese displaced from the Philippines, 29 January 1948, FO 371/72086 B, PRO-TNA. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nanjing was making its own representations to the Philippine government alongside those of the International Refugee Organization.
40 Quoted in an extract from North China Daily News, 29 February 1948, FO371/72086B, PRO-TNA.
41 Letter to D. H. Clarke from Elpidio Quirino, 24 February 1948, in Repatriated Overseas Chinese, Vol. II, p. 560.
42 Letter to Jennings Wong from D. H. Clarke, 27 February 1948, in Repatriated Overseas Chinese, Vol. II, pp. 561–571.
43 Repatriation of overseas Chinese displaced from the Philippines, 29 January 1948, FO 371/72086 B, PRO-TNA.
44 IRO Executive Committee, 3rd Session, 26 January 1949; Telegram from Shanghai to Foreign Office, 18 January 1949, FO 371/78187, PRO-TNA; Holborn, The International Refugee Organization, pp. 423–425.
45 Report on first session of the general council of the IRO, 27 October 1948.
46 Draft Provisions Concerning Payments of China's Contributions to IRO, n.d., FO 371/72052, PRO-TNA; Telegram, Shanghai to Foreign Office, 2 December 1948, FO371/2086C, PRO-TNA.
47 IRO Narrative Report, November 1948; Letter to H. W. Tuck, IRO Director-General, from Wu Nan-Ju, 12 January 1949, 642/0063, 國際難民組織指南 (11-INO-05773), MOFA Taipei; Letter to Dr George K. C. Yeh, from Jennings Wong, 4 January 1949, 642/0062, 國際難民組織指南 (11-INO-05770), MOFA Taipei.
48 Letter to MOFA from Chinese People's Relief Agency, 7 October 1952, 113-00150-05(1), Ministry of Foreign Affairs Archive, Beijing, China (MOFA Beijing).
49 The People's Republic of China made frequent inquiries on this matter, especially about which European refugees were actually able to work, which ones could get by on less, etc. 关于处理联合国难民高级专置 ‘上海置’时需要研究的若干问题, 113-00287-01(1), MOFA Beijing.
50 As the American-led embargo on trade with China took hold in 1950, remittances from overseas Chinese would prove even more vital to the economic health of the People's Republic of China as one of its few sources of foreign exchange.
51 Letter to Kingsley from Andrew, 24 May 1950, 113-00075-04(10), MOFA Beijing.
52 華東訊, ［闽者委］关于难民出国处理办法, 20 September 1950, 113-00125-01(1), MOFA Beijing.
53 对国人要求出境外居指示闽者, 28 September 1950, 113-00125-01(1), MOFA Beijing.
54 Memo to G. Findlay Andrew, from William N. Collison, 1 July 1950, 113-00075-04(10), MOFA Beijing.
56 Letter to Kingsley from Andrew, 24 May 1950, 113-00075-04(10), MOFA Beijing.
57 Memo to G. Findlay Andrew, from William N. Collison, 1 July 1950, 113-00075-04(10), MOFA Beijing.
58 Letter to A. F. Comfort from K. E. Ashton, 16 June 1956, FO371/121165, PRO-TNA.
59 关于联大讨论香港中国‘难民’问题的请示, 6 August 1957, 113-00302-01(1), MOFA Beijing; 瑞士搞’世界难民年’事, April–June 1960, 110-00555-03(1), MOFA Beijing.
60 One concern related to China's increasing suspicions of UN refugee organizations being Western instruments in the Cold War: UN officials worried that the Republic of China would want to hand-pick refugees of military age, making it look like UN High Commissioner for Refugees was actively building up the manpower of the Nationalist army. Letter to P. S. Falls, from R. D. J. Scott Fox, 11 December 1956, FO 371/121166, PRO-TNA. Letter to George K. C. Yeh, Minister of Foreign Affairs, ROC, from Oliver E. Cound, IRO Liquidator, 15 May 1952; Letter to Oliver Cound from George K. C. Yeh, 1 October 1952, 642/0068, 國際難民組織 (匯費), 11-INO-05777, MOFA Taipei.
61 Telegram to Shanghai City Foreign Affairs Office from MOFA, 11 January 1961, 113-00412-01 钱联合国难民组织上海分置的存款处理事, MOFA Beijing; Telegram from Shanghai People's Government Foreign Affairs Office to MOFA, 24 June 1950, 113-00075-03(1), MOFA Beijing.
62 This was helped in no small part by British recognition of China. Though the People's Republic of China did not return the favour, recognition allowed a continuing British presence, and the International Refugee Organization offices in Asia (Shanghai and Hong Kong) overwhelmingly relied on British personnel. By contrast, the greatest influence of the United States, which otherwise dominated the International Refugee Organization both in funding and in personnel, was felt in the much more extensive network of offices in Europe. In Europe, this American support opened the door to Soviet accusations that the International Refugee Organization was helping to create and solidify the Cold War by refusing to repatriate refugees to the Eastern bloc and treating displaced persons as refugees from communism. However, the relative absence of a strong American voice in Asia helped to temper the discussion there.
Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.
* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.
Usage data cannot currently be displayed