The 1949 Chinese Communist Revolution is a subject of inexhaustible historical interest, but the plight of millions of Chinese who fled China during this tumultuous period has been largely forgotten. Elusive Refuge recovers the history of China’s twentieth-century refugees. Focusing on humanitarian efforts to find new homes for Chinese displaced by civil strife, Laura Madokoro points out a constellation of factors—entrenched bigotry in countries originally settled by white Europeans, the spread of human rights ideals, and the geopolitical pressures of the Cold War—which coalesced to shape domestic and international refugee policies that still hold sway today.
Although the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa were home to sizeable Asian communities, Chinese migrants were a perpetual target of legislation designed to exclude them. In the wake of the 1949 Revolution, government officials and the broader public of these countries questioned whether Chinese refugees were true victims of persecution or opportunistic economic migrants undeserving of entry. It fell to NGOs such as the Lutheran World Federation and the World Council of Churches to publicize the quandary of the vast community of Chinese who had become stranded in Hong Kong.
These humanitarian organizations achieved some key victories in convincing Western governments to admit Chinese refugees. Anticommunist sentiment also played a role in easing restrictions. But only the plight of Southeast Asians fleeing the Vietnam War finally convinced the United States and other countries to adopt a policy of granting permanent residence to significant numbers of refugees from Asia.
Madokoro shows that our grasp of the history of refugees is woefully incomplete unless we take proper account of the international response to those who fled mainland China in the wake of the Chinese Revolution. Her beautifully written book also demonstrates how people ‘on the move’ negotiated all manner of constraints. Innovative in conception and execution, Elusive Refuge makes a very significant contribution to our understanding of the modern world’s response to refugees.
Elusive Refuge is pathbreaking in its subject matter. Its interrogation of the history of refugee policy is bold and original, demonstrating the limits of the 1951 Refugee Convention and the consequences of the many shifts—legal, political, and moral—in the meaning of the term ‘refugee.’ Moreover, its concern with asylum seekers, refugees, and immigration policy could not be more timely. An extremely important work.
[Madokoro’s] account is valuable for its details and for its demonstration of how the use of the refugee label has sometimes been apt, sometimes misguided, and almost always shifting and ambiguous in its implications. U.S. readers should brace themselves for a framework that regards the U.S. as only one example of ‘white settler societies,’ but they will thereby gain useful perspective on how the U.S. compares—sometimes favorably and sometimes not—with other countries that have similar English origins and sharp racial categorizations. Madokoro duly notes the enormous progress that has been made in recent decades regarding race, but she remains pained by the long history of rejection of Asians as refugees and as migrants more generally.
- 352 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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