Chinese Mass Migrations: Convergences and Divergences

AHA Session 22
Immigration and Ethnic History Society 1
Thursday, January 7, 2016: 1:00 PM-3:00 PM
Room 303 (Hilton Atlanta, Third Floor)
Shelly Chan, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Sucheta Mazumdar, Duke University

Session Abstract

Between 1840 and 1940, over 20 million people left China and moved across the globe. Part of the first global wave of mass migrations, this outflow was one of the largest behind Europeans and Indians. As scholars across fields have informed us, Chinese migrant experiences were historically diverse and specific to location. It is no longer possible to speak of a single Chinese diaspora, but necessary to recognize Chinese in the plural. Recently, historians have pushed the field in two directions: toward transnational approaches that challenge the nation-state as the basic unit of analysis, and toward place-based studies to reveal dynamics of interaction and change (Hsu 2000, McKeown 2001, Lee 2005, Chang 2012, Lopez 2013, Young 2014).

This panel adds a global dimension by asking how colonial, national, and industrial expansion in the 19th and 20th centuries transformed Chinese migrations and vice versa. Already significant in the 16th century, Chinese migrations grew rapidly after the 1840s as a result of China’s forced incorporation into the global economy and the rise of settler and colonial societies around the world. As Chinese migrants were pulled into a world linked by plantations, mines, railroads, and steamships, they also enmeshed societies at home and abroad in vast circulations, transforming nations and empires. The story of Chinese mass migrations could thus be retold as part of a global process, demonstrated by complex convergences and divergences in the relations between Chinese emigrants and China, Chinese migrants of different backgrounds, and Chinese and non-Chinese others. Therefore, what made Chinese migrations diverse and specific was not only ethnicity or localization, but also the shared, uneven history of globalization.

Looking across the Pacific world – China, the U.S., Peru, and the Philippines – this panel explores how meanings of Chinese mass migrations converged and diverged. Revisiting the “non-event” of China’s lifting of a defunct emigration ban in 1893, Shelly Chan uncovers an overlooked aspect of the moment—to invite returns—and how it served to reunify a fragmented national time and space in the aftermath of mass emigrations. Turning to the U.S. Chinese Exclusion Act in 1888, Beth Lew-Williams reconsiders the seeming contradiction between the “closed gate” and “open door” policies by adopting a wider frame of U.S. imperialism and arguing that Chinese migrations forced a re-imagination. Linking Peru and China in a conversation over “Asian settler colonialism,” Ana Maria Candela explores the evolution of Chinese migrants from compradors to hacienda owners in Peru, and the growing interest in migration as a form of colonization among intellectuals in China from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. Focusing on Chinese in the Philippines during the 1920s, Phillip Guingona discusses how divergent strategies of engagement – to side with China’s Nationalists, to support an independent Fujian province where many Chinese in the Philippines originated, and to seek change to the U.S. Bookkeeping Act that prohibited Chinese language use in business —revealed power structures in the community and beyond. These papers promise to bring together disparate fields and ignite a lively discussion.

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