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Questioning the Dynamics and Language of Forced Migration in Asia: The experiences of ethnic Chinese refugees: Introduction



To what extent are different parts of the world exceptional when it comes to the history of forced migration and refugee experiences? For instance, is forced migration in Asia distinct from developments elsewhere? Or is forced migration in Asia part of wider processes of displacement and emplacement so characteristic of the modern world? Over the past few decades, the fields of refugee and forced migration studies have ballooned. Scholars in a wide range of disciplines, including anthropology, political science, geography, and history have sought to understand the nature of population displacements in the modern world. Much of the early scholarship in this field focused on Europe in the immediate aftermath of the First and Second World Wars. Scholars have also sought to understand the nature of protracted refugee situations in Africa.1 More recently, scholars have investigated forced migration within globalized and transnational frameworks.2 Yet no sooner had scholars started to think of displacement in these terms than critics began to contend that the unique, and localized, dimensions of displaced populations, including refugees, forced migrants, and internally displaced people, were being ignored. Questions about what is gained and what is lost in approaching the study of modern refugee populations from various vantage points now frame much of the work in the fields of refugee and forced migration studies.3



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1 For instance, see Marrus, Michael, The Unwanted: European Refugees in the Twentieth Century (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002); Zolberg, Aristideet al., Escape from Violence: Conflict and the Refugee Crisis in the Developing World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).

2 Cohen, Robin, Global Diasporas: An Introduction(Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon and New York: Routledge, 2008); Hajdukowski-Ahmed, Marouissaet al. (eds), Not Born a Refugee Woman: Contesting Identities, Rethinking Practices (New York: Berghahn Books, 2008); Crépeau, François, Forced Migration and Global Processes: A View from Forced Migration Studies (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2006). For early approaches, see Wahlbeck, Östen, Kurdish Diasporas: A Comparative Study of Kurdish Refugee Communities (New York: St Martin's Press, 1999); Van Hear, Nicholas, New Diasporas: The Mass Exodus, Dispersal and Regrouping of Migrant Communities (London: UCL Press, 1998).

3 Hathaway, James, ‘Forced Migration Studies: Could We Agree Just to “Date”?’, Journal of Refugee Studies 20 (2007), pp. 349369, doi: 10.1093/jrs/fem019, [accessed 8 May 2013]; Sicakkan, Hakan, ‘The Modern State, the Citizen, and the Perilous Refugee’, Journal of Human Rights 3 (4) (2004), pp. 445463, doi: 1475483042000299705, [accessed 8 May 2013]; Hein, Jeremy, ‘Refugees, Immigrants and the State’, Annual Review of Sociology 19 (1993), pp. 4359, doi: 10.1146/, [accessed 13 May 2010].

4 Another set of articles from the workshop will be published in the Journal of Chinese Overseas.

5 There are other Chinese language descriptors for specific types of migrants, such as ‘kemin’ (guest person) and ‘liumin’ (wanderer).

6 For an insightful discussion of the issues involved when referring to ethnic Chinese living outside the territorial borders of China as ‘overseas Chinese’ versus ‘Chinese overseas’, see Leo Suryadinata (ed.), Ethnic Chinese as Southeast Asians (Singapore: ISEAS, 2002).

7 Lynn-Ee Ho, Elaine, ‘“Refugee” or “Returnee”? The Ethnic Geopolitics of Diasporic Resettlement in China and Intergenerational Change’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 38 (4) (2013), pp. 599611.

8 See Cohen, Daniel, In War's Wake: Europe's Displaced Persons in the Postwar Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); Loescher, Gil, The UNHCR and World Politics: A Perilous Path(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001); Salomon, Kim, Refugees in the Cold War: Toward a New International Refugee Regime in the Early Postwar Era (Lund: Lund University Press, 1991).

9 For a parallel discussion, see Ahmed, Saraet al. (eds), Uprootings/Regroundings: Questions of Home and Migration (Oxford: Berg, 2003).

10 Zetter, Roger, ‘Labelling Refugees: Forming and Transforming a Bureaucratic Identity’, Journal of Refugee Studies 4 (1) (1991), pp. 3962, doi: 10.1093/jrs/4.1.39, [accessed 8 May 2013]; Zetter, Roger, ‘More Labels, Fewer Refugees: Remaking the Refugee Label in an Era of Globalization’, Journal of Refugee Studies 20 (2) (2007), pp. 172192, doi: 10.1093/jrs/fem011, [accessed 8 May 2013].

Questioning the Dynamics and Language of Forced Migration in Asia: The experiences of ethnic Chinese refugees: Introduction



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