When we think about the history of the international refugee regime, why is it that—with a few carefully delineated exceptions—there were no non-European ‘refugees’ until the 1950s? This article offers a critical examination of existing scholarship on the history of the international refugee regime and suggests some alternative pathways for future research. The article has three broad objectives. The first is to propose an outline for an alternative history of the international refugee regime, one in which the non-European and colonial worlds are not invisible or peripheral but rather central to the main narrative. The second is to ask what place Chinese migrants might occupy in such an alternative history of human displacement, stretching over the course of the twentieth century. Finally, this article tries to show that the period from 1945 to the early 1960s was an especially critical one in the history of the international refugee regime, one in which refugee movements both out of and into the People's Republic of China were critical in generating the kinds of tensions and contradictions that emerged when the international refugee regime was transposed from Europe onto colonial and post-colonial Asia.