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Surveying Hong Kong in the 1950s: Western humanitarians and the ‘problem’ of Chinese refugees

  • LAURA MADOKORO (a1)

Abstract

At the end of the Second World War, there were over a million displaced persons and refugees in Europe alone. Hundreds of thousands of people were uprooted with the expansion of the Japanese empire across the Pacific Theater, and many others were similarly displaced when Japan was defeated. Others later fled civil conflicts, in South Asia, for instance, and in China, where thousands left the mainland during the final days of the Chinese Civil War. Among this massive displacement in Asia, unlike in Europe, only a few groups were identified as refugees. One such group consisted of the migrants in Hong Kong who, after 1949, were understood to be refugees fleeing communist oppression in the People's Republic of China. This article examines the critical role that surveys (population studies designed to account for, and define, refugee groups) played in shaping particular, Westernized Cold War understandings of the refugee experience in Hong Kong. These surveys were organized by non-state interests and undertaken with financial support from major American philanthropies. In examining the objectives and methodologies of the refugee surveys conducted in Hong Kong in the early 1950s, in contrast with studies undertaken contemporaneously in Europe, this article observes that, although at the time the flaws in the surveys were recognized and regularly disregarded in the pursuit of broad political objectives, scholars have failed to adequately recognize the subjective nature of the surveys' supposedly empirical evidence. As a result, the dominant European-based narrative about modern refugees has obfuscated the distinctive aspects of the refugee experience in Hong Kong.

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References

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1 The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees defines a refugee as someone who ‘owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country’. For critiques, see Bakewell, O. (2008). Research Beyond the Categories: The Importance of Policy Irrelevant Research into Forced Migration, Journal of Refugee Studies, 21:4, pp. 432453; Scalettaris, G. (2007). Refugee Studies and the International Refugee Regime: A Reflection on a Desirable Separation, Refugee Survey Quarterly, 26:3, pp. 3650; Harrell-Bond, B. (2007). In Search of ‘Invisible’ Actors: Barriers to Access in Refugee Research, Journal of Refugee Studies, 20:2, pp. 281298.

2 For discussions that build on this terminology, see Agamben, G. (1995). Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Stanford University Press, Stanford; Nyers, P. (2005). Rethinking Refugees: Beyond States of Emergency, Routledge, London; Haddad, E. (2008). The Refugee in International Society: Between Sovereigns, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge; Soguk, N. (1999). States and Strangers: Refugees and Displacement of Statecraft, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

3 Tabori, P. (1972). The Anatomy of Exile: A Semantic and Historical Study, Harrap, London.

4 Internally displaced people are uprooted and displaced but they do not cross international boundaries. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c1d.html, [accessed 16 September 2014].

5 Barnes, T. and Hannah, M. (2001). Guest Editorial, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 19, p. 379.

6 Poovey, M. (1998). A History of the Modern Fact: Problems of Knowledge in the Sciences of Wealth and Society, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, p. xii.

7 Cohen, D. (2011). In War's Wake: Europe's Displaced Persons in the Postwar Order, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

8 Weiss, P. (1954). The International Protection of Refugees, The American Journal of International Law, 48:2, pp. 193221; Holborn, L. (1939). The League of Nations and the Refugee Problem, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 203, pp. 124135. While the League's efforts are generally recognized to have been a failure, Claudena Skran suggests that its work was critical in establishing the foundations of the contemporary refugee regime as it exists today. See Skran, C. (1995). Refugees in Inter-War Europe: The Emergence of a Regime, Clarendon Press, Oxford.

9 Marrus, M. (1987). The Unwanted: European Refugees in the Twentieth Century, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

10 The UNHCR and voluntary organizations consistently referred to its work in terms of the ‘care and maintenance’ of refugees, pointing to both short- and long-term priorities. See ‘UNHCR’, File 5475-EA-1-40, Part 15.1, RG 25, Volume 5152, Library and Archives Canada (LAC).

11 Many of these contemporary accounts were produced for Western audiences by publishing houses supported with American funding. See, for instance, Hughes, R. and Redl, H. (1962). Exodus from China, Dragonfly Books, Hong Kong. Journalists and scholars used Hong Kong as a base from which to learn about life behind the restrictive borders of the People's Republic of China. See correspondence from New York Times Company–Foreign Desk Records, Box 131, File 10, New York Public Library; and Frolic, B. (1981). Mao's People: Sixteen Portraits of Life in Revolutionary China, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

12 On the vested interest of experts, see Akami, T. (2002). Between the State and Global Civil Society: Non-Official Experts and Their Network in the Asia-Pacific, 1925–45, Global Network, 2:1, p. 65.

13 Barnes and Hannah, Guest Editorial, p. 380.

14 Berman, E. H. (1983). Ideology of Philanthropy: The Influence of the Carnegie, Ford and Rockefeller Foundations on American Foreign Policy, State University of New York Press, New York, p. 6.

15 Bernard Gladieux to Joseph M. McDaniel Jr., ‘Present Status of Refugee and Escapee Projects Under Study by New York Office’, 10 March 1952, PA 52–90, Reel 645, Ford Foundation Archives.

16 ‘ECOSOC, Final Report on Agenda Item 14: Report of the High Commissioner for Refugees’, in ‘Refugees and Stateless Persons (United Nations General Assembly)—Correspondence and Reports’, File 566–10, Part 2, RG 26, Volume 110, LAC.

17 Goedhart, G. J. van Heuven (1946). The Responsibility of the International Community for Refugees, Ecumenical Review, p. 448.

18 Goedhart, G. J. van Heuven (1953). People Adrift, Journal of International Affairs, p. 8.

19 Established in 1936, the Ford Foundation adopted a much more internationalist outlook after its granting policies were revised in 1950.

20 In the gilded age of American expansion, men such as Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller accumulated millions of dollars in assets. In the late 1800s, the American government proposed changes to the taxation system that risked removing much of this wealth from the hands of the rich oil and steel magnates. The Carnegie and Rockefeller foundations, established in 1906 and 1913 respectively, were a solution to the dilemma of how to preserve this wealth while at the same time doing something that could benefit ‘all of mankind’. Fosdick, R. (1963). Philosophy for a Foundation: On the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Rockefeller Foundation, 1913–1963, Rockefeller Foundation, New York; Shaplen, R. (1964). Toward the Well-Being of Mankind: 50 Years of the Rockefeller Foundation, Doubleday, Garden City, New York, p. 3; Berman, Ideology of Philanthropy, p. 15.

21 James Read, International Conciliation 5 (1961–63), http://heinonline.org, [accessed 16 September 2014].

22 Ibid, p.10.

23 Ibid.

24 ‘Introduction’ to Vernant, J. (1953). Refugee in the Post-war World, Allen & Unwin, London.

25 Nagelberg, J. (1985). Promoting Population Policy: The Activities of the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Population Council, 1959–1966, PhD thesis, Columbia University, New York, p. 52.

26 High Commissioner to the United Kingdom to the Secretary of State for External Affairs, 11 July 1951, ‘Refugee Survey Group financed by the Rockefeller Foundation’, RG 26, File 3-24-13, Volume 114, LAC.

27 Google Scholar reports 172 citations, including, recently, Cohen, D. (2011). In War's Wake: Europe's Displaced Persons in the Postwar Order, Oxford University Press, Oxford, and the influential work by Zolberg, A. et al., (1989). Escape from Violence: Conflict and the Refugee Crisis in the Developing World, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

28 Vernant, Post-war World, p. 24.

29 High Commissioner to the United Kingdom to the Secretary of State for External Affairs, 11 July 1951, ‘Refugee Survey Group financed by the Rockefeller Foundation’, RG 26, File 3-24-13, Volume 114, LAC.

30 The first stage of the Vernant survey was meant to cover Europe and the Middle East. However, it omitted Turkey, Spain, Finland, Iran, Israel, Luxembourg, and Portugal.

31 Simpson, J. H. Sir (1939). Refugees: A Review of the Situation Since September 1938, Royal Institute for International Affairs, London.

32 Or, as Hannah Arendt later suggested, the loss of home and the loss of the state's protection meant that ‘the world found nothing sacred in the abstract nakedness of being human’. Arendt, H. (1979). Origins of Totalitarianism, Harcourt, Brace, San Diego, p. 302.

33 Goodwin-Gill, G. (2008). The Politics of Refugee Protection, Refugee Survey Quarterly, 27:1, pp. 823.

34 Vernant was already noting the increasingly fluid line between the migrant and the refugee, and the rise of the so-called economic dissident from the centrally controlled economies of Eastern Europe. While he recognized the clear political dimension to economic issues, he also remarked on the common failure of states to see persecution, other than by the light of their own premises. An international agency, he suggested, ‘would be better placed to appreciate the realities and to determine refugee character, ideally by reference to the principles set out in the Universal Declaration’.

35 Vernant Survey, 1.2 Projects 100 International, Box 21, File 144, United Nations—Refugee, Study, January 1952, Rockefeller Foundation Archives.

36 ‘UN to Disown Report by Rockefeller Unit’, New York Times, 14 January 1952.

37 Vernant Survey, 1.2 Projects 100 International, Box 21, File 144, United Nations—Refugee, Study, January 1952, Rockefeller Foundation Archives.

38 See correspondence in Vernant Survey, 1.2 Projects 100 International, Box 21, File 144, United Nations—Refugee, Study, January 1952, Rockefeller Foundation Archives.

39 ‘S-0441-0261-21539 Report of the High Commissioner for Refugees’, United Nations Archives.

40 Mark, C-K. (2004). Hong Kong and the Cold War: Anglo-American Relations 1949–1957, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

41 Bachrach, Stanley D. (1976). The Committee of One Million: ‘China Lobby’ Politics, 1953–1971, Columbia University Press, New York, p. 4 and p. 212. Dean Rusk of the Rockefeller Foundation described the China Lobby as ‘a force to be reckoned with, even though it intentionally or unintentionally misrepresented the situation in the Far East’. Rusk, D. (1990). As I Saw It, W. W. Norton, New York, p. 175.

42 Koen, R. (1974). China Lobby in American Politics, Harper & Row, New York, pp. 8486.

43 See correspondence in PA 52–90, Reel 645, Ford Foundation Archives.

44 Yung, Kai Chung Kenneth (2007). Personal Sympathy and National Interests: The Formation and Evolution of Congressman Walter H. Judd's Anti-Communism, 1925–1963, Unpublished PhD thesis, Hong Kong University, Hong Kong, p. 200.

45 Trench to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, 23 October 1957, CO1030/778. Cited in Wong, Yiu Chung (2008). The Policies of the Hong Kong Government Towards the Chinese Refugee Problem, 1945–1962, PhD thesis, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong. The Free China Relief Association ‘became’ a private voluntary organization after 1950 in order to continue operating in countries that no longer recognized the government of Taiwan.

46 Judd to Hoffman, 17 September 1952, PA 52–90, Reel 645, Ford Foundation Archives.

47 Peterson, G. (2008). To Be or Not To Be a Refugee: The International Politics of the Hong Kong Refugee Crisis, 1949–1955, The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 36:2, pp. 171195.

48 Memo by John B. Howard, ‘Chinese Refugees—Aid Refugee Chinese Intellectuals’, 28 January 1954, PA 52–90, Reel 645, Ford Foundation Archives.

49 ‘Preliminary Report’, PA 52-90, Reel 645, Ford Foundation Archives.

50 Ibid.

51 Ibid.

52 Ibid.

53 Ibid.

54 Legg, S. (2005). Foucault's Population Geographies: Classifications, Biopolitics and Governmental Spaces, Population, Space and Place, 11, p. 143.

55 ‘Preliminary Report’, Ford Foundation Archives.

56 Ibid.

57 Ibid.

58 See correspondence in PA 52-90, Reel 645, Ford Foundation Archives.

59 ‘Preliminary Report’, Ford Foundation Archives.

60 In crafting a definition that essentially defined anyone with two years of education as an intellectual, Aid Refugee Chinese Intellectuals knew that it was making it possible ‘for a large number of ex military and ex-police to apply for registration on the basis of military academy or similar training’. Ibid.

61 Dean Rusk delivered the opening address at the Hotel Plaza fund-raising event in New York on 28 April 1952.

62 Dean Rusk recalls, ‘. . .we always tried to keep the Rockefeller Foundation out of politics. . . Most people abroad accepted us for what we were—a private philanthropy with no political fish to fry, operating independently of Washington. . .’. Rusk, As I Recall It, p. 186.

63 Bernard Gladieux to H. Rowan Gaither, ‘Problems of China Area’, 25 June 1953, PA 52–90 Reel 645, Ford Foundation Archives.

64 Gladieux to Joseph M. McDaniel, Jr., 29 December 1952, PA 52-90, Reel 645, Ford Foundation Archives.

65 ‘Report to the High Commissioner on Trip to South East Asia’, James M. Read, in PA 52–90, Reel 645, Ford Foundation Archives.

66 Lewis Hoskins to Arnold, 12 May 1952, PA 52-90, Reel 645, Ford Foundation Archives.

67 The numbers (including the cost of resettlement to Taiwan, which was estimated at $350 per person) suggested that the size of the problem was one that required government intervention. The Rockefeller Foundation was also wary of contributing to work that its staff believed was the responsibility of governments. Staff noted in 1954 that the United States government had contributed significant sums to Aid Refugee Chinese Intellectuals. They were reluctant to use the Foundation's funds to support its work since the amount of money involved suggested that this was ‘to a considerable extent an instrumentality of the United States Government, which has contributed $410,000’. See R64 (Nelson A. Rockefeller), Series L, Box 4, F-27 Aid to Chinese Intellectuals, 1952–55, Rockefeller Foundation Archives.

68 Gladieux to Joseph M. McDaniel, Jr., 29 December 1952, PA 52–90, Reel 645, Ford Foundation Archives.

69 For a detailed discussion, see Hsu, M. (2012). The Disappearance of America's Cold War Chinese Refugees, 1948–1966, Journal of American Ethnic History, 31:4, pp. 1233.

70 ‘Asian Refugees in the Far East’ were defined as ‘refugees, including Chinese persons, who: a) At the time of application for a visa are residing within the district of an American consular office in the Far East, and 2) are attributable by as much as one-half of their ancestry to a people or peoples indigenous in the Far East’. ‘Chinese refugees’ were defined as ‘refugees who: a) are of Chinese ethnic origin, and 2) whose passports for travel to the United States are endorsed by the Chinese Nationalist Government or its authorized representatives’.

71 Ali, UNCHR Branch Office (Bangkok) to Hoveyasa, UNCHR (Geneva), 23 September 1953, Fonds UNHCR 11 Records of the Central Registry, Series 1, Classified Subject Files, 1951–1970 15/2/HK, Box 262, Part 2, UNHCR Archives.

72 I. H. Harris to Mr. Sidebotham, 19 October 1953, CO 1023/117 Chinese Refugees in Hong Kong (1952), National Archives of the United Kingdom.

73 Goedhart to Ford Foundation, 7 May 1953, PA 52–90, Reel 645, Ford Foundation Archives.

74 At the UN, the question of who formed the legitimate government of China and whether the refugees could theoretically obtain protection from the Nationalists in Taiwan meant the question of refugee protection at Hong Kong was at a diplomatic stalemate.

75 Goedhart to Ford Foundation, 7 May 1953, PA52–90, Reel 645, Ford Foundation Archives.

76 ‘Report to the High Commissioner on Trip to South East Asia’, James M. Read, in PA 52–90, Reel 645, Ford Foundation Archives.

77 Ibid.

78 Read, International Conciliation.

79 FC 18221, Problem of European Refugees from Mainland China in Hong Kong: Survey by UN High Commissioner for Refugees, FO 371/110378 Far Eastern–China (1954), National Archives of the United Kingdom.

80 Ibid.

81 Foreign Office to the Governor of Hong Kong, 6 April 1954, CO 1030/381 Chinese Refugees in Hong Kong (1954–1956), National Archives of the United Kingdom.

82 Foreign Office to Geneva, 2 April 1954, CO 1030/381 Chinese Refugees in Hong Kong (1954–1956), National Archives of the United Kingdom.

83 FC 1822/35 (B) Problem of European Refugees from Mainland China in Hong Kong: Survey by UN High Commissioner for Refugees. FO 371/110379 Far Eastern–China (1954), National Archives of the United Kingdom.

84 Harris to MacIntosh, 26 April 1955, CO 1030/382 Chinese Refugees in Hong Kong (1954–1956), National Archives of the United Kingdom.

85 Secretary of State for the Colonies to the Governor of Hong Kong, 30 November 1954, 160–1–34 Refugees Problem—a) Proposed Survey of. Hong Kong Public Records Office.

86 Background Briefing to Advisory Committee Meeting, 1954, CO 1030/382 File 418/403/02 Chinese Refugees in Hong Kong, 1954–1956, National Archives of the United Kingdom.

87 Hambro, E. (1955). The Problem of Chinese Refugees in Hong Kong, A. W. Sijthoff, Leyden, p. 4.

88 Summary Record of the 1st Staff meeting, 3 May 1954, Fonds 23, Box 1, Summary records of staff meetings, UNHCR Archives.

89 Hambro, Problem of Chinese Refugees, p. 4.

90 Ibid, p. 137.

91 Ibid, p. 141.

92 Ibid, pp. 140–141. The survey team acknowledged there might be some discrepancy in the statistics, suggesting that the corresponding figures might be 10 to 15 per cent below what they had estimated.

93 Ibid, p. 140.

94 Gatrell, P. (2011). Free World: The Campaign to Save the World's Refugees, 1956–1963, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 3.

95 Ibid, p. 79.

96 Hambro, Problem of Chinese Refugees, p. 128.

97 Ibid, p. 130.

98 The International Social Service was established in 1924 with the objective of assisting migrants moving across international borders. In the post-war period it became deeply involved with family reunification issues in Europe and in facilitating international adoptions through the documentation of individual cases.

99 Hambro, Problem of Chinese Refugees, p. 112.

100 It was a view shared by senior colonial administrators as well as the authorities responsible for security in the colony. See Annual Report. Hong Kong Police. 1951–52. Chapter XV, ‘Special Problems’, p. 46.

101 Secretary of State for the Colonies to Governor of Hong Kong, 29 May 1957, CO 1030/777 Refugees from China in Hong Kong (1957–1959), National Archives of the United Kingdom.

102 Where the survey proved most useful was in ensuring that the Chinese refugees in Hong Kong were prioritized during the United Nations World Refugee Year (1959–1960).

103 Document A/AC.79/12, referenced in Extract from the Report on the Third Session of the UNREF Executive Committee (Geneva, 26 May–1 June 1956) Document A/AC.79/41, Fonds UNHCR 11 Records of the Central Registry, Series 1, Classified Subject Files, 1951–1970 15/2/HK, Box 262, Part 3, UNHCR Archives.

104 Ford Foundation to Goedhart, 18 April 1956, PA 52–90, Reel 645, Ford Foundation Archives.

Surveying Hong Kong in the 1950s: Western humanitarians and the ‘problem’ of Chinese refugees

  • LAURA MADOKORO (a1)

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