This article analyses how, at the time of the Japanese military expansion across Asia in the 1930s and 1940s, the category of ‘Burma Chinese’ and notions of ‘Chineseness’ acquired meaning through the movement across Chinese and Indian borders of residents of Burma identified as Chinese. Focusing on the terminology utilized by various reporting organizations to refer to evacuees, refugees or returnees, this article asks what we can learn from bureaucratic exchanges and practices of documentation about the wartime migration of Burma Chinese. I argue that a shared racial logic of territorialization operates across divergent sets of correspondence concerned with the repatriation of Burma Chinese to Burma. Multiple acts of iteration and practical implementation of categories naturalized this racial logic with respect to Burma Chinese in the latter half of the 1940s. Understanding how the work of repatriating Burma Chinese rested upon a shared racial logic is important because the regulation of Asian wartime migration was foundational to the emerging international refugee regime and post-Second World War world order.