Chinese counter-diasporic migration: “return”, re-migration or new immigration?

Invitation to a University of Liverpool Seminar brought to you by The Heseltine Institute and The Confucius Institute.

2019 is an important year for relations between Liverpool and China, as this year we celebrate the 20-year anniversary of Liverpool’s twinning with Shanghai. The Confucius Institute and the University of Liverpool will be organising a series of events to celebrate this anniversary and look forward to supporting the relationship between Liverpool and Shanghai as it develops from strength to strength.

Counter-diasporic migration, or the “return” (re-migration) of diasporic descendants to an ancestral land, has become a noticeable global trend, signalling that over time major shifts can occur in the direction of migration. Migrant-sending states, such as China, construct “sovereignty projects” that reach into the past to legitimise their claims toward emigrants and diaspora populations.

This presentation challenges linear narratives of emigration and immigration by considering the contestations over presumed kinship and co-ethnic identity, highlighting thus the complex relationship that diasporic descendants have with the ancestral land. The presentation juxtaposes two distinct episodes of counter-diasporic migration to China: (1) during 1949-1979 when Chinese diasporic descendants re-migrated under difficult conditions of expulsion from decolonising Southeast Asia and were treated as “returnees” with state-conferred privileges in China; and (2) the contemporary period in which Chinese re-migration to the ancestral land is more suitably contextualised as part of how China is transforming from an emigration to an immigration society.

In both cases, Chinese diasporic descendants experience an uneasy “homecoming” on account of the spatial and temporal difference they embody as co-ethnics who are also considered foreigners in China. Analysing the multi-directionality of migration prompts critical evaluation what it means to be embedded in more than one political community across generations.

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