The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 71/No. 37      October 8, 2007

International conference
discusses overseas Chinese
(front page)
BEIJING—Nearly 175 people took part in the Sixth International Conference on Overseas Chinese, held at Peking University here September 21-23. Most were researchers who focus on the history and development of Chinese communities that today exist in a big majority of the countries of the world and in many cases are being rapidly swelled by immigration—from the Americas to Africa to Southeast Asia.

The conference, organized by the International Society for the Study of Chinese Overseas (ISSCO), drew participants from 20 countries. Two-thirds came from Asia, with the largest representation from mainland China, Singapore, and Japan, along with others from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, and south Korea. Several noted during the conference that 20 million ethnic Chinese live in Southeast Asia, about 75 percent of all who live outside China.

Other delegates came from the United States, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Trinidad, Peru, Cuba, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere.

ISSCO was founded at a 1992 conference in San Francisco. Ling-chi Wang, one of ISSCO’s founders and its vice president for a decade, noted in a keynote speech that the idea of an international association dedicated to the study of the Chinese diaspora had been discussed since the early 1980s. In the framework of Cold War politics and divisions, including those within the socialist camp, he said, it was an unrealizable objective. Only in the early 1990s did such an association become possible. Subsequent ISSCO conferences were held in Hong Kong in 1994, Manila in 1998, Taipei in 2001, and Copenhagen in 2004.

This was the first ISSCO conference in China. It was held in a new, well-equipped building at Peking University—the first modern university in China. Founded in 1898, the university today has a full-time enrollment of 30,000. A crew of students, many of whom spoke English and were eager to meet participants from around the world, were among the volunteer staff organizing the conference.

Representatives of Peking University, the Chinese government’s Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, the All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese, and outgoing ISSCO president Teresita Ang See of the Philippines welcomed delegates at the opening session. Former ISSCO president Wang Gungwu, of the National University of Singapore, and Ling-chi Wang, professor emeritus at the University of California in Berkeley, gave the opening addresses.  
Chinese immigrants in the world
The place of China in the world today and the role of Chinese immigrants in countries around the globe was the focus of many panel discussions throughout the two-day conference. In one roundtable, for example, Manying Ip from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, outlined the history of Chinese in that country going back to the anti-Chinese exclusion laws, poll taxes, and “reentry permits” required of Chinese New Zealanders returning from abroad in earlier decades. She pointed to the rapidly growing Asian immigration in New Zealand today, most of it from China.

Speaking on the same panel, Grace Chew of the Chinese Heritage Centre in Singapore described the experiences of Chinese living on Vietnam’s Phu Quoc Island, based on her interviews with residents there. She said she was struck by the number of pepper farmers and other ethnic Chinese in that rural area who had fought on the side of the anti-imperialist forces in what the Vietnamese know as “the American war.” This fact, she said, is often omitted in accounts of Vietnam’s history. Only the reactionary role of wealthy Chinese businessmen in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) is highlighted.

Other panels covered a wide range of topics, such as “The Chinese migrations to Africa and the foreign policy of mainland China,” “Reconciling with the past: Canada’s Chinese head tax redress,” “Overseas Chinese: literature and arts,” “The Chinese in Paris: new migration facing a new discrimination?” and “The Chinese diaspora in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

A small selection of books was on sale by the Chinese Heritage Centre and by Pathfinder Press. One of the books that drew particular interest was Pathfinder’s Our History Is Still Being Written: The Story of Three Chinese-Cuban Generals in the Cuban Revolution, by Armando Choy, Gustavo Chui, and Moisés Sío Wong. Its account of the history of Chinese immigration to Cuba and what Cuba’s socialist revolution has accomplished in eradicating discrimination against Cubans of Chinese ancestry was new to many participants. They bought 20 copies of the book in English and Spanish.  
U.S.-China relations
In his keynote address to the conference, titled “The impact of U.S.-China relations on Chinese Americans,” Ling-chi Wang underscored the importance of the fact that the sixth conference of ISSCO was being held in China.

Washington condemns the governments of China, Cuba, and others for “one-party rule,” Wang noted. In the United States, however, “the two parties are committed to capitalism and derive their financial support from corporate America. In reality there is only one party—the capitalist party.”

There are “no substantive differences” between Democrats and Republicans in domestic and foreign policy, Wang explained. Washington’s policy toward the People’s Republic of China has been based on “a bipartisan consensus dictated by corporate America,” beginning with their debate over “Who lost China?” after the victory of the Chinese revolution in 1949. “Of course, China was not theirs to lose,” he remarked to much laughter.

In subsequent decades, Wang emphasized, U.S. administrations from both capitalist parties relied on the threat of the “yellow peril” and the “red scare” to justify aggressive policies against China and harassment of Chinese American opponents of Washington’s policies. He noted that even after the U.S. government shifted from “containment” to “engagement” of the People’s Republic of China, with then-president Richard Nixon’s visit to Beijing in 1972, “Chinese in the United States have often been targeted as spies for China.”

Today, he said, the U.S. government seeks to win Beijing’s support for the U.S.-led “global war on terror.”

Chinese immigrant workers were “indispensable in the economic development of the western part of the United States, serving as a source of cheap labor,” Wang said, and “Democrats and Republicans have been consistent in their immigration policies,” which aim to keep it that way.

He noted that today at least 3 million people of Chinese ancestry live in the United States, and immigration continues to accelerate. “Now we are seeing an increasing diversity of the Chinese American population” through large numbers of Chinese immigrants coming not only from China but from other countries in Asia and Latin America, he said. Chinese immigrants in the United States speak many different languages and dialects, not just Cantonese as before.

“They are bifurcated between rich and poor,” between well-paid professionals and superexploited Fujienese immigrants who labor in construction and clothing factories.

The rising economic development of China, along with broader social struggles in the United States, have increased the self-confidence of Chinese immigrants, he noted, “but racism, racial profiling, and violence against Chinese continue to erupt.”

Chinese Americans, Wang concluded, “must get involved in affecting U.S.-China relations and in opposing racism.”

The next full international conference of ISSCO will be held in 2010 in Singapore. Before then, at least one regional conference is planned, most likely for New Zealand.

The event concluded with the election of officers. Leo Suryadinata of the Chinese Heritage Centre in Singapore, which will host the 2010 gathering, was elected president. Peter Li of the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada, continues as vice president, and Teresita Ang See was chosen as secretary-treasurer.  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home