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How to Know Hong Kong and Macau

Roberto Ignacio Diaz, Dominic Cheung, Ana Paulina Lee, Authors

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Tentative alliances and truncated ties (1943-1966)

The outbreak of World War II marked a change in US-Chinese relations. Japan invaded China and either attacked or invaded much of Asia and Oceania. Japan's December 7, 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor drew the United States firmly into the war. China and the United States were now allies.

Yet their historically poor relationship became a target for Japanese propaganda, which referenced Chinese exclusion to weaken the ties between China and the United States.1 On December 17, 1943, United States thus passed the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act with the encouragement of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Though some feared that increased Chinese immigration would affect American jobs and society, the previously-passed Immigration Act of 1924 ensured a limit of 105 Chinese persons a year. Further considering the globally dispersed population of the Chinese, the repeal included an amendment to apply the quota to not persons coming from the Chinese state, but to all ethnic Chinese regardless of country of residence.2

But the end of World War II in the Pacific did not mean the end of war for China. Since 1927 the Nationalist and the Communist Parties had been warring with each other, but Japanese invasion in 1931 forced their mutual cooperation against a common enemy. Shortly after Japan's surrender, the Chinese Civil War continued to divide the country until the Communist Party was finally victorious. On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong announced the formation of the People's Republic of China (PRC).3 In the rhetoric of the Cold War and American anti-Communist fear, China had fallen to Communism.

Where the wartime alliance between China and the United States had eased relationships between the Chinese and other Americans, the tensions of the Cold War and continued tumult in the PRC almost completely stopped communication between overseas Chinese and the mainland. For roughly two decades the United States would have no diplomatic ties with the PRC, recognizing the Nationalist Party in Taiwan as the leaders of the legitimate state.

Despite the limited immigration quota, the American government feared that the Chinese were sending spies into the country in the guise of immigrants.4 In the mid-1950s, the Departments of State and Justice began inquiries into the legal status of Chinese immigrants, and in 1956 the Immigration and Naturalization Service in San Francisco began what was called the Confession Program. Since the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the majority of Chinese immigrants were illegal "paper sons," individuals who carried paperwork either claiming to be born on American soil or claiming to be the children of those native-born citizens.5 The Confession Program aggressively encouraged individuals and families to confess their immigration status in exchange for aid in becoming legal citizens. In response to government suspicion, Chinese American community organizations reaffirmed their identity as solidly American, yet families were often bitterly divided over whether or not to confess. The majority of those who confessed were not deported, but the Confessions Program was used to target leftist organizers suspected of Communist leanings; in 1964 and 1966, two New York left-wing activists were deported after others' confessions revealed they were paper sons.6

Contact between Chinese in America and the mainland thus sharply decreased for three key reasons: fear that the Chinese in America would be accused of Communist ties, or that the Chinese on the mainland would be accused of foreign sympathies; because friends and families of overseas Chinese fled to Taiwan or other countries when the Communist Party took power; or even because new generations of native-born Chinese Americans simply did not have the same ties to the mainland that their parents had had. By 1954, remittances to China were steadily declining.7

Over the next few years the PRC would take clear steps to decrease the political embrace of overseas Chinese. The PRC sought to improve relationships with other "Third World" countries and to position itself as a new Communist leader, as demonstrated through its participation in international meetings and coalitions like the 1955 Bandung Conference. Yet the loyalty of overseas Chinese in other nations (especially in Southeast Asia) was extremely suspect, casting doubts on the PRC's intentions. Calls for overseas Chinese to assimilate into their countries of residence would thus help ease relations between the PRC and its neighbors.8 By 1956 the PRC ended the application of jus sanguinus nationality and in 1958, at the Fifth Session of the First National People's Congress (NPC), a joint statement by 16 overseas Chinese affairs officials declared, "The broad masses of Overseas Chinese resident abroad must now put aside any reservations, and, on the principle of free choice, choose local nationality."9 In 1955, hoping to give overseas Chinese a good impression of Communist rule to discourage any intervention on their part, the PRC issued a directive giving preferential treatment to relatives of overseas Chinese in China, making them "a conspicuously privileged class in socialist Chinese society."10

1See Takashi Fujitani, Race for Empire: Koreans as Japanese and Japanese as Americans during World War II (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), for a discussion of how competition between the U.S. and Japan on the treatment of ethnic minorities within both countries affected a propaganda war and the policies enacted by both states. 
2"Repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act, 1943," U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian, accessed June 2013, link; "President Urges Congress Repeal Chinese Exclusion Act as War Aid," New York Times, October 12, 1943, link.
3Jonathan Spence, "The Fall of the Guomindang State," in The Search for Modern China (New York: W.W. Norton, 1990), 484-513.
4Mae M. Ngai, "Legacies of Exclusion: Illegal Chinese Immigration during the Cold War Years," Journal of American Ethnic History 18.1 (Fall 1998), 10-11.
5The Supreme Court ruling in Wong Kim Ark (1898) upheld the Fourteenth Amendment right for native-born individuals to be American citizens.
6Ngai, 20-25.
7Fitzgerald, 12.
8Fitzgerald, 16-17.
9Fitzgerald, 21-22.
Fitzgerald, 17.
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