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How to Know Hong Kong and Macau

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

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The Cultural Revolution and Normalization (1966-present)

If ties between overseas Chinese and the mainland were already on the decline, the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution only continued to devastate overseas Chinese relationships. The Cultural Revolution called for the destruction of the "four old" elements of Chinese society - old customs, old habits, old culture, and old thinking - but left the interpretation of these elements up to the individual. Intellectuals, individuals with Western ties or dealings, and anyone accused of "feudal" or "reactionary" thought would become targets.1 Many relatives of overseas Chinese who had benefited from years of remittances, becoming landlords and wealthier peasants, were persecuted. Over 400 people were killed and buried in mass graves in Shantou City in Guangdong Province, where the only museum to the Cultural Revolution in China stands.

Unable to handle international affairs in a period of such domestic upheaval, China was increasingly isolated from the world. Remittances decreased even further, with only small amounts of money going to family members of overseas Chinese.2 Thousands of mainlanders fled for Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other countries, swelling them with illegal immigrants; from there, refugees struggled to move on to other countries to escape China's reach.

As China entered a decade of chaos and confusion, the United States began changing its domestic policies toward minorities and toward immigrants. Mary Dudziak argues that desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement were successful because of America's goals in the Cold War. Racial discrimination within the United States contradicted its attempt to project an image of democracy and freedom, affecting its relationships with Asia, Africa, and Latin America.3 In addition to enforcing desegregation to combat accusations of racism, the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act removed all quotas for immigration based on nationality, instead introducing hemispheric quotas and emphasizing family reunification.4 Families were now able to sponsor their relatives overseas to move to the United States, creating a phenomenon known as "chain migration."

By 1976 the havoc of the Cultural Revolution was dying down and in December 1977, the Communist Party held an international conference for overseas Chinese in Beijing to revive relationships with the overseas Chinese.5 With the normalization of China-U.S. relations in 1979 and the renewal of diplomatic ties, Chinese Americans began making contact with the mainland and traveling to China. The new Immigration and Nationality Act enabled many Chinese Americans to sponsor their families to leave China for the United States.

The Communist Party, increasingly concerned for the economic contributions that overseas Chinese could offer to China's development and modernization, began a series of legislation and programs to encourage overseas Chinese relationships with China. In September 1990, the PRC adopted the "Law of the People's Republic of China on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Returned Overseas Chinese and the Relatives of Overseas Chinese Who Remain in the Homeland" (text). The law makes provisions to protect income from remittances and to protect the property and businesses of overseas Chinese; Article 14 in particular promises "preferential treatment" and government assistance for returning Chinese and for the relatives of overseas Chinese in finding housing, education, and employment.

Since 2004, a new emphasis has been placed on overseas Chinese relationships with China. In July 2004, the largest meeting of the All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese to that point was held in Beijing with all nine members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Party in attendance at its opening ceremony. Wang Zhaoquo, representing the Party, made the keynote address summarizing four general "expectations" of overseas Chinese, returned overseas Chinese, and their relatives in China: To contribute to China's modernization, to aid in its reunification, to promote Chinese culture, and to act as ambassadors of friendship between China and other countries.6

1Spence, 606.
Yin, 72.
Mary Dudziak, "Desegregation as a Cold War Imperative," Stanford Law Review 41.1 (Nov 1988).
4Benson Tong, The Chinese Americans (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2003), 132-3.
5Elena Barabantseva, "Trans-nationalising Chineseness: Overseas Chinese Policies of the PRC's Central Government," ASIEN 96 (July 2005), 9.
6Joseph Y.S. Cheng, Ngok Kinglun and Philip Y.K. Cheng, "China's Overseas Chinese Policy in the Globalization Era: Challenges and Responses," draft version, 5-6. [link]
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