Bodies and Structures

Fuqingese/Fujianese migrants in Japan since the 1980s

After 1945, cloth peddlers and other traders from Fuqing had achieved economic success and figured prominently among the small Chinese community in Japan. Some of them had spent the war years in Japan, others returned there after having evacuated, while others came for the first time.   

In the post-Mao Zedong era, reforms and re-openings triggered a new wave of migration from China to Japan much larger than anything in the pre-1945 era. The number of Chinese who have registered as residents in Japan (gaikokujin tōrokusha) has climbed dramatically, from 69,608 in 1984 to 462,396 in 2003, to 606,889 in 2007, the year in which Chinese surpassed Koreans as the largest group of registered foreign residents in Japan, and to 655,377 the following year. These figures, however, do not include Chinese who entered Japan illegally, either through maritime human smuggling routes or by using forged or altered passports to travel by air. Though Japanese authorities do not know the exact scope of this phenomenon, estimates run into the thousands; however, intensified coastal patrols and immigration checks have led to rounds of deportations and a decrease in this type of mobility. Beyond the push factors of absolute or relative economic deprivation, scholars of Chinese emigration point to the ways in which emigrants’ remittances of money, construction of houses and public facilities, and other contributions to their native communities enhance their families’ status, thus fueling a desire to emigrate among those still in China and making “travel and its associated imaginings . . . an important condition of everyday life” for ordinary people.

During the reform era, many Fujianese, the majority from Fuqing, drew on the history of translocal connectedness (reflected in emigrants’ construction of schools or contributions to local welfare in their native places) in choosing to migrate to Japan.  While Fujianese are the fifth or sixth largest group of Chinese in Japan (coming mainly as students or vocational trainees), they have accounted for almost all of the illegal entrants apprehended by Japan’s Coast Guard. They also constitute a large segment of those who overstay their visas and work clandestinely. Meanwhile, as in the prewar era, people from Fuqing have been mentioned frequently in news reports on crimes committed by Chinese in Japan, exacerbating popular perceptions of this place as a breeding ground of illegality. 

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