Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

2 - Chinese ‘Characteristics’ in India: A Reading of Foreigner Registration Files 1940s-1960s

Friday, July 6
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM
Location: Amaltas, Lower Ground Floor

The British-Indian government introduced mandatory registration, at the beginning of the Second World War, for all Chinese resident or arriving in India. Examining archival files from the Kalimpong Foreigner Registration Office and its Calcutta counterpart, this paper delineates how the category of the Chinese national was construed over the span of 20 years, first by the British-Indian colonial state until 1947 and then the postcolonial Indian authorities.


Harboring a sizeable Chinese migrant community as well as being strategically situated on the Ancient Tea Horse Road connecting China to India, Kalimpong, the Himalayan border town, specifically lent itself to Alien Acts that were promulgated in differing forms all over the British Empire. The town’s favorable trade and geopolitical location and its attraction for adventurers from the world over also encouraged the state to set up a surreptitious rule of colonial difference. With the enforcement of the Foreigners Registration Act, officers in Kalimpong were faced with the challenge to identify— due to the place’s muddled multi-ethnicity— Chinese from merely ‘Chinese-looking’ individuals. Responding to this difficulty, registration officers in Kalimpong developed, over time, a set of Chinese ‘characteristics’ or profiles to assist in the identification process. This was to produce the matrix of a larger story of how the Indian Government framed the Chinese in India, at least for a while.

Prem Poddar

Roskilde University, Denmark

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2 - Chinese ‘Characteristics’ in India: A Reading of Foreigner Registration Files 1940s-1960s



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