Interview With Huo Yunyuan

Hou Yunyuan discusses his experiences as a returning Overseas Chinese from Indonesia from the 1960s to the early 21st century.

Tags & Keywords

Born in the 1940s, Hou Yunyuan grew up in Indonesia, where he received elementary and part of his secondary education. He returned to China in 1960, fleeing the persecution of the overseas Chinese by the Indonesian authorities. After studying for another year in China, he dropped out of high school and joined the Jiaoling Overseas Chinese Farm to work. The Communist government set up Overseas Chinese Farms as a place for the state to resettle returning Chinese, not for profit. Operating losses were subsidized by the state. The provincial Overseas Chinese Affairs Office converted the originally state-run Jiaoling farm into an overseas Chinese farm to resettle the returnees. Under the guidance of the Provincial Overseas Chinese Office, crops such as rice, sweet potatoes and tea were grown on the farm. 

After 1978, the UNHCR also provided funds to build a new dormitory building, a tea factory and a plastic factory in the Jiaoling Overseas Chinese Farm to resettle returnees from Vietnam. The farming communities consisted of several large returnee groups, local farmers, and youths who went to the mountains during the Cultural Revolution. Hou notes that the local farmers were initially treated differently from the returnees, which created tensions. Wages were introduced on the farms in 1973, and the system was reformed in 1984, giving farmers ownership of land, but removing wages again. By 1983, Hou passed the exam to become a farm cadre, at a time when there were very few returned overseas Chinese cadres on farms and most of the leadership was arranged by the state.

Returnees also lived under class divisions, and the government mostly determined class based on the occupations that returnees were engaged in overseas. Returnees who previously worked in blue collar jobs were treated more favorably, such as being allowed to join the military, while those who did business overseas were not. Hou's father was classified as a small businessman, which made it difficult for him to join the military later. Before the Cultural Revolution, the returnees also often received food, money and other goods from relatives in Southeast Asia, which many of them exchanged for extra rations with the farmers. 

Now retired, Hou receives a pension from the state. He reflects that social security was a major concern for the farmers on the Overseas Chinese agriculture enterprises, which the farmers were petitioning the state for for many years. The issue was finally resolved only in 2008.


Interviewer: Chen Yishen

Interviewee: Hou Yunyuan

Tags & Keywords

Transcript Notes


  1.  How does Hou Yunyuan’s testimony nuance our understanding of the Cold War in China and Asia?

  2.  Consider the merits of transnational histories of Cold War Asia in light of Hou Yunyuan’s reflections. Discuss how the social and political histories of Asian nations may intersect in the writing of their Cold War histories.