The overseas migration of millions of Chinese reached its peak in the 1920s, when thousands of farmers and fishermen from the southeastern coastal provinces settled in other countries of Southeast Asia. Chinese constitute a majority in Singapore and Hong Kong, are an important ethnic group in Malaysia, and make up a significant minority in the Americas. In 1949, after the Communist victory, some two million civilians and 700,000 military personnel were evacuated to Taiwan.
Since in many places abroad the Chinese population has been growing at a rate faster than that of the local non-Chinese population, most countries have been trying to curtail the entrance of new Chinese immigrants. Emigration from China under the PRC government was once limited to refugees who reached Hong Kong, but is now denied only to a few political dissidents, if the state is reimbursed for postsecondary education costs. Immigration is for the most part limited to the return of overseas Chinese. At the end of 1999, the UNHCR reported 285,000 Vietnamese refugees in China, 91% of whom are of Chinese ancestry.
During the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, more than 60 million students, officials, peasant migrants, and unemployed were sent "down to the countryside" in a gigantic rustication movement. The goals of this program were to relocate industries and population away from vulnerable coastal areas, to provide human resources for agricultural production, to reclaim land in remote areas, to settle borderlands for economic and defense reasons, and, as has been the policy since the 1940s, to increase the proportion of Han Chinese in ethnic minority areas. Another purpose of this migration policy was to relieve urban shortages of food, housing, and services, and to reduce future urban population growth by removing large numbers of those between 16 and 30 years of age. Most relocated youths eventually returned to the cities, however.
Efforts to stimulate "decentralized urbanization" have characterized government policy since the late 1970s. Decentralized urbanization and the related relocation of industries away from established centers has also been promoted as a way for China to absorb the increasing surplus labor of rural areas, estimated at 100 million for the year 2000.
On 1 July 1997, the sovereignty of Hong Kong reverted back to China. As of 1999, 1,562 ex-CPA refugees and screened-out non-refugees still remained in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR). In 2000, the net migration rate for China was -0.3 migrants per 1,000 population. This amounted to a loss of approximately 381,000 people. In that same year there were 513,000 migrants living in China, including some 294,000 refugees. The government views the migration levels as satisfactory.