Reflection on Cao Yin's Lecture "The Return of Chen Ching Lin: A Chinese Deserter in the British Raj, 1943-46"
by Amanda Vijayakumar (student)
Cao Yin, an Associate Professor at Tsinghua University, travelled from China to tell us about the Chinese deserter, Chen Ching Lin. Chen Ching Lin had deserted from the 5th Army in the Burma theatre of WWII and landed up in British India. The question Cao Yin asked during the lecture was: what was so interesting about this one man that he became so well- documented by the British Raj?
Cao Yin started his presentation by showing us two files from The National Archives of India. The first file dated back to 19th of September, 1945, when, the British in Calcutta had arrested a person called Chen Chin Lin, because he had no papers or passport that could prove his identity. The second file was 30th of September, 1945, stated that a person, also called Chen Chin Lin, had left India. It also stated that no previous actions had been taken against him before his departure. The question the scholar Cao Yin thus asked was: why was there a discrepancy between the two files, and who was the real Chen Ching Lin?
Cao Yin explained the events which took place from 1943 to 1946, and we got some insight into the relationship between the British Raj and Chinese immigrants had in India. The presentation also showed, how well-documented Chen Ching Lin’s case as far as the British in India were concerned. After his arrival in India, the British had quickly come to the conclusion, that he was a spy and immediately started a search for him as he had gone missing. “He” was eventually found in Mumbai and in Assam.
“It’s a beginning to a story, a short story but a long one” Cao Yin said, and he was right. It may seem like a short story with just a simple case, where perhaps one Chinese man had sold his documents to another and confused the British authorities. But the story did not start from his arrest; it began way back before Chen Ching Lin had even arrived in India: what he did before arriving in India, how he got to India in the first place, and what he did in India during these years. It was a story of a deserter who tried to find a way of living under the British Raj and how the British handled the whole situation in a rather paranoid way. But in the end, Chen Ching Lin was deported back to where he came from.
The whole presentation gave an insight into how the British Raj handled Chinese deserters and, also the war situation in southeast Asia at the time. Perhaps the most intriguing bit of the story was about identities get easily mixed in records — something that can happen even today.
A big thanks to Cao Yin who gave a fantastic and instructive presentation about a man’s story involving both India and China in a historical context.
Amanda Vijayakumar, Intern