Overseas Chinese (Archaic. Chinese: 海外華人; pinyin: Hǎiwài Huárén) are people of Chinese birth or descent who live outside the People's Republic of China (the Mainland, Hong Kong, Macau) and the Republic of China (Taiwan). Overseas Chinese can be of the Han Chinese ethnic majority, or from any of the other ethnic groups in China.
|c. 50 million
|Regions with significant populations|
|United Arab Emirates||180,000|
|Languages of China and various languages of the countries they inhabit|
|Predominantly Buddhism, Taoism with Confucianism. Significant Christian, small Muslim and other religious minorities.|
|Related ethnic groups|
The Chinese language has various terms equivalent to the English "Overseas Chinese" which refers to Chinese citizens residing in countries other than China: Huáqiáo (Chinese: 華僑; pinyin: Huáqiáo) or Hoan-kheh in Hokkien (Chinese: 番客). At the end of the 19th century, the Chinese government realized that overseas Chinese could be an asset, a source of foreign investment, and a bridge to overseas knowledge; thus, it began to recognize the use of the term Huaqiao (華僑). The modern term haigui (海歸) refers to returned overseas Chinese and guīqiáo qiáojuàn (歸僑僑眷) to their returning relatives.
Huáyì (Chinese: 華裔; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Hôa-è) refers to ethnic Chinese residing outside China. Another often-used term is 海外華人 (Hǎiwài Huárén), a more literal translation of overseas Chinese; it is often used by the PRC government to refer to people of Chinese ethnicities who live outside the PRC, regardless of citizenship.
Overseas Chinese who are ethnically Han Chinese, such as Cantonese, Hoochew, Hokkien, Hakka, or Teochew refer to overseas Chinese as 唐人 (Tángrén), pronounced tòhng yàn in Cantonese, toung ning in Hoochew, Tn̂g-lâng in Hokkien, and tong nyin in Hakka. Literally, it means Tang people, a reference to Tang dynasty China when it was ruling China proper. This term is commonly used by the Cantonese, Hoochew, Hakka and Hokkien as a colloquial reference to the Chinese people, and has little relevance to the ancient dynasty.
The term shǎoshù mínzú (少數民族) is added to the various terms for overseas Chinese to indicate those in the diaspora who would be considered ethnic minorities in China. The terms shǎoshù mínzú huáqiáo huárén; shǎoshù mínzú huáqiáo huárén; and shǎoshù mínzú hǎiwài qiáobāo (少數民族海外僑胞) are all in usage. The Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the PRC does not distinguish between Han and ethnic minority populations for official policy purposes. For example, members of the Tibetan diaspora may travel to China on passes granted to certain overseas Chinese. Various estimates of the overseas Chinese minority population include 3.1 million (1993), 3.4 million (2004), 5.7 million (2001, 2010), or approximately one tenth of all overseas Chinese (2006, 2011). Cross-border ethnic groups (跨境民族, kuàjìng mínzú) are not considered overseas Chinese minorities unless they left China after the establishment of an independent state on China's border.
The Chinese people have a long history of migrating overseas. One of the migrations dates back to the Ming dynasty when Zheng He (1371–1435) became the envoy of Ming. He sent people – many of them Cantonese and Hokkien – to explore and trade in the South China Sea and in the Indian Ocean.
When China was under the imperial rule of the Qing Dynasty, subjects who left the Qing Empire without the Administrator's consent were considered to be traitors and were executed. Their family members faced consequences as well. However, the establishment of the Lanfang Republic (Chinese: 蘭芳共和國; pinyin: Lánfāng Gònghéguó) in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, as a tributary state of Qing China, attests that it was possible to attain permission. The republic lasted until 1884, when it fell under Dutch occupation as Qing influence waned.
Under the administration of the Republic of China from 1911 to 1949, these rules were abolished and many migrated outside the Republic of China, mostly through the coastal regions via the ports of Fujian, Guangdong, Hainan and Shanghai. These migrations are considered to be among the largest in China's history. Many nationals of the Republic of China fled and settled down in South East Asia mainly between the years 1911–1949, after the Nationalist government led by Kuomintang lost to the Communist Party of China in the Chinese Civil War in 1949. Most of the nationalist and neutral refugees fled Mainland China to Southeast Asia (Singapore, Brunei, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines) as well as Taiwan (Republic of China). Many nationalists who stayed behind were persecuted or even executed.
Most of the Chinese who fled during 1911–1949 under the Republic of China settled down in Singapore and Malaysia and automatically gained citizenship in 1957 and 1963 as these countries gained independence. Kuomintang members who settled in Malaysia and Singapore played a major role in the establishment of the Malaysian Chinese Association and their meeting hall at Sun Yat Sen Villa. There is some evidence that they intend to reclaim mainland China from the Communists by funding the Kuomintang in China.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the ROC tended to seek the support of overseas Chinese communities through branches of the Kuomintang based on Sun Yat-sen's use of expatriate Chinese communities to raise money for his revolution. During this period, the People's Republic of China tended to view overseas Chinese with suspicion as possible capitalist infiltrators and tended to value relationships with Southeast Asian nations as more important than gaining support of overseas Chinese, and in the Bandung declaration explicitly stated that overseas Chinese owed primary loyalty to their home nation.
Different waves of immigration led to subgroups among overseas Chinese such as the new and old immigrants in Southeast Asia, North America, Oceania, the Caribbean, South America, South Africa, and Europe.
In the 19th century, the age of colonialism was at its height and the great Chinese diaspora began. Many colonies lacked a large pool of laborers. Meanwhile, in the provinces of Fujian and Guangdong in China, there was a surge in emigration as a result of the poverty and ruin caused by the Taiping rebellion. The Qing Empire was forced to allow its subjects to work overseas under colonial powers. Many Hokkien chose to work in Southeast Asia (where they had earlier links starting from the Ming era), as did the Cantonese. The city of Taishan in Guangdong province was the source for many of the economic migrants. For the countries in North America and Australasia, great numbers of laborers were needed in the dangerous tasks of gold mining and railway construction. Widespread famine in Guangdong impelled many Cantonese to work in these countries to improve the living conditions of their relatives. Some overseas Chinese were sold to South America during the Punti-Hakka Clan Wars (1855–1867) in the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong. After World War II many people from the New Territories in Hong Kong emigrated to the UK (mainly England) and to the Netherlands to earn a better living.
From the mid-19th century onward, emigration has been directed primarily to Western countries such as the United States, Australia, Canada, Brazil, The United Kingdom, New Zealand, Argentina and the nations of Western Europe; as well as to Peru, Panama, and to a lesser extent to Mexico. Many of these emigrants who entered Western countries were themselves overseas Chinese, particularly from the 1950s to the 1980s, a period during which the PRC placed severe restrictions on the movement of its citizens. In 1984, Britain agreed to transfer the sovereignty of Hong Kong to the PRC; this triggered another wave of migration to the United Kingdom (mainly England), Australia, Canada, US, South America, Europe and other parts of the world. The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 further accelerated the migration. The wave calmed after Hong Kong's transfer of sovereignty in 1997. In addition, many citizens of Hong Kong hold citizenships or have current visas in other countries so if the need arises, they can leave Hong Kong at short notice. In fact, after the Tiananmen Square incident, the lines for immigration visas increased at every consulate in Hong Kong.
In recent years, the People's Republic of China has built increasingly stronger ties with African nations. Author Howard French estimates that over one million Chinese have moved in the past 20 years to Africa.
More recent Chinese presences have developed in Europe, where they number nearly a million, and in Russia, they number over 200,000, concentrated in the Russian Far East. Russia’s main Pacific port and naval base of Vladivostok, once closed to foreigners and belonged to China until the late 19th century, as of 2010 bristles with Chinese markets, restaurants and trade houses. A growing Chinese community in Germany consists of around 76,000 people as of 2010. An estimated 15,000 to 30,000 Chinese live in Austria.
Overseas Chinese are estimated to control US$ 2 trillion in liquid assets and have considerable amounts of wealth to stimulate economic power in China. The overseas Chinese business community of Southeast Asia, known as the bamboo network, has a prominent role in the region's private sectors.
Overseas Chinese often send remittances back home to family members to help better them financially and socioeconomically. China ranks second after India of top remittance-receiving countries in 2010 with over US$51 billion sent.
Thailand has the largest overseas Chinese community and is also the most successful case of assimilation, with many claiming Thai identity. For over 400 years, Thai-Chinese have largely intermarried and/or assimilated with their compatriots. The present Thai monarch, Chakri Dynasty, is founded by King Rama I who himself is partly Chinese. His predecessor, King Taksin of the Thonburi Kingdom, is the son of a Chinese immigrant from Guangdong Province and was born with a Chinese name. His mother, Lady Nok-iang (Thai: นกเอี้ยง), was Thai (and was later awarded the feudal title of Somdet Krom Phra Phithak Thephamat).
In the Philippines, Chinese from Guangdong were already migrating to the islands from the 9th century, and have largely intermarried with either indigenous Filipinos or Spanish colonisers. Their descendants would eventually form the bulk of the elite and ruling classes in a sovereign Philippines. Since the 1860s, most Chinese immigrants have come from Fujian; unlike earlier migrants, Fujianese settlers rarely intermarried, and thus form the bulk of the "unmixed" Chinese Filipinos. Older generations have retained Chinese traditions and the use of Minnan (Hokkien), while the majority of younger generations largely communicate in English, Filipino, and other Philippine languages, and have largely layered facets of both Western and Filipino culture onto their Chinese cultural background.
In Myanmar, the Chinese rarely intermarry (even amongst different Chinese linguistic groups), but have largely adopted the Burmese culture whilst maintaining Chinese cultural affinities.
In Cambodia, between 1965 and 1993, people with Chinese names were prevented from finding governmental employment, leading to a large number of people changing their names to a local, Cambodian name. Indonesia, and Myanmar were among the countries that do not allow birth names to be registered in foreign languages, including Chinese. But since 2003, the Indonesian government has allowed overseas Chinese to use their Chinese name or using their Chinese family name on their birth certificate.
In Vietnam, Chinese names are pronounced with Sino-Vietnamese readings. For example, the name of the previous Chinese president, 胡錦濤 (pinyin: Hú Jǐntāo), would be transcribed as "Hồ Cẩm Đào". In Western countries, the overseas Chinese generally use romanised versions of their Chinese names, and the use of local first names is also common. Vietnamese people have adopted some Chinese traditions, ancient Chinese characters, philosophy such as Confucianism, Taoism after centuries of the rule of China until the establishment of Ngo dynasty (Han-Nom: 吳朝); some Hoa people adopt the Vietnamese culture due to their similarities, however many Hoa still prefer maintaining Chinese cultural background (See Sinic world or Adoption of Chinese literary culture). The official census from 2009 accounted the Hoa population at some 823,000 individuals and ranked 6th in terms of its population size. 70% of the Hoa live in cities and towns, mostly in Ho Chi Minh city while the remainder live in the countryside in the southern provinces.
On the other hand, in Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei, overseas Chinese have maintained a distinct communal identity.
Overseas Chinese have often experienced hostility and discrimination.
In countries with small Chinese minorities, the economic disparity can be remarkable. For example, in 1998, ethnic Chinese made up just 1% of the population of the Philippines and 4% of the population in Indonesia, but have wide influence in Philippines and Indonesian private economy. The book World on Fire, describing the Chinese as a "market-dominant minority", notes that "Chinese market dominance and intense resentment amongst the indigenous majority is characteristic of virtually every country in Southeast Asia except Thailand and Singapore". Chinese market dominance is present in Thailand, which is noted for its lack of resentment, while Singapore is majority ethnic Chinese.
This asymmetrical economic position has incited anti-Chinese sentiment among the poorer majorities. Sometimes the anti-Chinese attitudes turn violent, such as the 13 May Incident in Malaysia in 1969 and the Jakarta riots of May 1998 in Indonesia, in which more than 2,000 people died, mostly rioters burned to death in a shopping mall. During the colonial era, some genocides killed tens of thousands of Chinese.
During the Indonesian killings of 1965–66, in which more than 500,000 people died, ethnic Chinese were killed and their properties looted and burned as a result of anti-Chinese racism on the excuse that Dipa "Amat" Aidit had brought the PKI closer to China. The anti-Chinese legislation was in the Indonesian constitution until 1998.
It is commonly held that a major point of friction is the apparent tendency of overseas Chinese to segregate themselves into a subculture. For example, the anti-Chinese Kuala Lumpur Racial Riots of 13 May 1969 and Jakarta Riots of May 1998 were believed to have been motivated by these racially biased perceptions. This analysis has been questioned by some historians, most notably Dr. Kua Kia Soong, the principal of New Era College, who has put forward the controversial argument that the 13 May Incident was a pre-meditated attempt by sections of the ruling Malay elite to incite racial hostility in preparation for a coup. In 2006, rioters damaged shops owned by Chinese-Tongans in Nukuʻalofa. Chinese migrants were evacuated from the riot-torn Solomon Islands.
Ethnic politics can be found to motivate both sides of the debate. In Malaysia, overseas Chinese tend to support equal and meritocratic treatment on the expectation that they would not be discriminated against in the resulting competition for government contracts, university places, etc., whereas many "Bumiputra" ("native sons") Malays oppose this on the grounds that their group needs such protections in order to retain their patrimony. The question of to what extent ethnic Malays, Chinese, or others are "native" to Malaysia is a sensitive political one. It is currently a taboo for Chinese politicians to raise the issue of Bumiputra protections in parliament, as this would be deemed ethnic incitement.
Many of the overseas Chinese who worked on railways in North America in the 19th century suffered from racial discrimination in Canada and the United States. Although discriminatory laws have been repealed or are no longer enforced today, both countries had at one time introduced statutes that barred Chinese from entering the country, for example the United States Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (repealed 1943) or the Canadian Chinese Immigration Act, 1923 (repealed 1947).
In Australia, Chinese were targeted by a system of discriminatory laws known as the 'White Australia Policy' which was enshrined in the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901. The policy was formally abolished in 1973, and in recent years Australians of Chinese background have publicly called for an apology from the Australian Federal Government similar to that given to the 'stolen generations' of indigenous people in 2007 by the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
Both the People's Republic of China and Taiwan (officially known as the Republic of China) maintain high level relationships with overseas Chinese populations. Both maintain cabinet level ministries to deal with overseas Chinese affairs, and many local governments within the PRC have overseas Chinese bureaus.
The Nationality Law of the People's Republic of China, which does not recognise dual citizenship, provides for automatic loss of PRC citizenship when a former PRC citizen both settles in another country and acquires foreign citizenship. For children born overseas of a PRC citizen, whether the child receives PRC citizenship at birth depends on whether the PRC parent has settled overseas: "Any person born abroad whose parents are both Chinese nationals or one of whose parents is a Chinese national shall have Chinese nationality. But a person whose parents are both Chinese nationals and have both settled abroad, or one of whose parents is a Chinese national and has settled abroad, and who has acquired foreign nationality at birth shall not have Chinese nationality" (Art 5).
By contrast, the Nationality Law of the Republic of China, which both permits and recognises dual citizenship, considers such persons to be citizens of the ROC (if their parents have household registration in Taiwan).
With China's growing economic prospects, many overseas Chinese have begun to migrate back to China, even as many mainland Chinese millionaires are considering emigrating out of the nation for better opportunities.
In the case of Indonesia and Burma, political and ethnic strife has cause a significant number of people of Chinese origins to re-emigrate back to China. In other Southeast Asian countries with large Chinese communities, such as Malaysia, the economic rise of People's Republic of China has made the PRC an attractive destination for many Malaysian Chinese to re-emigrate. As the Chinese economy opens up, Malaysian Chinese act as a bridge because many Malaysian Chinese are educated in the United States or Britain but can also understand the Chinese language and culture making it easier for potential entrepreneurial and business to be done between the people among the two countries.
After the Deng Xiaoping reforms, the attitude of the PRC toward overseas Chinese changed dramatically. Rather than being seen with suspicion, they were seen as people who could aid PRC development via their skills and capital. During the 1980s, the PRC actively attempted to court the support of overseas Chinese by among other things, returning properties that had been confiscated after the 1949 revolution. More recently PRC policy has attempted to maintain the support of recently emigrated Chinese, who consist largely of Chinese students seeking undergraduate and graduate education in the West. Many overseas Chinese are now investing in People's Republic of China providing financial resources, social and cultural networks, contacts and opportunities.
The Chinese government estimates that of the 1.2 million Chinese people who have gone overseas to study in the 30 years following China's economic reforms beginning in 1978, three-fourths have not returned to China.
The usage of Chinese by overseas Chinese has been determined by a large number of factors, including their ancestry, their migrant ancestors' "regime of origin", assimilation through generational changes, and official policies of their country of residence. The general trend is that more established Chinese populations in the Western world and in many regions of Asia have Cantonese as either the dominant variety or as a common community vernacular, while Mandarin is much more prevalent among new arrivals, making it increasingly common in many Chinatowns.
There are over 50 million overseas Chinese. Most overseas Chinese are living in Southeast Asia where they make up a majority of the population of Singapore (75%) and significant minority populations in Thailand (14%), Malaysia (23%), Indonesia, Brunei (10%), the Philippines, and Vietnam.
|Continent / country||Articles||Overseas Chinese population||Percentage||Year of data|
|South Africa||Chinese South Africans||300,000–400,000||2015|
|Madagascar||Chinese people in Madagascar||70,000–100,000||2011|
|Ethiopia||Chinese people in Ethiopia||20,000–60,000||2014–2016|
|Angola||Chinese people in Angola||50,000||2017|
|Algeria||Chinese people in Algeria||35,000||2009|
|Tanzania||Chinese people in Tanzania||30,000||2013|
|Republic of Congo||Chinese people in the Republic of Congo||15,000–25,000||2013|
|Nigeria||Chinese people in Nigeria||20,000||2012|
|Ghana||Chinese people in Ghana||6,000–20,000||2010|
|Zambia||Chinese people in Zambia||19,845||2014|
|Mozambique||Ethnic Chinese in Mozambique||12,000||2007|
|Zimbabwe||Chinese people in Zimbabwe||10,000||2017|
|Egypt||Chinese people in Egypt||6,000–10,000||2007|
|Sudan||Chinese people in the Sudan||5,000–10,000||2005–2007|
|Kenya||Chinese people in Kenya||7,000||2013|
|Uganda||Chinese people in Uganda||7,000||2010|
|Botswana||Chinese people in Botswana||5,000–6,000||2009|
|Lesotho||Chinese people in Lesotho||5,000||2011|
|Democratic Republic of Congo||Chinese people in the DRC||4,000–5,000||2015|
|Cameroon||Chinese people in Cameroon||3,000–5,000||2012|
|Guinea||Chinese people in Guinea||5,000||2012|
|Benin||Chinese people in Benin||4,000||2007|
|Namibia||Chinese people in Namibia||3,000–4,000||2009|
|Ivory Coast||Chinese people in Ivory Coast||3,000||2012|
|Mali||Chinese people in Mali||3,000||2014|
|Togo||Chinese people in Togo||3,000||2007|
|Cape Verde||Chinese people in Cape Verde||2,300||2008|
|Malawi||Chinese people in Malawi||2,000||2007|
|Rwanda||Chinese people in Rwanda||1,000–2,000||2011|
|Senegal||Chinese people in Senegal||1,500||2012|
|Morocco||Chinese people in Morocco||1,200||2004|
|Liberia||Chinese people in Liberia||600||2006|
|Burkina Faso||Chinese people in Burkina Faso||500||2012|
|Libya||Chinese people in Libya||300||2014|
|Thailand||Thai Chinese, Peranakan||9,349,900||14%||2012|
|Malaysia||Malaysian Chinese, Peranakan||6,642,000||23%||2015|
|Myanmar||Burmese Chinese, Panthay||1,637,540||2012|
|Philippines||Chinese Filipino, Tornatras, Sangley||1,146,250||1%||2005|
|South Korea||Chinese in South Korea||800,000||1%||2010|
|Japan||Chinese in Japan||674,871||<1%||2011|
|Kazakhstan||Chinese in Kazakhstan||300,000||2009|
|United Arab Emirates||Chinese people in the United Arab Emirates||180,000||2009|
|Brunei||Ethnic Chinese in Brunei||42,100||10%||2015|
|Israel||Chinese people in Israel||23,000||2001|
|North Korea||Chinese in North Korea||10,000||2009|
|India||Chinese in India||4,000–7,000||nil||2014|
|Sri Lanka||Chinese people in Sri Lanka||3,500||<1%||?|
|Iran||Chinese people in Iran||3,000|
|Kyrgyzstan||Chinese people in Kyrgyzstan||1,813||2009|
|Mongolia||Ethnic Chinese in Mongolia||1,323||2000|
|Russia||Chinese people in Russia, Dungan people||200,000–400,000||2004|
|France||Chinese diaspora in France, Chinois (Réunion)||700,000||1%||2010|
|United Kingdom||British Chinese||433,150||1%||2008|
|Italy||Chinese people in Italy||320,794||1%||2013|
|Germany||Chinese people in Germany||212,000||<1%||2016|
|Spain||Chinese people in Spain||145,000||<1%||2009|
|Netherlands||Chinese people in the Netherlands||80,198||<1%||2012
|Turkey||Chinese people in Turkey, Uyghurs||46,800||2009|
|Sweden||Chinese people in Sweden||33,548||<1%||2017|
|Portugal||Chinese people in Portugal||17,000||2008|
|Belgium||Chinese people in Belgium||15,500||<1%||2007|
|Denmark||Chinese people in Denmark||10,247||<1%||2009|
|Bulgaria||Chinese people in Bulgaria||9,000||2005|
|Czech Republic||Chinese people in the Czech Republic||4,986||2007|
|Romania||Chinese of Romania||2,249||2002|
|Serbia||Chinese people in Serbia||1,373||2011
|United States||Chinese American, American-born Chinese||4,947,968||1.5%||2015|
|Canada||Chinese Canadian, Canadian-born Chinese||1,769,195||5.1%||2016|
|Peru||Chinese-Peruvian||up to 900,000||up to 3%||2017|
|Costa Rica||Chinese-Costa Rican||45,000||2011|
|Colombia||Chinese people in Colombia||25,000||2014|
|Dominican Republic||Ethnic Chinese in the Dominican Republic||15,000||--|
|Chile||Chinese people in Chile||10,000||--|
|Trinidad & Tobago||Chinese Trinidadian and Tobagonian||3,800||2000|
|Belize||Ethnic Chinese in Belize||1,716||2000|
|New Zealand||Chinese New Zealander||180,066||4%||2013|
|Fiji||Chinese in Fiji||34,712||2012|
|Samoa||Chinese in Samoa||30,000||--|
|Papua New Guinea||Chinese people in Papua New Guinea||20,000||2008|
|Tonga||Chinese in Tonga||3,000||2001|
|Palau||Chinese in Palau||1,030||2012|
In its own way, it [Chinese government] has upgraded its migrants from a ragbag of malcontents, adventurers, and desperately poor laborers to the status of respectable and valued nationals whose loyalty was greatly appreciated.