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Overseas Chinese

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Overseas Chinese

Overseas Chinese
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 Singapore 2,808,300[5]
 Christmas Island
Minority populations
 Thailand 9,392,792[7]
 Malaysia 6,960,900[8]
 United States 3,794,673[9]
 Indonesia 2,832,510-[10]
 Myanmar 1,637,540[11][12]
 Canada 1,487,580[13]
 Peru 1,300,000[14]
 Philippines 1,146,250[15]
 Vietnam 970,927[16]
 Australia 866,200[17]
 South Korea 798,113[18]
 France 700,000[20]
 Japan 674,871[21]
 United Kingdom 466,000[22]
 Venezuela 400,000[23]
 South Africa 350,000[24]
 Italy 320,794[25]
 Angola 259,000[26]
 Russia 200,000-400,000[27][28]
 Laos 190,000[14]
 New Zealand 180, 066[29]
 United Arab Emirates 180,000[30]
 Brazil 151,000[14]
 Spain 145,245[31]
 Panama 135,000[32]
 Argentina 120,000[33][34][35]
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
Chinese people

Overseas Chinese (traditional Chinese: 海外華人; simplified Chinese: 海外华人; pinyin: Hǎiwài Huárén) are people of Chinese birth or descent who live outside the People's Republic of China and Republic of China (Taiwan). People of partial Chinese ancestry living outside the Greater China Area may also consider themselves overseas Chinese. Overseas Chinese can be of the Han Chinese ethnic majority, or from any of the other ethnic groups in China.[36]


  • Terminology 1
  • History 2
    • Chinese Civil War 2.1
    • Waves of immigration 2.2
    • Occupations 2.3
  • Overseas Chinese experience 3
    • Discrimination 3.1
    • Assimilation 3.2
  • Language 4
    • Southeast Asia 4.1
      • Singapore 4.1.1
      • Malaysia 4.1.2
      • Indonesia 4.1.3
      • Thailand 4.1.4
      • Vietnam 4.1.5
      • Cambodia 4.1.6
      • Laos 4.1.7
      • Myanmar 4.1.8
      • Brunei 4.1.9
      • Philippines 4.1.10
    • North America 4.2
  • Relationship with China 5
  • Returning and re-emigration 6
  • Economic impact 7
  • Current numbers 8
  • Statistics 9
  • See also 10
  • Further reading 11
  • External links 12
  • Notes 13
  • References 14


The Chinese language has various terms equivalent to the English "overseas Chinese" which refers to Chinese citizens residing in countries other than China: Huáqiáo (simplified Chinese: 华侨; traditional Chinese: 華僑; pinyin: Huáqiáo) or Hoan-kheh in Hokkien (Chinese: 番客). The term haigui (海归) refers to returned overseas Chinese and guīqiáo qiáojuàn (归侨侨眷) to their returning relatives.[36]

Huáyì (simplified Chinese: 华裔; traditional Chinese: 華裔; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Hôa-è) refers to ethnic Chinese residing outside of China.[37] Another often-used term is 海外华人 (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, or Hakka 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. It should be noted that 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 (少数民族) 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 (少数民族海外侨胞) 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.[36] For example, members of the Tibetan diaspora may travel to China on passes granted to certain overseas Chinese.[38] Various estimates of the overseas Chinese minority population include 3.1 million (1993),[39] 3.4 million (2004),[40] 5.7 million (2001, 2010),[41][42] or approximately one tenth of all overseas Chinese (2006, 2011).[43][44] 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.[36]


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.

Chinese Civil War

1967 photo of Indonesian-Chinese family from Hubei ancestry, the second and third generations

Before the establishment of the Republic of China, 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 1911-1949, these rules were abolished and many migrated outside of 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 led-Kuo Min Tang lost in the Chinese Civil War in 1949 to the Communist Party of China. Most of the nationalist and neutral refugees fled from Mainland China to South East Asia and as well as Taiwan, Republic of China, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Brunei and Indonesia. Many nationalists who stayed behind were persecuted and also executed.[45][46]

Most of the Chinese who fled during 1911 – 1949 under the Republic of China settled down in Singapore, Malaysia and automatically gain citizenship in 1957 and 1963 as these countries gained independence.[47][48] There are also evidence towards the Kuomintang member who settled down in Malaysia and Singapore such as the establishment of Malaysian Chinese Association whereby supporting the Kuomintang in China by funding them with the intention of reclaiming the Chinese mainland from the Communists.[49] [50]

Waves of immigration

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, Latin America, South Africa, and Russia.

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.[51] 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, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and the nations of Western Europe; as well as to Peru where they are called tusán, 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, USA, Latin America 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. More recent Chinese presences have developed in Europe, where they number nearly a million, and in Russia, they number over 600,000, concentrated in Russian Far East. Chinese who emigrated to Vietnam beginning in the 18th century are referred to as Hoa.

As of 2006, only 76,700 of the old Chinese community remained in South Korea.[52] However, as of 2013, there were 420,000 of ethnic Korean descent.[53]

In recent years, the [60]

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.[61] Experts predict that the Chinese diaspora in Russia will increase to at least 10 million by 2010 and Chinese may become the dominant ethnic group in the Russian Far East region 20 to 30 years from now.[62][63][64] Other experts discount such stories estimating the numbers of Chinese in Russia at less than half a million, most of whom are temporary traders.[65]

A growing Chinese community in Germany consists of around 76,000 people as of 2010.[66] An estimated 15,000 to 30,000 Chinese live in Austria.[67]


The Chinese in Southeast Asian countries have established themselves in commerce and finance.[68] In North America, Europe and Oceania, occupations are diverse and impossible to generalize; ranging from catering to significant ranks in medicine, the arts, and academia.

Overseas Chinese experience

The Chinese usually identify a person by ethnic origin instead of nationality. As long as the person is of Chinese descent, that person is considered Chinese, and if that person lives outside of China, that person is overseas Chinese. The majority of PRC Chinese do not understand the overseas Chinese experience of being a minority, as ethnic Han Chinese comprise approximately 91% of the population.[69]


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.[70] 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".[71]

This asymmetrical economic position has incited anti-Chinese sentiment among the poorer majorities. Sometimes the anti-Chinese attitudes turn violent, such as the May 13 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.[72] During the colonial era, some genocides killed tens of thousands of Chinese.[73][74][75][76][77]

During the Indonesian killings of 1965–66, in which more than 500,000 people died,[78] 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.[79][80] 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.[81] 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 May 13 Incident was a pre-meditated attempt by sections of the ruling Malay elite to incite racial hostility in preparation for a coup.[82] In 2006, rioters damaged shops owned by Chinese-Tongans in Nukuʻalofa.[83] Chinese migrants were evacuated from the riot-torn Solomon Islands.[84]

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.[85]

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[86] similar to that given to the 'stolen generations' of indigenous people in 2007 by the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.


Hakka people in a wedding in East Timor, 2006

Overseas Chinese vary widely as to their degree of assimilation, their interactions with the surrounding communities (see Chinatown), and their relationship with China.

Thailand has the largest overseas Chinese community and is also the most successful case of full assimilation, and they claim Thai identity. For over 400 years, Thai-Chinese have largely intermarried and 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 Chinese immigrant from Guangdong Province and was born with 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 vast 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 to 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, 胡锦涛 (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 the Chinese traditions, ancient Chinese characters, philosophy such as Confucianism, Taoism for thousands of years during the rule of China[87] until the establishment of Ngo dynasty (Han-Nom: 吳朝), it is easier for the Hoa people to adopt the Vietnamese culture due to their similarities, however some 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.[16]

On the other hand, in Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei, overseas Chinese have maintained a distinct communal identity, though the rate and state of being assimilated to the local (in this case multicultural) society, is currently on par with that of other Chinese communities (see Peranakan).

In East Timor, a large fraction of Chinese are of Hakka descent.


The usage of Chinese languages 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 - increase of Mandarin-speaking Chinese among the new arrivals, making it the most common language of chinatowns.[88]

Southeast Asia

Within Southeast Asia, the language situation of overseas Chinese varies greatly even amongst neighboring nations.


In Singapore, a nation with an ethnic Chinese majority population, Mandarin is recognized as one of its official languages, along with simplified Chinese characters, in contrast to other overseas Chinese communities which almost exclusively used traditional Chinese characters until the 1990s, when nationals of the PRC began to emigrate in substantial numbers and brought with them the simplified Chinese characters. Although ethnic Chinese in Singapore are predominantly of Hokkien descent, the government of Singapore discourages the usage of non-Mandarin Chinese languages through the Speak Mandarin Campaign. The official policy in Singapore also has an impact on neighboring Johor, in southern Peninsular Malaysia, where Mandarin is predominantly spoken among the Chinese communities there. As the Singapore government actively promotes English as the common language of the multiracial society of Singapore, younger Chinese Singaporeans are mostly bilingual in Mandarin and English while the older generation speak the dialects.


Malaysia is the only country besides Mainland China and Taiwan that has a complete Chinese education system, right from primary school to university.[89] Chinese Malaysians speak a wide variety of dialects and Mandarin, their prevalence being concentrated around particular metropolitan centres: the Penang, Klang, Kelantan and Malacca groups are predominantly Hokkien-speaking (Penang has its own version of Hokkien, Kelantan has its own version of Hokkien too); the Kuala Lumpur, Seremban, Kuantan and Ipoh groups are predominantly Cantonese, Yue and Hakka-speaking; whereas in East Malaysia (Malaysian Borneo), Hokkien, Teochew, Hakka and Mandarin are widely spoken, except in Sibu, where the Fuzhou dialect is predominant, and in Sandakan, where Cantonese and Hakka are widely spoken. Regardless of location, however, younger generations tend to speak Malaysian Mandarin, which is taught in schools. A significant number of Chinese are English-educated, who speak mainly English. Most Chinese Malaysians can speak both Malay, the national language, and English, which is widely used in business and at tertiary level. However, a lot of them speak it with a very pronounced Chinese accent, which sounds very different from the standard Malay spoken by the majority of the population. In this respect, there exists a language divide in Malaysia up till today, which varies depending on where the person is brought up. For example, in the east coast state of Kelantan, most (if not all) Kelantan Chinese are able to speak the Kelantanese Malay dialect fluently, whereas in other states, they may not be able to fluently converse in the local dialect (For example, Penang and Negeri Sembilan). Cantonese is the lingua franca in Kuala Lumpur and many places as many Chinese can understand it, but may not be able to speak it perfectly.


Ethnic Chinese in Indonesia had, for decades, been subjected to official, and at times draconian, assimilation policies, and as a result majority of them are no longer proficient in Chinese language (particularly ethnic Chinese who lived in Java). Originally, majority of the population emigrated from Fujian and Guangdong province of South China, during Taiping Rebellion era in the 19th century. Some originated hundred of years ago, as result of trade between Ming dynasty China and early colonial era Dutch East Indies. Most of Chinese who lived in Sumatra did not give up some of the dialects. Most of the ethnic Chinese in Medan, the capital of North Sumatra, are still able to speak creole Hokkien within their community. This is due to the number of generations that have lived in Indonesia and their exposure to cultural assimilation. Most of the ethnic Chinese who live in Java have a long line (10 generations) of forefathers before them, where the ethnic Chinese who live in Sumatra have a relatively short generation of forefathers (4 or 5 generations). There is also a small population of Hakka Chinese in Indonesia, most notably in Bangka Belitung province, Pontianak and Singkawang where they form a significant part of the local population, while in the areas from Pontianak to Kendawangan on the southern tip of West Kalimantan are populated by Teochew speakers much like Bangkok, Thailand.[90] As to their identity, Chinese Indonesians generally prefer to be considered Indonesians than Chinese (which term denotes People's Republic of China citizen).

Ethnic Chinese in Indonesia made up of 4% of the country population (as of 2011 census data), and is collectively considered as one of the wealthiest group of overseas Chinese in the world, with many of their private companies currently debut on the world stage. However, they have been glass-walled into going for any major political position in the country. Younger generation of Indonesian Chinese speaks fluent Bahasa Indonesia and English.


Thailand is home to the largest and most integrated Overseas Chinese community. As already said above, the present Thai monarch, Chakri Dynasty, was founded by King Rama I, who himself was partly Chinese. His predecessor, King Taksin of Thonburi Dynasty, was the son of Chinese immigrants from Guangdong Province and was born with a Chinese name. The majority of Prime Ministers in Thailand are of Chinese descent. Most ethnic Chinese in Thailand live in cities such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Hat Yai and Nakhon Sawan. A large majority of them belong to the Teochew dialect group of Han Chinese. A small number of Chinese people, mainly belonging to the Yunnanese dialect group, also live in the northern part of Thailand which is in close proximity to their homeland in Yunnan province of China. Charoen Pokphand Group, founded by Thai-Chinese Chearavanont family, is currently the single largest foreign investors in China.[91]


There is some controversy about the size of the Chinese minority in Vietnam: official figures tend to float around the 1 million figure (1.1% of total population), but outside sources tend to suggest a higher number. Not all Chinese (known as Hoa) are officially recognized by the government of Vietnam: the Hoa category excludes the San Diu (mountain Chinese) and the Ngai. A large number of Chinese people live in Saigon city and most of them today speak Cantonese, though there is also a large group who speak Teochew, tracing their ancestral homeland to the Guangdong province in China, from where their ancestors came around the 18th century.[92]


Chinese are a visible ethnic group of Cambodia and constitute around 7% of the population.[93] Chinese ethnics can be seen in all towns and many towns are exclusive to ethnic Chinese. Most Chinese Cambodians belong to the Hokkien and Teochew dialect groups. Many Khmer people are taught Mandarin in school alongside many Sino-Khmers and ethnic Vietnamese people.[94]


Laos is one of South-East Asia’s most ethnically diverse countries: a somewhat surprising situation given the relatively small size and population of around 6 million, but probably due to its location, mountainous terrain and tropical climate. There are also Chinese minorities in Laos, though their exact number is difficult to ascertain: Chinese presence goes back centuries, tending to be concentrated in the cities of Vientiane and Savannakhet.[95]


Although the Burmese Chinese (or Chinese Burmese) officially make up three percent of the population, the actual figure is believed to be much higher. Among the under-counted Chinese populations are: those of mixed background;[96] those that have registered themselves as ethnic Bamar to escape discrimination; illegal Chinese immigrants that have flooded Upper Burma since the 1990s (up to 2 million by some estimates[97]) but are not counted due to the lack of reliable census taking.[98] The Burmese Chinese dominate the Burmese economy today.[99] They also have a very large presence in Burmese higher education, and make up a high percentage of the educated class in Burma. Most Burmese Chinese speak Burmese as their mother tongue. Those with higher education also speak Mandarin and/or English. The use of Chinese dialects still prevails. Hokkien (a dialect of Min Nan) is mostly used in Yangon as well as in Lower Burma, while Taishanese (a Yue dialect akin to Cantonese) and Yunnanese Mandarin are well preserved in Upper Burma.


A variety of Chinese dialects are spoken in Brunei. Mandarin and Hokkien are the most commonly spoken dialects in the country.


Chinese Filipinos officially comprise 1.5% of the country's population, although demographic surveys from third parties find that 18-27% of the Philippine population have at least some Chinese ancestry, totalling up to 27 million people.[100]

Most Chinese Filipinos are trilingual, speaking a Chinese, English, and a Philippine language, most often, Tagalog or Cebuano. Older Chinese Filipinos generally prefer to use Chinese, whereas those younger, prefer to use either English or a Philippine language, a result of the prohibition of Chinese language education enacted during the dictatorship of President Marcos (1972–1986).

The most widely spoken Chinese language is Hokkien (there is a native form of Hokkien called Lan-nang-oe). Hokkien is used at home, informally in schools, and in business among Chinese Filipinos. The Hokkien spoken in Xiamen (Amoy), Quanzhou, and Zhangzhou are the most common forms of Hokkien in the Philippines. Other languages such as Cantonese, Shanghainese, and Teochew are also spoken, albeit by a very tiny and decreasing population, because of intermarriage with the more dominant Hokkien speakers, and because Hokkien is the preferred Chinese variant in the Philippines.

Mandarin is still taught at all Chinese schools as the "Standard Chinese", although most Chinese Filipinos do not speak it at home and do not attain the same level of fluency as those of Chinese descent in China, Taiwan, and Singapore.

Due to extensive albeit informal contacts with the Ministry of Education of the Taiwan (ROC) during 1950-1990, the traditional Chinese script as well as the bopomofo are still used, although these are gradually being eased out in favor of simplified Chinese characters and pinyin starting 2005, with Chinese Language textbooks increasingly imported from both China and Singapore.

As part of a recent trend, partly due to increased contacts with other overseas Chinese in Hong Kong and Singapore, more Chinese Filipino families are now opting to use English as their first language at home. There is also a trend among some young Chinese Filipinos to relearn Hokkien, a result of increasing pride in being "ethnic Chinese" and the popularity of Taiwanese films and shows, which is associated with the rise of China in the 21st century.

Despite the perceived widespread assimilation of the Chinese Filipinos into the general Philippine population, most still form part of a "Tsinoy" community where Chinese culture is celebrated and practiced. Despite the fact that not all Chinese Filipinos can fluently speak Hokkien or any other Chinese variant, most can still understand at least some Hokkien.

On the other hand, most Chinese Mestizos (called chhut-si-ia in Hokkien), or those who are of mixed Chinese and Filipino, Spanish, and/or American ancestry, tend to downplay their Chinese roots and invariably consider themselves Filipino. Most Chinese Mestizos speak Tagalog or English.

Typical grocery store on 8th Avenue in one of the Brooklyn Chinatowns (布鲁克林華埠) on Long Island, New York, USA. Multiple Chinatowns in Manhattan (紐約華埠), Queens (法拉盛華埠), and Brooklyn are thriving as traditionally urban enclaves, as large-scale Chinese immigration continues into New York,[101][102][103][104] with the largest metropolitan Chinese population outside Asia.[105]

North America

Many overseas Chinese populations in North America speak some variety of Chinese. In the United States and Canada, Chinese is the third most spoken language.[106][107] Yue dialects have historically been the most prevalent variety due to immigrants being mostly from southern China from the 19th century up through the 1980s.[107][108] However, Mandarin is becoming increasingly more prevalent due to the opening up of the PRC.[108]

In New York City at least, although Mandarin is spoken as a native language among only ten percent of Chinese speakers, it is used as a secondary dialect among the greatest number of them and is on its way to replace Cantonese as their lingua franca.[109] Although Min Chinese or Hoochew, the majority of Min Chinese, is spoken natively by a third of the Chinese population there, it is not used as a lingua franca because speakers of other dialect groups do not learn Min.[109]

In Richmond (part of the Greater Vancouver metropolitan area in Canada), 44% of the population is Chinese.[110] Chinese words can be seen everywhere from local banks to grocery stores. In the broader Vancouver Census Metropolitan Area, 18% of the population is Chinese. Similarly in Toronto, which is the largest city in Canada, Chinese people make up 11.4% of the local population with the higher percentages of between 20-50% in the suburbs of Markham, Richmond Hill and within the city's east end, Scarborough.[111] Cantonese and Mandarin are the most popular Chinese languages.

Economic growth in the People's Republic of China has given mainland Chinese more opportunities to emigrate. A 2011 survey showed that 60% of Chinese millionaires plan to emigrate,[112] mostly to the USA or Canada. The EB-5 Investment Visa allows many powerful Chinese to seek U.S. citizenship, and recent reports show that 75% of applicants for this visa in 2011 were Chinese.[113] Chinese multimillionaires benefited most from the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program in the U.S. Now, as long as one has at least US$500,000 to invest in projects listed by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where it is possible to get an EB-5 green card that comes with permanent U.S. residency rights, but only in states specified by the pilot project.[114]

Relationship with China

Overseas Chinese Museum, Xiamen, China

Both the People's Republic of China and Taiwan maintain highly complex 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. Both the PRC and ROC have some legislative representation for overseas Chinese. In the case of the PRC, some seats in the National People's Congress are allocated for returned overseas Chinese. In the ROC's Legislative Yuan, there used to be eight seats allocated for overseas Chinese. These seats were apportioned to the political parties based on their vote totals in the ROC, and then the parties assigned the seats to overseas Chinese party loyalists. Now, political parties in the ROC are still allowed to assign overseas Chinese into the Legislative Yuan, but they are not required to. Most of these members elected to the Legislative Yuan hold dual citizenship, but must renounce their foreign citizenship before being sworn in.

Overseas Chinese have sometimes played an important role in Chinese politics. Most of the funding for the Chinese revolution of 1911 came from overseas Chinese.

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. On the other hand, overseas Chinese in their home nations were often persecuted for suspected or fabricated ties to "Communist China". This was used as a pretext for the massacres of ethnic Chinese in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian 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 seeking 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.[115][116]

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).[117]

By contrast, the Nationality Law of the Republic of China, which both permits and recognises dual citizenship, considers these persons to be citizens of the ROC.

Returning and re-emigration

With People's Republic of China's growing economic strength and the influence on the world, many overseas Chinese have begun to migrate back to China even though many mainland Chinese millionaires are considering emigrating out of the nation for better opportunities.[118]

With China being the second largest economy in the world, this trend is expected to rise even more in the future as China's vigorous economy is poised to surpass the United States in the upcoming decade. For instance, in the case of Indonesia and Burma, political and ethnic strife has cause a significant number of people of Chinese origins to re-emigrate. Other Southeast Asian countries with large Chinese communities such as Malaysia, the economic rise of People's Republic of China has made it 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.[119]

Economic impact

Overseas Chinese are estimated to control 1.5 to 2 trillion USD in liquid assets and have considerable amounts of wealth to stimulate economic power in China.[120][121] 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 51 billion USD sent.[122] The overseas Chinese business community of Southeast Asia, known as the bamboo network, has a prominent role in the region's private sectors.[123]

Current numbers

There are over 50 million overseas Chinese.[2][3][4][124] Most overseas Chinese are living in Southeast Asia where they make up a majority of the population of Singapore and significant minority populations in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines, and Vietnam. The overseas populations in those areas arrived between the 16th and 19th centuries mostly from the maritime provinces of Guangdong and Fujian, followed by Hainan. There were incidences of earlier emigration from the 15th centuries in particular to Malacca.[125]

Urban areas with large Chinese populations within Asia include Bangkok with 2,900,000 (2009 census, registered resident only), Singapore with 2,800,000 (2010 census), Kuala Lumpur with 612,277 (2000 census, city only),[126] Penang with 650,000 (2005), and Jakarta with 528,300 (2010 census). In the United States, according to the 2012 Census estimates,[127] the three metropolitan areas with the largest Chinese American populations were the Greater New York Combined Statistical Area at 735,019 people, the San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland Combined Statistical Area at 629,243 people, and the Greater Los Angeles Combined Statistical Area at about 566,968 people. In Canada, the Greater Toronto Area had 486,300 Chinese (2006 Census, metropolitan area),[128] while the Greater Vancouver Area had 402,000 (2006 Census, metropolitan area).[129]


Continent / country Articles Overseas Chinese population Year of data
 South Africa Chinese South Africans 350,000 2009[130]
 Angola Chinese people in Angola 259,000 2012[131]
 Zambia Chinese people in Zambia 100,000 2013[132]
 Madagascar Chinese people in Madagascar 50,000 2007[133][134]
 Mauritius Sino-Mauritian 38,500 2010[135]
 Algeria Chinese people in Algeria 35,000 2009[60]
 Réunion Chinois 25,000 1999[136]
 Nigeria Chinese people in Nigeria 20,000 2012[137]
 Ghana Chinese people in Ghana 6,000–20,000 2010[138]
 Mozambique Ethnic Chinese in Mozambique 12,000 2007
 Tanzania Chinese people in Tanzania 10,000 2008[139]
 Egypt Chinese people in Egypt 6,000–10,000 2007[140]
 Kenya Chinese people in Kenya 7,000 2013[141]
 Botswana Chinese people in Botswana 6,000 2009
 Lesotho Chinese people in Lesotho 5,000 2011[142]
 Ethiopia Chinese people in Ethiopia 3,000–4,000 2006[140]
 Namibia Chinese people in Namibia 3,000–4,000 2009[143]
 Cameroon Chinese people in Cameroon 2,000 2008
 Senegal Chinese people in Senegal 2,000 2008
 Seychelles Sino-Seychellois 1,000 1999[144]
Continent / country Articles Overseas Chinese population Year of data
Asia/Middle East
 Thailand Thai Chinese 9,392,792 2012[145]
 Malaysia Malaysian Chinese, Peranakan 6,960,900 2010[146]
 Indonesia Chinese Indonesian 2,832,510 2010[147]
 Singapore Chinese Singaporean 2,808,300 2011[5]
 Myanmar Burmese Chinese, Panthay 1,637,540 2012[11]
 Philippines Chinese Filipino, Tornatras, Sangley 1,146,250 2005[15]
 Vietnam Hoa, Ngái, San Diu 970,927 2009[16]
 South Korea Chinese in South Korea 800,000 2010[148]
Chinese Cambodian, Cambodian Hokkien 700,000 2010[149]
 Japan Chinese in Japan 674,871 2011[21]
 Kazakhstan Chinese in Kazakhstan 300,000 2009[139]
 Laos Laotian Chinese 185,765 2005[7]
 United Arab Emirates Chinese people in the United Arab Emirates 180,000 2009[150]
 Brunei Ethnic Chinese in Brunei 43,000 2006[151]
 Israel Chinese people in Israel 23,000 2001[152][153]
 North Korea Chinese in North Korea 10,000 2009[154]
 Pakistan Chinese people in Pakistan 8,000 2009[155]
 India Chinese in India 4,000 2014[156]
 Sri Lanka Chinese people in Sri Lanka 3,500 ?[157]
 Iran Chinese people in Iran 3,000 --
 Kyrgyzstan Chinese people in Kyrgyzstan 1,813 2009[158]
 Mongolia Ethnic Chinese in Mongolia 1,323 2000
Continent / country Articles Overseas Chinese population Year of data
 Russia Chinese people in Russia, Dungan people 200,000–400,000 2004[159][160]
 France Chinese diaspora in France, Chinois (Réunion) 600,000 2010[161]
 United Kingdom British Chinese 500,000 2008[162]
 Italy Chinese people in Italy 320,794 2013[25]
 Spain Chinese people in Spain 145,000 2009[31]
 Netherlands Chinese people in the Netherlands 80,198 2012[163]
 Germany Chinese people in Germany 56,000 2010[66]
 Hungary -- 30,000-40,000 --[164]
 Austria -- 30,000 2008[67]
 Sweden -- 27,923 2013[165]
 Ireland -- 17,800 2011[166]
 Denmark Chinese people in Denmark 10,247 2009[167]
 Bulgaria Chinese people in Bulgaria 9,000 2005[168]
 Portugal Chinese people in Portugal 9,689 2007[169]
 Finland -- 8,257 2011[170]
 Czech Republic Chinese people in the Czech Republic 4,986 2007[171]
 Romania Chinese of Romania 2,249 2002[172]
 Serbia Chinese people in Serbia 1,373 2011[173]
 Turkey Chinese people in Turkey 1,000 2009
Continent / country Articles Overseas Chinese population Year of data
 United States Chinese American, American-born Chinese 3,800,000 2010[9]
 Canada Chinese Canadian, Canadian-born Chinese 1,487,580 2006[174]
 Peru Chinese-Peruvian 1,300,000 2005[7]
 Venezuela Chinese Venezuelan 400,000-450,000 2013[175]
 Brazil Chinese Brazilian 250,000 2005[7]
 Panama Chinese-Panamanian 135,000 2003[176][177]
 Argentina Chinese Argentine 120,000 2010[34][35][178]
 Cuba Chinese Cuban 114,240 2008[179]
 Jamaica Chinese Jamaican 72,000 --[180]
 Mexico Chinese Mexican 70,000 2008[181]
 Costa Rica Chinese-Costa Rican 45,000 2011[182]
 Suriname Chinese-Surinamese 40,000 2011[183]
 Dominican Republic Ethnic Chinese in the Dominican Republic 15,000 --[184]
 Nicaragua Chinese Nicaraguan 12,000 --[185]
 Chile Chinese people in Chile 10,000 --
 Trinidad & Tobago Chinese Trinidadian and Tobagonian 3,800 2000
 Guyana Chinese Guyanese 2,722 1921[186]
 Belize Ethnic Chinese in Belize 1,716 2000[187]
 Puerto Rico Chinese-Puerto Rican -- --
 Haiti Chinese Haitian 230 --
Continent / country Articles Overseas Chinese population Year of data
 Australia Chinese Australian 866,200 2011[188]
 New Zealand Chinese New Zealander 180,066 2013[189]
 Fiji Chinese in Fiji 34,712 2012[190]
 Samoa Chinese in Samoa 30,000 --
 Papua New Guinea Chinese people in Papua New Guinea 20,000 2008[191][192]
 Tonga Chinese in Tonga 3,000 2001[193][194]
 Palau Chinese in Palau 1,030 2012[195]

See also

Further reading

  • Barabantseva, Elena. Overseas Chinese, Ethnic Minorities and Nationalism: De-centering China, Oxon/New York: Routledge, 2011.
  • Chin, Ung Ho. The Chinese of South East Asia, London: Minority Rights Group, 2000. ISBN 1-897693-28-1
  • Fitzgerald, John. Big White Lie: Chinese Australians in White Australia, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2007. ISBN 978-0-86840-870-5
  • Gambe, Annabelle R. (2000). Overseas Chinese Entrepreneurship and Capitalist Development in Southeast Asia. Volume 9 of Sudostasien Series (illustrated ed.). LIT Verlag Münster.  
  • Kuhn, Philip A. Chinese Among Others: Emigration in Modern Times, Lanham, MD/Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008.
  • López-Calvo, Ignacio. Imaging the Chinese in Cuban Literature and Culture, Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida, 2008. ISBN 0-8130-3240-7
  • Pan, Lynn. The Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas, Landmark Books, Singapore, 1998. ISBN 981-4155-90-X
  • Reid, Anthony; Alilunas-Rodgers, Kristine, eds. (1996). Sojourners and Settlers: Histories of Southeast China and the Chinese. Contributor Kristine Alilunas-Rodgers (illustrated, reprint ed.). University of Hawaii Press.  
  • Tan, Chee-Beng. Chinese Overseas: Comparative Cultural Issues, Hong Kong University Press, 2004.

External links

  • Andrewkidz Collections Library - The Overseas Chinese Biographies
  • Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council of the People's Republic of China (Chinese)
  • Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission, R.O.C.
  • Ohio University Study on Distribution of the Overseas Chinese Population
  • The Distribution of the Overseas Chinese in the Contemporary World
  • Museum of Chinese in the Americas
  • The Overseas Chinese returnees movement (Chinese)
  • Chinese in Africa


  1. ^ The Japanese nationals with Chinese ethnicity are excluded.
  2. ^ This number includes 443,566 people called Joseonjok (조선족). Joseonjok people are the Koreans who have Chinese citizenship. The 181,428 Chinese people who are ethnic Chinese (calculated from 624,994-443,566) in Korea are called Hwagyo (화교). (See reference)


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