Overseas Chinese

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Overseas Chinese
Total population
over 50,000,000
Regions with significant populations
 Singapore 2,547,300[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]
 Philippines 1,350,000[14]
 Peru 1,300,000[15]
 Vietnam 970,927[16]
 Australia 866,200[17]
 South Korea 798,113[18]
 Cambodia 782,600[19]
 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[15]
 New Zealand 180, 066[29]
 United Arab Emirates 180,000[30]
 Brazil 151,000[15]
 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) or Hong Kong and Macau. 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]


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

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 1911-1949, 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 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 South East Asia(Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Brunei and Indonesia) as well as Taiwan, Republic of China. Many nationalists who stayed behind were persecuted or even 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]Kuomintang members who settled down in Malaysia and Singapore played a major role in the establishment of Malaysian Chinese Association. There is some evidence that they intend to reclaim mainland China from the Communists by funding the Kuomintang in China.[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[by whom?] 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 people in China of ethnic Korean descent.[53]

In recent years, the People's Republic of China has built increasingly stronger ties with African nations. As of August 2007, there were an estimated 750,000 Chinese nationals working or living for extended periods in different African countries.[54] An estimated 200,000 ethnic Chinese live in South Africa.[55] In a 2007 New York Times article, Chad Chamber of Commerce Director estimated an "influx of at least 40,000 Chinese in coming years" to Chad. As of 2006 as many as 40,000 Chinese lived in Namibia,[56] an estimated 80,000 Chinese in Zambia[57] and 50,000 Chinese in Nigeria.[58] As many as 100,000 Chinese live and work across Angola.[59] As of 2009 35,000 Chinese migrant workers lived in Algeria.[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] (Chinese market dominance is present in Thailand, which is noted for its lack of resentment, and 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 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.[citation needed] 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.


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 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 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 some Chinese traditions, ancient Chinese characters, philosophy such as Confucianism, Taoism after centuries of the rule of China[87] 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.[16]

On the other hand, in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei, overseas Chinese have maintained a distinct communal identity.

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


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.[88][89]

Southeast Asia

Within Southeast Asia, Hokkien and Cantonese has traditionally served as the lingua franca among overseas Chinese across most of the region and within many of its countries. However, the language situation of overseas Chinese can vary greatly amongst neighboring nations or even within.[88]


Singapore has an ethnic Chinese majority population, with Mandarin recognized as one of its official languages. Furthermore, simplified Chinese characters are used in contrast to other overseas Chinese communities, which almost exclusively use traditional Chinese characters. Although the majority of ethnic Chinese in Singapore are predominantly of Hokkien descent and Hokkien has historically been the most spoken Chinese variety, the government of Singapore discourages the usage of non-Mandarin Chinese varieties through the Speak Mandarin Campaign (SMC).[90] The Singaporean government also actively promotes English as the common language of the multiracial society of Singapore, with younger Chinese Singaporeans being mostly bilingual in Mandarin and English, while the older generations speak other Chinese varieties.

Under the SMC policy, all nationally produced non-Mandarin Chinese TV and radio programs were stopped after 1979.[91] Additionally, Hong Kong (Cantonese) and Taiwanese dramas are unavailable in their original languages on non-cable TV. Nevertheless, since the government restriction on non-Mandarin media was relaxed in the mid-1990s, these media have become available once on again on cable TV and sold in stores. However, only Cantonese seems to have benefited from this uplift, thanks to a large following of Hong Kong popular culture, such as television dramas, cinema and Cantopop. Consequently, there has been a substantial of number of non-Cantonese Chinese Singaporeans being able to understand or speak the language, with a number of educational institutes offering Cantonese as an elective language course. Meanwhile, the number of speakers for other non-Mandarin Chinese varieties continues to decline.[92]


Malaysia is the only country besides Mainland China and Taiwan that has a complete Chinese education system, from primary school to university.[93] Malaysian Chinese speak a wide variety of dialects, which are concentrated around particular population centers. Hokkien, the largest Chinese group, is concentrated in Penang, Klang, Kelantan and Malacca, with Penang having its own Hokkien variety. Cantonese is centered on Kuala Lumpur, Seremban, Kuantan and Ipoh, with Hakka minorities also found. Meanwhile, in East Malaysia (Malaysian Borneo), Hokkien, Teochew, Hakka and Mandarin are found except in Sibu, where the Fuzhou dialect is predominant, and in Sandakan, where Cantonese and Hakka are widely spoken.[94]

Regardless of location, however, younger generations are educated in the Malaysian standard of Mandarin at Chinese-language schools. Also, most Chinese Malaysians can speak both Malay, the national language, and English, which is widely used in business and at tertiary level. Furthermore, Cantonese is understood by most Malaysian Chinese as it is the prevalent language used in Chinese-language media, although many are unable to speak it.[95]


Ethnic Chinese in Indonesia had been subjected for decades to official, and at times discriminatory, assimilation policies. As a result, a large number are no longer proficient in Chinese. Originally, the majority of the population emigrated from Fujian and Guangdong provinces in South China, with the first wave of arrivals preceding the Dutch colonial period in the 1700s. The four recognized varieties of Chinese spoken by the Chinese Indonesian community are, ordered by number of speakers: Hokkien, Hakka, Mandarin, and Cantonese. Additionally, Teochew and Puxian Min are also found.,[96]Indonesia's 2010 census reported more than 2.8 million self-identified ethnic Chinese: 1.20 percent of the country's population.[1] However other source stated that there are about 10 to 12 million Chinese living in the country,making up 5-6% of Indonesia population. Most of the Chinese resided in big cities and towns around east coast of Sumatra, north coast of Java and west coast of Kalimantan.

The distribution of Chinese varieties are scattered throughout the archipelago. On North Sumatra, Riau, Riau Islands, Jambi, two varieties of Hokkien exist, Medan Hokkien and Riau Hokkien, which incorporate local and Indonesian vocabulary. Hakka Chinese is concentrated in Bangka-Belitung, South Sumatra, Jakarta and West Kalimantan where they form a significant part of the local population. Meanwhile, Pontianak to Ketapang, Kendawangan on the southern tip of West Kalimantan is populated by Teochew speakers. Cantonese and, more recently, Mandarin have been used in Chinese-language schools and both variants are found in major cities such as Jakarta, Medan, Batam and Surabaya, with Mandarin usage increasing with recent Chinese arrivals from China and Taiwan and Cantonese speaker from Hong Kong, Guangdong, and Macau.[97] Younger generations of Indonesian Chinese are generally fluent in Indonesian, some are fluent in English and Mandarin meanwhile the older generations are fluent in their local Chinese dialects aside Indonesian.


Although Thailand is home to the largest Overseas Chinese community,[98] the level of integration is also the highest and most Thai Chinese today speak Thai as their native or main language. Most ethnic Chinese live in major cities such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Chumphon , Ratchaburi , Chonburi , Hat Yai and Nakhon Sawan, and Chinatowns in these cities still feature signage in both Chinese and Thai. As of the 2000s, only a little over 200,000 Thai Chinese still speak a variant of Chinese at home. A little over half speak Teochew, the largest dialect group, followed by Hakka, Hainanese, Cantonese, and Hokkien.[99] In commerce, Teochew, Cantonese and Thai are used as common languages and Chinese-language schools often use Cantonese as the medium of instruction due to its lingua franca status among most Chinese in Southeast Asia.[100]


Ethnic Chinese in Vietnam are categorized into three groups that are based on migrant history, location and level of integration. The largest group is the Hoa, numbering almost a million individuals and have historically been influential in Vietnamese society and economy. They are largely concentrated in major cities of the former South Vietnam (especially in Ho Chi Minh City) and largely speak Cantonese, with Teochew found among a significant minority.[101]

The smaller two Chinese groups consist of the San Diu and Ngái. The San Diu number over 100,000 and are concentrated in the mountains of northern Vietnam. They actually trace their origins to Yao people rather than Han Chinese, but nevertheless have been heavily influenced by Chinese culture and speak a variant of Cantonese. Meanwhile, the Ngái are concentrated in rural areas of Central Vietnam and number around 1,000. They speak Hakka natively and use Cantonese to communicate with Hoa communities.[102]


A 2013 census estimated there to be 15,000 ethnic Chinese in Cambodia.[103] However, Chinese community organizations have estimated that up to around 7% of the population may have Chinese ancestry.[104] Chinese Cambodians have historically played important economic and political roles in the country and are still often overrepresented in Cambodian commerce.

As a vast majority of the group emigrated from Cambodia following the Khmer Rouge, the community has assimilated greatly into Cambodian society and many now speak Khmer as their main language. Over three-fourths of Chinese Cambodians belong to the Teochew group, which is also the most commonly spoken Chinese variety. The other two largest groups include Hokkien and Hainanese. Cantonese formed the largest group from the 17th to the mid-20th century, but form only a minority today and are concentrated in major urban centers. Nevertheless, Cantonese continues to serve as the common community language among most Chinese Cambodians.[105] In Chinese-language schools, Mandarin is taught.[106]


Among the small ethnic Chinese community of Laos, Teochew and Cantonese are the two most spoken Chinese varieties. Ethnic Chinese living on the border with China speak Southwest varieties of Mandarin.[107]


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;[108] 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[109]) but are not counted due to the lack of reliable census taking.[110] The Burmese Chinese dominate the Burmese economy today.[111] 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 number of Chinese dialects are spoken in Brunei. Mandarin and Hokkien are the most commonly spoken varieties 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.[112]

Most Chinese Filipinos are trilingual, speaking Chinese, English, and a Philippine language (most often Tagalog or Cebuano). Older Chinese Filipinos generally prefer to use Chinese, whereas younger generations 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 variety is Hokkien, specifically a Filipino variant of it called Lan-nang. Other Hokkien dialects and Chinese varieties such as Cantonese, Shanghainese, and Teochew are also spoken, albeit by a very tiny population. In contrast to much of Southeast Asia, the Chinese community in the Philippines does not use Cantonese as its preferred community language, but rather Philippine Hokkien, which is also spoken informally at schools and in business among Chinese Filipinos.[113]

In Chinese-language schools, Mandarin is taught as "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,[114][115][116][117] with the largest metropolitan Chinese population outside Asia.[118]

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.[119][120][121] Yue dialects have historically been the most prevalent forms of Chinese due to immigrants being mostly from southern China from the 19th century up through the 1980s.[120][122] However, Mandarin is becoming increasingly more prevalent due to the opening up of the PRC.[122]

In New York City at least, although Mandarin is spoken as a native language among only 10% 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.[123] 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.[123]

In Richmond (part of the Greater Vancouver metropolitan area in Canada), 55% of the population is Chinese.[124] 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.[125] Cantonese and Mandarin are the most popular forms of Chinese spoken in the area.

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,[126] 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.[127] 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.[128]

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.[129][130]

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).[131]

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).

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.[132]

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.[citation needed][when?] 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.[133]

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.[134][135] 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.[136] The overseas Chinese business community of Southeast Asia, known as the bamboo network, has a prominent role in the region's private sectors.[137]

Current numbers

There are over 50 million overseas Chinese.[1][2][3][4] 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.[138]

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),[139] Penang with 650,000 (2005), and Jakarta with 528,300 (2010 census). In the United States, according to the 2012 Census estimates,[140] 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),[141] while the Greater Vancouver Area had 402,000 (2006 Census, metropolitan area).[142]

Country statistics

Continent / country Articles Overseas Chinese population Percentage Year of data
 South Africa Chinese South Africans 350,000 2009[143]
 Angola Chinese people in Angola 259,000 2012[144]
 Madagascar Chinese people in Madagascar 70,000-100,000 2011[145]
 Mauritius Sino-Mauritian 38,500 2010[146]
 Algeria Chinese people in Algeria 35,000 2009[60]
 Réunion Chinois 25,000 1999[147]
 Republic of Congo Chinese people in the Republic of Congo 15,000-25,000 2013[148]
 Nigeria Chinese people in Nigeria 20,000 2012[149]
 Zambia Chinese people in Zambia 19,845 2014[150]
 Ghana Chinese people in Ghana 6,000–20,000 2010[151]
 Mozambique Ethnic Chinese in Mozambique 12,000 2007[152]
 Tanzania Chinese people in Tanzania 30,000 2013[153]
 Egypt Chinese people in Egypt 6,000–10,000 2007[154]
 Zimbabwe Chinese people in Zimbabwe 5,300-10,000 2004-2005[154]
 Sudan Chinese people in the Sudan 5,000-10,000 2005-2007[154]
 Kenya Chinese people in Kenya 7,000 2013[155]
 Uganda Chinese people in Uganda 7,000 2010[156]
 Botswana Chinese people in Botswana 5,000-6,000 2009[157]
 Lesotho Chinese people in Lesotho 5,000 2011[158]
 Democratic Republic of Congo Chinese people in the DRC 4,000-5,000 2015[159]
 Cameroon Chinese people in Cameroon 3,000-5,000 2012[160]
 Guinea Chinese people in Guinea 5,000 2012[160]
 Benin Chinese people in Benin 4,000 2007[154]
 Ethiopia Chinese people in Ethiopia 3,000–4,000 2006[154]
 Namibia Chinese people in Namibia 3,000–4,000 2009[161]
 Ivory Coast Chinese people in Ivory Coast 3,000 2012[160]
 Mali Chinese people in Mali 3,000 2014[162]
 Togo Chinese people in Togo 3,000 2007[154]
 Cape Verde Chinese people in Cape Verde 2,300 2008[163]
 Malawi Chinese people in Malawi 2,000 2007[154]
 Senegal Chinese people in Senegal 1,500 2012[160]
 Morocco Chinese people in Morocco 1,200 2004[164]
 Seychelles Sino-Seychellois 1,000 1999[165]
 Liberia Chinese people in Liberia 600 2006[154]
 Burkina Faso Chinese people in Burkina Faso 500 2012[160]
Continent / country Articles Overseas Chinese population Percentage Year of data
Asia/Middle East
 Thailand Thai Chinese 9,392,792 14% 2012[166]
 Malaysia Malaysian Chinese, Peranakan 6,960,900 24.6% 2010[167]
 Indonesia Chinese Indonesian 2,832,510 1.2% 2010[168]
 Singapore Chinese Singaporean 2,808,300 74.1% 2011[169]
 Myanmar Burmese Chinese, Panthay 1,637,540 2012[11]
 Philippines Chinese Filipino, Tornatras, Sangley 1,146,250 1% 2005[14]
 Vietnam Hoa, Ngái, San Diu 970,927 1% 2009[16]
 South Korea Chinese in South Korea 800,000 1.3% 2010[170]
 Cambodia Chinese Cambodian, Cambodian Hokkien 700,000 2010[171]
 Japan Chinese in Japan 674,871 0.4% 2011[21]
 Kazakhstan Chinese in Kazakhstan 300,000 2009[172]
 Laos Laotian Chinese 185,765 2005[7]
 United Arab Emirates Chinese people in the United Arab Emirates 180,000 2009[30]
 Brunei Ethnic Chinese in Brunei 43,000 2006[173]
 Israel Chinese people in Israel 23,000 2001[174][175]
 North Korea Chinese in North Korea 10,000 2009[176]
 Pakistan Chinese people in Pakistan 10,000 2012[177]
 Qatar 6,000 2014[178]
 India Chinese in India 4,000 0.000003% 2014[179]
 Sri Lanka Chinese people in Sri Lanka 3,500 ?[180]
 Iran Chinese people in Iran 3,000 --
 Kyrgyzstan Chinese people in Kyrgyzstan 1,813 2009[181]
 Mongolia Ethnic Chinese in Mongolia 1,323 2000[citation needed]
Continent / country Articles Overseas Chinese population Percentage Year of data
 Russia Chinese people in Russia, Dungan people 200,000–400,000 2004[182][183]
 France Chinese diaspora in France, Chinois (Réunion) 700,000 1% 2010[184]
 United Kingdom British Chinese 433,150 0.7% 2008
 Italy Chinese people in Italy 320,794 0.3% 2013[25]
 Spain Chinese people in Spain 145,000 0.3% 2009[31]
 Netherlands Chinese people in the Netherlands 80,198 0.5% 2012[185]
 Germany Chinese people in Germany 56,000 0.1% 2010[66]
 Hungary -- 30,000-40,000 --[186]
 Sweden -- 30,652 2014[187]
 Austria -- 30,000 2008[67]
 Ireland -- 17,800 0.4% 2011[188]
 Norway -- 10,600 0.2% 2014[189]
 Denmark Chinese people in Denmark 10,247 0.2% 2009[190]
 Bulgaria Chinese people in Bulgaria 9,000 2005[191]
 Portugal Chinese people in Portugal 9,689 2007[192]
 Finland -- 8,257 0.2% 2011[193]
 Czech Republic Chinese people in the Czech Republic 4,986 2007[194]
 Romania Chinese of Romania 2,249 2002[195]
 Serbia Chinese people in Serbia 1,373 2011[196]
 Turkey Chinese people in Turkey 1,000 2009
 Iceland -- 220 0.1% 2014[197]
Continent / country Articles Overseas Chinese population Percentage Year of data
 United States Chinese American, American-born Chinese 3,800,000 1.2% 2010[9]
 Canada Chinese Canadian, Canadian-born Chinese 1,487,580 4% 2006[198]
 Peru Chinese-Peruvian 1,300,000 2005[7]
 Venezuela Chinese Venezuelan 400,000-450,000 2% 2013[199]
 Brazil Chinese Brazilian 250,000 0.1% 2005[7]
 Panama Chinese-Panamanian 135,000 2003[200][201]
 Argentina Chinese Argentine 120,000 2010[34][35][202]
 Cuba Chinese Cuban 114,240 2008[203]
 Jamaica Chinese Jamaican 72,000 --[204]
 Mexico Chinese Mexican 70,000 0.1% 2008[205]
 Costa Rica Chinese-Costa Rican 45,000 2011[206]
 Suriname Chinese-Surinamese 40,000 7.4 2011[207]
 Dominican Republic Ethnic Chinese in the Dominican Republic 15,000 --[208]
 Nicaragua Chinese Nicaraguan 12,000 --[209]
 Chile Chinese people in Chile 10,000 --[citation needed]
 Trinidad & Tobago Chinese Trinidadian and Tobagonian 3,800 2000[citation needed]
 Guyana Chinese Guyanese 2,722 1921[210]
 Belize Ethnic Chinese in Belize 1,716 2000[211]
 Puerto Rico Chinese-Puerto Rican 35,000 --
 Haiti Chinese Haitian 230 --
Continent / country Articles Overseas Chinese population Percentage Year of data
 Australia Chinese Australian 866,200 4% 2011[212]
 New Zealand Chinese New Zealander 180,066 4% 2013[213]
 Fiji Chinese in Fiji 34,712 2012[214]
 Samoa Chinese in Samoa 30,000 --[citation needed]
 Papua New Guinea Chinese people in Papua New Guinea 20,000 2008[215][216]
 Tonga Chinese in Tonga 3,000 2001[217][218]
 Palau Chinese in Palau 1,030 2012[219]

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. ISBN 3825843866. Retrieved 24 April 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • 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. ISBN 0824824466. Retrieved 24 April 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Tan, Chee-Beng. Chinese Overseas: Comparative Cultural Issues, Hong Kong University Press, 2004.


  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)

External links


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