Overseas Chinese

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Overseas Chinese (華僑 in pinyin: huáqiáo, or 華胞 huábāo, or 僑胞 qiáobāo) are ethnic Chinese people who live outside of China. China, in this usage, may refer to Greater China including territory currently administered by the rival governments of the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China as per traditional definitions of the term prior to the Chinese civil war, or only to the People's Republic of China by some quarters. In addition, the government of the Republic of China granted residents of Hong Kong and Macau "overseas Chinese status" prior to their respective handover to Beijing rule, so the definition may be said to loosely extend to them.


Strictly speaking, there are two words in Chinese for overseas Chinese: huáqiáo (华侨 / 華僑) refers to overseas Chinese who were born in China, while huáyì (华裔 / 華裔) refers to any overseas Chinese with a Chinese ancestry.

It has to be noted that the usage of the term can be relatively fluid geographically. For example, the ethnic Chinese people of Singapore and Malaysia are occasionally excluded from the above said definition of "overseas Chinese" in view of their close cultural and social affinity with China, despite the geographical divide of the said societies. This view is very rare, however.

Current numbers

There are approximately 34 million overseas Chinese mostly living in Southeast Asia where they make up a majority of the population of Singapore and significant minority populations in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia. The overseas populations in those areas arrived between the 16th and the 19th centuries from mostly the maritime provinces of Guangdong and Fujian (the Hoklo ethnic group), followed by Hainan. There are incidence of earlier emigration in the 10th centuries to 15th centuries in particular to Malacca and Southeast Asia.

Recent emigration

More recent emigration has been directed primarily to western countries such as United States, Canada and Australia being destinations.


Overseas Chinese vary widely as to their degree of assimilation, their interactions with the surrounding communities (see Chinatown), and their relationship with China. In Thailand, overseas Chinese have largely intermarried and assimilated with the native community. In Myanmar, the Chinese rarely intermarry, but have adopted the Burmese culture, maintaining both Chinese and Burmese identities. Chinese in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar are among some of the countries in the world who are not allowed to register their birth names in Chinese. Very often, there's no distinct number of the Chinese population in these countries. On the other hand, in Malaysia and Singapore, overseas Chinese have maintained a distinct communal identity, though the rate and state of being assimilated to the local, in this case a multi-cultural society, is currently en par with that of other Chinese communities. Chinese have also brought a cultural influence to some other countries such as Vietnam - where many customs have been adopted by native Vietnamese.

Waves of immigration

Often there are different waves of immigration leading to subgroups among overseas Chinese such as the new and old immigrants in Cambodia and Indonesia.

The Chinese in southeast Asian countries have often established themselves in commerce and finances. In North America, because of immigration policies, overseas Chinese tend to be found in professional occupations, including significant ranks in medicine and academia. More recent Chinese presences have developed in Europe, where they number nearly a million, and in Russia, they number over 600,000, concentrated in Russia's Far East.

Relationship with China

Both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China on 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 are eight seats allocated for overseas Chinese. These seats are apportioned to the political parties based on their vote totals on Taiwan, and then the parties assign the seats to overseas Chinese party loyalists. Most of these members elected to the Legislative Yuan hold dual citizenship, but must renounce their foreign citizenship (at the American Institute in Taiwan for American citizens) before being sworn in.

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.

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 which 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 were 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.

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, and many overseas Chinese are overseas for political reasons. Many overseas Chinese are now investing in mainland China providing financial resources, social and cultural networks, contacts and opportunities.


Continent/Country Population % of local population % of Overseas Chinese population
Asia 28,800,000 (1998)   81%
Cambodia 150,000 (2003) 1.2%  
Indonesia 7.3 million (2003) 3.1%  
Japan 175,000 (2003) 0.1%  
North Korea 50,000 (2003) 0.2%  
South Korea 100,000 (2003) 0.2%  
Laos 50,000 (2003) 1%  
Malaysia 7 million (2004) 30%  
Myanmar 1.3 million (2003) 3%  
Philippines 1.5 million 2%  
Singapore 3.4 million (2004) 76.8%  
Thailand 7.3 million (2003) 12%  
Vietnam 2.3 million (2003) 3%  
Americas 5,020,000 (1998)   14.5%
Brazil 100,000 (2002) 0.05%  
Canada 1.2 million (2004) 3.69%  
Panama 150,000 5%  
United States 2.4 million (2000) 0.8%  
Europe 945,000 (1998)   2.6%
Russia 680,000    
France 300,000    
United Kingdom 247,403 (2001) 0.4%  
Oceania 564,000 (1998)   1.5%
Australia 454,000 (2003) 2.5%  
New Zealand 115,000 (2003) 2.8%  
Africa 126,000 (1998)   0.3%
South Africa 100,000 (2003) 0.2%  
Total 35,175,000   100%

Various sub-ethnic groups include: Chinese American, American-born Chinese, Chinese Argentines, Chinese Australians, Chinese Vietnamese, Chinese British, Burmese Chinese, Chinese Canadian, Chinese Cayman Islander, Chinese Cuban, Chinese Filipino, Indonesian Chinese, Malaysian Chinese, Chinese Mauritian, Chinese Peruvian, Chinese Puerto Rican, Chinese Singaporean, Chinese South African, and Chinese Thai.

See also


  • Pan, Lynn (1998)The Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas Landmark Books, Singapore ISBN 9183018925
  • Chin, Ung Ho. (2000) The Chinese of South East Asia . London: Minority Rights Group. ISBN 1 897693 28 1

External links

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