Overseas Chinese

Overseas Chinese are people of ethnic Chinese birth who reside outside the territories of the People's Republic of China, its special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau, as well as the Republic of China. Although a vast majority are Han Chinese, the group represents virtually all ethnic groups in China.


or Hoan-kheh in Hokkien, refers to people of Chinese birth residing outside of China. At the end of the 19th century, the Chinese government realized that the overseas Chinese could be an asset, a source of foreign investment and a bridge to overseas knowledge; thus, it began to recognize the use of the term Huaqiao. The modern term haigui refers to returned overseas Chinese and guīqiáo qiáojuàn to their returning relatives.
Huáyì refers to people of Chinese origin residing outside of China, regardless of citizenship. Another often-used term is 海外華人. It is often used by the Government of the People's Republic of China to refer to people of Chinese ethnicities who live outside the PRC, regardless of citizenship.
Overseas Chinese who are ethnically Han Chinese, such as Cantonese, Hoochew, Hokkien, Hakka or Teochew refer to themselves as labels=no, pronounced tòhng yàn in Cantonese, toung ning in Hoochew, Tn̂g-lâng in Hokkien and tong nyin in Hakka. Literally, it means Tang people, a reference to Tang dynasty China when it was ruling China proper. This term is commonly used by the Cantonese, Hoochew, Hakka and Hokkien as a colloquial reference to the Chinese people and has little relevance to the ancient dynasty. For example, in the early 1850s when Chinese shops opened on Sacramento St in San Francisco, the Chinese emigrants, mainly from the Pearl River Delta west of Canton, called it Tang people street ; and the settlement became known as Tang people town or Chinatown, which in Cantonese is Tong Yun Fow.
The term is added to the various terms for the overseas Chinese to indicate those who would be considered ethnic minorities in China. The terms and are all in usage. The Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the PRC does not distinguish between Han and ethnic minority populations for official policy purposes. For example, members of the Tibetan people may travel to China on passes granted to certain people of Chinese descent. Various estimates of the Chinese emigrant minority population include 3.1 million, 3.4 million, 5.7 million, or approximately one tenth of all Chinese emigrants. Cross-border ethnic groups are not considered Chinese emigrant minorities unless they left China after the establishment of an independent state on China's border.
Some ethnic groups who have historic connections with China, like the Hmong may not associate themselves as part of the Chinese diaspora.


The Chinese people have a long history of migrating overseas. One of the migrations dates back to the Ming dynasty when Zheng He 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.

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, South America, South Africa, and Europe. In the 19th century, the age of colonialism was at its height and the great Chinese diaspora began. Many colonies lacked a large pool of laborers. Meanwhile, in the provinces of Fujian and Guangdong in China, there was a surge in emigration as a result of the poverty and ruin caused by the Taiping rebellion. The Qing Empire was forced to allow its subjects to work overseas under colonial powers. Many Hokkien chose to work in Southeast Asia, as did the Cantonese. The area of Taishan, in Guangdong province was the source for many of the economic migrants. San Francisco and California was an early American destination in the mid 1800s because of the California Gold Rush. Many settled in San Francisco forming one of the earliest Chinatowns. For the countries in North America and Australasia, great numbers of laborers were also 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 in the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong. After World War II many people from the New Territories in Hong Kong emigrated to the UK and to the Netherlands to earn a better living.
Interestingly, during the early and mid-19th century the anthropometric indicators, namely height of the overseas Chinese was close to the parameters of Southern Europeans. Moreover, the average height of Southern Chinese used to be relatively stable at around 161–164 cm for males. Another important fact is that the height of Chinese emigrants varied depending on the location they have chosen. Hence, emigrants from Suriname and Indonesia were shorter than some Chinese prisoners who used to live in the U.S. and Australia.
ancestry, the second and third generations.

Qing Dynasty

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 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.

Republic of China

Under the administration of the Republic of China from 1912 to 1949, these rules were abolished and many migrated outside the Republic of China, mostly through the coastal regions via the ports of Fujian, Guangdong, Hainan and Shanghai. These migrations are considered to be among the largest in China's history. Many nationals of the Republic of China fled and settled down in South East Asia mainly between the years 1911–1949, after the Nationalist government led by Kuomintang lost to the Communist Party of China in the Chinese Civil War in 1949. Most of the nationalist and neutral refugees fled Mainland China to Southeast Asia as well as Taiwan. Many nationalists who stayed behind were persecuted or even executed.
on Kinabatangan, North Borneo as photographed by Martin and Osa Johnson in 1935.

After World War 2

Most of the Chinese who fled during 1912–1949 under the Republic of China settled down in Singapore and Malaysia and automatically gained citizenship in 1957 and 1963 as these countries gained independence. Kuomintang members who settled in Malaysia and Singapore played a major role in the establishment of the Malaysian Chinese Association and their meeting hall at Sun Yat Sen Villa. There is some evidence that they intend to reclaim mainland China from the Communists by funding the Kuomintang in China.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the ROC tended to seek the support of overseas Chinese communities through branches of the Kuomintang based on Sun Yat-sen's use of expatriate Chinese communities to raise money for his revolution. During this period, the People's Republic of China tended to view overseas Chinese with suspicion as possible capitalist infiltrators and tended to value relationships with Southeast Asian nations as more important than gaining support of overseas Chinese, and in the Bandung declaration explicitly stated that overseas Chinese owed primary loyalty to their home nation.
From the mid-19th century onward, emigration has been directed primarily to Western countries such as the United States, Australia, Canada, Brazil, The United Kingdom, New Zealand, Argentina and the nations of Western Europe; as well as to Peru, Panama, and to a lesser extent to Mexico. Many of these emigrants who entered Western countries were themselves overseas Chinese, particularly from the 1950s to the 1980s, a period during which the PRC placed severe restrictions on the movement of its citizens. In 1984, Britain agreed to transfer the sovereignty of Hong Kong to the PRC; this triggered another wave of migration to the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, US, South America, Europe and other parts of the world. The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 further accelerated the migration. The wave calmed after Hong Kong's transfer of sovereignty in 1997. In addition, many citizens of Hong Kong hold citizenships or have current visas in other countries so if the need arises, they can leave Hong Kong at short notice. In fact, after the Tiananmen Square incident, the lines for immigration visas increased at every consulate in Hong Kong.
In recent years, the People's Republic of China has built increasingly stronger ties with African nations. Author Howard French estimates that over one million Chinese have moved in the past 20 years to Africa.
More recent Chinese presences have developed in Europe, where they number well over 1 million, and in Russia, they number over 200,000, concentrated in the Russian Far East. Russia’s main Pacific port and naval base of Vladivostok, once closed to foreigners and belonged to China until the late 19th century, bristles with Chinese markets, restaurants and trade houses. A growing Chinese community in Germany consists of around 76,000 people. An estimated 15,000 to 30,000 Chinese live in Austria.

Chinese emigrant (Overseas Chinese) experience

Commercial success

Chinese emigrants are estimated to control US$2 trillion in liquid assets and have considerable amounts of wealth to stimulate economic power in China. The Chinese business community of Southeast Asia, known as the bamboo network, has a prominent role in the region's private sectors.
In Europe, North America and Oceania, occupations are diverse and impossible to generalize; ranging from catering to significant ranks in medicine, the arts and academia.
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 2018 with over US$67 billion sent.


Chinese diaspora vary widely as to their degree of assimilation, their interactions with the surrounding communities 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, was Thai.
In the Philippines, Chinese, known as the Sangley, from Fujian and Guangdong were already migrating to the islands, as early as the 9th century in precolonial to Spanish and American colonial times and have largely intermarried with both indigenous Filipinos and Spanish colonisers. Early presence of chinatowns in overseas communities start to appear in Spanish colonial Philippines, around as early as 1583, in the form of Parians in Manila, where chinese merchants were allowed to reside and flourish as commercial centers, thus Binondo, a historical district of Manila, has become one of the world's oldest chinatowns. Their colonial mixed descendants, known as the Mestizos de Sangley, would eventually form the bulk of the middle-class elite in Spanish colonial Philippines. The emergence of the Mestizo class would later rise to the noble Principalia class, which later carried over and fueled the elite ruling classes of the American era and later sovereign Philippines. Since the 1860s, most Chinese immigrants of the contemporary Chinese Filipinos have come from Fujian and thus form the bulk of the contemporary mixed and unmixed Chinese Filipinos and Filipinos of partial Chinese ancestry. Older generations have retained Chinese traditions and the use of Philippine Hokkien, while the current 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.
community. Most of them in Singapore were once concentrated in Katong.
In Myanmar, the Chinese rarely intermarry, but have largely adopted the Burmese culture whilst maintaining Chinese cultural affinities. In Cambodia, between 1965 and 1993, people with Chinese names were prevented from finding governmental employment, leading to a large number of people changing their names to a local, Cambodian name. Indonesia and Myanmar were among the countries that do not allow birth names to be registered in foreign languages, including Chinese. But since 2003, the Indonesian government has allowed ethnic Chinese people to use their Chinese name or using their Chinese family name on their birth certificate.
praying in Puu Jih Shih Temple, Sandakan, Sabah in front of Guanyin during Chinese New Year in 2013.
In Vietnam, all Chinese names can be pronounced by Sino-Vietnamese readings. For example, the name of the previous Chinese president Hú Jǐntāo would be spelled as "Hồ Cẩm Đào" in Vietnamese. There are also great similarities between Vietnamese and Chinese traditions such as the use Lunar New Year, philosophy such as Confucianism, Taoism and ancestor worship; leads to some Hoa people adopt easily to Vietnamese culture, however many Hoa still prefer to maintain Chinese cultural background. 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 rests live in the southern provinces.
On the other hand, in Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei, the ethnic Chinese have maintained a distinct communal identity.
In East Timor, a large fraction of Chinese are of Hakka descent.
In Western countries, the overseas Chinese generally use romanised versions of their Chinese names, and the use of local first names is also common.


Overseas Chinese have often experienced hostility and discrimination. In countries with small ethnic 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 the Philippine and Indonesian private economies. The book , describing the Chinese as a "market-dominant minority", notes that "Chinese market dominance and intense resentment amongst the indigenous majority is characteristic of virtually every country in Southeast Asia except Thailand and Singapore". Chinese market dominance is present in Thailand and the Philippines, but is noted for its lack of resentment, while Singapore is majority ethnic Chinese. Widespread violent anti-Chinese sentiment spread across Southeast Asia, mostly occur in Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia, but not very much in Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines.
This asymmetrical economic position has incited anti-Chinese sentiment among the poorer majorities. Sometimes the anti-Chinese attitudes turn violent, such as the 13 May Incident in Malaysia in 1969 and the Jakarta riots of May 1998 in Indonesia, in which more than 2,000 people died, mostly rioters burned to death in a shopping mall. During the colonial era, some genocides killed tens of thousands of Chinese.
During the Indonesian killings of 1965–66, in which more than 500,000 people died, ethnic Chinese were killed and their properties looted and burned as a result of anti-Chinese racism on the excuse that Dipa "Amat" Aidit had brought the PKI closer to China. The anti-Chinese legislation was in the Indonesian constitution until 1998.
The state of the Chinese Cambodians during the Khmer Rouge regime has been described as "the worst disaster ever to befall any ethnic Chinese community in Southeast Asia." At the beginning of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1975, there were 425,000 ethnic Chinese in Cambodia; by the end of 1979 there were just 200,000.
It is commonly held that a major point of friction is the apparent tendency of overseas Chinese to segregate themselves into a subculture. For example, the anti-Chinese Kuala Lumpur Racial Riots of 13 May 1969 and Jakarta Riots of May 1998 were believed to have been motivated by these racially biased perceptions. This analysis has been questioned by some historians, most notably Dr. Kua Kia Soong, the principal of New Era College, who has put forward the controversial argument that the 13 May Incident was a pre-meditated attempt by sections of the ruling Malay elite to incite racial hostility in preparation for a coup. In 2006, rioters damaged shops owned by Chinese-Tongans in Nukualofa. Chinese migrants were evacuated from the riot-torn Solomon Islands.
Ethnic politics can be found to motivate both sides of the debate. In Malaysia, ethnic 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" Malays oppose this on the grounds that their group needs such protections in order to retain their patrimony. The question of to what extent ethnic Malays, Chinese, or others are "native" to Malaysia is a sensitive political one. It is currently a taboo for Chinese politicians to raise the issue of Bumiputra protections in parliament, as this would be deemed ethnic incitement.
Many of the overseas Chinese emigrants 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 or the Canadian Chinese Immigration Act, 1923.
In Australia, Chinese were targeted by a system of discriminatory laws known as the 'White Australia Policy' which was enshrined in the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901. The policy was formally abolished in 1973, and in recent years Australians of Chinese background have publicly called for an apology from the Australian Federal Government similar to that given to the 'stolen generations' of indigenous people in 2007 by the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Relationship with China

Both the People's Republic of China and Taiwan maintain high level relationships with the 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.

Citizenship status

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".
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.

Returning and re-emigration

With China's growing economic prospects, many of the overseas Chinese have begun to migrate back to China, even as many mainland Chinese millionaires are considering emigrating out of the nation for better opportunities.
In the case of Indonesia and Burma, political and ethnic strife has cause a significant number of people of Chinese origins to re-emigrate back to China. In other Southeast Asian countries with large Chinese communities, such as Malaysia, the economic rise of People's Republic of China has made the PRC an attractive destination for many Malaysian Chinese to re-emigrate. As the Chinese economy opens up, Malaysian Chinese act as a bridge because many Malaysian Chinese are educated in the United States or Britain but can also understand the Chinese language and culture making it easier for potential entrepreneurial and business to be done between the people among the two countries.
After the Deng Xiaoping reforms, the attitude of the PRC toward the overseas Chinese changed dramatically. Rather than being seen with suspicion, they were seen as people who could aid PRC development via their skills and capital. During the 1980s, the PRC actively attempted to court the support of overseas Chinese by among other things, returning properties that had been confiscated after the 1949 revolution. More recently PRC policy has attempted to maintain the support of recently emigrated Chinese, who consist largely of Chinese students seeking undergraduate and graduate education in the West. Many of the Chinese diaspora are now investing in People's Republic of China providing financial resources, social and cultural networks, contacts and opportunities.
The Chinese government estimates that of the 1,200,000 Chinese people who have gone overseas to study in the thirty years since China's economic reforms beginning in 1978; three-quarters of those who left have not returned to China.


The usage of Chinese by the 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.

Country statistics

There are over 50 million overseas Chinese. Most of them are living in Southeast Asia where they make up a majority of the population of Singapore and significant minority populations in Malaysia, Thailand and Brunei.
Continent / countryArticlesChinese Diaspora PopulationPercentageYear of dataPartial Chinese Ancestry
Africa1 300 000
Chinese people in Ghana700,0002018-
Chinese South Africans300,000–400,000<1%2015-
Chinese people in Madagascar70,000–100,0002011-
Chinese people in Ethiopia20,000–60,0002014–2016-
Chinese people in Angola50,0002017-
Chinese people in Nigeria40,0002017-
Chinese people in Algeria35,0002009-
Chinese people in Tanzania30,0002013-
Chinese people in the Republic of Congo15,000–25,0002013-
Chinese people in Zambia19,8452014-
Ethnic Chinese in Mozambique12,0002007-
Chinese people in Zimbabwe10,0002017-
Chinese people in Egypt6,000–10,0002007-
Chinese people in the Sudan5,000–10,0002005–2007-
Chinese people in Kenya7,0002013-
Chinese people in Uganda7,0002010-
Chinese people in Botswana5,000–6,0002009-
Chinese people in Lesotho5,0002011-
Chinese people in the DRC4,000–5,0002015-
Chinese people in Cameroon3,000–5,0002012-
Chinese people in Guinea5,0002012-
Chinese people in Namibia3,000–4,0002009-
Chinese people in Benin4,0002007-
Chinese people in Ivory Coast3,0002012-
Chinese people in Mali3,0002014-
Chinese people in Togo3,0002007-
Chinese people in Cape Verde2,3002008-
Chinese people in Malawi2,0002007-
Chinese people in Rwanda1,000–2,0002011-
Chinese people in Senegal1,5002012-
Chinese people in Morocco1,2002004-
Chinese people in Liberia6002006-
Chinese people in Burkina Faso5002012-
Chinese people in Libya3002014-
Asia/Middle East29 000 000
Thai Chinese, Peranakan9,349,90014%201225,000,000
Malaysian Chinese, Peranakan6,642,00023%2015-
Chinese Indonesian, Peranakan2,832,510 - 7,000,000 1%20107,000,000
Chinese Singaporean, Peranakan2,571,00076.2%2015-
Burmese Chinese, Panthay1,637,5403%2012-
Chinese Filipino, Tornatras, Sangley1,146,250 - 1,400,0001.5%201327,000,000 Mestizos/Mixed
Chinese in Japan922,000<1%2017-
Hoa people749,466<1%2019-
Chinese in South Korea310 464 - 1,070,566 2%2018-
Laotian Chinese185,7653%2005-
Chinese people in the United Arab Emirates180,0002009-
Chinese Cambodian152,0551%2014700,000
Chinese in India69,000 - 189,000 2016-
Chinese people in Pakistan60,0002018-
Ethnic Chinese in Brunei42,10010%2015-
Chinese people in Israel10,0002010-
Chinese in North Korea10,0002009-
Ethnic Chinese in Mongolia8,6882010-
Chinese people in Sri Lanka3,500?-
Chinese in Kazakhstan3,4242009-
Chinese people in Iran3,000-
Chinese people in Kyrgyzstan1,8132009-
Europe2 230 000
Chinese diaspora in France, Chinois 700,0001%2010-
British Chinese433,150<1%2008-
Chinese people in Italy320,794<1%2013-
Chinese people in Spain215,970<1%2019-
Chinese people in Germany212,000<1%2016-
Chinese people in the Netherlands94,000<1%2018
Chinese people in Turkey, Uyghurs60,000<1%2020-
Chinese people in Sweden37,7922019-
Chinese people in Russia, Dungan people28,9432010-
Chinese people in Portugal25,3572018-
Chinese people in Belgium20,866<1%2018-
Chinese people in Ireland17,8002011-
Chinese people in Denmark15,1032020-
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