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Chinese emigration
Typical grocery store on 8th Avenue in one of the Brooklyn Chinatowns (布鲁克林華埠) on Long Island, New York. New York City's multiple Chinatowns in Queens (法拉盛華埠), Manhattan (紐約華埠), and Brooklyn are thriving as traditionally urban enclaves, as large-scale Chinese immigration continues into New York, [1] [2] [3] [4] with the largest metropolitan Chinese population outside Asia, [5] The New York metropolitan area contains the largest ethnic Chinese population outside of Asia, comprising an estimated 893,697 uniracial individuals as of 2017. [6]

Waves of Chinese emigration have happened throughout history. They include the emigration to Southeast Asia beginning from the 10th century during the Tang dynasty, to the Americas during the 19th century, particularly during the California gold rush in the mid-1800s; general emigration initially around the early to mid 20th century which was mainly caused by corruption, starvation, and war due to the Warlord Era, the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Chinese Civil War; and finally elective emigration to various countries. Most emigrants were peasants and manual laborers, although there were also educated individuals who brought their various expertises to their new destinations.

Chronology of historical periods

The Sinophone world, a legacy of Chinese emigration to Southeast Asia (Nanyang)

11th century BCE to 3rd century BCE

  • The Zhou dynasty overthrew the Shang dynasty in 1046 BCE. This conquest marked the beginning of the Zhou rule and the expansion of their territorial control. [7]
  • Western Zhou: The Zhou people engaged in active military campaigns to expand their territory. As they conquered new regions, there was likely a movement of people to settle and administer these newly acquired lands. [8]
  • Eastern Zhou period: The Eastern Zhou period is characterized by the Spring and Autumn period (770–476 BCE) and the Warring States period (475–221 BCE). During this time, the exchange of ideas and cultures between different states led to migration of scholars, artisans, and officials. [7]
  • 210 BCE: Qin Shi Huang ( Chinese: 秦始皇) dispatched Xu Fu ( Chinese: 徐福) to sail overseas in search of elixirs of immortality, accompanied by 3,000 virgin boys and girls. Records suggest Xu Fu's expedition settled in Honshu, Japan.
  • From the Han dynasty onwards, Chinese military and agricultural colonies ( Chinese: 屯田) were established at various times in the Western Regions, which in the early periods were lands largely occupied by an Indo-European people called the Tocharians.
  • 661 CE: under the Tang dynasty, Zheng Guo Xi of Nan An, Fujian was buried at a Philippine island. [9]

10–15th century

  • Many Chinese merchants chose to settle down in the Southeast Asian ports such as Champa, Cambodia, Java, and Sumatra, and married the native women. Their children carried on trade. [10] [11]
  • Borneo: Many Chinese lived in Borneo as recorded by Zheng He.
  • Cambodia: Envoy of Yuan dynasty, Zhou Daguan ( Chinese: 周达观) recorded in his The Customs of Chenla ( Chinese: 真腊风土记), that there were many Chinese, especially sailors, who lived there. Many intermarried with the local women.
  • Champa: the Daoyi Zhilüe documents Chinese merchants who went to Cham ports in Champa, married Cham women, to whom they regularly returned to after trading voyages. [12] A Chinese merchant from Quanzhou, Wang Yuanmao, traded extensively with Champa, and married a Cham princess. [13]
  • Han Chinese settlers came during the Malacca Sultanate in the early 15th century. The friendly diplomatic relations between China and Malacca culminated during the reign of Sultan Mansur Syah, who married the Chinese princess Hang Li Po. A senior minister of state and five hundred youths and maids of noble birth accompanied the princess to Malacca. [14] Admiral Zheng He had also brought along 100 bachelors to Malacca. [15] The descendants of these two groups of people, mostly from Fujian province, are called the Baba (men) and Nyonya (women).
  • Java: Zheng He's 鄭和 compatriot Ma Huan (Chinese: 馬歡) recorded in his book Yingya Shenglan (Chinese: 瀛涯胜览) that large numbers of Chinese lived in the Majapahit Empire on Java, especially in Surabaya (Chinese: 泗水). The place where the Chinese lived was called New Village (新村), with many originally from Canton, Zhangzhou and Quanzhou.
  • Ryūkyū Kingdom: Many Chinese moved to Ryukyu to serve the government or engage in business during this period. The Ming dynasty sent from Fujian 36 Chinese families at the request of the Ryukyuan King to manage oceanic dealings in the kingdom in 1392 during the Hongwu Emperor's reign. Many Ryukyuan officials were descended from these Chinese immigrants, being born in China or having Chinese grandfathers. [16] They assisted in the Ryukyuans in advancing their technology and diplomatic relations. [17] [18] [19]
  • Siam: According to the clan chart of family name Lim, Gan, Ng, Khaw, Cheah, many Chinese traders lived there. They were amongst some of the Siamese envoys sent to China.
  • In 1405, under the Ming dynasty, Tan Sheng Shou, the Battalion Commander Yang Xin ( Chinese: 杨欣) and others were sent to Java's Old Port ( Palembang; 旧港) to bring the absconder Liang Dao Ming (Chinese: 梁道明) and others to negotiate pacification. He took his family and fled to live in this place, where he remained for many years. Thousands of military personnel and civilians from Guangdong and Fujian followed him there and chose Dao Ming as their leader.
  • Early Chinese mariners had a variety of contacts with Kenya. Archaeologists have found Chinese porcelain artifacts made during the Tang dynasty (618–907) in Kenyan villages; however, these were believed to have been brought over by Zheng He during his 15th century ocean voyages. [20] On Lamu Island off the Kenyan coast, local oral tradition maintains that 20 shipwrecked Chinese sailors, possibly part of Zheng's fleet, washed up on shore there hundreds of years ago. Given permission to settle by local tribes after having killed a dangerous python, they converted to Islam and married local women. Now[ when?], they are believed to have just six descendants left there; in 2002, DNA tests conducted on one of the women confirmed that she was of Chinese descent. Her daughter, Mwamaka Sharifu, later received a PRC government scholarship to study traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in China. [21] [22] On Pate Island, Frank Viviano described in a July 2005 National Geographic article how ceramic fragments had been found around Lamu which the administrative officer of the local Swahili history museum claimed were of Chinese origin, specifically from Zheng He's voyage to East Africa. The eyes of the Pate people resembled Chinese and Famao and Wei were some of the names among them which were speculated to be of Chinese origin. Their ancestors were said to be from indigenous women who intermarried with Chinese Ming sailors when they were shipwrecked. Two places on Pate were called "Old Shanga", and "New Shanga", which the Chinese sailors had named. A local guide who claimed descent from the Chinese showed Frank a graveyard made out of coral on the island, indicating that they were the graves of the Chinese sailors, which the author described as "virtually identical", to Chinese Ming dynasty tombs, complete with "half-moon domes" and "terraced entries". [23]
  • According to Melanie Yap and Daniel Leong Man in their book Colour, Confusions and Concessions: the History of Chinese in South Africa, Chu Ssu-pen, a Chinese mapmaker, had southern Africa drawn on one of his maps in 1320. Ceramics found in Zimbabwe and South Africa dated back to the era of the Song dynasty in China. Some tribes to Cape Town's north claimed descent from Chinese sailors during the 13th century, their physical appearance is similar to Chinese with paler skin and a Mandarin-sounding tonal language; they call themselves Awatwa ("abandoned people"). [24]

15th–19th century

  • When the Ming dynasty in China fell, Chinese refugees fled south and extensively settled in the Cham lands and Cambodia. [25] Most of these Chinese were young males, and they took Cham women as wives. Their children identified more with Chinese culture. This migration occurred in the 17th and 18th centuries. [26]
  • Early European colonial powers in Asia encountered Chinese communities already well-established in various locations. The Kapitan Cina in various places was the representative of such communities towards the colonial authorities.
  • The Qing conquest of the Ming caused the Fujian refugees of Zhangzhou to resettle on the northern part of the Malay peninsula and Singapore, while those of Amoy and Quanzhou resettled on the southern part of the peninsula. This group forms the majority of the Straits Chinese who were English-educated. Others moved to Taiwan at this time as well.

19th–early 20th century

Established in the 19th century by Chinese immigrants, Chinatown, Melbourne is the longest continuous Chinese settlement in the Western World and the oldest Chinatown in the Southern Hemisphere. [27] [28] [29] [30]
The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum in Singapore. Singapore is a Chinese-majority multi-cultural and multi-racial country in Southeast Asia.
  • In the mid-1800s, outbound migration from China increased as a result of the European colonial powers opening up treaty ports. [31]: 137  The British colonization of Hong Kong further created the opportunity for Chinese labor to be exported to plantations and mines. [31]: 137 
  • Chinese immigrants, mainly from the controlled ports of Fujian and Guangdong provinces, were attracted by the prospect of work in the tin mines, rubber plantations or the possibility of opening up new farmlands at the beginning of the 19th century until the 1930s in British Malaya.
  • After Singapore became the capital of the Straits Settlements in 1832, the free trade policy attracted many Chinese merchants from Mainland China to trade, and many settled down in Singapore. Because of booming commerce which required a large labor force, the indentured Chinese coolie trade also appeared in Singapore. Coolies were contracted by traders and brought to Singapore to work. The large influx of coolies into Singapore only stopped after William Pickering became the Protector of Chinese. In 1914, the coolie trade was abolished and banned in Singapore. These populations form the basis of the Chinese Singaporeans.
  • Peranakans, or those descendants of Chinese in Southeast Asia for many generations who were generally English-educated were typically known in Singapore as "Laokuh" (老客 – Old Guest) or "Straits Chinese". Most of them paid loyalty to the British Empire and did not regard themselves as " Huaqiao". From the 19th till the mid-20th century, migrants from China were known as "Sinkuh" (新客 – New Guest). A majority of them were coolies, workers on steamboats, etc. Some of them came to Singapore for work, in search of better living conditions or to escape poverty in China. Many of them also escaped to Singapore due to chaos and wars in China during the first half of the 20th century. They came mostly from the Fujian, Guangdong and Hainan provinces and, unlike Peranakans, paid loyalty to China and regarded themselves as "Huaqiao".
  • At the end of the 19th century, the Chinese government realized that overseas Chinese could be an asset, a source of foreign investment, and a bridge to overseas knowledge; thus, it encouraged the use of the term "Overseas Chinese" (华侨). [32]
  • Among the provinces, Guangdong had historically supplied the largest number of emigrants, estimated at 8.2 million in 1957; about 68% of the total overseas Chinese population at that time. Within Guangdong, the main emigrant communities were clustered in eight districts in the Pearl River Delta (珠江三角洲): four districts known as Sze Yup (四邑; 'four counties'); three counties known as Sam Yup (三邑; 'three counties'); and the district of Zhongshan (中山). [33] Because of its limited arable lands, with much of its terrain either rocky or swampy; Sze Yup was the "pre-eminent sending area" of emigrants during this period. [34] Most of the emigrants from Sze Yup went to North America, making Toishanese a dominant variety of the Chinese language spoken in Chinatowns in Canada and the United States.
  • In addition to being a region of major emigration abroad, Siyi (Sze Yup) was a melting pot of ideas and trends brought back by overseas Chinese, (華僑; Huáqiáo). For example, many tong lau in Chikan, Kaiping (Cek Ham, Hoiping in Cantonese) and diaolou (formerly romanized as Clock Towers) in Sze Yup built in the early 20th century featured Qiaoxiang (僑鄉) architecture, i.e., incorporating architectural features from both the Chinese homeland and overseas. [35]
  • The first major immigration to America was during the California goldrush of 1848–1855. Many Chinese, as well as people from other Asian countries, were prevented from moving to the United States as part of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. A similar law though less severe in scope was passed in Canada in 1885, imposing a head tax instead of prohibiting immigration to Canada entirely. However, a 1923 law in Canada prohibited Chinese immigration completely. The Chinese Exclusion Act would only be fully repealed in the US in 1965 and in Canada de jure in 1947 but de facto in the 1960s with the opening up of immigration to Canada.
  • From 1853 until the end of the 19th century, about 18,000 Chinese were brought as indentured workers to the British West Indies, mainly to British Guiana (now Guyana), Trinidad and Jamaica. [36] Their descendants today are found among the current populations of these countries, but also among the migrant communities with Anglo-Caribbean origins residing mainly in the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada.
  • In the first half of the 20th century, war and revolution accelerated the pace of migration out of China. [31]: 127  The Kuomintang and the Communist Party competed for political support from overseas Chinese. [31]: 127–128 

Modern emigration (late 20th century–present)

Chinatown, Flushing (法拉盛) in Queens, New York City has become the present-day global epicenter receiving Chinese immigration as well as the international control center directing such migration. [38]

Due to the political dynamics of the Cold War, there was relatively little migration from the People's Republic of China to southeast Asia from the 1950s until the mid-1970s. [31]: 117 

In the early 1960s, about 100,000 people were allowed to enter Hong Kong. In the late 1970s, vigilance against illegal migration to Hong Kong (香港) was again relaxed. Perhaps as many as 200,000 reached Hong Kong in 1979, but in 1980 authorities on both sides resumed concerted efforts to reduce the flow.[ citation needed]

More liberalized emigration policies enacted in the 1980s as part of the Opening of China facilitated the legal departure of increasing numbers of Chinese who joined their overseas Chinese relatives and friends. The Four Modernizations program, which required Chinese students and scholars, particularly scientists, to be able to attend foreign education and research institutions, brought about increased contact with the outside world, particularly the industrialized nations.[ citation needed]

In 1983, emigration restrictions were eased as a result in part of the economic open-door policy.[ citation needed] In 1984, more than 11,500 business visas were issued to Chinese citizens, and in 1985, approximately 15,000 Chinese scholars and students were in the United States alone. Any student who had the economic resources could apply for permission to study abroad. United States consular offices issued more than 12,500 immigrant visas in 1984, and there were 60,000 Chinese with approved visa petitions in the immigration queue.[ citation needed]

The signing of the United States–China Consular Convention in 1983 demonstrated the commitment to more liberal emigration policies.[ citation needed] Both sides agreed to permit travel for the purpose of family reunification and to facilitate travel for individuals who claim both Chinese and United States citizenship. However, emigrating from China remained a complicated and lengthy process mainly because many countries were unwilling or unable to accept the large numbers of people who wished to emigrate. Other difficulties included bureaucratic delays and, in some cases, a reluctance on the part of Chinese authorities to issue passports and exit permits to individuals making notable contributions to the modernization effort.[ citation needed]

New York City's multiple Chinatowns in Queens (法拉盛華埠), Manhattan (紐約華埠), and Brooklyn (布鲁克林華埠) are successful as traditionally urban enclaves, as large-scale Chinese immigration continues into New York during the late 20th century [1] [2] [39] [4] with the largest metropolitan Chinese population outside Asia, [40] The New York metropolitan area contains the largest ethnic Chinese population outside of Asia, comprising an estimated 893,697 uniracial individuals as of 2017. [41] There has additionally been a significant element of illegal Chinese emigration to Brooklyn and Queens, most notably Fuzhou immigrants from Fujian Province and Wenzhou immigrants from Zhejiang Province in mainland China. [42]

A much smaller wave of Chinese immigration to Singapore came after the 1990s, holding the citizenship of the People's Republic of China and mostly Mandarin-speaking Chinese from northern China. The only significant immigration to China has been by the overseas Chinese, who in the years since 1949 have been offered various enticements to repatriate to their homeland.[ citation needed]

During the Xi Jinping administration, the number of Chinese asylum seekers abroad increased to 613,000 people as of 2020. [43] As of 2023, illegal Chinese immigration to New York City has accelerated, and its Flushing (法拉盛), Queens neighborhood has become the present-day global epicenter receiving Chinese immigration as well as the international control center directing such migration. [38] Additionally, as of 2024, a significant new wave of Chinese Uyghur Muslims is fleeing religious persecution in northwestern China's Xinjiang Province and seeking religious freedom in New York, and concentrating in Queens. [44]

In they've early 2020s, there have been an influx of Chinese migrants using Mexico's northern border to enter America and advance to New York City, termed " ZouXian", translated in English to “walk the line”. [45]

In 2023, China saw its largest outflow of high-net-worth individuals with over 13,000 emigrating mostly to the U.S., Canada, and Singapore. [46]

See also



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