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Where do the Overseas Han Chinese Live?
Author’s Note: You can watch the video for this one here
One of the topic points that really interest me is the overseas Chinese diaspora. Largely because of major political turmoil and abject poverty in China, Chinese people have gone far and wide to find work. I found it really fascinating to come out to the Czech Republic and find a thriving ecosystem of Chinese food restaurants for instance.
This video about the Chinese diaspora I hope will kick off a future series on the Chinese diaspora in Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and more.
The overseas Chinese community is amongst the largest in the world. Second only to Germany and Ireland, you can find large populations of Chinese emigrants in almost every country.
Great geopolitical shifts caused these large migrations, but not every immigrant's story is the same. In this video, I want to talk a bit about the types of immigrations and point out some of the world's larger populations of overseas Chinese.
And of note: When I refer to Chinese here, I am referring to the ethnicity. Thus, I am grouping together the Mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau.
Types of immigration
You can generally group together Chinese migration patterns based on who they are and where they are from.
The first type involves the merchant. Chinese merchants have been embarking on voyages to new lands for generations. They would settle in a new land, establish a new business, and bring up a family locally. Most of the time, these are almost always men.
The second type involves the laborer. Throughout the great times of turbulence in Chinese history, but especially in the 1800s, Chinese peasants and lower class workers spread out to find new places to live.
These might be fleeing war, famine, or just be looking for greener grass abroad. They worked the gold mines of Australia and North America - until they could not anymore by law.
I talk a bit about these reasons in more detail in my video about Chinese immigration to Singapore as well as more briefly when I talked about the US Chinese exclusion acts.
The third class is of a more recent situation. These are people who came to their new country to undergo schooling. Think about all the Chinese university students coming to American universities or Oxford and Cambridge.
This trend began after the fall of the Qing Dynasty and coincides with a rise in Chinese nationalism. The Chinese people sought to rebuild their country after the decline of the 19th century. They saw western education as a pathway to a stronger China.
The fourth class is the rarest. It involves members of the first three classes embarking out again to new countries after feeling unwelcome in their original one.
Southeast Asia - Malaysia, Philippines, and Indonesia among others - has traditionally been the home for most Chinese emigrants for many years.
But ethnic clashes are not uncommon. The Chinese are seen as being over-represented in the commercial classes of their countries. Even today, for example, some of the richest people in the Philippines were ethnically Chinese.
In the 1950s, those nations began explicitly locking the Chinese out of certain sectors of their economy. Those Chinese began to feel unwelcome, and so they leave.
In the early 1980s, there were estimated to be about 27 million overseas Chinese living abroad. This number had grown substantially since the 1940s, exceeding 3% a year.
They mostly lived in other parts of Asia - some 90% of them. This pattern began to change throughout the 1990s. The overseas Chinese population in the Americas and Oceania grew extremely fast, with rates some 2-3 times faster than what we saw in Asia.
This can be attributed almost entirely to changes in immigration laws in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States. As those countries changed how they took in immigrants, more or less Chinese arrived.
The Global Overseas Chinese community by Continent
As of the 2010s, it is estimated to be over 40 million overseas Chinese in the world. The growth rate of this population worldwide is estimated to be about 1.1% a year, a significant slowdown from previous years. This is mostly due to immigration laws and declining fertility rates.
With just the single exception of Singapore, overseas Chinese populations are a minority in all of their adopted homes. In the next section, I want to go over the countries with the most overseas Chinese as of 2011.
(Why 2011? It is when we had the most consistent data across all sources.)
The top 3 countries with the most overseas Chinese are:
Indonesia, with 8 million Chinese. The most Chinese live here, but in the context of a 248 million sized population, the percentage is rather small, less than 3%.
Thailand is second with 7.5 million Chinese. Thailand is significantly smaller than Indonesia, but has nearly the same sized Chinese population. Chinese make up some 11% of their 64 million sized population.
Malaysia is third with 6.5 million Chinese living in a population of 28 million.
These three countries all have rather slow Chinese population growth rates in the ten years from 2001 to 2011 - ranging in the 1% or so range. Which countries grew the fastest? Japan with 7%, UAE with 15% and Israel with 70%.
Caveat. Israel also happens to have some of the fewest Chinese in what we consider to be Asia, with just 8,000 Chinese - good for third lowest.
As you might expect, the United States has the largest population of overseas Chinese with 4.1 million as of 2011. The proportion is rather small though, barely making up 2% of the total population. The growth rate on that population though is quite strong.
Canada is second with 1.5 million. But because the Canadian population is so much smaller, the proportion is bigger - almost 5% of the 2011 population.
You might be surprised with who might have the third largest number of Chinese in the Americas. It is not Mexico or Brazil, who have the next largest populations. It is Peru with nearly a million Chinese in their 30 million strong nation.
I did not know about Peru - so I am going to have to do some research in the future about how this came to be later. I do note that the Chinese population growth there is negative, which implies that people are leaving.
The nations with the smallest number of Chinese are Paraguay, Netherlands Antilles, and French Guiana - with some 5,000 each.
Europe has been seeing Chinese immigration for decades. So it is interesting to see who are in the top three as of 2011.
Russia is first with 450,000 - a tiny proportion of the 142 million sized population. Considering how long of a border Russia shares with China, this is a bit of a surprise. I would expect more flow between the two neighbors.
Like with Peru, the Chinese population in Russia is seeing negative growth. This appears to be a function of Russia's struggling economy.
France is second with 440,000. Good for second place.
And the United Kingdom with another 400,000. Nothing sexier than a British accent, right?
Chinese growth rates in Europe hit double digits in the 2000s. It is really surprising how much Chinese people like it there. Italy, Spain, Ireland and Portugal are seeing 18% average annual growth rates.
You might be able to guess who have the fewest number of Chinese in Europe. Those are the ones with the worst economies - Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania. But a surprise country placing on the bottom three is Finland, just 6,000 Chinese.
Australia is my second biggest audience here on this channel after America. So it is surprising to me to find that fewer people live there than I expected (as of 2011 that is).
Australia has the biggest Chinese community in Oceania with 754,000 Chinese. This is good for 3.5% of the population. It is growing quite fast. I hope in the future to do more research on Australian immigration policies towards Chinese people.
New Zealand is second with 150,000. Their population did not grow as fast as Australia's and I suspect it has to do with the economy there.
Guam, Fiji and Papua-New Guinea have the fewest Chinese people in Oceania with some estimated 5,000 each.
Last but not least is Africa, in which China has been heavily investing in with the goal of developing close relations.
South Africa is Africa's richest country. Thus so it also has the largest Chinese population with 110,000 Chinese. Less than 2.2% of the 50M strong population is made up of Chinese.
Throughout the 2000s, Chinese emigration to South Africa was quite strong. But I would think that recent economic developments might have dampened that.
Mauritius and La Reunion make up the second and third largest recorded Chinese populations with 30,000 and 28,000 respectively.
But Nigeria's Chinese population is growing really fast - some 20% a year throughout the 2000s. I would expect that to continue into the new century.
Why these countries?
They have done a few studies on these.
By far, the strongest determinant of Chinese international migration has to do with immigration laws - especially Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.
Second, overseas Chinese people tend to migrate to richer countries overall. This might have something to do with the fact that the quality of life there is nicer.
A few curious but likely coincidental things. The larger the population overall, the more likely it will have a larger Chinese population.
And another curious thing, the closer the country is to Guangzhou the more Chinese it is likely to have. Not China, per se - but the city of Guangzhou specifically.
And if you remove Singapore - one of the densest countries in the world - from the mix, there is no correlation between density and Chinese population size. So they don't seem to be interested in going to urban cities to drink hipster coffee.
So, if you are a racist who does not want to live around Chinese people - then I have listed out the countries to avoid.
As a member of the overseas Chinese community myself, I have been really interested all my life in learning about other people like me. I had the fortune of working with a Peruvian of Chinese ethnicity here at work and the paradoxes of the whole experience still gets me.
The overseas Chinese population is large and diverse. I hope to research and write more on it in the near future.
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