Chinese people in Burma
3.0% of the Burmese population (2012)
|Regions with significant populations|
|Yangon, Mandalay, Taunggyi|
Varieties of Chinese (Mandarin, Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka)
|Islam among Panthay Hui|
|Related ethnic groups|
The Burmese Chinese or Chinese Burmese (Burmese: မြန်မာတရုတ်လူမျိုး; also called Sino-Burmese) are a group of overseas Chinese born or raised in Burma (Myanmar). Burmese Chinese constitute one group of Overseas Chinese and is relatively small compare to other Overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia. Although the Chinese 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; 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) but are not counted due to the lack of reliable census taking. As of 2012, the Burmese Chinese population is estimated to be at 1.6 million.
Burmese Chinese are well represented in all levels of Burmese society and play a leading role in the Burmese commerce and business sector as well as public service. Several Burmese Chinese such as Khin Nyunt, Ne Win, and San Yu have been major figures in the Burmese political scene. The Burmese Chinese are also a well established middle class ethnic group and dominate the Burmese economy today. Moreover, the Burmese Chinese have a disproportionately large presence in Burmese higher education, high powered private sector white collar jobs, and the educated class in Burma.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Demography
- 3 Socioeconomics
- 4 Trade and industry
- 5 Culture
- 6 History
- 7 Notable Burmese Chinese
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
In the Burmese language, the Chinese are called Tayoke (တရုတ်, tarut), pronounced: [/təjoʊʔ/], and formerly spelt တရုပ် (tarup). The etymology of the term remains uncertain. The earliest evidence of this term dates to the Bagan era, in the 13th century, during which it referred to the territory and a variety of peoples to the north and northeast of Burma. Various scholars have proposed that it comes from the Chinese term for "Turk" (突厥, Tūjué); from the name of Dali (大理國, Dàlǐguó), the capital of the Kingdom of Nanzhao; a Chinese corruption of the term Dàyuèzhī (大月支 or 大月氏), a Chinese term referring to Mongol-speaking Kushan Huns. The adoption of Tayoke to refer to the Han Chinese was not an established practice until the 19th century.
In the Mon language, the Chinese are known as Krawk (ကြုက်, /krɜk/); in Shan, they are called Khe (ၶႄႇ, /kʰɛ2/). In the Wa language, spoken in the borderlands between Yunnan Province and Shan State, the word for Chinese is Hox/Hawx, pronounced /hɔʔ/.
Until the recent influx of Chinese immigrants from Yunnan, the Burmese Chinese in Lower Burma fell into three main groups:
- Hokkien Chinese (Burmese: eingyi shay အင်္ကျီရှည်, or let shay လက်ရှည် lit. long-sleeved jackets) from Fujian Province
- Cantonese Chinese (Burmese: eingyi to အင်္ကျီတို, or let to လက်တို lit. short-sleeved jackets) from central Guangdong Province
- Hakka Chinese (Burmese: zaka စက, lit. mid-length sleeve) from Fujian and Guangdong provinces
The Hokkiens and Cantonese comprised 45% of the ethnic Chinese population. The Cantonese were originally dubbed "short sleeved jackets" because most migrants from Guangdong Province were artisans, wearing short-sleeve jackets, while most of the Hokkien were traders, wearing long-sleeved jackets. These names remain in use today. Hakkas are further subdivided into those with ancestry from Fujian Province and Guangdong Province, called eingyi shay haka (အင်္ကျီရှည်ဟကာ) and eingyi to haka (အင်္ကျီတိုဟကာ) respectively. The groups have different stereotypical associations. The Cantonese are commonly thought of as the poorest of the Chinese, the Hokkiens are stereotypically wealthier, occupying high positions in the economy, and having connections to the government.
In Upper Burma and Shan Hills, the Panthay and Kokang, mainly speakers of Southwestern Mandarin Chinese, a form of Mandarin Chinese most akin to Yunnanese Chinese, predominate. The mountain-dwelling, farming Kokang are classified as a part of the Shan national race, although they have no linguistic or genetic affinity to the Tai-speaking Shan, and the largely trading Muslim Panthay have long been considered separate local nationalities, distinct from the Chinese diaspora community. Combined, they form 21% of Burmese Chinese.
Finally, there are the tayoke kabya (တရုတ်ကပြား) of mixed Chinese and indigenous Burmese parentage. The kabya (ကပြား, meaning "mixed heritage") have a tendency to follow the customs of the Chinese more than of the Burmese. Indeed, tayoke kabya who follow Burmese customs are absorbed into and largely indistinguishable from mainstream Burmese society. A large portion of Burmese Chinese is thought to have some kabya blood, possibly because immigrants could acquire Burmese citizenship through intermarriage with the indigenous Burmese peoples.
The Burmese Chinese place a high importance on education, and represent a disproportionately high share of those with advanced (medical, engineering or doctorate) degrees in Burma. The figure would be higher still had it not been for the longstanding ban on those without Burmese citizenship from pursuing advanced degrees when Ne Win instigated the 1982 Citizenship Law further restricted Burmese citizenship for Burmese Chinese (as it stratified citizenship into three categories: full, associate, and naturalized) and severely limited Burmese Chinese, especially those without full citizenship and those holding FRCs, from attending professional tertiary schools, including medical, engineering, agricultural and economics institutions. Many wealthy Sino-Burmese families send their children to the city's English language schools for primary and secondary education and Chinese and Singaporean Universities for education. Nowadays, many wealthy Burmese Chinese send their children overseas—particularly in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, for advanced studies. Taiwan is also a major destination, as the Taiwanese government offers aid and scholarship incentives to 'returning' overseas Chinese to study and settle there.
Until vast nationalization by the Ne Win's government happened in 1963, most Burmese Chinese were enrolled in schools where Mandarin Chinese was the medium of instruction with Burmese as a second language. Notable Chinese schools at that time include:
- Burma Chinese High School (缅甸华侨中学）
- Nanyang High School (缅甸南洋中学）- now Basic Education High School No. 2 Bahan
- Rangoon Chinese Elementary School (仰光华侨小学）
- Kee Mei Elementary School (仰光集美小学)
Historically, Burmese Chinese have made their livelihoods as merchants, traders and shopkeepers as well as manual laborers such as coolies, dockers, municipal workers, rickshaw men, and pony cart drivers. They were also heavily represented in certain professions such as civil servants, university lecturers, pharmacists, opticians, lawyers, engineers and doctors.
Trade and industry
Mandalay is the economic and business hub of Upper Myanmar and considered one the epicenters of Burmese culture. An influx of Chinese immigrants, mostly from the Yunnan province have continuously increased the dynamics of the economy of the entire nation. Ethnic Chinese entrepreneurs have been increasingly involved Mandalay's economy since the imposition of sanctions by the United States and the European Union in the 1990s. The onset of economic liberalization and the rise of free markets in Burma, members of the Sino-Burmese community gravitated towards commerce and business and adhere to the Chinese paradigm of guanxi which is based on the importance of having contacts and connections as a key ingredient for business success. Following Burma's new market transformation, Chinese immigrants from Yunnan, were able to obtain identity papers on the black market to become naturalized Burmese citizens. Nowadays, most foreign-born Chinese can easily obtain Burmese citizenship cards on the black market. Money from Mainland China is able to flow into property and skirt the foreign ownership ban as many mainland Chinese either obtain Myanmar identity cards via bribery or marriage to a Myanmar national through middlemen who are ethnic Chinese Burmese citizens. Retail stores would be opened by Chinese entrepreneurs, whose business interests ranged from cement mixing to money exchange. In addition, nearly all of Mandalay's and Rangoon's shops, hotels, restaurants, and real estate are owned by Sino-Burmese entrepreneurs. According to American writer Amy Chua, while the Burmese still owned some small printing houses and cheroot factories, a sense of bewilderment and resentment exists for many ethnic Burmans living their daily life surrounded by the Chinese-built and Chinese-developed high rise buildings and apartments.
Mandalay's major industries include sports where soccer has arrived in Mandalay, with Yadanabon FC representing the city in the newly formed Myanmar National League, the country's first professional football league. Burmese Chinese entrepreneurs are also involved in silk weaving, tapestry, jade cutting and polishing, stone and wood carving, making marble and bronze Buddha images, food products, temple ornaments and paraphernalia, the working of gold leaves and of silver, garments, pharmaceuticals, match manufacturing, brewing and distilling. Burmese Chinese entrepreneurs have also have established heavy industry joint ventures with many large Chinese corporations. These industries include shipbuilding, copper, nickel, oil and natural gas, cement, base metals, coal, fertilizers, jet fuel, industrial minerals, kerosene, steel, tin, tungsten, agricultural processing, wood and wood products, logging, timber, rice, and construction materials, machinery, transport equipment, and plastics. Sino-Burmese entrepreneurs have also established numerous joint ventures to have the construction of oil pipelines bring thousands of jobs into the country. Chinese consumer electronics and fashion are also large industries. In Yangon, the Hokkien operate small and medium sized family busiensses in timber, rice, bean and legume trading, and cooking oil production while the Cantonese focused on small-scale manufacturing of handicrafts and similar products.
Between 1895 and 1930, Sino-Burmese businesses were concentrated within three sectors, brokerage, manufacturing, and contracting. Under British rule, Chinese share of the businesses were reduced significantly from 28.5 to 10 percent in manufacturing, 26.6 to 1.8 percent in brokerage and 31 to 4.3 percent in contracting while Burmese Indians improved their economic positions significantly and controlled a larger proportion of the businesses within the three sectors. Other major sectors between 1895 to 1930 that have declined include banking and money-lending that dropped from 33.3 percent to 0, trading, 13.3 to 12.6 percent, as well as the import and export trade, extraction, distribution and supplying, and business partnerships. However, Chinese share in milling increased from 0 to 4.5 percent, agents from 13.3 to 15.6 percent, shopkeeping from 6.7 to 18.3 percent, and merchanting from 12.3 to 13.1 percent.
As Sino-Burmese entrepreneurs became more prosperous, they started joint ventures with ethnic Chinese business moguls from all over the world, but most concentrated on surrounding countries such as Malaysia and Thailand as well as Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Of the 47 rice mills in Burma, 13 percent was controlled by ethnic Chinese and was utilized for rice exportation and processing. During the last few decades of the 19th century, Chinese turned to rural money-lending. Sino-Burmese businessmen ran illicit opium and gambling dens, tea shops, and liquor stores. They were also agents for the sale of petroleum products. For the Burmese Chinese, business success is attributed towards networking skills, work ethic, trustworthiness, making the most of the opportunities when they present themselves, looking towards the future, and honor. The Sino-Burmese community also had major licenses for liquor and opium and as well as a Chamber of Commerce to promote and protect their interests. Legal two way trade between Mainland China and Burma reached 1.5 billion dollars US per year by 1988 and additional Chinese trade, investment, economic, and military aid was sought. The Chinese Chamber of Commerce served as a lobby group for Chinese businessmen. Malaysian business magnate Robert Kuok converted Mandalay and Rangoon into the largest hubs for business networking and deal making. For smaller businesses and newer start-ups, many self-employed Sino-Burmese made a great living selling cheap bicycle tires shipped from China. Private gem mining has also been one of the largest industries in Burma and many of the concessionaires are owned by Sino-Burmese entrepreneurs. At present, Burma's booming gem industry is completely under Chinese hands and the thriving Burmese Chinese businessmen at every level, from the financiers to the concession operators to the owners that scores of newly opened jewelry shops swamped Mandalay and Rangoon. One notable incident occurred in June 2011 where a gem market was forced to be shut down after a fight embroiled a group of Chinese and Burmese merchants over a business deal that went sour. Allegedly, the Burmese and Chinese merchants fought over a deal that was worth US$5,300. Burmese Chinese entrepreneurs are not just dominant in the big business sector but also in the small business and hotel sector. Disenchantment soon grew among indigenous Burmese merchants who felt they could not compete with ethnic Chinese businesses. During the Burmese property boom in the 1990s, ethnic Chinese real estate developers and real estate entrepreneurs began building and speculating as real estate values doubled and tripled in values which resulted in the ethnic Burmese being pushed further away into the outskirts of major Burmese cities towards so-called Shantytowns. Despite the disproportionate amount of Sino-Burmese socioeconomic and entrepreneurial success, underlying resentment and bitterness from the indigenous Burmese is accumulating as there has been no existence of indigenous Burmese having any substantial business equity in Burma.
Burmese Chinese have dominated several types of businesses such as selling bicycle tires, auto parts and electrical goods, ironmongery and hardware, printing and bookbinding, books and stationery, paper and printing ink, tailoring and dry-cleaning, English tuition, and money lending. Restaurants and karaoke bars are the most common establishments . They also traded in textiles, gold and jewellery, where the market was traditionally dominated by Burmese women. Many Burmese businesspeople are still involved in businesses such as running restaurants, jewellery shops and handling money exchanges. Ethnic Chinese minorities dominate both the legitimate trade as well as the highly lucrative illegitimate trade in opium and other unsavory drug enterprises. Burmese-born ethnic Chinese industrialists such as Lo Hsing Han and Kyaw Win continue to control Burma's major banks, airlines, logging companies, gem-stone mining concessions and other large Burmese conglomerates. Lo Hsing Han's son, Steven Law is also a prominent businessman well known for being at the helm of Burma's largest conglomerate Asia World. Law also has business holdings in sports, where he is the majority owner of Magway FC, a Burmese football club. Many Sino-Burmese businessmen continue to remain at the forefront of Burma's economy. Much of the foreign investment has been from Mainland China and channeled though ethnic Chinese business networks. Many members of the Sino-Burmese business community act as agent for ethnic Chinese investors outside of 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.
During General Ne Win's rule (1962–1988), the ban on Chinese-language schools caused a decline of Mandarin speakers. The number of Chinese schools is growing again today because of the importance of Mandarin Chinese. (Note: Standard Mandarin refers to the national language of Mainland China and Taiwan, distinct from the Southwestern Mandarin dialect of the Upper Burma, Kokang and Panthay). At the end of 2012, Mizzima News reported that an increasing number of young Burmese Chinese are expressing interest in Chinese language, taking language courses even when their parents don't understand Chinese. However, this trend is not necessarily indicative of an interest in joining Chinese community or cultural organizations, as many of their parents did. Groups like the Burma Overseas Young Chinese League report a lack of interest from Burmese Chinese youth.
Most Burmese Chinese practice Theravada Buddhism, incorporating some Mahayana Buddhist and Taoist beliefs, such as the worship of Kuan Yin. There are several notable Chinese temples in Yangon, including Fushan Si Temple (a Buddhist temple), Kheng Hock Keong Temple (a Taoist temple dedicated to Mazu) and Guanyin Gumiao Temple (a Buddhist temple dedicated to Guanyin).
The Burmese Chinese have Burmese names and many also have Chinese names. Given names in various Chinese dialects are often transliterated into the Burmese language, using phonetic transcriptions or translated. For example, a Burmese Chinese person named 'Khin Aung' may have the Chinese name of 慶豐 (Hokkien POJ: Khèng-hong), with '慶' (Hokkien POJ: khèng) corresponding to 'Khin', and '豐' (Hokkien POJ: hong) corresponding to 'Aung'. However, variations of transcription do exist (between dialects), and some Burmese Chinese do not choose to adopt similar-sounding Burmese and Chinese names. Because the Burmese lack surnames, many Burmese Chinese tend to pass on portions of their given names to future generations, for the purpose of denoting lineage.
According to publications of Long Shan Tang, a clan association based in Yangon, the ten most common Chinese surnames in Yangon are:
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Burmese Chinese cuisine is based on Chinese cuisine, particularly from Fujian, Guangdong and Yunnan provinces, with local influences. Spices such as turmeric and chili are commonly used. Also, the use of soy sauce, bean curd, bean sprouts, Chinese pickled mustards, and dried mushrooms can be attributed to Chinese influence. The following is a partial list of Chinese contributions to Burmese cuisine. These are an established part of today's Burmese cuisine, and are hardly differentiated as a foreign cuisine.
- Pauksi: steamed buns
- Bèkin: roasted duck
- Igyakway: fried Chinese doughnut
- Htamin kyaw: fried rice
- La mont: mooncake
- Mi shay: thin rice noodle soup
- Mi swan: thin wheat noodles
- San byoke: rice porridge
- Panthay khauk swè: Panthay-style fried noodles
- Sigyet khaukswè: literally "noodles laced in cooked oil," usually with chicken
The earliest records of Chinese migration into present-day Burma were in the Song and Ming dynasties. In the 18th century, Ming Dynasty princes settled in Kokang (the northern part of present-day Burma). Chinese traders, however, traveled as far as the capital city as well as northern towns on the Irrawaddy such as Bhamo. Some of them stayed and started a Chinese community at Amarapura, and when King Mindon moved his capital to Mandalay in 1859, the Chinese were the only community that decided to stay behind. Many of their descendants intermarried into the host society and remain important and respected citizens of Amarapura.
Another wave of immigration occurred in the 19th century under the British colonial administration. Britain encouraged immigration of Indians and Chinese to British Burma, and such incentives for work opportunities and enterprise and for accumulating wealth attracted many Chinese. They primarily came to Burma via British Malaya. The Chinese quickly became dominant in the highly lucrative rice and gem industries. Many became merchants and traders owning both wholesale and retail businesses. Unlike in British Malaya, where most Chinese were coolie laborers, the Chinese in Burma were largely from the artisan and merchant classes. Their success was reflected in the popular Burmese expression, "Earn like the Chinese, save like the Indian, and don't waste money like the Bamar." (ငွေကို တရုတ်လိုရှာ၊ ကုလားလိုစု၊ ဗမာလို မဖြုန်းနဲ့)
They integrated well into Burmese society not least because they, like the Bamar, were of Sino-Tibetan stock and were Buddhists, implicit in the nickname pauk hpaw (ပေါက်ဖော်, lit. "sibling"). During British rule, marriage between the Chinese and Burmese, particularly Chinese men and Burmese women, was the most common form of intermarriage in Burma, as evidenced by a High Court ruling on the legal status of Sino-Burmese marriages under Burmese Buddhist law.
The Chinese are arguably the only other group of people the Bamar historically have a high regard for, not just for their ancient and uninterrupted civilization but for their skills and intellect as well. From 1935 until the end of British rule, the Chinese were represented in the colonial legislature, the House of Representatives.
After World War II, displaced Burmese Chinese (whose pre-war homes were in Burma), were the most numerous group of overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia to request repatriation to return to Burma, according to the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.
During the 1950s, Burma was one of the first countries to recognize the People's Republic of China as a nation. However, its own Chinese population was treated as aliens. The Burmese Chinese were issued foreign registration cards (FRC) in a tiered citizenship system adopted by the post-independence government. When the Chinese Communists expelled the Kuomintang, many fled to Burma and Thailand over the borders of Yunnan Province. The Burmese government fought and removed the armed KMT and forced them to Taiwan; those who managed to stay prospered. In the 1950s, discriminatory policies against overseas Chinese encompassed citizenship, government employment, approval for business regulations and licensing, loan extensions and permission to make remittances.
In 1952, Kheng Hock Keong Temple publications estimated that ethnic Chinese, who lived in enclaves in the area along Sinohdan, Latha, and Maung Khaing Streets (with Cantonese typically living above Maha Bandula Road and Hokkiens living below), constituted 9.5% of Rangoon's population. During this period, there was a sharp rise in the number of private Chinese language schools, primarily teaching Mandarin Chinese, in Burma, from 65 in 1935 to 259 in 1953 and 259 at its peak in 1962, with many such schools affiliated to the Chinese nationalist (တရုတ်ဖြူ, lit. "White Chinese") or communist (တရုတ်နီ, lit. "Red Chinese") movements. However, fewer than 10% of Burmese Chinese of school age attended Chinese language schools. Similarly, about 80 clan associations operated in the 1950s.
In 1962, Ne Win led the Socialist coup d'état, establishing the Revolutionary Council under the Burmese Way to Socialism. In February 1963, the Enterprise Nationalization Law was passed, effectively nationalizing all major industries and prohibiting the formation of new factories. This law adversely affected many industrialists and entrepreneurs, especially those without the full citizenship. The government's economic nationalization program further prohibited foreigners, including the non-citizen Chinese, from owning land, sending remittances, getting business licenses and practicing medicine. Such policies led to the beginnings of a major exodus of Burmese Chinese to other countries—some 100,000 Chinese left Burma.
Although a kabya himself, Ne Win banned Chinese-language education and created other measures to compel the Chinese to leave. Ne Win's government stoked up racial animosity and ethnic conflicts against the Chinese, who were terrorized by Burmese citizens, the most violent riots taking place at the time of the Cultural Revolution in China in 1967. All schools were nationalized, including Chinese language schools. Beginning in 1967 and continuing throughout the 1970s, anti-Chinese riots continued to flare up and many believed they were covertly supported by the government. In 1967, Latha Secondary School was torched by the henchmen of Ne Win's government, where school girls were burnt alive. Similarly, Chinese shops were looted and set on fire. Public attention was successfully diverted by Ne Win from the uncontrollable inflation, scarcity of consumer items and rising prices of rice. The 1982 Citizenship Law further restricted Burmese citizenship for Burmese Chinese (as it stratified citizenship into three categories: full, associate, and naturalized) and severely limited Burmese Chinese, especially those without full citizenship and those holding FRCs, from attending professional tertiary schools, including medical, engineering, agricultural and economics institutions. During this period, the country's failing economy and widespread discrimination accelerated an emigration of Burmese Chinese out of Burma.
In 1988, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) came to power, and gradually loosened the government's role in the economy, encouraging private sector growth and foreign investment. This liberalization of state's role in the economy, if slight and uneven, nonetheless gave the ethnic Chinese-led businesses extra space to expand and reassert their economic power. Today, the majority of retail, wholesale and import trade businesses are run by the Burmese Chinese today. For example, Sein Gayha (စိန်ဂေဟာ), a major retailer that began in Yangon's Chinatown in 1985, is owned by a Hakka Chinese family. Moreover, four of the five largest commercial banks in Myanmar, Myanmar Universal Bank, Yoma Bank, Myanmar Mayflower Bank, and the Asia Wealth Bank, were all founded by Sino-Burmese.
Today, the majority of Burmese Chinese live in the major cities of Yangon, Mandalay, Taunggyi, Bago, and their surrounding areas. Although there are Chinatowns (တရုတ်တန်း; tayoke tan) in the major cities, the Chinese are widely dispersed throughout the country. The northern region of Burma has seen a recent influx of mainland Chinese migrant workers, black market traders and gamblers. In Kachin State, which borders China in three directions, Mandarin Chinese is the lingua franca.
Upper Burma has seen a demographic shift resulting from the recent immigration of many Mainland Chinese to Mandalay Region, Shan, and Kachin States. Ethnic Chinese now constitute an estimated 30 to 40% of Mandalay's population. Huge swaths of land in city centre left vacant by the fires were later purchased, mostly by the ethnic Chinese, many of whom were recent immigrants from Yunnan. The Chinese influx accelerated after the current military government came to power in 1988. With the Burmese government turning a blind eye, many Chinese immigrants from Yunnan (and also from Sichuan) poured into Upper Burma in the 1990s, settling in Mandalay. In the 1990s alone, about 250,000 to 300,000 Yunnanese were estimated to have migrated to Mandalay. Their arrival has been vital in the doubling of Mandalay's population from about 500,000 in 1980 to one million in 2008. Chinese festivals are now firmly embedded in the city's cultural calendar. The influx of Mainland Chinese into the city and the subsequent displacement of native Burmese to the outskirts of the city has created racial tensions.
There are also substantial Burmese Chinese communities outside of Burma, particularly in Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong, Singapore, United States (such as New York City's Henry Street) and Australia. Zhonghe District, near Taipei, Taiwan is home to 40,000 Burmese Chinese (2008), one of the largest communities outside of Burma.
Notable Burmese Chinese
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