Waves of Chinese emigration (also known as the Chinese Diaspora) have happened throughout history. The mass emigration known as the Chinese Diaspora, which occurred from the 19th century to 1949, was mainly caused by wars and starvation in mainland China, as well as the problems resulting from political corruption. Most immigrants were illiterate, or poorly educated peasants and manual labourers, historically called coolies (Chinese: 苦力, translated as "hard labour"), who emigrated to work in countries such as the Americas, Australia, South Africa, Southeast Asia, and Malaya.
According to Lynn Pan's book Sons of the Yellow Emperor, the Chinese coolie emigration began after slavery was abolished throughout the British possessions. Facing a desperate shortage of manpower, European merchants looked to replace African slaves with indentured labourers from China and India. A British Guiana planter found what he was looking for in the Chinese labourers "their strong physique, their eagerness to make money, their history of toil from infancy".
Labour recruiters sold the services of large numbers of unskilled Chinese in the coolie trade to planters in colonies overseas in exchange for money to feed their families; this type of trading was known as mai zhu zai (Chinese: 賣豬仔, "selling piglets") by the Chinese. The labourers' lives were very harsh. Some labor recruiters promised good pay and good working conditions to get men signed onto three-year labor contracts. It was recorded on one pepper estate, 50 coolies hired, only 2 survived in half a year. Most coolies were treated badly, and many died en route to South America and South Africa because of bad transport conditions. Usually, they were cheated of their wages and were unable to return to China after their contracts expired .
Chronology of historical periods of Chinese emigration
- 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.
- 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.
- 7-8th century: the Arabs recorded large numbers of Tang traders residing at the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and they had families there.
- 10th century: Arab trader Masuoti recorded in his Golden Ley, in the year 943 AD, he sailed past Srivijaya and saw many Chinese people farming there, especially at Palembang. These people migrated to Nanyang (Chinese: 南洋) to evade chaos caused by war during the Tang Dynasty of China.
- Many Chinese merchants chose to settle down in the Southeast Asian ports such as Champa, Cambodia, Sumatra, and Java, and married the native women. Their children carried on trade.
- Java: Zheng He's (Chinese: 鄭和) compatriot Ma Huan (Chinese: 马欢) recorded in his book (Chinese: zh: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 (Chinese: 新村), with many originally from Canton, Zhangzhou and Quanzhou.
- 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 Zhilue documents Chinese merchants who went to Cham ports in Champa, married Cham women, to whom they regularly returned to after trading voyages. A Chinese merchant from Quanzhou, Wang Yuanmao, traded extensively with Champa, and married a Cham princess.
- 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.
- Borneo: Many Chinese lived there as recorded by Zheng He.
- Ryūkyū Kingdom: Many Chinese moved to Ryukyu to serve the government or engage in business during this period. The Ming dynasty Chinese 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 Ryukuan officials were descended from these Chinese immigrants, being born in China or having Chinese grandfathers. They assisted in the Ryukyuans in advancing their technology and diplomatic relations.
- 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; Chinese: 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.
- In 1459, Ming emperor sent Hang Li Po (Chinese: 汉丽宝) to Malacca along with 500 other female attendants, many attendants later married officials serving Mansur Shah as Li Po married the sultan after she accepted conversion to Islam.
- Early Chinese mariners had a variety of contacts with Kenya. Archaeologists have found Chinese porcelains 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. 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, 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. 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 vorage 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".
- 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 1200s, their physical appearance is similar to Chinese with paler skin and a Mandarin sounding tonal language. Their name for themselves is "abandoned people", Awatwa in their language.
- A large amount of trade between Guangdong and Vietnam happened during the Lê Dynasty and contributed to Chinese emigration to Vietnam. Early accounts recorded that during the reign of Emperor Le Thanh Tong the Vietnamese captured Chinese whose ships had blown off course and detained them. Young Chinese men were selected by the Vietnamese for castration to become eunuch slaves to the Vietnamese. It has been speculated by modern historians that the Chinese who were captured and castrated by the Vietnamese were involved in trade between China and Vietnam instead of actually being blown off course by the wind and they were punished as part of a crackdown on foreign trade by Vietnam. Records show that the Vietnamese performed castration in a painful procedure by removing the entire genitalia with both penis and testicles being cut off with a sharp knife or metal blade. The procedure was agonizing since the entire penis was cut off. The young man's thighs and abdomen would be tied and others would pin him down on a table. The genitals would be sterilized with pepper water and then cut off. A tube would be then inserted into the urethra to allow urination during healing. Any facial hair such as the beard would fall off and the eunuch's voice would become like a girl's. The eunuchs served as slaves to the Vietnamese palace women in the harem like the consorts, concubines, maids, Queen, and Princesses, doing most of the work. The only man allowed in the Palace was the Emperor, the only others allowed were his women and the eunuchs since they were not able to have sexual relations with the women. The eunuchs were assigned to do work for the palace women like massaging and applying make up to the women and preparing them for sex with the Emperor.
- A 1472 entry in the Ming Shilu reported that when some Chinese from Nanhai county escaped back to China after their ship had been blown off course into Vietnam, where they had been forced to serve as soldiers in Vietnam's military. The escapees also reported that they found out up to 100 Chinese men remained captives in Vietnam after they were caught and castrated by the Vietnamese after their ships were blown off course into Vietnam. The Chinese Ministry of Revenue responded by ordering Chinese civilians and soldiers to stop going abroad to foreign countries. China's relations with Vietnam during this period were marked by the punishment of prisoners by castration.
- A 1499 entry in the Ming Shilu recorded that thirteen Chinese men from Wenchang including a young man named Wu Rui were captured by the Vietnamese after their ship was blown off course while traveling from Hainan to Guangdong's Qin subprefecture (Qinzhou), after which they ended up near the coast of Vietnam, during the Chenghua Emperor's rule (1447 - 1487) . Twelve of them were enslaved to work as agricultural laborers, while the youngest, Wu Rui (吳瑞) was selected for castration since he was the only young man and he became a eunuch attendant at the Vietnamese imperial palace in Thang Long. After years of service, he was promoted at the death of the Vietnamese ruler in 1497 to a military position in northern Vietnam. A soldier told him of an escape route back to China and Wu Rui escaped to Longzhou. The local chief planned to sell him back to the Vietnamese, but Wu was rescued by the Pingxiang magistrate and then was sent to Beijing to work as a eunuch in the palace.
- The Đại Việt sử ký toàn thư records that in 1467 in An Bang province of Dai Viet (now Quảng Ninh Province) a Chinese ship blew off course onto the shore. The Chinese were detained and not allowed to return to China as ordered by Le Thanh Tong. This incident may be the same one where Wu Rui was captured.
- When the Ming dynasty in China fell, Chinese refugees fled south and extensively settled in the Cham lands and Cambodia. 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.
- 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.
Late 20th century to present: modern emigration
In 1949, civil war between Mao Zedong's Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) persisted, and Chiang Kai-shek and his followers fled to Taiwan along with approximately two million Chinese fleeing communist rule.
Through most of China's history, strict controls prevented large numbers of people from leaving the country. In modern times, however, some have been allowed to leave for various reasons. For example, 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 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.
More liberalized emigration policies enacted in the 1980s 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. Thus, as China moved toward the 21st century, the diverse resources and immense population that it had committed to a comprehensive process of modernization became ever more important.
In 1983, emigration restrictions were eased as a result in part of the economic open-door policy. 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.
Export of labor to foreign countries also increased. The Soviet Union, Iraq, and the Federal Republic of Germany requested 500,000 workers, and as of 1986, China sent 50,000. The signing of the United States-China Consular Convention in 1983 demonstrated the commitment to more liberal emigration policies. 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.
There has additionally been a consequential component of Chinese emigration of illegal origin, most notably Fuzhou people from Fujian Province and Wenzhounese from Zhejiang Province in Mainland China, specifically destined for New York City in the United States, beginning in the 1980s. Quantification of the magnitude of this modality of emigration is imprecise and varies over time, but it appears to continue unabated on a significant basis.
The only significant immigration to China has been by the overseas Chinese, who in the years since 1949 have been offered various enticements to return to their homeland. Several million may have done so since 1949. The largest influx came in 1978-79, when about 160,000 to 250,000 ethnic Chinese refugees fled Vietnam for southern China, as relations between the two countries worsened. Many of these refugees were reportedly settled in state farms on Hainan Island in the South China Sea.
- Overseas Chinese
- Chinese American history
- New immigrants in Hong Kong
- History of Chinese immigration to Canada
- Haijin (海禁)
- Chinese Protectorate
- Industrial Revolution
- British East India
- Opium War
- Chinese Clan Association
- Hui (secret society)
- Tong (organization)
- Sangley (Seng Li; business)
- Immigration to Singapore
- Chinese immigration to Mexico
- Spice Route (Sea Route) and ancient Chinese Migration 海上丝路与中国古代的海外移民
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