Chinese diaspora in France

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Chinese diaspora in France
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Bérénice Marlohe 2012 2.jpg
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Total population
600,000 (2010)[1]
0.94% of the French population
Regions with significant populations
Bouches-du-Rhône, Paris, Lille, Bordeaux
French, Chinese (Wenzhounese, Teochew, Cantonese, Mandarin), some Vietnamese
Buddhism, Roman Catholicism, Atheism
Related ethnic groups
Overseas Chinese

The Chinese diaspora in France consists of people of Chinese ancestry who were born in or immigrated to France. Population estimates vary, ranging from 600,000 to 700,000 as of 2010.[1] Though they form a small part of the Chinese diaspora, the Chinese diaspora of France represents the largest overseas Chinese community in Europe (if excluding Russia) with the UK following second at around 400,000.


17th century[edit]

The first record of a Chinese man in France is Shen Fo-tsung in 1684, and soon after Arcade Hoange, also known as Huang Jialü (1679-1716). He was brought back by Jesuit missionaries to the Versailles court of the Sun King in the late 17th century, and oversaw a collection of manuscripts sent as a gift from the Chinese emperor Kangxi.[2]

Belle Époque[edit]

The opening of the Chinese port at Wenzhou in 1876 soon saw a small number of merchants from the region arriving in Paris, being the first wave of Chinese settlement in France. The 1911 census counted 283 Chinese in France. This tiny Chinese population during the Belle Époque period mainly consisted of students, journalists, intellectuals, as well as merchants. Many students of Chinese ethnicity in France were not from China but rather Vietnam, which was a French colony with a significant Chinese population.

In 1902, Li Shizeng and Zhang Jingjiang arrived in Paris as "embassy students" accompanying Ambassador to France Sun Baoqi. Li soon left this official position to study biology at Ecole Pratique d'Agriculture du Chesnoy (de) in Montargis, a suburb south of Paris. He founded the first factory which manufactured beancurd for the French market. Zhang establish a Paris gallery which sold Chinese art. Together with their friend Wu Zhihui, they formed the French branch of the Chinese anarchist movement which drew inspiration from French anarchists. In 1909, the three arranged for 140 students to come from China to work in the beancurd factory in order to support their study of French language and culture. Over the next two decades, Li, Zhang, and Wu established a number of institutions of Sino-French friendship such as the Diligent Work-Frugal Study Movement. [3] Also arriving in Paris at this time was the art-dealer C.T. Loo, who married a French woman and maintained a business there until the 1950s.[4]

World War I[edit]

The entrance of the WWI Chinese cemetery at Noyelles-sur-Mer
A tomb in the WWI Chinese cemetery at Noyelles-sur-Mer

Between 1915 and 1916, with the World War I conflict at its height between the allies and the Central Powers of Germany and Austro-Hungary, the British recruited more than 100,000 Chinese (Chinese Labour Corps) and their French allies some 40,000, and shipped them to the French western front as desperately needed labour to relieve an acute manpower shortage.[5] They cleared mines, repaired roads and unloaded ships, with their contribution going unrecognized for decades. Mainly aged between 20 and 35 and hailing from the northern Chinese provinces of Hebei, Jiangsu and particularly Shandong, as well as Wenzhou, they served as labour in the rear echelons or helped build munitions depots, repair railways and roads, and unloaded ships at Allied ports. Some worked in armaments factories, others in naval shipyards, for a pittance of three to five francs a day. At the time they were seen just as cheap labour, not even allowed out of camp to fraternise locally, dismissed as mere coolies. When the war ended some were used for mine clearance, or to recover the bodies of soldiers and fill in miles of trenches.[5]

After the Armistice, the Chinese, each identified only by an impersonal reference number, were shipped home. Only about 2,000 to 3,000 stayed on, forming the nucleus of the later Chinese community in Paris. Most who survived returned to China in 1918.[6] However, some were trapped in France by the 30 June 1920 collapse of the Banque industrielle de Chine. An estimated ten thousand died in the war effort, victims of either shelling, landmines, poor treatment or the worldwide Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. Their remains still lie in 30 French graveyards, the largest at Noyelles-sur-Mer on the Somme, where some of the fiercest battles occurred.[7] The cemetery contains 842 gravestones each engraved with Chinese characters, guarded by two stone lions, gifts from China.[5][8]

After decades of neglect, the Chinese World War I labourers were ceremoniously recognized for their effort. An annual ceremony of tribute has taken place since 2002 at the cemetery at Noyelles-sur-Mer each April to coincide with the Chinese Festival of Qingming, attended by representatives of the French veterans' associations, the Chinese ambassador to France and members of Chinese associations in France. A 2004 documentary film, "Journey With no Return," (Voyage sans retour), was shown on French television.[9]

Post World War I[edit]

Chinatown, Paris

Of the 2,000 to 3,000 Chinese who remained in France after World War I, most became factory workers and settled around the Île-de-France region, especially in Boulogne-Billancourt. The presence of the larger and more established Vietnamese community in France had an effect in helping the Chinese settle down and jointly form the first significant Asian presence in France.[10] The first rooted Chinese community in Paris was based first around the Gare de Lyon in the east of the capital, then near the Arts et Métiers metro station in the 3rd arrondissement.[11]

Since 1919, the number of Chinese in France was slightly bolstered by an influx of students from both French Indochina and China, (including Zhou Enlai,[12] who would later become the Premier of the People's Republic of China and Deng Xiaoping,[12] later de facto leader of China), who would play a crucial leadership role in organising community institutions for the Chinese there.[13]

In the 1930s and 1940s, Chinese from Wenzhou settled in Paris (as well as in many other European cities such as Madrid, Frankfurt, Florence, Milan). They worked as leatherworkers near the Jewish neighborhood in the 3rd arrondissement and setting up sundries and mini-markets. Taking over the wholesale trade lost by the Jews during the German occupation of France during World War II, the Chinese community continues to exist today.[14]

Recent immigration[edit]

Vietnamese Chinese[edit]

Chinese and American cultural influences in Paris

After the Fall of Saigon in 1975, ethnic Chinese from Vietnam were heavily persecuted by the new communist government and faced expulsion from the newly reunified country.[15] This led to a wave of emigration to France, as Vietnamese Chinese joined other ethnic Vietnamese refugees from South Vietnam and largely resettled in Paris and the surrounding Île-de-France region. Ethnic Chinese from Laos and Cambodia, the other two former French Indochina colonies, also arrived in France after this period of conflict for similar reasons.

During the period, the high-rise neighbourhood in the southeast of Paris' 13th arrondissement, where the city's Quartier Asiatique (Asian Quarter) is located, saw significant population growth.[16] The area contains many Chinese inhabitants predominantly living in high-rise apartments, in addition to large Vietnamese and Laotian communities.[17] Similar to the ethnic Vietnamese population, Chinese refugees from Vietnam who migrated to France on average had a higher level of affluence and are better integrated into the host nation than their peers who migrated to North America or Australia.[16]

Other new immigrants[edit]

Since the 1980s, immigration has increased steadily, with the main source countries being mainland China, notably from Wenzhou, in addition to the countries of former French Indochina. More recently, Chinese immigration to France has shifted to migrants from the northeast of the mainland. In Paris, settlement is spread across both urban and suburban districts, notably the 13th arrondissement, and the Templetowns of Lognes, Torcy, Noisy-le-Grand. Lyon and Marseille also have significant Chinese communities.

Cultural profile[edit]

The Chinese community in France can be categorized into three different groups based on migrant history and dialects of Chinese spoken.[1]


Ethnic Chinese with origins from Wenzhou and the surrounding southern Zhejiang province form the largest and most established Chinese community in France, with a population of about 350,000 as of 2010.[1] The earliest Chinese migrants to France arrived in the late 19th century and consisted of Wenzhounese merchants who produced Chinese ceramics. During World War I, the vast majority of the 100,000 Chinese laborers recruited to work in France originated from the Wenzhou area, with a small number remaining in France after the conflict ended.[5] During the 1970s and 1980s, a large wave of Chinese from Wenzhou arrived in France, with a number brought over by family members already present in France.[1]

Chinese of French Indochina[edit]

Following the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, a large number of ethnic Chinese from the former French colonies in Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia) emigrated to France to escape the communist takeover of their countries and persecution by the new governments. The population of this community was about 150,000 as of 2010.[1] Their origins from former French colonies resulted in a strong background of French language and culture upon their arrival and their level of assimilation into French society has been largely quick and successful, being the most integrated Chinese community in France.[18] As in their former countries, ethnic Chinese from Indochina are heavily involved in commerce, especially among the generation of immigrants, and average income levels are above the national median.[19]

Teochew is the most spoken Chinese dialect among this community, with Cantonese also prevalent due to its status as a historical lingua franca among Chinese in Indochina.[20] Additionally, knowledge of Vietnamese is common among the generation of refugees, who largely originated from the former South Vietnam, while Lao and Khmer are conversant among the smaller number of refugees originating from Laos and Cambodia respectively.


Over the last decade, newer Chinese immigrants to France have largely originated from Northeast China (Dongbei). Their population as of 2010 was about 15,000. Women largely outnumber men among this Chinese community and often leave China for France in hopes of establishing new lives, largely due to dissatisfaction with life in their homeland. Education levels among the Dongbei vary from secondary level to having degrees in higher education, a rate higher than Wenzhounese immigrants and a little under par with those of Chinese from Indochina.[1] The community has only recently started to become established, with some members opening establishments and becoming economically independent. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of ethnic Chinese prostitutes in France have origins in Dongbei, and the group is still looked down upon by their other ethnic Chinese peers in France.[1] Mandarin is the Chinese dialect spoken among members of this community.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h [1] Overseas Compatriot Affairs Commission, R.O.C.
  2. ^ Lycée Fustel de Coulanges
  3. ^ "Li Shih-tseng," in Boorman, Howard L., et al., eds (1968). Biographical Dictionary of Republican China Volume II. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 319–321. .
  4. ^ Wang, Yiyou (2007). The Loouvre from China a Critical Study of C.T. Loo and the Framing of Chinese Art in the United States, 1915-1950. Doctoral Dissertation, Department of History, Ohio University. 
  5. ^ a b c d Picquart, Pierre (2004). The Chinese Empire (L'Empire chinois) (in French). Favre S.A. ISBN 978-2-8289-0793-8.  Picquart, a French China specialist, gives a description of the fate of the Chinese workers.
  6. ^ Condliffe, John Bell (1928). Problems of the Pacific: Proceedings of the Second Conference of the Institute of Pacific Relations Conference. United States: University of Chicago Press.  (page 410)
  7. ^ fr:wikipedia entry on Noyelles-sur-Mer
  8. ^ FRANCE, Noyelles-sur-Mer 1st War Chinese cemetery (images) [2] [3] [4] [5]
  9. ^ "The 140,000 Forgotten Chinese who helped win World War I". Agence France-Presse. 11 November 2004. Retrieved 2007-11-01. 
  10. ^ Live Yu-Sion, Chinois de France : un siècle de présence de 1900 à nos jours, Ed. Mémoire Collective, 1994
  11. ^ Roy, Anustup (7 September 2007). "Eviction rate of Chinese illegal immigrants in France on Rise". Network Europe. Retrieved 2007-11-01. 
  12. ^ a b Beardsley, Eleanor (7 September 2007). "Chinese in Montargis". Network Europe. Retrieved 2007-11-07. 
  13. ^ Levine, Marilyn Avra (1993). The Found Generation: Chinese Communists in Europe During the Twenties. United States: University of Washington Press.  (pages 116-120)
  14. ^ "Wenzhou: Chinese City Echoes Paris' Fashion". People's Daily. 25 December 2000. Retrieved 2007-11-01. 
  15. ^ Straits Times, 18 September 1978, p. 2
  16. ^ a b La Diaspora Vietnamienne en France (in French)
  17. ^ Smith, Craig S. Face behind Paris 'bistro' counter becomes Asian. International Herald Tribune, 10 May 2005.
  18. ^ Khanh (1993), p. 32
  19. ^ Marr, White (1988), p. 77-89
  20. ^ West (2010), pp. 289-90

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]