Chinese people in Germany
(Includes only People's Republic of China and Taiwan nationals)
|Regions with significant populations|
|Berlin, Frankfurt am Main, Munich, Hamburg|
|Numerous varieties of Chinese (predominantly Mandarin, Minnan, and Cantonese), German; English not widely spoken|
|Buddhism,  Christianity, Atheism.|
|Related ethnic groups|
Chinese people in Germany form one of the smaller and less-studied groups of overseas Chinese in Europe. In 2013, there were nearly 107,000 Chinese nationals living in Germany (101,030 of the People's Republic of China and 5,885 citizens of Taiwan). This number excludes those who have received German citizenship as well as ethnic Chinese from countries such as Singapore or Malaysia.
Therefore, scholars estimate that Germany is home to tens of thousands more ethnic Chinese with other citizenships. Between 2004 and 2007 alone, 4,213 PRC nationals naturalised as German citizens. At that time, the total number of all Ethnic Chinese in Germany was estimated to be at around 110,000, including those from countries with significant Chinese populations. This number is very likely to have risen since then.
19th century to World War I
Though not well known even to local Chinese communities which formed later, the earliest Chinese in Germany, Feng Yaxing and Feng Yaxue, both from Guangdong, first came to Berlin in 1822 by way of London. Cantonese-speaking seafarers, employed on German steamships as stokers, coal trimmers, and lubricators, began showing up in ports such as Hamburg and Bremen around 1870. Forty-three lived there by 1890. The labour unions and the Social Democratic Party strongly disapproved of their presence; their 1898 boycott of Chinese crews, motivated by racial concerns, resulted in the 30 October 1898 passage of a law by the Reichstag stating that Chinese could not be employed on shipping routes to Australia, and could be employed on routes to China and Japan only in positions that whites would not take because they were detrimental to health. Mass layoffs of Chinese seafarers resulted. Aside from seafarers, students formed the other major group of Chinese living in Germany at the turn of the century. In 1904, at the time of Sun Yat-sen's visit to Germany and other Western European countries, more than twenty joined the anti-Qing Chinese United League he organised in Berlin. There were also groups of travelling entertainers from Shandong, with a smaller proportion from Zhejiang, who came to Germany overland, travelling through Russia and Poland to reach Berlin.
Weimar and Nazi periods
Chinese formed the fourth largest group of foreign students in Germany by the mid-1920s. Many became involved with radical politics, especially in Berlin; they joined the Communist Party of Germany, and were responsible for setting up its Chinese-language section, the Zirkel für chinesische Sprache. Chinese communists such as Zhu De and Liao Chengzhi remained active in the late 1920s and early 1930s; Liao succeeded in organising a strike among Chinese sailors in Hamburg to prevent the shipment of armaments to China.
The Nazis, who came to power in 1933, did not classify as racially inferior the Chinese or Japanese, but because so much of the Chinese community had ties to leftist movements, they fell under increased official scrutiny regardless, and many left the country, either heading to Spain to fight in the Civil War that was raging there, or returning to China. As late as 1935, the Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission's statistics showed 1,800 Chinese still living in Germany; more than one thousand of these were students in Berlin, while another few hundred were seafarers based in Hamburg. However, this number shrank to 1,138 by 1939. In 1942, the 323 who still lived in Berlin were all arrested and sent to the Langer Morgen work camp. By the end of World War II, every Chinese restaurant in Hamburg had closed.
Division and reunification of Germany
After the war, the Chinese government sent officials to organise repatriation for the few hundred Chinese who remained in Germany. Of the 148 from Hamburg, only one, a survivor of Langer Morgen, declined repatriation; he opened the Peace Restaurant, Hamburg's first post-war Chinese restaurant. However, those who departed were soon replaced by new immigrants. In 1947, there were 180 Chinese in Berlin's western sector, and another 67 in the eastern sector; a year later, those numbers had grown to 275 and 72, respectively. With the establishment of the People's Republic of China and its subsequent recognition by East Germany, many traders moved to East Berlin, expecting that there they would be better protected their by their homeland's new government. West Germany did not formally recognise the Republic of China on Taiwan (ROC) and did not establish relations with the People's Republic of China PRC until 1972.
Migration of ethnic Chinese to West Germany in the 1960s and 1970s was drawn primarily from the communities of British Chinese and Chinese in the Netherlands. Other re-migrants came from Italy, Portugal, and Spain. German authorities generally preferred not to issue residence permits to PRC nationals. Regardless, numbers of PRC and ROC nationals in Germany continued to increase, with 477 from the former and 1,916 from the later by 1967. In addition to individual migrants, both the PRC and the ROC provided workers with specific skills to Germany under bilateral agreements. The ROC sent a total of 300 nurses in the 1960s and 1970s. In the case of the PRC, the agreement signed in 1986 for China to provide 90,000 industrial trainees to East Germany was barely implemented by the time the Berlin Wall fell; out of the 90,000 whom the Chinese agreed to send, barely 1,000 went, and all but 40 had gone back home by December 1990. Immigration from the PRC to West Germany was much larger than that to East Germany; in 1983, the number of PRC nationals living there surpassed the number of ROC nationals, and by 1985 had grown to 6,178, versus only 3,993 ROC nationals. By just eight years later, their numbers had more than quintupled; 31,451 PRC nationals lived in Germany, as opposed to only 5,626 ROC nationals. There were also tens of thousands of ethnic Chinese not included in either of the above categories, primarily Vietnamese people of Chinese descent and Hong Kong residents with British National (Overseas) passports.
Food service has remained a dominant means of making a livelihood in the Chinese community. For example, in Tilburg, the restaurant industry employs roughly 60% of the Chinese population. Even students in Germany who earned doctorates in the sciences have ended up starting restaurants or catering services, rather than engaging in any work related to their studies.
In Berlin, many Chinese restaurants can be found in Walther Schreiber Platz, as well as along Albrechtstrasse and Grunewaldstrasse. The travel agency business is another one in which intra-ethnic networks have proven valuable; Chinese travel agencies in Germany sell primarily to other Chinese making return trips to their country of origin. Estimates of the number of Chinese travel agencies in Germany range between thirty-five and a few hundred. In contrast, marine-based industries no longer employ a very large proportion of the Chinese community; by 1986, Chinese formed no more than 2%, or 110 individuals, of the foreign workforce on German vessels.
Students also continue to form a large portion of Germany's Chinese population. In comments to German chancellor Helmut Kohl in 1987, Deng Xiaoping stressed his desire to diversify the destinations of Chinese students going overseas, aiming to send a larger proportion to Europe and a smaller proportion to the United States. By 2000, Chinese formed the largest group of foreign students in German universities, with 10,000 in 2002 and 27,000 in 2007. Schools aimed at the children of Germany's Chinese residents have been set up as well; as early as 1998, there were two Chinese schools in Berlin, one run by the city government, and the other privately established by a group of parents. Stuttgart boasts one such school as well; however, Chinese graduate students who intend to return to China after graduation typically choose instead to home-school their children in accordance with China's national curriculum, to aid their re-integration into the public school system.
Second generation Chinese students were more likely to attend a Gymnasium (college preparatory school) than their ethnic German counterparts.
After 1989, the number of illegal mainland Chinese immigrants who arrived in Germany by way of Eastern Europe began to increase, only to decrease in the mid-1990s; on average, authorities caught 370 each year in the late 1990s, though they believe the actual extent of illegal migration to be much larger. Many illegal migrants work in restaurants, whose managers sponsor their migration costs and require them to pay them back. Such costs usually amount between to RMB 60,000 and 120,000, paid to snakeheads (Chinese people smugglers). Due to network effects, illegal Chinese migrants to Germany largely come from the vicinity of Qingtian, Zhejiang; they are mostly men between twenty and forty years old. Migrants may come as tourists and then overstay (either by applying for a tourist visa on their genuine PRC passport, or obtaining a forged passport from a country with a large Asian population whose nationals are granted visa-free travel to Germany), or they may be smuggled across the Czech-German border.
Community relations and divisions
Germans generally perceive the Chinese as a monolithic group, owners of grocery stores, snack bars, and Chinese restaurants, and sometimes as criminals and triad members. In actuality, the community is wracked by internal divisions, largely of political allegiances; pro-Taiwan (Republic of China) vs. pro-Mainland (People's Republic of China), supporters vs. opposers of the Chinese democracy movement, etc. One rare example of the various strands of the community coming together in support of a common cause arose in April 1995, when Berlin daily Bild-Zeitung published a huge feature item alleging that Chinese restaurants in the city served dog meat; the story appears to have been sparked by an off-color quip by a German official during a press conference about a pot of mystery meat he had seen boiling in a Chinese restaurant kitchen. Chinese caterers and restaurants suffered huge declines in business, as well as personal vilification by their German neighbours. The protests which the various Chinese associations organised in response carefully sidestepped the issue of German racism towards the Chinese, instead focusing mainly on the newspaper itself and the fact that it had published false statements which harmed people's businesses and livelihoods, in an effort to avoid alienating the mainstream community. They eventually achieved what one scholar described as a "meagre victory": a retraction by Bild-Zeitung. However, the success of the protests laid some foundation for further professional cooperation among Chinese restaurateurs.
Germany also boasts a small number of Uyghurs, a Turkic-speaking ethnic minority of China who live in the Xinjiang region in northwest China; they form one of the few obvious communities of Chinese national minorities in Europe. Though they are Chinese citizens or formerly held Chinese citizenship, their ethnic and political identity is defined largely by opposition to China, and for the most part they do not consider themselves part of the Chinese community. The initial Uyghur migrants to Germany came by way of Turkey, where they had settled after going into exile with the hope of one day achieving independence from China; they remigrated to Munich as a small part, numbering perhaps fifty individuals, out of the millions of gastarbeiter who came from Turkey to Germany beginning in the 1960s. Most worked in semi-skilled trades, with some privileged ones of a political bent achieving positions in the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Their numbers were later bolstered by post-Cold War migration directly from Xinjiang to Germany, also centred on Munich.
In 2005, figures from Germany's Federal Statistical Office showed 71,639 People's Republic of China nationals living in Germany, making them the second-largest group of immigrants from East Asia in the country.In 2005, only 3,142 Chinese, or 4.3%, were born in Germany, far below the average of 20% for all non-citizens.
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