Chinese Brazilians

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Chinese Brazilians
Total population
c. 250,000[1]
Regions with significant populations
São Paulo City, Belo Horizonte, Curitiba and Rio de Janeiro
Portuguese, Cantonese, Mandarin and Macanese Patois
Related ethnic groups
Asian Brazilians, Asian Americans, Macanese people

Chinese Brazilians (Portuguese: Sino-brasileiro or Chinês-brasileiro; Chinese: 巴西华人 or 巴西华裔) are people of Chinese ancestry who were born in or have immigrated to Brazil. The Chinese Brazilian population was estimated to be approximately 250,000 in 2007.[1]

The first Chinese people came to Brazil in 1814, when Chinese tea planters were sent from Portugal to the Royal Botanical Garden in Rio de Janeiro.[2] Following calls for the abolition of slavery, more Afro-Brazilian slaves stopped working on plantations, so the Brazilian government was looking for a replacement for the labor force lost in the middle of the 19th century.[3] After considering immigrants such as the Europeans, the Brazilian government decided to hire Chinese laborers, as they were more willing to take the hard task than the Europeans did.[3] The Brazilian government started to import some Chinese laborers from Canton, California and other Latin American countries in the 1870s.[3] Continuing the commercial contract with the Chinese government, the Brazilian government imported more Chinese laborers to Brazil in the 1880 and 1881.[3] The earliest group of Chinese laborers started migration to Brazil, and solved the temporary labor loss in Brazil in the late 19th century.[3]

São Paulo now has the largest Chinese Brazilian population, in particular in the district of Liberdade. The majority of the Chinese immigrants settle in São Paulo, which 200,000 out of 300,000 Chinese Brazilians in total. Some Chinese immigrants work as merchants for international trade, and they work as lawyers, member of the parliament and the house of representatives and doctors. Chinese immigrants have integrated into the Brazilian society by building inter-cultural exchange in the communities.[4] Besides being an area famous for its strong Japanese presence, a significant number of Taiwanese immigrants out of 70,000 in total,[5] have settled in Liberdade, and many Chinese immigrants have come to Liberdade following the Communist revolution in 1949.[6][7] Many Cantonese from Hong Kong and Portuguese-speaking Macau, including some Macanese of mixed Chinese and Portuguese descent, have also settled in Brazil. These Macau immigrants can usually speak and understand Portuguese (its Creole, Macanese or Patuá, is also spoken), allowing them to adjust more easily to life in Brazil.[8] Today, the majority of Chinese Brazilians only speak Portuguese, although some may be bilingual, speaking Portuguese and Chinese.[4]


It is known that there were Chinese in Brazil as far back as the late 18th century; Rugendas painted a depiction of Chinese Tea planters in Rio de Janeiro during the period of the Portuguese Royal family in Brazil.[8] In 1814 John VI of Portugal brought 300 Chinese from Macau to work in the Botanical Garden of Rio de Janeiro.[8]

Chinese people started moving to Brazil in the late 19th century when Brazil called for abolishing slavery.[3] As a result, the number of Afro-Brazilians slaves decreased gradually, which created labor shortages.[3] To solve the problem, the Brazilians came up with a plan of having immigrants to the country to replace the slaves.[3] While considering having other European immigrants to replace the labor shortage, some Brazilians knew that the Europeans took longer time to adapt to Brazil before working, whereas the Chinese were able to easily adapt to the working conditions. Moreover, European immigrants were less willing to work in the field under harsh conditions (and receiving meager remuneration) while Chinese laborers were accustomed to the low pay, “lived with less comfort than all other peoples,” and “more temperate.”[3] Plantation jobs were a kind of low pay job, and hiring more Chinese with a very low wage could also cut down the cost of labor.[3] Many Brazilian planters and the Brazilian government believed that Chinese were “the only colonists capable of enduring the hardships and the thousand privations peculiar to [Brazilian] rural labor.”[3] Some Brazilians claimed that “only [Chinese] workers who could save Brazilian agriculture.”[3]

Therefore, the Brazilian government planned to import Chinese laborers, just like other tropical nations which had done the same since the 1840s.[3] However, as China had known that the Chinese laborers had received harsh labor treatments in countries like Cuba and Peru, China had prohibited all other forms of immigration but the voluntary ones, and allowed importation of laborers only to countries with commercial treaties.[3] Despite the barriers set by the Chinese government, Brazilian companies still managed to have 1,000 Chinese to work as tea planters in 1874.[3] In 1875, the Brazilian companies tried to bring in more Chinese workers to Brazil by recruiting those in the province of Guangdong (Canton) and California.[3] To legally import more Chinese laborers, the Brazilian government negotiated a commercial treaty with China, but China signed the commercial treaty with reluctance in Tianjin, China on September 5, 1880 with a revised contract on October 3, 1881.[3] With the low cost of transportation that is 35 milreis per passenger, which is less than 20 U.S dollars, the new Brazilian companies tried to seek more laborers from China by connecting with the director of the China Merchants Steam Navigation Company called Tong King Sing.[3] By building up a friendly trade relationship with the Tong, Brazil was able to import more Chinese laborers, however the workers were bound to a five-year contract.[3] Despite the immediate transportation of more Chinese laborers from China to Brazil, the Chinese government continued displaying a hesitant attitude in the 1890s. Hence, the Brazilian government looked to other alternative sources of Asian labor and the Japanese became the new target.[3]

Having Chinese immigrants work in coffee and tea plantations raised controversies in Brazil while the Brazilian government sought to solve the problem of labor shortage as a result of a call to end slavery.[3] Brazil was seeking modernity starting in the late 19th century, and their core value for progress was racial "whitening", while having an increased non-white population was thought to lead to a degeneration of society.[3] Some Brazilians were against Chinese immigration because of perceived cultural and racial inferiority to the Europeans, based on the Social Darwinism.[3] There was a theory about the ultimate disappearance of Chinese in the Brazilian society.[3] Some Brazilians were also afraid of Chinese domination in Brazil after immigration as Chinese would take over the places with exotic cultures, opium, pigtails and pagan religions.[3] Unlike the Indians and Africans who had been Christianized, many Chinese immigrants had difficulty integrating into society as they strongly held on to traditional Chinese beliefs.[3] Some Brazilians also feared that the Chinese would not leave Brazil once they had settled down, and would congregate in certain areas and create businesse monopolies, leading to competition with domestic workers. Amidst it all, there were still some Brazilians who were pro-Chinese immigration.[3] The Republican leader Quintino Bocayuva wrote pamphlets to defend the notion that having Chinese laborers would benefit Brazil in 1868.[8] It was advertised in the pamphlet A crise da lavoura, outlining reasons such as that the Chinese were skilled at agricultural work, and some negative aspects of Chinese would not hurt Brazil because they were passionate about gambling, emigrated alone, inward looking and would ultimately return to China after saving up enough.[8]

Some Chinese laborers were unhappy with their work, hence they fled to Rio de Janeiro.[8] Some Chinese laborers attained free status, and made a living through selling street foods and merchandise in the late 19th century.[4] In the middle of the 20th century, more Chinese who lived in the US and Africa started moving to Brazil as a result of wars and persecutions, while some Chinese who lived in Hong Kong and Taiwan also chose Brazil as their new settlement.[4] Another wave of immigration took place as well in the late 1970s when Chinese immigrants from the provinces Guangdong and Zhejiang, and from the cities of Shanghai and Beijing settled in Brazil.[4] Even though these new immigrants possessed different levels of literacy, some literate ones worked as merchants, lawyers, doctors and government officials.[4]

Chinese Brazilians who moved to Brazil in the early years struggled immensely, as they had borrowed money from relatives for subsidies in order to start small businesses. For example, some sold Cantonese snacks like Yau Gok (Gok ai).[6] While other Brazilians worked only eight hours a day, the Chinese immigrants worked for more than twelve hours a day.[6] With intelligence, persistence and diligence, Chinese Brazilians started to succeed in different forms of small and big businesses.[6] Some of the older generation with higher literacy were actively involved in the mainstream Brazilian community, as they worked as members of the house of representatives and parliament, lawyers and doctors.[6] For the past 25 years, more Chinese have been traveling to Brazil for international trade.[6]

20th and 21st Century Immigration[edit]

Life in São Paulo[edit]

There are currently a total of around 300,000 Chinese immigrants in Brazil. About 200,000 of them reside in São Paulo, São Paulo.[4]

Chinese merchants started to expand their business after immigration, but some negative influences hindered the growth.[7] For instance, in 2007, the Brazilian judicial system had settled down the largest shopping center and 50 stores in São Paulo, and arrested six merchants. Even though there were illegal operations and smuggling among the Chinese immigrants, it was not the majority.[7]

The Brazilian Dream[edit]

25 de Março street in São Paulo is a place with 2.5 km in length (approximately 1.55 miles) where the majority Chinese Brazilians mainly sell their merchandises to make a living.[7] There are more than 3,000 Chinese Brazilians run the stores out of 4,000 shops in total, and the expansion took place in less than 30 years. Working in 25 de Março street is not easy for the Chinese Brazilians as some of them started with no Portuguese language background, and they were struggling to communicate with other Brazilians except other Chinese. Some shop owners sought for business opportunities that they would not have back in homeland with children and parents left behind.[7] The 25 de Março street was not the safest area in São Paulo and some Chinese immigrants were robbed when they started business in Brazil.[7]

Recognition and Legacy[edit]

The Brazilian House of Representatives and the city of São Paulo Parliament passed the proposal of setting August 15 as "Chinese Immigrants Day."[6] From the mid-19th century, Chinese migrated to Brazil for tea and coffee plantation in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, which Brazil has become one of the earliest countries in the world with the knowledge of tea planting.[6] Chinese has been a group of immigrants in Brazil striving to integrate into the Brazilian society, promoting China and Brazil’s international trade, and intercultural communication.[6]

Dynamics, Social and Civic Engagement[edit]

As more Chinese migrated to Brazil and worked hard, Chinese immigrants has gained higher recognition in the Brazilian society while China is becoming one of the most powerful world economic power, which Brazil has established international trade with.[6] Under the fact that São Paulo is the most populated city in Brazil, the Chinese Brazilians in the community hosted cultural events like acupuncture demo, cheongsam, dragon dancing and Chinese art, which attracted different ethnic groups to watch and improved inter-cultural communications.[6] The Chinese Brazilians has gained high recognition and respect in the communities. This has occurred because the Chinese community donated money local to charities by doing this they are contributing to the community actively.[6] Despite the social recognition and China-Brazil diplomatic relationship, some robberies still take place. Chinese Brazilians in São Paulo collaborated with the local police to discuss solutions to the problems.[6]

Notable people[edit]

  • Ken Chang, a Brazilian actor of Chinese descent, popular TV series star in Taiwan and China.
  • Gui Lin, an Olympic Athlete in Table Tennis.
  • Felipe Almeida Wu, 2016 Olympic silver medalist in shooting - 10 m air pistol.
  • Shaoyu Li (李少玉), as a Cantonese descent, was elected as a member of parliament for São Paulo in 2010, which she was the first Chinese Brazilian woman in politics.[9] With the mission of promoting Chinese culture and serving Chinese overseas, Li has been assisting youth Chinese Brazilians finding their cultural heritage and having other political members and Chinese overseas to participate in cultural events.[4] With her involvement in Chinese culture promotion, acupuncture is now popular among Brazilians for chronic arthritis, martial arts has been a popular self-defense with large number of schools, and Peking Opera has widely used in performances which was performed by Brazilians.[4]
  • William Woo (威廉巫): a second generation Chinese Brazilian.[4] In 2000, he was successfully elected as a member of parliament for the city of São Paulo and continued through re-election in 2004. Wu was elected as a federal house of representative, which he was the first Chinese Brazilian in political position.[10]
  • Lucia Wu (吳映香), a Brazilian singer of Chinese descent, born and raised in São Paulo. She was moved to Beijing when she was eight years old. She was one of the participants in Produce 101 and concluded with No.22.


  1. ^ a b "'Estou orgulhoso com a minha raíz da China' --Leone Da Silveira Lee, primeiro e único general brasileiro com descendência chinesa" ['I am proud of my Chinese roots' --Leone Da Silveira Lee, the first and only Brazilian general of Chinese descent]. China Radio International online (in Portuguese). 22 May 2007. Retrieved 8 January 2017.
  2. ^ Lesser, Jeffrey (1999). Negotiating National Identity: Immigrants, Minorities and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil. Durham & London: Duke University Press. p. 16. ISBN 0-8223-2260-9.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa Conrad, Robert (1975). "The Planter Class and the Debate over Chinese Immigration to Brazil, 1850- 1893". International Migration Review. 9: 41. doi:10.2307/3002529.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j 凯迪网络. "中国人移民巴西简史 【猫眼看人】-凯迪社区". Retrieved 2018-03-28.
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m L_3139. "巴西设中国移民日 侨胞两百年辛苦打拼终获认可 - 华人新闻_海外华人新闻网 - 海外网". Retrieved 2018-03-28.
  7. ^ a b c d e f "原创 这些华人在南美打拼,风光背后满是辛酸". Retrieved 2018-03-28.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Lesser, Jeffrey (1999). Negotiating national identity : immigrants, minorities, and the struggle for ethnicity in Brazil. Durham, N.C: Duke University Press. pp. 17–21. ISBN 0-8223-2260-9.
  9. ^ "Candidate: Shaoyu Li".
  10. ^ "Brazilian Federal The House of Representatives".


External links[edit]