Chinese school children with lanterns, Penang, 1937.
23.4% of the Malaysian population (2016)
|Regions with significant populations|
Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Johor, Perak, Selangor, Sarawak
Singapore (338,501 in 2010)
|Malay, Mandarin, English, Hokkien, Cantonese, Taishanese, Foochow, Hakka, Hainanese, Teochew, and Hinghua; Manglish (creole)|
|Predominantly Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism (Chinese folk religion), significant Christianity, minorities Islam and Hinduism |
|Related ethnic groups|
|Singaporean Chinese, Peranakan, Overseas Chinese|
|Alternative Chinese name|
The Malaysian Chinese consist of people of full or partial Chinese—particularly Han Chinese ancestry who were born in or immigrated to Malaysia. The great majority of this group of people are descendants of those who arrived between the early 19th century and the mid-20th century. The Malaysian Chinese population is primarily urban; socioeconomically they are mainly a well-established middle-class ethnic group and traditionally dominate the business and commerce sectors of the Malaysian economy.
Malaysian Chinese form the second largest community of Overseas Chinese in the world, after Thailand. Within Malaysia, they represent the second largest ethnic group in Malaysia after the ethnic Malay majority. They are usually simply referred to as "Chinese" in Malaysia, Orang Cina in Malay, Sina-karan in Tamil and Huaren (Chinese people) or Huaqiao (Overseas Chinese) by Chinese themselves. Most of the Chinese in Malaysia are of Min (e.g. Hokkien), Yue (Cantonese) and Hakka-speaking ancestry, and different towns and cities in Malaysia may be dominated by different Chinese dialects among Chinese speakers, for example Cantonese in Kuala Lumpur, and Hokkien in Penang; Mandarin however is now also widely used. Culturally, most Malaysian Chinese have maintained their Chinese heritage including their various dialects, although the descendants of the earliest Chinese migrants who arrived from the 15th to 17th century have assimilated aspects of the Malay culture and they form a distinct subethnic group known as the Peranakan or Baba-Nyonya.
The Chinese population in Malaysia has been consistently declining percentage-wise since the Malayan independence, from 37.6% in 1957 to 24.6% in 2010, and 21.4% in 2015. The reason for the decline may be due to a lower birthrate, as well as a high level of emigration in recent decades. According to a report by the World Bank, the Malaysian diaspora around the world in 2010 numbered at around a million with most of them ethnic Chinese, and the main reasons for emigrating are better economic and career prospects abroad as well as a sense of social injustice within Malaysia. The large number of emigrants, many of whom are young and highly educated, resulted in a significant problem of "brain drain" in Malaysia.
- 1 History
- 2 Ancestral origin
- 3 Demographics
- 4 Predominant languages by region
- 5 Education system and languages literacy
- 6 Culture
- 6.1 Name format
- 6.2 Food
- 6.3 Religion
- 6.4 Places of worship
- 6.5 Clan Associations
- 7 Malaysian Chinese festivals
- 7.1 Chinese New Year celebration
- 7.2 Duan Wu festival
- 7.3 Mid-Autumn festival
- 7.4 Qing Ming
- 7.5 Wesak day
- 7.6 Hungry ghost festival
- 7.7 Nine emperor gods festival
- 8 Socioeconomics
- 9 Relationship with other Chinese
- 10 Politics
- 11 Notable Malaysian Chinese
- 12 See also
- 13 References
The first wave of Han Chinese settlers came during the Malacca Empire in the early 15th century. The friendly diplomatic relations between China and Malacca culminated during the reign of Sultan Mansur Syah, who married the Chinese princess Hang Li Po. A senior minister of state and five hundred youths and maids of noble birth accompanied the princess to Malacca.
The descendants of this wave, many of whom are of Hokkien ancestry, adapted to the customs of local Malays while retaining parts of their ancestral culture. They are called Peranakan, or Baba for their menfolk and Nyonya for the females. They speak a creole termed Baba Malay which is a colloquial form of Malay mixed with Hokkien words.
Chinese immigrants, mainly from the controlled ports of Fujian and Guangdong provinces, were attracted by the prospect of work in the tin mines and rubber plantations as well as the possibility of opening up new farmlands at the beginning of the 19th century until the 1930s in British Malaya.
Chinese immigration to British Malaya and Straits Settlements was encouraged by the British and the Malay sultans to work in the mines and plantations. This group was responsible for establishing the many Chinese-medium schools in Malaya and are mostly Chinese-educated. Some such as Koh Lay Huan escaped from China due to rebellious activities against the Qing dynasty. Some Nationalist refugees also fled to Singapore, Sarawak, North Borneo and Malaya after the Nationalists Kuomintang lost the civil war to avoid persecution or execution by the Communist party of China.
This period of immigration however effectively ceased by the 1940s, and by 1947, most of the Chinese in peninsular Malaya were born locally.
Some national sports coaches such as badminton coach Han Jiang could only obtain permanent residency after repeated rejections of their citizenship applications. However, diving coach Huang Qiang managed to obtain his Malaysian citizenship.
According to department of statistics Malaysia July 2003, the composition of each dialect are as follows.
|Other||Wu and Mandarin||0.203|
The largest dialect group are the Min Nan people with a total of about 2.748 million.
The Min Nan dialect group consists of the following subgroups.
The second wave of Hoklo Chinese settled in Malaya from the 19th century onwards and dominated the rubber plantation and financial sectors of the Malayan economy and formed the largest language group in many states.
The Zhangzhou Hokkien migrated to the northern part of the peninsula including Penang, Perlis, Perak, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu whereas the Quanzhou Hokkien migrated to the southern part of the peninsula, including Selangor (Klang), Malacca and Johor. The Quanzhou Hokkien also migrated to larger towns in Sarawak such as Kuching and Sibu.
Teochew immigrants (潮州人) from the Chaoshan region of Guangdong in China began to settle in Malaya in large numbers from the 18th century onwards, mainly in Province Wellesley part of Penang state as well as in a part of Kedah state, mostly found in the Kuala Muda district. These immigrants were chiefly responsible for setting up gambier and pepper plantations in Malaya. More Teochew immigrated to Johor at the encouragement of Temenggong Ibrahim in the 19th century, and many new towns were established and populated by plantation workers from the Chaoshan region. The Teochew constitute a substantial percentage within the Chinese communities in Johor Bahru and principal towns along the coasts of Western Johor (notably Pontian, Muar, and – to a lesser extent – Batu Pahat) as well as selected hinterland towns in the central regions of the state. Many of them are the descendants of plantation workers who came to set up gambier and pepper plantations, following the administrative pattern of their countrymen in Johor. Smaller communities of Teochew can also be found in other states, notably in Sabak Bernam district of Selangor which they reside in the towns of Sabak and Sungai Besar, where many Teochew settled down as rice agriculturalists, as well as in the hinterlands of Malacca.
Chinese immigrants from Hainan (海南人) began to migrate to Malaya and North Borneo from the 19th century onwards, albeit in much smaller numbers than the aforementioned speech groups. The Hainanese were employed as cooks by wealthy Straits Chinese families, while others were engaged in food catering business or the fishery business and formed the largest language group in Kemaman district of Terengganu and Pulau Ketam (Selangor) as well as sizeable communities in Penang and Johor Bahru. Smaller communities of Hainanese are also found in Sarawak and Sabah, where they work as coffee shop owners and are mainly found in large towns and cities.
Pu-Xian (Heng Hua)
The Henghua (莆仙人), part of the Hokkien people, came from Putian. Their numbers were much smaller than the other Min Chinese from Fujian and they were mostly involved in the bicycle, motorcycle, and automobile spare parts industries.
The Fuzhou (福州人) or Min Dong (閩東人) settlers from Fuzhou (Hokchiu) and Fuqing (Hokchia) also came in sizeable numbers during the 19th century and have left a major impact on the corporate industry in the 20th century.
The Min Dongs form the largest language group in Sarawak – specifically in areas around the Rajang River as well as the northern and central part of the state, namely the towns of Sibu, Miri and Bintulu. They also settled in large numbers in a few towns in Peninsular Malaysia, notably Sitiawan in Perak, Yong Peng in Johor and Sepang, Selangor.
The second largest group are the Yue Chinese comprising around 1.119 million.
The Yue dialect group consists of the following subgroups:
The Cantonese people (廣東人) came from the area around Guangzhou as well as other towns or prefectures in Guangdong province such as Jiangmen, Yunfu, Zhaoqing, Foshan, Zhuhai, Shenzhen, Yangjiang, Qingyuan, Zhanjiang, Dongguan, Maoming and Zhongshan. They settled down in Kuala Lumpur and its surrounding major satellite towns of Petaling Jaya, Shah Alam and Subang Jaya (part of the Klang Valley) as well as the town of Sekinchan located in the Sabak Bernam district in the northern part of Selangor state and these subgroup are also found in Ipoh, Gopeng and Kampar (part of the Kinta Valley) as well as other towns such as Bidor and Tapah in the Batang Padang district of the southern part of Perak state, as well as in Pahang state where they are mostly concentrated in Bentong, Mentakab, Kuantan, Raub and Cameron Highlands districts, as well as in Negeri Sembilan state, where they are mostly found in the state capital of Seremban (Old name is Sungai Ujong) and most of Negeri Sembilan state (except Tampin, Jelebu and Mantin), Sarikei, Sarawak and Sandakan, Sabah. They started development and turned these early settlements into principal towns. Most of the early Cantonese worked as tin miners.
The third largest group are the Hakka comprising around 1.092 million.
Descendants of these miners formed the largest community among the Chinese in Selangor and very large communities in Perak (specifically Taiping and Ipoh), Sarawak, Sabah and Negeri Sembilan (mostly found in Tampin and Jelebu districts with a second-largest populace in Kuala Pilah district due to the Cantonese sub-ethnic and linguistic dominance just like the other parts of the state as well as Mantin town, the outer part of the state capital Seremban). As the gold and tin mining industries declined in economic importance in the 20th century, many turned to the rubber industry, and large numbers of Hakka settled in other states in the peninsular such as Penang, Malacca and Johor (principally in the town of Kulai, the outer rural part of the greater Johor Bahru area and also in Kluang).
In Negeri Sembilan, Sarawak and Johor states, most of its local Chinese populace of Hakka origin hail their ancestry from Jieyang prefecture, while another large portion of Sabah's Hakka population trace their ancestry to Heyuan prefecture of Guangdong (Longchuan County).
The Hakkas in the Kinta Valley region of Perak state and those in Malacca state came mainly from Meizhou prefecture, while those in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor (Greater Kuala Lumpur/Klang Valley region) are mainly of Huizhou origin. The Hakkas of Sabah are mainly from Xin'an / Bao'an County in today's Dongguan and Shenzhen prefectures of Guangdong province.
The second smallest group of people who came during the second wave are the Wu people from Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Shanghai. They were mostly involved in Chinese education, tailoring and construction.
The smallest group of people are the Northern Chinese who speak various Mandarin dialects. In Sabah, there is a small community of Chinese whose ancestors migrated from Hebei and Shandong, but referred to themselves as Tianjin people.
Together with Wu people, these two groups are referred to as San Jiang people in Malaysia. San Jiang means the three northernmost rivers of China i.e. Yangtze River, Yellow River and Amur River. They established the San Kiang Association.
An early census of ethnic groups in the British Malay states, conducted by the British in 1835, showed that ethnic Chinese constituted 8 percent of the population and were mainly found in the Straits Settlements, while the Malays and Indians made up 88 percent and 4 percent of the population respectively.
Malaya's population quickly increased during the 19th and 20th centuries, although the majority of Chinese immigrants were males rather than females. By 1921, Malaya's population had swollen to nearly three million, and the Chinese constituted just under 30 percent while the Malays constituted 54.7%, the population growth being fuelled by immigrants from neighbouring Indonesia (the Indians made up most of the remainder). While the Chinese population was largely transient, and many coolies returned to China on a frequent basis, 29 percent of the Chinese population were local-born, most of whom were the offspring of first-generation Chinese immigrants.
The British government began to impose restrictions on migration during the 1930s, but the difference between the number of Chinese and Malays continued to decrease even after World War II. The 1947 census indicated that the Malays constituted 49.5% of the population, compared to the Chinese at 38.4%, out of a total population of 4.9 million. According to Lete, the population of Chinese were 38% out of total Malayan population of 6.3 million in 1957. The Malaysian Chinese population however have declined percentage-wise from the mid-20th century, down to 24.6% in the 2010 census, or around 6.4 million out of a total Malaysian population of 28.3 million. This decline due to a higher birthrate among Malays and some degree of out-migration by the Chinese.
The Chinese population is primarily urban, the 2010 census shows that around 90% of Malaysian Chinese live in the urban area.
The percentage of Malaysians Chinese in Malaysia has continued to fall. Department of Statistics in Malaysia estimated that the Chinese population in Malaysia would drop to 20 per cent by 2040 from 24.5 per cent in 2010. In contrast, the bumiputera population - Malays, Orang Asli and the ethnic tribes of Sabah and Sarawak - is expected to grow from 67.3 to 72.1 per cent between 2010 and 2040. Researcher Voon Phin Keong explains that low birth rate of ethnic Chinese and increasing populations of other ethnicities are two main factors to decline of Chinese populations. His further study added that immigrants from other countries is also one of the reasons. A survey in 2017 indicated that over half of the Malaysian Chinese who had completed secondary or tertiary education wanted to emigrate.
By state & territory
The following population statistics on Chinese citizens in Malaysia come from the 2010 Population and Demography Census Report as well the 2015 estimates. Percentages are calculated out of total population in the territories including non-citizens.
|Negeri Sembilan (森美兰)||223,271||21.9%||234,300||21.3%|
|Kuala Lumpur (吉隆坡)||655,413||39.1%||684,100||38.7%|
Note: 2015 Population estimates are rounded to the nearest hundred.
States with large Chinese population
As of 2012[update], the majority of Chinese people are concentrated in the west coast states of west Malaysia with significant number of Chinese (more than half a million in each state) such as Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Johor, Perak, Selangor, Sarawak. Some percentages may be calculated excluding non-citizens, unlike the figures in the table above. Figures from earlier dates however make no such distinction.
- Subang Jaya/USJ, Puchong, Petaling Jaya, Damansara Jaya/Utama, Bandar Utama, Serdang, Klang, Kuala Kubu Bharu.
|2011||5.46 Million||1.45 Million||29 %|
Predominant languages by region
Various lingua francas have developed in order to facilitate communication among the Chinese of different ancestral origins in the same region. The lingua franca is usually determined by the predominant ethnic Chinese group in that region and also the prestige of that particular Chinese dialect.
Malaysian Chinese are often able to speak the regional prestige dialect beside their ancestral dialect. The regional prestige dialect for each region are:
The Chinese population in the central region of Peninsular Malaysia, including Klang Valley (Ampang Jaya, Kuala Lumpur, Selayang, Bangi, Gombak, Petaling Jaya, Sungai Buloh, Kajang, Seri Kembangan, Puchong, Shah Alam and Subang Jaya) as well as Sekinchan in the Sabak Bernam district of northern Selangor state, Seremban (and most of Negeri Sembilan state except the district of Jelebu and the town of Mantin which is a suburb part of the state capital Seremban), Perak (Ipoh, Gopeng, Kampar, Tapah, Bidor) & Pahang (Kuantan, Mentakab, Cameron Highlands, Bentong and Raub) are predominantly Cantonese speakers.
Due to the cultural influence of Hong Kong such as pop music and movies, a number of Chinese Malaysians of non native Cantonese speakers are also able to communicate in Cantonese, but vary in fluency.
Education system and languages literacy
Most Malaysian Chinese are multilingual in at least one Chinese dialect, English and Bahasa Malaysia. However, the level of proficiency in each language is different and depends on which education stream and education level they have received.
Malaysian Chinese can be categorised to be educated in three different streams of education: English-, Chinese- and Malay-education.
During the British colonial period (before 1957) and for years after independence (1957-1969), English schools originally established by the British colonial government were regarded as more prestigious than the different vernacular schools. As a result, a significant number of older Malaysian Chinese who attended school before the 1970s are English-educated.
All classes, including maths, science, geography and history were conducted in the English medium of instruction. Most Malaysian Chinese of older generations are English-educated and have the highest English language proficiency of all three groups. However, they can't read Chinese characters but are normally capable of speaking their inherited Chinese dialect proficiently. Most of them can't write or speak Malay as proficiently as the Malay-educated.
Beginning in the 1970s, English-medium teaching were gradually replaced with Malay-medium teaching in English national-type schools, which became Malay-medium national schools. Since then, most parents send their children to Chinese primary schools.
However, there have been two main options for Malaysian Chinese to get a complete English primary and secondary education after the year 1970. Some send their children to private English international schools in Malaysia which teach a syllabus to sit for the IGCSE exam, while others send their children to Singapore where all the courses are conducted in English except for mother tongue language.
Chinese-educated Malaysians are those who attended Chinese schools for at least the primary school level who can at least read and write Chinese simplified characters. In Chinese schools, Mandarin Chinese is a compulsory subject for all students with Chinese primary school background. This group has the highest Chinese language proficiency of all three groups.
Due to many lexical and grammatical similarities between Mandarin and Chinese dialects, some of them might also be proficient in their own ancestral Chinese dialect and/or Chinese lingua franca in the region they grew up in.
The older generation were completely educated in traditional Chinese characters, that is, they can read and write traditional Chinese characters, because the simplified characters were only introduced in the 1980s. The older generation Chinese educated might not be well versed in simplified Chinese characters.
Gaining access to education has always been a concern for Chinese in Malaysia. The Chinese community initiated the "Chinese education movement" as a form of protest, resulting in the Razak Report in 1956. In the report, Chinese primary schools are recognized and merged into national education system, while Chinese secondary schools are excluded, followed by Malay becoming the only officially recognized language by legislation in September 1967. Currently the restriction for Chinese secondary schools has been diminishing, with some secondary schools gaining government grants and entering the national education system. Chinese schools in Malaysia fall into two classifications: private school and public school. According to the Education Ministry public schools, such as national-type Chinese primary schools (SJKC) or national-type secondary schools (SMJK), receive either full or partial financial assistance from the government, while private schools and Chinese independent high schools cannot obtain government-aided funds. This requires private schools to maintain its operation from school fees and donations
In 2003 to 2011, the Malaysian government introduced an experimental policy of using English as the language of instruction for science and mathematics at primary and secondary schools. A compromise was reached that Chinese primary schools would teach science and mathematics in both Chinese and English. In July 2009, the education minister announced that the medium of instruction for science and mathematics would revert to the original languages of instruction starting from 2012.
Those who attend Malay-language national schools are Malay-educated and have the highest proficiency in the Malay language of all three groups after 11 years of Malay language education. Those who attend Malay national schools speak very little Mandarin Chinese though most are able to converse in other varieties of Chinese such as Hokkien and Cantonese at the elementary level and not proficiently.
All courses are conducted in Malay except for the English language. Those who started their standard one education in government schools after the year 1970 have poorer command of English proficiency on average due to the lower standard of English as compared to the British colonial period. The English proficiency level of the Malay-educated and Chinese-educated Chinese is generally lower and they typically speak a form of English-based creole called Manglish. English is also not a compulsory subject to pass for the secondary school public exam Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia.
Less than 5% of the Malaysian Chinese stayed in Chinese-medium schools for their secondary education. The reason is that Malay-medium secondary schools are free while Chinese independent high schools are not. There are 61 Chinese private independent schools and 78 SMJK (C) Chinese secondary schools in Malaysia as at year 2012. The Chinese national-type schools include Chung Ling High School, Jit Sin High School, Heng Ee High School and Catholic High School, Malaysia or the Chinese independent high schools like Foon Yew High School and Sabah Tshung Tsin Secondary School, where all (if not 90%) of the students are Chinese after attending the Chinese primary schools.
The switch from Mandarin-medium primary school to Malay-medium secondary school for the majority of Malaysian Chinese has resulted in many school drop-outs as students are unable to cope with the differences in the medium of instruction. The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) pointed out an estimated 25% of Chinese students drop out before reaching the age of 18; the annual drop-out rate is estimated to be over 100,000 and worsening. Certain drop-outs become apprentices in workshops, picking up skills like plumbing or motor repair. Others eager to make a quick buck find themselves involved in illicit trades, such as peddling unlicensed DVDs or collecting debts for loan sharks.
However, in October 2011, Deputy Education Minister Wee Ka Siong indicated that the 25% drop-out rate may not be accurate as many Chinese students choose to pursue their studies at private schools (including Chinese independent high schools) or overseas such as in Singapore, while the Malaysian government only collates student data from the national school system, giving a false impression of a high drop-out rate.
At the tertiary level, most bachelor's degree courses offered at public universities are taught in the national language, that is, Malay, while post-graduate studies are usually conducted in English.
English is used as the primary medium of instruction at most private higher educational institutions. Many Malaysian Chinese also do twinning programs with overseas universities in UK, USA, Australia and Canada where all the courses are conducted in English.
For those who chose to have their tertiary education in Chinese, there are three private Chinese colleges as at year 2012. There are those who do their Chinese tertiary education in Taiwan or China. But a great majority of Chinese Malaysians (Malaysian nationals with Chinese ancestry) who chose to study in Taiwan are students who are not proficient in the English or Malay language and that is the main reason they wish to study in Mandarin-speaking countries.
However, there are no statistics conducted to determine what percentage goes to which of these three different medium of instructions for their tertiary education.
Before Mandarin gained popularity among Malaysian Chinese in the late 20th century, Malaysian Chinese romanised their names according to their respective Chinese varieties. For example, the Hakka name 叶亚来 would be written "Yap Ah Loy", and the Hokkien name 林梧桐 would be written as "Lim Goh Tong".
In line with the rise of Mandarin as a lingua franca among Malaysian Chinese in the later half of the 20th century, younger Malaysian Chinese tend to retain the pronunciation of their surname in their mother tongue while using the Mandarin pronunciation for their given name.
Still more recently, the given name will be written in the official pinyin romanisation, although often retaining the Malaysian Chinese tendency to treat each character as a separate word. Chan Yung Choong might start writing his name as Chan Yong Cong.
Some people do not adhere strictly to particular pronunciations and choose to modify the spelling. For example, a Mandarin pronunciation of a name can be "Chen", but some people like to spell it differently. Others also have surnames misspelt since colonial times.
Non-Muslims who marry a Muslim in Malaysia must convert to Islam. Such converts normally adopt a Muslim name to use in addition to their original name. These are not usually the long Arabic names but just a shorter one – e.g., Abdullah Tan Yew Leong.
Malaysian Chinese food shows similarities as well as differences with food in other Chinese communities in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Many Malaysian Chinese dished shows local influences from Malay and Indian cuisines, which are often spicy. Malaysian Chinese are open to exploring new food, including Indian, Malay, Japanese, Korean, Western cuisines and others. Some Malaysia Chinese are vegetarians, often because of their Buddhist belief, but sometimes also because of health concerns.
Traditional Chinese cuisine
Malaysian Chinese food is similar to the food in Southern China as it is primarily derived from the Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka and Teochew cuisines. This includes Wonton noodles, Dim Sum, and Taufu Fa which can be found in southern China.
Localised Chinese cuisine
A number of traditional Chinese dishes have been developed, either by the use of local ingredients or through fresh invention, into local speciality, typically without the use of Malay spices.
- Hainanese chicken rice is a dish developed from Wenchang chicken of Hainan.
- Penang char kway teow was invented in Penang, and is the most popular version with cockles, beansprout and chives. This localised dish is quite different from the one in China.
- Penang Hokkien mee is a variant of the dish which consists of a prawn-based broth. The dish is common around Penang to the north and distinctly different from the other variants of Hokkien mee across the Peninsula.
- Klang Valley Hokkien mee (dry dark thick noodles) and Loh Mee (滷面) (thick noodles in clear gravy), was reputedly created by the owner of a stall named Kim Lien Kee (金連記) in Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur.
- During Chinese New Year, Malaysian Chinese will also eat Yu Sang which is unique to Singapore and Malaysia. The origin of this dish is still under debate; it was reportedly created in Singapore in 1964, then a part of the Federation of Malaysia.
- Bak Kut Teh, is believed to have been invented in Klang according to some of the claims of the origin of the dish.
- Ampang Yong Tau Foo was invented by a restaurant named Chew Kuan (兆群) in Ampang. This dish is different from China's Hakka Yong Tau Foo as it includes stuffing fish paste into a multitude of fresh vegetables besides tofu and all served on a hot and brown gravy.
Chinese Buddhism and Chinese religion
The largest group and majority of Chinese Malaysians identify themselves as Buddhists, Chinese folk religious, Confucians and Taoists. Chinese Buddhism was brought over from China and has been traditionally embraced by Chinese and handed down over the generations in Malaysia. It often includes Chinese folk religions, although official statistics separate them into different categories.
The third group professes Islam, primarily as a result of conversion through marriage to Muslims. If a person of sole Chinese descent convert to Islam, they are still considered ethnic Chinese and tended to retain much of their culture. Contrary to popular belief, they do not become ethnic Malay after converting to Islam. The belief has arisen because the Federal Constitution of Malaysia defines a "Malay" as someone who speaks the Malay language, follows the Malay culture, and is a Muslim. Therefore, by converting they fulfilled one of the criteria of being Malay, even though they are not considered bumiputra by the government.
There are a number of Chinese Malaysians who were born Muslims, meaning born to Muslim family of Chinese blood and whose ancestors are Muslims by faith.
The number of Chinese Muslim in Malaysia (mainly in west Malaysia) increased in recent time. The Prime Minister of Malaysia Tunku Abdul Rahman founded a semi-official organization PERKIM (Pertubuhan Kebajikan Islam Malaysia, or Muslim Welfare Association of Malaysia).PERKIM is aimed at promoting ethnic harmony by encouraging intermarriage and spreading Islamic religion. As Hadji Ibrahim promoted the propagation of Islam among Chinese, a general increase of Chinese Muslims in most states of west Malaysia. Up until 1975, Malaysia's Chinese population was the biggest non-Malay Muslim group, making up to 43 percent of Muslim in Malaysia, compared to 35 percent of ‘others’. Siow attributes this change to two factors. other than PERKIM activities, another factor contributing to the increase of Chinese Muslim is the impact of race riots in Kuala Lumpur in 1969. (Siow, 1979:394; 1983:184)
Places of worship
These are the places of worship that are frequently visited by Malaysian Chinese according to their religion.
The Calvary church in Kuala Lumpur is the biggest church in Malaysia.
The Malacca Chinese Mosque is a Chinese-style mosque in Malacca.
As with many overseas Chinese communities around the word, clan associations have been formed to support the local Chinese communities. There are seven major clan associations and numerous minor ones. The major clan associations are:
- Federation of Hainan Association Malaysia
- Federation of Hakka Association Malaysia
- Federation of Hokkien Association Malaysia
- Federation of Kwangtung Association Malaysia
- Federation of Teochew Association Malaysia
- Guangxi Association Malaysia
- Malaysia Federated San Kiang Association
Malaysian Chinese festivals
Malaysian Chinese festivals are passed down through the generations from their ancestors in China but localised elements have been mixed with the original.
The festivals can be broadly categorised into two groups i.e. cultural and religious. Cultural festivals include Chinese New Year, Qing Ming festival, Dragon Boat festival, Mid Autumn festivals.
Religious festivals include Hungry Ghost festival, Nine emperor gods festival, Wesak day and Christmas.
Chinese New Year celebration
Chinese New Year celebration is done slightly differently than in China.
Family reunion dinners are held on the night of the eve of Chinese New Year and red packets of money are given out during family and relatives' visits the next day which is the first day of Chinese New Year. The dishes for the reunion dinners are different for each Chinese ethnic groups. Family members from abroad will also try to come home for this reunion.
Tossing good fortune
During the first 15 days of Chinese New Year, Malaysian Chinese will also toss Yee Sang to symbolise abundance for the coming new year.
Hokkien new year
Martial artists are hired to perform lion dances in front of owners' shops when Chinese businesses open for the first business day of the coming new year. The purpose is to ensure an abundance of customers for the coming year by 'plucking the greens' and handing them over to the business owner.
High pole lion dancing was pioneered by Malaysian Chinese.
On the last day of the Chinese New Year, single young girls will toss mandarin oranges with their phone numbers into the river in hope of finding the right prospective husband to scoop up their oranges. Single young men may also throw bananas with messages into the river in hope of finding a prospective wife who will scoop up their banana. The tradition has been practised in Penang for over 100 years.
Lion head making used in Chinese lion dances has become one of the unique export item for Malaysia. These lion heads are unique in that it is made of rattan instead of traditional bamboo. The lion heads are exported to many countries around the world with large Chinese population.
Duan Wu festival
Glutinous rice dumpling
Different varieties of glutinous rice dumplings are eaten during this festival. Varieties not found in China include the spicy Nyonya rice dumpling.
Dragon boat racing
Penang has been holding annual international dragon boat racing since 1956. It was the first time that the race had ever been held outside the shores of China in 1956. Paper dragon boat decorations are also made during this festival. 
Adults and kids roam around the streets with lanterns in the shape of animals basking in the bright full moon day of the 8th lunar month. This lantern parade is considerably different from the lantern parade held in China on the 15th of first lunar month.
Christian Chinese pray to their ancestors, clean the graves and place flowers and fruits on Qing Ming. However, Buddhist Chinese place joss sticks and offer food to their deceased ancestors besides cleaning the graves. Houses, cars, shirts, toys made from paper and cardboard are sometimes burned for their relatives to enjoy in the afterlife.
Wesak day in Malaysia and Singapore is celebrated on full moon of the fourth lunar month which is one week later than Hong Kong and Macau. It is celebrated by Malaysian and Singaporean Buddhists, majority of which are Chinese. Candlelight procession, offering alms to monks, bathing of the Buddha, eating vegetarian meals, lighting oil lamps, offering flowers and incense are the main activities.
Hungry ghost festival
Hungry ghost festival is celebrated by both Taoist and Buddhists in Malaysia but for different reasons although it originated from a Buddhist story. However, sexy singers performing on stage is unique in Malaysia and Singapore.
Nine emperor gods festival
Nine emperor gods festival is a Taoist festival and is celebrated with colorful processions carrying imperial boat and eating vegetarian food in Malaysia. The celebration is mainly held at the Nine Emperor Gods temple in Ampang, KL, at Tow Boo Keong temple on Noordin Street, Penang  and Sam Siang Keng temple on Jalan Yahya Awal, Johor Baru.
Overall ethnic share of total employment in Malaysia is roughly proportionate to the number of Chinese in the Malaysian population. The Chinese are more likely to be involved in commerce and the modern sectors of the Malaysian economy. Between 1970 and 1995, Malaysian Chinese share of the white-collar labour force fell from 62.9% to 54.7% in the administrative and managerial category.
Despite comprising nearly a quarter of the Malaysian population, 54.7% of Malaysian Chinese work in administrative and managerial jobs, while their presence in professional and technical fields was proportionate to the percentage of Chinese in the Malaysian population. In 1988, Chinese Malaysians made up 58% of the Malaysian white-collar workforce, providing a disproportionate percentage of Malaysia's doctors, lawyers, veterinarians, accountants, and engineers well exceeding their respective population ratios compared to Bumiputera, however this is not the case anymore as Bumiputera do currently accommodate a proportionate amount of the white-collar workforce as do the Chinese today. According to a 2011 study, by Albert Cheng, in 2008, 48.2% of Chinese Malaysians worked as registered professionals compared to 41.2% for Bumiputera.
In terms of housing affordability, Chinese Malaysians could afford houses priced between 120,000 RM and 180,000 RM.
In 2012, Chinese Malaysians had the lowest poverty rates among major ethnic groups in Malaysia, with a rate of 0.3% compared with the Bumiputera rate of 2.2%. For the Malaysian Chinese community, the mean income rose from 394 RM in 1970 to 4,279 RM in 2002, a figure that was an increase of 90.8% and was 80.0% above Bumiputera (2,376 RM) and 40.5% above Malaysian Indians. Income distributions show dramatic differences among the three main ethnic groups in Peninsular Malaysia (Malays, Chinese, and Indians) and between the rural and urban subgroups. Chinese incomes are larger, on the average or median, and are more unequally distributed than those of Malays or Indians. However, because relatively more of Chinese income is received from market activities, broadening the definition of income reduces the relative difference between Chinese households and the other two ethnic groups. Mean Chinese business income is almost five times as large as mean Malay business income, but median business income for Malay households exceeds median Chinese business income from business ventures. Malaysian Chinese have the highest household income among the three major ethnic groups in Malaysia. According to Sulaiman Mahbob, as of December 2007, the monthly average household income was at 4,437 RM.
Since early settlement during the 15th century, Chinese Malaysians are considered one of the wealthiest ethnic groups in Malaysia and have been more prosperous than other ethnic communities in Malaysia. In February 2001, Malaysian Business released its list of the 20 richest Malaysians. Sixteen of the 20 and 9 of the top 10 were ethnic Chinese. A number of other wealthy Chinese outside the top 20 also control well-managed corporations. According to a 2011 Forbes magazine list, eight out of the top ten richest Malaysians are ethnic Chinese. According to economic data compiled by the Malaysian daily Nanyang Siang Pau in 2012, ethnic Chinese make up 80 percent of Malaysia's top 40 richest people. In 2014, Forbes magazine reported that 8 out of 10 of the ten richest person in Malaysia are ethnic Chinese.
Chinese are the largest taxpayers among the three ethnic groups in Malaysia. According to the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2014, Only one in ten of the total workforce pay any income tax. The former law minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim further indicated that Chinese pay more tax than Malays. It's been claimed that Of the 1.34 million Malaysian citizens paying taxes, almost 90% of these are non-Malays, with most of them Chinese Malaysians.
Trade and industry
Chinese Malaysians played a major role in the development of the tin, petroleum, and rubber industries and also continue to own 85 percent of Malaysian retail outlets. Chinese-owned mines produced nearly two-thirds of the tin in Malaysia. Many used their savings to open small businesses, where some grew into large enterprises. Typically, many of their enterprises have been family-controlled and family-run. In 1964, Sino-Malaysians accounted for 91.7% of the private corporate holdings in Malaysia and ownership of the Malaysian gravel pump and small-scale tin mines were completely placed in the hands of ethnic Chinese entrepreneurs. By 1970, glaring economic disparity between the Malays and Chinese was wide as Malaysian Chinese entrepreneurs were estimated to control 26% of the assets in the corporate sector, 26.2% of the manufacturing and 92.2% of the non-corporate sector. Malaysian Chinese entrepreneurs operate as a more urban business community, dominating trade and commerce, primarily tin mining and agriculture. Back in 1990, Chinese in Malaysia are estimated to control 50% of the construction sector, 82% of wholesale trade, 58% of retail trade, 40% of the manufacturing sector, and 70% of the small-scale enterprises.
In 2002, the Chinese Malaysian share of the overall Malaysian economy stood at 40% since the implementation of the Malaysian New Economic Policy and the Chinese share in the non-agricultural sector fell from 51.3% to 45.9% from 1970 to 1980. Chinese Malaysian businessmen are estimated to occupy 34.9% of Malaysia's LLC companies, the highest percentage of ownership among the three major ethnic groups in Malaysia. To seek extra funding and seed money for potential business start-ups, many Malaysian Chinese entrepreneurs have turned to the Malaysian Stock Exchange for business expansion and potential IPOs. In 1995, the seven biggest investors in the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange were all ethnic Chinese, with 90 percent of the smaller and younger companies on the second exchange of the KLSE are also Chinese controlled. Malaysian Chinese businesses are part of the larger bamboo network, a network of overseas Chinese businesses operating in the markets of Southeast Asia that share common family and cultural ties.
Home ownership and the utilisation of property as an investment is also prevalent in the Malaysian Chinese community. Real estate investing is a common business and a source of wealth for Malaysian Chinese as it not only provides a steady source of monthly income from rental proceeds and a hedge against inflation, but also raises the standard of living for Malaysians who are not in the right economic position to purchase a home for themselves. In 2005, Malaysian Chinese owned 69.4% of the business complexes, 71.9% of all commercial and industrial real estate, as well as 69.3% of all the hotels in Malaysia, reflecting Chinese control over the various business and commercial establishments around the nation.
However, the underprivileged section of the Malaysian Chinese continue to be excluded from affirmative-action programmes despite their genuine need for support in obtaining employment, government subsidised education, and housing. This perception of a zero-sum game amongst the races has unfortunately fuelled protests by frustrated sections of the hitherto quiescent community – who consequently faced a heavy-handed response from the authorities. Recently, the Malaysian government has at least pledged to change this by increasing assistance to needy Malaysians regardless of race, creed, or national origin.
The Chinese in Malaysia maintain a distinct communal identity and rarely intermarry with Muslim Malays for religious and cultural reasons. According to Muslim laws, the Chinese partner is required by law to renounce their religion and adopt the Muslim religion.
Mixed-race children of Chinese and Malay parents are considered ethnic Malays in modern times and not Peranakan nor Chinese. Contrary to popular beliefs, some Baba/Nyonya maintained a pure Chinese bloodline while some others intermarried with Malay women.
However, there are many who have intermarried with Malaysian Indians, who are predominantly Tamil Hindu. The children of such marriages are known as Chindians. Some Chindians attend Chinese medium schools and can speak Chinese. Chindians with Chinese father and Indian mother have Chinese names such as Keith Foo.
In the Bornean states of Sabah and Sarawak, Malaysians of mixed Chinese–Native parentage ("Native" referring to the indigenous tribes in those states; for example, Iban and Melanau in Sarawak and Kadazan and Murut in Sabah) are referred to as "Sino" (e.g., Sino–Iban, Sino–Kadazan). Depending entirely on their upbringing, they follow either native customs or Chinese traditions. A small minority forgo both native and Chinese traditions, instead opting for a sort of cultural anonymity by speaking only English and/or Malay and not practising either Chinese or tribal customs. Offspring of such an intermarriage may or may not be considered Native, and those granted Native status may also have the status revoked at any time, as seen by the Sabah state government revoking the Native certificate of state opposition leader Jimmy Wong Sze Phin despite his grandmother being a native.
Among emigrants, Chinese Malaysians form the largest outflow or brain drain amongst all ethnic groups in Malaysia. More than two million Malaysians have emigrated since the year 1957. Around 49,900 Malaysian Chinese have renounced their citizenship, which is around 90% of all who did, from 2006 until April 2016. According to a report by the World Bank, the number of Malaysian diaspora was estimated to be around a million in 2010, with the real number possibly much higher, with most of them Chinese. 57% of the Malaysian diaspora are in Singapore, with almost 90% of these Chinese. A large number of these emigrants are young, and the reasons cited for emigrating are economic such as better career prospect and compensation, and a sense of injustice due to issues such as unequal access to scholarships and higher education, and the privileged position of Islam in Malaysia.
Singapore received the highest percentage 57%  of Malaysian Chinese due to the similarities between the language and culture of both countries and also the very close distance. Malaysian Chinese comprises the largest percentage born outside of Singapore at 338,501 according to Census Singapore 2010.
In year 2015, Singapore received the highest percentage of Malaysians at 47.2%.
The second most favourite destination after Singapore is Australia with 18.2% migrating there in year 2015.
Malaysian Chinese represent the largest group (10%) of Australian Chinese outside greater China. They also make up the largest ethnic group of all Malaysians in Australia with 72% of Malaysians claiming Chinese ancestry and only 11% with Malay ancestry in the 2001 census.
The largest number of Malaysia-born immigrants arrived in Australia after 1981, under the Family Reunion Program or as skilled or business migrants.
Other English speaking countries
Other favourite destinations include the English-speaking countries the UK, the USA, Canada, and New Zealand, since Malaysian Chinese usually have good English skills and have little trouble adjusting. Because these countries tend to count Malaysian Chinese as simply "Chinese", the exact numbers from Malaysia are unclear.
In recent years, there is a small number of emigration back to China and Taiwan due to the rise of China's economic power.
Relationship with other Chinese
Malaysia has been China's largest trading partner in South East Asia since 2008 with bilateral trade totalling US$97.35bil (RM403.32bil) in 2015. Whereas, China is Malaysia's largest trading partner in the world. A lot of the trade is done by the large Malaysian Chinese community in Malaysia.
China’s ambassador to Kuala Lumpur, Huang Huikang, defended Malaysian Chinese during anti-Chinese rally held by a group of Malays on Sept 16, 2015. Huang Huikang also presented a cheque of RM40,000 to eight Chinese medium schools in Johor.
Malaysian Chinese businesses helped China's economic development in the early 1980s.
Singapore, Malacca and Penang share a common history as part of the British Straits Settlements, and Singapore was also part of Malaysia from 1963-1965. This common history has affected both countries culturally, linguistically and socioeconomically.
Culturally, Chinese festivals and Chinese food are largely similar in these two countries. Linguistically, Chinese languages such as Singdarin and a variant of Hokkien are spoken in both countries. Furthermore, English language variants known as Manglish and Singlish are similar and spoken with the same accent.
Socioeconomically, many Malaysian Chinese work or study in Singapore due to its close proximity to Malaysia. Many Malaysian and Singaporean Chinese have relatives on both sides of the border.
The political scene in Malaysia is strongly divided along racial lines, with people of different ethnic origin generally supporting politicians of their own racial origin. The Chinese population is represented in the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional mainly by the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), although the support for the party among the Malaysia Chinese varies and at times weak. A smaller number support Gerakan. Other Chinese-dominated parties in the coalition include Sarawak United Peoples' Party.
A large number of Malaysian Chinese support the opposition Democratic Action Party which is particularly strong in the Chinese urban areas of Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Perak, Selangor, Johor and Negeri Sembilan. DAP was an offshoot of PAP of Singapore which stress on equality of rights among all ethnic groups.
Article 153 of the Constitution of Malaysia grants the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King of Malaysia) responsibility for “safeguard[ing] the special position of the ‘Malays’ and natives of any of the States of Sabah and Sarawak and the legitimate interests of other communities” and goes on to specify ways to do this, such as establishing quotas for entry into the civil service, public scholarships and public education.
Partly in line with the constitution, Malaysia has devised a long-standing policy of providing affirmative action to Bumiputeras (ethnic Malays and indigenous people of East Malaysia) which spans over four decades. Affirmative action is provided in the form of the Malaysian New Economic Policy or what is now known as the National Development Policy Under such affirmative action, various concessions are made to Bumiputeras. Amongst many other concessions, 70% of seats in public universities are to be allocated to Bumiputeras, all initial public offerings (IPOs) must set aside a 30% share for Bumiputera investors and monetary support is provided to Bumiputeras for entrepreneurial development.
Notable Malaysian Chinese
- Malaysian Indians
- Chinese Protectorate
- Chinese revolutionary activities in Malaya
- China–Malaysia relations (Hong Kong)
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- Superstitions of Malaysian Chinese
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