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Intra-Asian Chinese Migrations: A Historical Overview

Min Zhou and Gregor Benton Introduction

International migration among Chinese people is centuries old. Long before European colonists set foot on the Asian continent, and before the formation of modern nations there, the Chinese moved across sea and land, seasonally or permanently, to the outside world, Asia in particular, to pursue opportunities and alternative means of livelihood. The world has witnessed various flows and patterns of emigration from China and remigrations from its diasporic communities to other parts of the world, by the migrants themselves or by their descendants (Poston et al. 1994; Poston and Wong 2016; Ma 2003; Ma and Cartier 2003; Zhuang 1989). It is estimated that, as of 2011, more than 40 million overseas Chinese (Huaqiao) and people of Chinese ancestry (Huayi) lived outside mainland China (including Hong Kong and Macau) and Taiwan, and Huayi had spread to 148 countries (Poston and Wong 2016).1 The top five countries with the largest number of ethnic Chinese (exceeding 4 million) are Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and the USA, and other countries with more than 500,000 Huayi (according to official figures) include Canada, Myanmar, Vietnam,

M. Zhou(*)

University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA G. Benton

Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK © The Author(s) 2017

M. Zhou (ed.), Contemporary Chinese Diasporas, DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-5595-9_1

Peru, Australia, and Japan (Poston and Wong 2016). Nearly three-quarters are in Southeast Asia.

This chapter addresses a key issue from a sociological perspective based on a review of existing literature: How does the centuries-old Chinese trade diaspora and its emerging migrant networks interact with broader structural factors—colonization or decolonization, nation-state-building, changes to political regimes, and globalization—and how do these interactions alter the course and pattern of Chinese migrations?2 We argue that distinct streams of emigration from China and intradiasporic migrations are shaped by special circumstances and influenced by the intersection of nation-state policies, global economic forces and diasporic networks. We also discuss the implications of contemporary Chinese emigration for socioeconomic development in countries of origin and destination.

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