The Chinese migration

Fujian Province of ChinaThis morning, I read an article on Forbes Asia about Win Win Tint, a businesswoman who owns and runs City Mart Holding, Myanmar’s leading chain of food markets. The most interesting part of the story is that the ancestors of Tint was migrated from China’s Fujian province many years ago.

Fujian probably is not that familliar for many people (or Hokkien, probably it sounds more familiar). But for me, this province sounds very familiar, as many of the tycoons here migrated (or probably like Tint, her ancestors emigrated) from Fujian province, namely Eka Tjipta Widjaja (founder and owner of Sinarmas Group), the founder of cigarette maker Sampoerna, Liem Seeng Tee, Liem Sioe Liong (or known as Sudono Salim, owner of the Salim Group).

Fujian is located in Southeast coast of mainland China, bordered by Zhejiang to the North, Jiangxi to the West, and Guangdong to the South. The name ‘Fujian’ came from the combination of Fuzhou and Jianzhou. Its population is chiefly of Han origin, it is one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse provinces in China. It has mountainous landscape, which makes Fujian as the most secluded province, but has a strong academic tradition.

Fujian is one of the more affluent provinces with many industries spanning tea production, clothing and sports manufacturers. Many foreign firms have operations in Fujian. They include Boeing, Dell, GE, Kodak, Nokia, Siemens, Swire, TDK and Panasonic.

Tea farmers in Fujian province

Many ethnic Chinese around the world, especially in Southeast Asia, trace their ancestry to Fujian. Descendants of Fujian migrants make up the predominant majority ethnic Chinese populations of Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Fujian, especially Fuzhou, is also the major source of Chinese immigrants in the United States, especially since the 1990s.

While the tradition of Chinese migration is long-standing, a distinction can be drawn between an “old” migration that lasted until the late 19th century and a “new” migration that dates from about the 1980s. The decades between these two migrations was a transitional period shaped by enormous change globally and within China itself that saw migration severely curtailed relative to what had come before and what was to follow. The two periods of global conflict during World War I and World War II, which were separated by a profound economic depression, were followed by a period of tight control of migration in China under communist ideology until the early 1980s.

Though distinct, the old and new migrations are interconnected. The old migration created ethnic Chinese communities concentrated primarily in Southeast Asia (but also around the world) that survived the transition period — albeit often in reduced form — and that formed a global network of Chinese that has facilitated the new, accelerated migration taking place since the 1980s.

The changes in the migration habits of the Chinese are evident in terms of the overall ethnic Chinese population living outside of China. By the end of the 20th century, there were an estimated 33 million ethnic Chinese living overseas, an increase from around 22 million in 1985 and from 12.7 million in the early 1960s. Given the generally low fertility of overseas Chinese populations, this suggests the increasingly significant role of migration from China (including Hong Kong and Taiwan) over the second half of the 20th century.

These Chinese migrants were sojourners: people who left home with the intention of returning rich, marrying, and settling down. Yes, they are (even many Chinese migrants that moved to the US just turn out to become a cook or dishwasher in a restaurant). Too bad.


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