Academic journal article Chinese America: History and Perspectives

Myths of Creation and the Creation of Myths: Interrogating Chinese Diaspora (1)

Academic journal article Chinese America: History and Perspectives

Myths of Creation and the Creation of Myths: Interrogating Chinese Diaspora (1)

Article excerpt

We live in an age of globalization. As everyone knows, in the present era it is almost impossible to open borders for movements of information, capital, and commodities but close borders to movements of people. In fact millions of people are moving from their countries of origin to wherever they believe to be a better place. In the age of migration, the term diaspora is no longer a concept strictly associated with the particularities of the Jewish experience. Instead, diaspora has become popular, both as a concept and as a term commonly used to describe those ethnic groups who settle down in other countries rather than in their country of origin. Chinese diaspora, a term which has been used quite often now, has come to be regarded as one of the major diasporas in human history.

But to what extent is the Chinese diaspora a reasonable concept to describe the general attributes of the Chinese who have settled down outside China? Does there exist a collective Chinese-diaspora consciousness? Or have Chinese abroad established a diaspora reality? Where do non-Han ethnic groups (such as Tibetans, Uighurs, Dai, Miao, and Yao) and locally socialized Chinese offspring (such as baba, Peranakan Chinese, Chinese Filipino, Sino-Vietnamese and Sino-Khmer) "fit" within the Chinese diaspora? In general, how can we understand Chinese diaspora?


China is a country rich in human resources. Ever since ancient times, there have been flows of goods as well as people across the borders to and from neighboring countries and suzerain states. This is a phenomenon existing far earlier than the notion of "nation-state;" it is a phenomenon that prefigures the contemporary practice of transnational commerce and migration. Nowadays both the authorities in mainland China and in Taiwan are proud of the fact that there are at least thirty-five million ethnic Chinese spread all over the world. In China the common terms used to name their compatriots abroad are Huaqiao, Huaren, or Huaqiao Huaren; sometimes Huayi is included. The relevant definitions of these similar terminologies can be summarized as follows:

Huaqiao: Originally, the term was used to refer to those Chinese who have been abroad for some time. It was not applicable to settlers. But now the term is used to refer to those Chinese who have obtained permanent residence in their adopted country but still retain their Chinese citizenship, either the citizenship of the People's Republic of China (PRC), the Republic of China (Taiwan), the Hong Kong Special Administration Region, or the Macao Special Administration Region.

Huaren: This refers to the Chinese who have settled down somewhere outside China and have also obtained the citizenship of their adopted country.

Huaqiao-Huaren: A general term to combine the above-mentioned two groups.

Huayi: Chinese descendants who were born and have grown up outside China or have been educated and socialized in the country that their parents or ancestors have adopted.

The exact definitions of the concepts listed above remain in dispute, although Professor Wang Gungwu, a leading scholar in this area, concludes that "correct usage [of the above-mentioned concepts] is clearer today than in the past." (2)

In December 1994 in his keynote lecture delivered at a conference titled "The Last Half Century of Chinese Overseas," Wang put forth his recent opinions on the Chinese overseas. Since all countries that receive migrants have similar expectations of their new citizens, he argued, neither Huaqiao nor Huaren adequately convey the idea of migrants who have been accepted as nationals of their new countries. (3) This argument immediately drew criticism from several scholars in China, who stressed that neither Huaqiao nor Huaren are out-of-date; instead, there is no concept better than these two to portray the general characteristics of the Chinese abroad. …

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