The New Chinese Diaspora

Came across this programme by Al-Jazeera English recently that talks about the wave of Chinese immigrants going into Africa to seek a new life with their families.


When I come across many articles/stories online and offline talking about how Chinese people are leaving China to seek a new life abroad [citation needed], I noticed a trend that most of the protaganists are people from Northern Chinese decent. Generally, people who are fairer in skin and speak mandarin (putonghua) in a more ‘beijing-ish’ accent. What happened to the Southern Chinese?

Throughout most of history, the southern chinese are the ones who have spread themselves across the globe. People who mostly come from the province of Guangdong and Fujian. These group of chinese seldom speak putonghua but instead in their own localized dialects which is based on the Min-nan language.

These previous waves of immigration is also apparently when you visit Chinatowns based across Europe and the Americas. It also accounts for the wide. Especially Cantonese. Westerners are so accustomed to hearing Cantonese that to them, it is considered as the Chinese language. [citation needed] Even though mainland China have declared Mandarin (putonghua) the official language of conversation since 1949 [citation needed].

Another obvious southern Chinese diaspora is apparent when you look at South-East Asia. Mainly Malaysia and Singapore which have seen waves of immigration since the 1800s and Edmond Lee of the Singapore Department of Statistics, wrote an informative article on the profile of the different dialect groups in Singapore based on government statistics from 1990 to 2000.

I’ve picked out some of the more relevant pieces from the article:

Dialect Group 1990 2000
Hokkiens 860,080 1,028,490
Teochews 466,020 526,200
Cantonese 327,870 385,630
Hakkas 155,890 198,440
Hainanese 148,740 167,590
Foochows (Min Dong) 36,490 46,890
Henghua (Puxian/Putian) 19,990 23,540
Shanghainese 17,310 21,550
Hockchia (Fuqing) 13,230 15,470
Others 50,150 91,590

Data taken from Wikipedia (based on Edmond’s article)