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PROFILING THE ETHNIC CHINESE

 ETHNIC IDENTITY

It is crucial to distinguish Nationality and ethnicity. An American Chinese, Australian Chinese, British Chinese, Indonesian Chinese, Malaysian Chinese, Singaporean Chinese, Vietnamese Chinese would be an American, Australian, British, Indonesian, Malaysian, Singaporean, or Vietnamese citizen or resident of Chinese origin. However a Malaysian Chinese migrating to Australia would be statistically classified as a Malaysian but consider himself as ethnic Chinese.

PROFILING THE ETHNIC CHINESE
Contrary to common perception, it is not easy to profile a “typical” ethnic Chinese. It would undoubtedly be a challenge for any anthropologist as the Ethnic Chinese do not share many identifiable traits. For example:

 

Country of Origin Over the centuries migrants from China have settled in “South China Sea” [Nanyang], where eighty percent of overseas Chinese reside. The picture is further complicated by migrants coming from a third country to resettle in another country.

An ethnic Chinese could come from any country or region. As these are independent countries, the country of origin, other than China, does not imply that the migrants are ethnic Chinese.

 

Name: Many people could be surprised to find out that ethnic Chinese from countries such as Indonesia or Thailand does not necessarily have a Chinese sounding name. Due to political needs ethnic Chinese have been discouraged to keep their Chinese names. The Chinese naming system is discussed in this website.

 

Language: Language is certainly not a criterion to determine whether someone is an ethnic Chinese. While the first generation migrants from China or Chinese speaking families speak and write Chinese, the same cannot be said for subsequent generations. The situation varies from country to country. In Singapore Mandarin is one of the official languages, while in Malaysia parents are free to send their children to Chinese primary and secondary schools. In Indonesia however, until recently the teaching of Chinese was officially banned, signifying that most ethnic Chinese there would not speak the language. Nevertheless they might understand or perhaps speak one of the dialects at home. The issue of language is discussed in Chapter Three.

 The dialects most commonly spoken in South East Asia, where most of ethnic Chinese come from, are “Cantonese”, “Hokkien”, “Teowchew”, “Hakka”, “Hainanese”, “Guangxi dialect”. Depending on circumstances an individual’s language abili­ties could be confined to oral conversation, rather than reading and writing.

 

Religion: The Chinese community does not have a dominant religion unlike the Europeans or Arabs. Depending on educational background, family heritage, etc, an ethnic Chinese could be a Buddhist, Taoist, Confucianist, Christian, Muslim, or a Bahai. There are many Christians amongst the ethnic Chinese.

 

Cultural heritage: Cultural heritage is not a criterion for Chinese ethnicity. Depending on their educational background, in particular their understanding of the Chinese language and culture, the practice of culture vary tremendously, there being no “typical” sets of rules to be followed to the full. Some aspects of Chinese culture are discussed in Chapter 7.

 

Political doctrine: Coming from such a diverse background, ethnic Chinese certainly do not subscribe to any collective political doctrine. As a whole ethnic Chinese are adaptable and pragmatic, adapting themselves quite easily from one political system to another.

 

Physical Features: It is true that most ethnic Chinese have broadly similar physical features such as black, relatively straight hairs, various shades of “banana” colour skins, etc. However in terms of these features they could resemble the Japanese or Koreans.

 

A Chinese Profile?

It is doubtful whether a typical Chinese profile could be established, taking any of the ethnicity criteria, or a combination of them. Other than the Chinese nationals, it is increasingly difficult to typify the ethnic Chinese. This is particularly so when marriages between ethnic Chinese and other races are becoming more common.

 

More information could be found in Chapter one of the book

For more information please contact the author