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