CHINESE IN LAOS AND MYANMAR
Chinese make up between one percent to five percent of the population in Laos. Around 185,000 Chinese were counted in Laos in 2005. That number accounts for approximately one percent of the population. There are around 700,000 people of partial Chinese ancestry. That number is equal to about nine percent of Laos's population. These numbers do not always reflect the full extent of Chinese presence. Partially assimilated Chinese are often not counted as Chinese. There are many levels and degrees of mixed blood. Around 25,000 were counted in Laos (0.8 percent of the population). [Source: Wikipedia]
As is true in other Southeast Asia countries they have traditionally been merchants, traders and businessman. Some have come from the Yunnan province in China. Some come have from via Vietnam. More than half of them are said to live n Vientiane and Savannakhet. Most businesses in these places are owned by Chinese. There are also many Chinese workers in Laos. Many work on road construction crews in the north.
There are about 800,000 Chinese living in Burma. They make up about 1.4 percent of the population of Myanmar. They make up 200,000 of Mandalay’s 1 million people. The Kokang are a Chinese group. Traditionally connected with Kuomintang, they supplied weapons in the Golden Triangle and were involved in the opium, heroin and amphetamines trade.
In the late and 1940s 1950s, internal struggles within the Burmese government was accompanied by struggles in the ethic states.. Exacerbating the problem was the conflict between the Kuomintang nationalists and the Communists in China. In 1949, the Communists defeated the Kuomintang and remnants of Chiang Kai-shek's defeated Kuomintang army retreated to the mountains of Burma along the Chinese border and tried to organize attacks against the Red Army from there. To raise money the Kuomintang encouraged peasant farmers to raise opium, which the Chinese nationalist sold for huge profits. This was the beginning of the Golden Triangle opium and heroin trade. Forces made up of and aided by the Kuomintang became known as the White Flag Communists. They allied themselves with Shan fighters and fought some battles with Burmese government forces along the Chinese border.
Dislike and Distrust of the Chinese in Myanmar
There are many Chinese in Mandalay and elsewhere in Myanmar. The Chinese began moving into Mandalay in a big way in the 1990s. By the late 2000s, 80 percent of the foreign investment in the city came from China.
and many Burmese there don’t like the Chinese. Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Distrust of Beijing stems in part from fears, particularly in the north, of being overrun by China. "No one likes the Chinese," said Yan Naing, 38, a Mandalay disc jockey. "It feels like an invasion." Residents recall a 1984 fire that gutted downtown Mandalay and was followed by a government order to rebuild quickly using more expensive materials. Many had lost everything, even as Chinese citizens from neighboring Yunnan province appeared with ready cash. "Burmese couldn't compete," said Kyaw Yin Myint, with the weekly Journal newspaper. "Many were forced to sell and leave the city." [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, March 24, 2013 ]
“Anti-China sentiment had been building for years, say foreign academics, Yangon businessmen and former military officials. That apprehension grew even within the nation's armed forces, where officers believed Myanmar was being exploited by its giant neighbor. The influx expanded after 1988, locals say, when a crackdown on democratic activists spurred Western sanctions. Myanmar fell further into China's arms, especially after Beijing used its U.N. veto to quash Western human rights resolutions.
“Culture followed the money, locals say, and Chinese red lanterns, barbecue restaurants, lion dances and televised opera washed across northern Myanmar. Also drawing ire is the trafficking of women to southern China, either as sex workers or wives purchased to help rectify China's male surplus. China accounts for about 80 percent of human trafficking victims, Myanmar police reported in late 2012. "The Burmese are very keen to get out of the embrace of the Chinese," said Morten Pedersen, a senior lecturer with the Australian Defense Force Academy. "Myanmar was angry with the sanctions, but it was never anti-Western. They have a traditional view of autonomy and saw they were losing that."
Ben Blanchard of Reuters wrote: “Ask residents of the dusty Chinese border town of Ruili what they think of their neighbour and supposed friend Myanmar and one word features prominently — “luan”, or chaotic. This has not, however, engendered much goodwill towards the government of Myanmar. Though nor does it appear to generate Chinese disdain of the often obviously poorer Myanmar citizens in their midst. “We all know how bad the government there is,” said Chinese businessman Li Hai. “It's poor and horribly corrupt. If I were from Myanmar, I'd want to come to China too.” [Source: Ben Blanchard, Reuters, January 29th, 2010 /*]
“Ask the Myanmar traders, in their sarong-like longyis and cheap plastic sandals, what they think of China and their answer is completely the opposite — stable, giving them a chance to escape the poverty and mismanagement of their ruling generals. Yet there is little love lost between the Myanmar businessmen, farmers and massage girls who flock to booming China and their host nation. Many harbour a burning resentment not necessarily of their own government, but of the Chinese. /*\
"All these new Chinese now own Mandalay," a shop in Mandalay complained to Newsweek. "they're aren't many Burmese-owned businesses like mine in Mandalay's commercial section anymore. The rest are owned or controlled by a Chinese from the border." “There are so many Chinese in Mandalay, at least half the population now,” Myanmar jade trader Ye Kaw, speaking in the flawless Mandarin he has picked up after many years living in Ruili, China, told Reuters. “We hate them,” he added, when asked how residents of his home town look upon the Chinese migrants, looking fearfully around to see if any of his customers had heard him. “But we have to come here. There is no future for me at home.”
“In Myanmar, there has been growing alarm among some people at illegal mass entry of Chinese into their country through the border controlled by major ethnic armed groups such as the ethnic Chinese United Wa State Army. Anti-Chinese feeling in the former Burma is not new. The Burmese kings, who ruled before the British came, had long been wary of their powerful neighbour. More recently, in 1967, anti-Chinese riots in then capital Rangoon — today called Yangon — lead to the sacking of China's embassy and dozens of deaths, if not more. /*\
Chinese in Cambodia
Last updated October 2022
There are around 344,000 Chinese in Cambodia (2014). They make up approximately 2.2 percent of the population. These numbers do not always reflect the full extent of Chinese presence. Partially assimilated Chinese are often not counted as Chinese. There are many levels and degrees of mixed blood. Around 300,000 Chinese were counted in Cambodia (4 percent of the population) in the 2000s. Other estimates say there are more than 600,000 Chinese-Cambodians in Cambodia. [Source: Wikipedia]
Chinese in Cambodia tend to be assimilated and many have intermarried with Khmers (one reason for variance in population numbers is how mixed blood and intermarried Chinese are counted) . They speak Khmer, worship at Khmer Buddhist temples and have Cambodian style weddings. Few can speak Chinese. In many cases the only thing they seems to have retained from their culture is the Chinese cakes served at special occasions and the custom of living with the wife’s family after marriage.
The Cambodian Chinese are recognized as Cambodian citizens and as a sign of how influential they are, of the 24 member board of the Chamber of Commerce established in Phnom Penh in the early 2000s 17 members spoke Chinese, but only three were fluent in English. There has traditionally been much more intermarriage between Khmer and Chinese than between Khmer and Vietnamese, and relations between the groups has generally been cordial, or at least civil, although there have been periods of discrimination. The Chinese have been in Cambodia since the time of Angkor, but immigration increased greatly during the colonial period when the French ruled Cambodia. Chinese are particularly associated with urban areas; before 1970, there were more Chinese and Vietnamese than Khmer in Phnom Penh. [Source: Countries and Their Cultures, Gale Group Inc., 2001]
Different Chinese Groups in Cambodia
The Chinese in Cambodia represented to five major linguistic groups, the largest of which was the Teochiu (accounting for about 60 percent), followed by the Cantonese (accounting for about 20 percent), the Hokkien (accounting for about 7 percent), and the Hakka and the Hainanese (each accounting for about 4 percent). These belonging to certain Chinese linguistic groups in Cambodia tended to gravitate to certain occupations. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]
The Teochiu, who made up about 90 percent of the rural Chinese population, ran village stores, controlled rural credit and rice-marketing facilities, and grew vegetables. In urban areas they were often engaged in such enterprises as the import-export business, the sale of pharmaceuticals, and street peddling. The Cantonese, who were the majority Chinese group before the Teochiu migrations began in the late 1930s, lived mainly in the city. Typically, the Cantonese engaged in transportation and in construction, for the most part as mechanics or carpenters. *
The Hokkien community was involved in import-export and in banking, and it included some of the country's richest Chinese. The Hainanese started out as pepper growers in Kampot Province, where they continued to dominate that business. Many moved to Phnom Penh, where, in the late 1960s, they reportedly had a virtual monopoly on the hotel and restaurant business. They also often operated tailor shops and haberdasheries. In Phnom Penh, the newly-arrived Hakka were typically folk dentists, sellers of traditional Chinese medicines, and shoemakers. *
History of the Chinese in Cambodia
There are records of Chinese envoys visiting Angkor Wat in the 13th century. The Chinese have traditionally lived in the cities and towns and controlled businesses in part because the Khmers have traditionally looked down on commerce. Chinese have controlled much of the commerce in Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Cambodia and Indonesia since the 19th century and today are still involved in businesses throughout the Asian-Pacific region.
In the colonial period, with the help of French policies, Chinese were set themselves up so that about 400 of them dominated the Cambodian economy. Distinction by dialect group also has been important historically in the administrative treatment of the Chinese in Cambodia. The French brought with them a system devised by the Vietnamese Emperor Gia Long (1802-20) to classify the local Chinese according to areas of origin and dialect. These groups were called bang (or congregations by the French) and had their own leaders for law, order, and tax-collecting. In Cambodia every Chinese was required to belong to a bang. The head of a bang, known as the ong bang, was elected by popular vote; he functioned as an intermediary between the members of his bang and the government. Individual Chinese who were not accepted for membership in a bang were deported by the French authorities. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]
The French system of administering the Chinese community was terminated in 1958. During the 1960s, Chinese community affairs tended to be handled, at least in Phnom Penh, by the Chinese Hospital Committee, an organization set up to fund and to administer a hospital established earlier for the Chinese community. This committee was the largest association of Chinese merchants in the country, and it was required by the organization's constitution to include on its fifteen-member board six from the Teochiu dialect group, three from the Cantonese, two from the Hokkien, two from the Hakka, and two from the Hainanese. The hospital board constituted the recognized leadership of Phnom Penh's Chinese community. Local Chinese school boards in the smaller cities and towns often served a similar function. *
In the 1960s there were about 500,000 Chinese in Cambodia. Most of them originally came from the southern Chinese province of Guangdong. In 1971 the government authorized the formation of a new body, the Federated Association of Chinese of Cambodia, which was the first organization to embrace all of Cambodia's resident Chinese. According to its statutes, the federation was designed to "aid Chinese nationals in the social, cultural, public health, and medical fields," to administer the property owned jointly by the Chinese community in Phnom Penh and elsewhere, and to promote friendly relations between Cambodians and Chinese. With leadership that could be expected to include the recognized leaders of the national Chinese community, the federation was believed likely to continue the trend, evident since the early 1960s, to transcend dialect group allegiance in many aspects of its social, political, and economic programs. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987]
Generally, relations between the Chinese and the ethnic Khmer were good. There was some intermarriage, and a sizable proportion of the population in Cambodia was part Sino-Khmer, who were assimilated easily into either the Chinese or the Khmer community. Willmott assumes that a Sino-Khmer elite dominated commerce in Cambodia from the time of independence well into the era of the Khmer Republic. *
Chinese in Cambodia Under the Khmer Rouge
Chinese-Cambodians were singled out for discrimination by the Lon Nol government that preceded the Khmer Rouge. Although Beijing was an ally of the Khmer Rouge, that didn’t stop the Pol Pot regime from killing Chinese-Cambodians and forcing them to flee the country. The number of ethnic Cambodia fell from 430,000 in 1975 to 215,000 in 1979. After the Khmer Rouge was ousted Chinese were discriminated against by the Vietnamese. At that most Chinese were poor, getting by running very small businesses.
The Khmer Rouge takeover was catastrophic for the Chinese community for several reasons. When the Khmer Rouge took over a town, they immediately disrupted the local market. According to Willmott, this disruption virtually eliminated retail trade "and the traders (almost all Chinese) became indistinguishable from the unpropertied urban classes." The Chinese, in addition to having their major livelihood eradicated, also suffered because of their class membership. They were mainly well-educated urban merchants, thus possessing three characteristics that were anathema to the Khmer Rouge. Chinese refugees have reported that they shared the same brutal treatment as other urban Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge regime and that they were not especially singled out as an ethnic group until after the Vietnamese invasion. Observers believe that the anti-Chinese stance, of the Vietnamese government and of its officials in Phnom Penh, makes it unlikely that a Chinese community on the earlier scale will reappear in Cambodia in the near future. *
Tens of thousands of Chinese were killed or driven from Cambodia during Khmer Rouge years. They were reportedly to singled out for harsh treatment because of their involvement in commercial activities. By one estimate 200,000 Chinese perished between 1975 and 1979.
One diplomat told Reuters: "They were regarded as bourgeois and forced to the fields to do hard labor. In 1979 they started to return to Phnom Penh but they had lost all their properties and land, even the Chinese temples were destroyed. They suffered a lot during those years — now they have restored their business, gradually they have started to make business and learn to make a little money so they could begin and get their property back."
Chinese in Cambodia After the Khmer Rouge
In the 1980s the Chinese kept a low profile because of Chinese support of the Khmer Rouge. The Chinese in Cambodia formed the country's largest ethnic minority in the late 1960s and in the early 1970s. In the late 1960s, an estimated 425,000 ethnic Chinese lived in Cambodia, but by 1984, as a result of warfare, Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese persecution, and emigration, only about 61,400 Chinese remained in the country. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]
Sixty percent of the Chinese were urban dwellers engaged mainly in commerce; the other 40 percent were rural residents working as shopkeepers, as buyers and processors of rice, palm sugar, fruit, and fish, and as moneylenders. In 1963 William Willmott, an expert on overseas Chinese communities, estimated that 90 percent of the Chinese in Cambodia were involved in commerce and that 92 percent of those involved in commerce in Cambodia were Chinese. The Chinese in Kampot Province and in parts of Kaoh Kong Province also cultivated black pepper and fruit (especially rambutans, durians, and coconuts), and they engaged in salt-water fishing. *
In rural Cambodia, the Chinese were moneylenders, and they wielded considerable economic power over the ethnic Khmer peasants through usury. Studies in the 1950s disclosed that Chinese shopkeepers would sell to peasants on credit at interest rates of from 10 to 20 percent a month. In 1952 according to Australian political analyst Ben Kiernan, the Colonial Credit Office found in a survey that 75 percent of the peasants in Cambodia were in debt. There seemed to be little distinction between Chinese and Sino-Khmer (offspring of mixed Chinese and Khmer marriages) in the moneylending and shopkeeping enterprises.*
Chinese in Cambodia in the 1990s and 2000s
In the 1990s the government softened up on the Chinese. Temples were rebuilt, Chinese-language schools were reopened and permission was given in 1990 to establish the Association of Chinese in Cambodia. In 1995, there were 13 Chinese-language schools and five Chinese temples in Phnom Penh.
In 1995, it was estimated that there were about 300,000 Chinese in Cambodia, 80 percent of them in Phnom Penh. According to many people in Cambodia the Chinese have re-established themselves as the dominant economic force in the country, playing a major role in import-export, banking, hotels, gold and rice trading, garments, manufacturing and property.
In the late 1990s and 2000s there was a kind of rebirth of Chinese culture. A number of Chinese schools opened. Other private schools offered Mandarin lessons. Chinese restaurants and Chinese newspaper were launched. The government made efforts to attract hundreds of millions of dollars in investments from overseas Chinese businessmen and lure large numbers of Chinese tourists. Chinese-Cambodians have been encouraged by the Hun Sen government to engage in business and use their connections in China to bring in foreign investment. In this environment, Chinese-Cambodians have thrived and increased their domination in many businesses.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.