In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Chinese Diaspora

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works and Handbooks
  • Bibliographies and Collections
  • Journals

Chinese Studies The Chinese Diaspora
Hong Liu, Els van Dongen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0070


The Chinese diaspora is an interdisciplinary research topic par excellence. Located at the intersection of the humanities and social sciences, it encompasses disciplines as diverse as geography, sociology, history, anthropology, psychology, and political science. In addition, scholarship on the topic is characterized by changing configurations and approaches that are reflected in terminological debates. The term “overseas Chinese” is mostly associated with the first period of migration (the 1850s–1950) after mass migration from China began during the mid-19th century. During this period, the main destination for South Chinese emigrants was Southeast Asia. Up to the end of World War II, the majority of them considered themselves huaqiao (Chinese sojourners or overseas Chinese), who remained politically and culturally loyal to China. During the second period (1950–1980), new migration patterns emerged as Chinese migrated from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia to North America, Australia, and western Europe. Chinese émigrés renounced Chinese citizenship and gradually became huaren (ethnic Chinese or Chinese overseas) who pledged allegiance to their host countries. Finally, during the third phase (1980 onward), new migrants (xin yimin) from various locations in the PRC began to make up a greater proportion of overall Chinese emigration. The term “Chinese overseas” is generally employed as a neutral term to refer to the approximately 46 million ethnic Chinese who reside outside of mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau in the early 21st century. As a result of the growing impact of theories of globalization during the 1990s, however, the term “Chinese diaspora” also became widespread. Since then, the study of the Chinese overseas in national contexts and of Chinese migration as an account of departure, arrival, and settlement has been supplemented with an emphasis on mobility, networks, and flexible identities. Since the topic of Chinese diaspora is interdisciplinary in nature, typified by changing approaches, and encompasses all aspects of the life of ethnic Chinese dispersed over more than 150 countries, this bibliography combines a thematic with a geographical organization. Viewing the Chinese overseas in the context of developments both in their places of residence and in China and using a multidimensional perspective, this bibliography pays attention to main themes, such as the importance of different historical phases, patterns of adaptation, and linkages and networks of the Chinese overseas. It gives special consideration to interdisciplinary and geographical aspects, to comparative approaches, to transnational awareness, and to works that combine theoretical discourse and empirical practice. Research for this article was supported by Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (grant number M4081020).

General Overviews

For those new to the field, Wang 2000, written by the foremost historian in the field, offers a brief historical introduction to the Chinese overseas experience and the main patterns and themes involved. Sinn 1998 is one example of a more traditional volume of conference papers that has emerged from an ISSCO (International Society for the Study of Chinese Overseas) conference and which the reader may find useful for its treatment of some of the main themes, as well as for its broad coverage. Liu 2006 offers a bird’s-eye view of the field of Chinese overseas studies and how it has evolved over a period of several decades. Kuhn 2008 provides a macro-overview of Chinese emigration since the 17th century in relation to major turning points in both Chinese and world history, thereby paying attention to different migration phases, adaptation patterns, and networks. Ong and Nonini 1997 is an important volume that breaks with the traditional emphasis placed on Chinese culture, ethnicity, and nation in Chinese overseas studies and that employs ethnographic and political economy approaches instead. Ma and Cartier 2003, edited by two geographers, brings geographical concepts of space, place, transnational mobility, and place-related identity to the foreground in response to the dominance of economic and sociological paradigms in migration research.

  • Kuhn, Philip A. Chinese among Others: Emigration in Modern Times. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008.

    In this impressive volume that contains eight chapters, Kuhn discusses Chinese emigration in relation to maritime expansion, early colonial empires, imperialism, revolution, and reform. He pays special attention to the various “human ecologies” of Southeast Asia, the Americas and Australasia, and Europe. Contains glossary and index.

  • Liu, Hong, ed. The Chinese Overseas. 4 vols. London: Routledge, 2006.

    This four-volume anthology, which includes a thirty-page introduction by the editor, presents the changing themes and genealogies of the field, covering seven decades of the more representative works on international Chinese migration published up to 2005. Particularly useful because it highlights the multidimensionality of the field.

  • Ma, Lawrence J. C., and Carolyn Cartier, eds. The Chinese Diaspora: Space, Place, Mobility, and Identity. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

    The five parts of the volume discuss the following themes: historical and contemporary diasporas; Hong Kong and Taiwan as diasporic homelands; ethnicity, identity, and diaspora as home; migration and settlements in North America; and transmigrants in Oceania.

  • Ong, Aihwa, and Donald M. Nonini, eds. Ungrounded Empires: The Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Transnationalism. New York: Routledge, 1997.

    The result of a 1994 conference on overseas Chinese capitalism, Chinese transnationalism is conceived of in relation to the structures of late capitalism. Based on ethnographic research in the Asian Pacific, aspects covered include early Chinese transnationalism; family, guanxi, and space; the role of the nation-state; and transnational subjectivities.

  • Sinn, Elizabeth, ed. The Last Half Century of Chinese Overseas. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1998.

    A sample of essays presented at the 1994 ISSCO conference on the Chinese diaspora since World War II. Apart from traditional themes such as identity, ethnicity, and emigrant hometowns (qiaoxiang), the volume also features papers on new destinations such as European countries, Canada, and Australia, as well as comparative approaches.

  • Wang, Gungwu. The Chinese Overseas: From Earthbound China to the Quest for Autonomy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

    Originally delivered as three Reischauer lectures at Harvard University, the book offers a long-term overview of the Chinese overseas experience. It treats the basic migration patterns of traders, laborers, and economic and political migrants, and discusses main themes, including identity, self-perception, and policies of the homeland and host societies.

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