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Chinese of South Asia

Chinese of South Asia

ETHNONYMS: Chini, Indian Chinese

This article refers not to Chinese soldiers, who for more than thirty years have patrolled the Tibetan border that forms the northern limit of South Asia, but rather to ethnic Chinese who have lived mainly in major South Asian cities for a century or more. In 1982 there were 700 Chinese in Bangladesh, 110,000 in India, 3,600 in Pakistan, and 3,000 in Sri Lanka. There are also 700,000 Chinese in Myanmar (Burma), who usually are classified as Chinese of Southeast Asia (rather than of South Asia). In all South Asian nations the Chinese population has increased since 1955, although, except in Myanmar, they are a small minority. Calcutta, Bombay, Madras, Delhi, and Colombo each have sizable Populations, with most of the Chinese providing specialized Economic services such as running shoe shops and restaurants; in Calcutta Chinese-owned tanneries are also important. Even a town the size of Ootacamund (population 100,000) has two long-resident Chinese business families.

A few Buddhist pilgrims, most notably Fa Hien (fl. a.d. 399-414), came to India from China in very early times; and early in the fifteenth century a few thousand came to the coast of Kerala, to Calicut, with the Ming expeditions; but it was only after 1865 that Chinese came in significant numbers. They worked as tea plantation laborers, carpenters, road builders, tradesmen, and seamen's launderers; also a few were convicts.

Those who migrated to South Asia came mainly from the southeastern provinces of Guangdong, Hunan, Jiangxi, and Fujian, speaking either Cantonese or Hakka (a minority Language of that region). They tended to settle in the seaports of South Asia, and they have remained in some cases for five or six generations.

Although most of the Chinese businessmen speak English and another local language, they speak a Chinese Language in the home and only very rarely marry a non-Chinese spouse. Most marriages are arranged in the traditional Chinese manner.


Chang, Sen-Dou (1968). "The Distribution and Occupations of Overseas Chinese." Geographical Review 58:89-107.

Poston, Dudley L., Jr., and Mei-Yu Yu (1990). "The Distribution of the Overseas Chinese in the Contemporary World." International Migration Review 24:480-508.

Schermerhorn, Richard Alonzo (1978). "The Chinese: A Unique Nationality Group." In Ethnic Plurality in India, by Richard Alonzo Schermerhorn, 290-313. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Thurston, Edgar (1909). "Chinese-Tamil Cross." In Castes and Tribes of Southern India, edited by Edgar Thurston and Kadamki Rangachari. Vol. 2, 98-100. Madras: Government Press.


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