Visitors at Wat Mangkon Kamalawat, one of the most prominent Chinese Buddhist temples in Thailand
Thais of at least partly Chinese descent (around 40% of the Thai population) (2012)2
|Regions with significant populations|
historically Varieties of Chinese (Teochew, Hokkien, Hainanese, Cantonese and Hakka)
|Predominantly Theravada Buddhism
historically Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism
minorities: Christianity, Islam
|Related ethnic groups|
|Thai people • Southern Chinese • Peranakan
Thai Chinese are Thai citizens of Chinese, primarily Han Chinese, origin. Thailand is home to the largest overseas Chinese community in the world and is also the oldest, most prominent, and well integrated overseas Chinese community in the world with a population of approximately nine million people, accounting for 14% of the Thai population as of 2012.3 The Thai-Chinese have been deeply ingrained into all elements of Thai society for the past 400 years. The present Thai royal family, the Chakri Dynasty, was founded by King Rama I who himself was partly Chinese. His predecessor, King Taksin of Thonburi dynastry, was the son of a Chinese immigrant from Guangdong Province and a Thai mother. Nearly all of Thai Chinese identify themselves completely as Thai due to the highly successful integration of Chinese communities into Thai society. Descendants of most once ennobled Chinese are among the leading Thai families today.4
Thai Chinese are well represented in all levels of Thai society and make up a significant percentage of Thailand's business and upper class.5 They play a leading role in the Thai business and commerce sector.6789 The Thai Chinese business class is also dominant in the Thai finance sector.10 Thai Chinese are also well represented in the Thai political scene and most of Thai Prime Ministers were at least of partial Chinese origin.11
Slightly more than half of the ethnic Chinese population in Thailand trace their ancestry to the Chaozhou prefecture in eastern Guangdong. This is evidenced by the prevalence of the Minnan Chaozhou dialect among the Chinese in Thailand. A minority trace their ancestry to Hakka and Hainanese immigrants.12
- 1 Demographics
- 2 History
- 3 Culture
- 4 Language
- 5 Trade and industry
- 6 Religion
- 7 Dialect groups
- 8 Surnames
- 9 Thai Prime Ministers of (partial) Chinese origin
- 10 See also
- 11 Literature
- 12 References
- 13 External links
14% of Thailand's population are considered ethnic Chinese.1 The share of those having at least partly Chinese ancestry is estimated at about 40%.2 For assimilated second and third generation descendants of Chinese immigrants, it is principally a personal choice whether or not to identify themselves as ethnic Chinese.13
The history of Han Chinese immigration to Thailand dates back many centuries. Chinese traders in Thailand, mostly from Fujian and Guangdong, began arriving in Ayutthaya by at least the thirteenth century. According to the Chronicles of Ayutthaya, it was mentioned that King Ekathotsarot (r. 1605–1610) had been "concerned solely with ways of enriching his treasury," and was "greatly inclined toward strangers and foreign nations," especially Portugal, Spain, the Philippines, China, and Japan.
Ayutthaya was under almost constant Burmese threat from the 16th century onwards, and Qianlong, the Emperor of Qing was alarmed by the Burmese military might. From 1766-1769, Qianlong sent his armies four times to subdue the Burmese, but the Sino-Burmese Wars ended in complete failure. Ayutthaya then fell in the Burmese–Siamese War (1765–1767). The Chinese efforts diverted the attention of Burma's Siam army; General Taksin, himself the son of a Chinese immigrant, took advantage of the situation by organizing his force and attacking them. Taksin actively encouraged Chinese immigration and trade. Settlers principally from Chaozhou prefecture came in large numbers.14 The Chinese population in Thailand jumped from 230,000 in 1825 to 792,000 by 1910. By 1932, approximately 12.2% of the population of Thailand was Chinese.15 However, early Chinese immigration consisted almost entirely of Chinese men who married Thai women. Children of such intermarriages were aptly called Sino-Thai16 or known as Luk-jin (ลูกจีน) in Thai.17 This tradition of Chinese-Thai intermarriage declined when large numbers of Chinese women began to emigrate into Thailand in the early 20th century.
The corruption of the Qing Dynasty and the massive population increase in China, along with very high taxes, caused many men to leave China for Thailand in search of work. If successful, they sent money back to their families in China. Many Chinese prospered under the "tax farming" system, whereby private individuals were sold the right to collect taxes at a price below the value of the tax revenues.
In the late 19th century, when Thailand was busy defending its independence from the colonial powers, Chinese bandits from Yunnan Province began raids into the country in the Haw wars (Thai: ปราบกบฏฮ่อ). Thai nationalist attitudes at all levels were accordingly colored by anti-Chinese sentiment. Members of the Chinese community had long dominated domestic commerce and had served as agents for the royal trade monopolies. With the rise of European economic influence, however, many Chinese shifted to the opium traffic and tax collecting, both of which were despised occupations. In addition, Chinese millers and rice traders were blamed for an economic recession that gripped Siam for nearly a decade after 1905. Accusations of bribery of officials, wars between the Chinese secret societies, and use of violent tactics to collect taxes served to foster Thai resentment against the Chinese at a time when the community was expanding rapidly due to immigration. Chinese were also accused of producing poverty for the Thai peasant, charging astronomically high interest rates, when in reality, the Thai banking business was highly competitive.18 In 1879, the Chinese controlled 100% of the steam powered rice mills, mostly which were sold by the British. Though most of the leading businessmen in Thailand were of Chinese extraction and comprised a significant portion of the Thai upper class, some Thai-Chinese during this period lived in huts without any electric and toilet facilities.18
By 1910, nearly 10 percent of Thailand's population was Chinese. Moreover, the new arrivals frequently came in families and resisted assimilation. Chinese nationalism, encouraged by Sun Yat-sen, the leader of the Chinese revolution, had also begun to develop, parallel with Thai nationalism. The Chinese community even supported a separate school system for its children. From 1882 to 1917, approximately 13,000 to 34,000 Chinese per year entered the country. In total, nearly 1.5 million Chinese immigrants enter the country as a whole. made up ten percent of the population and mostly settled in Bangkok. Most of the Chinese came from Southern China where it was subject to floods and drought, and predominated in occupations requiring arduous labor, skills, or entrepreneurship. They worked as blacksmiths, railroad laborers, and rickshaw pullers. While most Thais were engaged in rice production, Chinese brought new ideas towards crops and new methods to supply labor on its rubber plantations, both domestically and internationally.18
Over the years between World War I and World War II, Thailand's major exports, rice, tin, rubber, and timber were under Chinese control. Though Western predominance from the Australians, Europeans, and Americans, competed best with the Chinese in forestry, dredge mining, and steam-powered rice mills. By 1924, ethnic Chinese controlled 3 of the 9 sawmills in Bangkok. Marketing gardening, sugar production and fish exporting remained dominant by the Chinese also. Despite British dominance in the Thai economy in 1890s, Chinese also controlled 62 percent of the import export business, that operated as agents for the British as well as the Chinese.18
Legislation by King Rama VI (1910–1925) that required the adoption of Thai surnames was largely directed at easing tensions with Chinese community by encouraging assimilation. Thai Chinese had to choose between forsaking their Chinese identity or being regarded as foreigners. Most opted to become Thai. A number of ethnic Chinese families left Burma between 1930 and 1950 and settled in the Ratchaburi and Kanchanaburi Provinces of Western Thailand. A few of the ethnic Chinese families in that area had already emigrated from Burma in the 19th century. Ethnic Chinese families can be recognized by the shrines in their homes and shops, which are mostly located straight on the ground and painted in red, decorated with gold tinsel and small red lamps.
The Chinese in Thailand also suffered discrimination between the 1930s to 1950s under the military dictatorship of Prime Minister Plaek Phibunsongkhram, (in spite of being part-Chinese himself).19 State corporations took over commodities such as rice, tobacco and petroleum, and Chinese businesses found themselves subject to a range of new taxes and controls. Nevertheless, the Chinese were still encouraged to become Thai citizens, and by 1970 it was estimated that more than 90 percent of the Chinese born in Thailand had done so. In 1975, diplomatic relations were established with China.20
Intermarriage with the Thais has resulted in many people who claim Thai ethnicity with Chinese ancestry, or mixed.21 People of Chinese descent are concentrated in the coastal areas of Thailand, principally Bangkok.22 Considerable parts of Thailand's economic, political and academic elite are of Chinese descent.2
Due to their assimilation, nearly all ethnic Chinese in Thailand speak Thai exclusively. Only some elderly Chinese immigrants still speak their native dialects of Chinese, but they are progressively dying out.23 In the 2000 census, 231,350 identified as speakers of a variant of Chinese (Teochew, Hokkien, Hainanese, Cantonese or Hakka).2 The Teochew dialect of Chinese has served as the language of Bangkok's influential Chinese merchants' circles since the foundation of the city in the 18th century. Nowadays, businesses in Yaowarat Road and Charoen Krung Road in Bangkok's Samphanthawong District which constitute the city's "Chinatown" still feature bilingual signs in Chinese and Thai.24 A number of Chinese words have found their way into Thai language, especially names of dishes and foodstuff, as well as terms related to gambling.2
British East India Company agent John Crawfurd used detailed Company censuses kept on Prince of Wales's Island (present-day Penang) from 1815 to 1824 to report specifically on the economic aptitude of the 8585 Chinese there as compared to others. He uses the data to estimate the Chinese — about five-sixths of whom were unmarried men in the prime of life — as equivalent to an ordinary population of above 37,000, and ...to a numerical Malay population of more than 80,000!25:p.30. He surmised this and other differences noted as providing, "a very just estimate of the comparative state of civilization among nations, or, which is the same thing, of the respective merits of their different social institutions."25:p.34 Of the five billionaires in Thailand in the late 20th century, 100 percent were all ethnic Chinese or of partial Chinese descent.26 On 17 March 2012, Mr. Chaleo Yoovidhya, of humble Chinese origin, died while listed on Forbes list of billionaires as 205th in the world and 3rd in the nation, with an estimated net worth of US $5 billion.27
In 2013, the new #3 on the list of Thais by net worth was Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, chief stockholder of multinational conglomerates ThaiBev and Fraser and Neave, having a personal net worth estimated at $6bn (£3.8bn; €4.4bn.) The sixth of 11 children of a poor street vendor who migrated to Bangkok from southern China, Mr Charoen continued to speak Teochew, his native Chinese dialect, as well as Thai.31
Mid-twentieth-century Thailand was isolationist, its economy mired in state-owned enterprises. Over the next several decades, internationalization and market-oriented policies led to the dramatic emergence of a massive export-oriented, large-scale manufacturing sector, which in turn jump-started the economy joining the Tiger Cub Economies. Economic impact remains out proportion to their numbers. Virtually all of the new manufacturing establishments were Chinese controlled. Despite Thai-affirmative action based policies in the 1930s, 70% of the retailing outlets and 80 to 90 percent of the rice mills were controlled by ethnic Chinese.32 A survey of Thailand's roughly seventy most powerful business groups found that all but three were owned by Thai Chinese.33 Although Bangkok has its own Chinatown, Chinese influence is much more pervasive and subtle throughout the city. The Chinese control more than 80 per cent of companies listed on the stock market. Kukrit Pramoj, the aristocratic former prime minister and distant relative of the royal family, once said that most Thais had a Chinese "hanging somewhere on their family tree."3435 In Thailand it is said that 50 ethnic Chinese families controlled most of the country’s business sectors or 81 to 90 percent of the overall market capitalization of the Thai economy.68936 Highly publicized profiles of Chinese enterprise attracted great public interest and were used to illustrate the community’s strong economic presence.37 More than 80% of top 40 richest people in Thailand are Thai of full or partly Chinese descent.38 Thai Chinese entrepreneurs are influential in the sectors of real estate, agriculture, banking and finance, as well as wholesale trading.3940 From an economic standpoint, Overseas Chinese are seen as a fraction of the wealth they have created and added to the host country's economy, and representing what the Chinese have spent on themselves and their families.41 In the late 1950s, ethnic Chinese comprised 70% of Bangkok's business owners and senior business managers5 and to 90 percent of the shares in Thai corporations are said to be held by Thais of Chinese extraction.4243 90 percent of Thailand's industrial and commercial capital are also held by ethnic Chinese.44 90% of all investments in the industry and commercial sector and at least 50% of all investments in the banking and finance sectors is controlled by ethnic Chinese.45 Economic advantages would also persist as Thai Chinese controlled 80 to 90 percent of the rice mills, the largest enterprises in the nation.41 In 1890, despite British shipping domination in Bangkok. Chinese conducted 62 percent of the import-export business, operating for agents for Western shippers as well as their own. They also dominated rubber industry, market gardening, sugar production, and fish exporting.46
Of the 25 leading entrepreneurs in the Thai business sector, 23 are ethnic Chinese or of partial Chinese origin.47 Thai Chinese also control 96 percent of Thailand's 70 most powerful business groups with the exceptions being the Thai Military Bank, the Crown Property Bureau, and a Thai-Indian corporation.484950 Family firms are extremely common in the Thai business sector as they are passed down from one generation to the next.51 90 percent of Thailand’s manufacturing sector and 50 percent of Thailand’s service sector is controlled by ethnic Chinese.51 According to a Financial Statistics of the 500 Largest Public Companies in Asia Controlled by Overseas Chinese in 1994 chart released by sociologist Dr. Henry Yeung of the National University of Singapore, 39 companies were concentrated in Thailand with a market capitalization of 35 billion and total assets of 94 billion US.51 In Thailand, ethnic Chinese control the four largest private banks, of which Bangkok Bank is the largest and most profitable private bank in the region.5253
Thai Chinese businesses are part of the larger bamboo network, a network of overseas Chinese businesses operating in the markets of Southeast Asia that share common family and cultural ties.54 Following the 1997 Asian financial crisis, structural reforms imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Indonesia and Thailand led to the loss of many monopolistic positions long held by the ethnic Chinese elite.55 Nevertheless, Thai Chinese are estimated to own 60 percent of the national trade, 90 percent of all local investments in the commercial sector, 90 percent of all local investments in the manufacturing sector, and 50 percent of all local investments in the banking and finance sector.5657
Thai-Chinese-run businesses are now the largest investors in China among all overseas Chinese communities worldwide.58 An example is the Charoen Pokphand (CP Group), a Thai conglomerate with US$25 billion in annual sales founded by a Thai-Chinese Chearavanont family, is currently the single largest foreign investor in China with hundreds of businesses from agricultural food products, to retail and leisure, to industrial manufacturing and employing more than 150,000 people in China.58 It is known in China under the well-known household names such as the "Chia Tai Group" and "Zheng Da Ji Tuan". CP Group also owns and operates Tesco Lotus, one of the largest foreign invested hypermarket operators with 74 stores and 7 distribution centers throughout 30 cities across China. One of CP Group's flagship businesses in China is a USD400mm Super Brand Mall, the largest mall in the Shanghai's most exclusive area of Pudong business district. Reignwood Pine Valley,59 China's most exclusive golf and country clubs, are founded and owned by a Thai-Chinese business tycoon, Chanchai Rouyrungruen (operator of Red Bull drink business in China). It is cited as the most popular course in Asia; it has held many international golf tournaments, such as Johnnie Walker Classics, and has been visited by former US President Bill Clinton. In 2008, Mr. Chanchai became the first owner of a business jet in the Chinese mainland.60 Anand's Saha-Union, Thailand's leading industrial group, have so far invested over USD 1.5 billion in China, and is operating more than 11 power plants in three of China's provinces. With over other 30 businesses in China, the company employs approximately 7,000 Chinese workers.58 Central Group, Thailand's largest operator of shopping centers (and owner of Italy's leading department store, La Rinascente) with US$3.5 billion in annual sales founded by a Thai-Chinese Chirathivat family, have recently opened three new large scale department stores in China.58
The first-generation Chinese immigrants were followers of Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism. Theravada Buddhism has since become the religion of many ethnic Chinese in Thailand, especially among the assimilated Chinese. Very often, many Chinese in Thailand combine practices of Chinese folk religion with Theravada Buddhism.61 Major Chinese festivals such as Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival and Qingming are widely celebrated especially in Bangkok, Phuket, and other parts of Thailand where there are large Chinese populations.62
The Chinese in Phuket are noted for their nine-day vegetarian festival between September and October. During the festive season, devotees will abstain from meat and Mortification of the flesh by Chinese mediums are also commonly seen, and the rites and rituals seen are devoted to the veneration of Tua Pek Kong. Such idiosyncratic traditions were developed during the 19th century in Phuket by the local Chinese with influences from Thai culture.63
In the north, there are some Chinese people who practice Islam. They belong to a group of Chinese people, known as Chin Ho. Most of the Chinese Muslim are descended from Hui people who live in Yunnan, China. There are currently seven Chinese mosques in Chiang Mai,64 one of them is Baan Haw Mosque, a well known mosque in the north.
The vast majority of the Thai Chinese belong to various southern Chinese dialect groups. Of these, 56% are Teochew (also commonly spelled as Teochiu), 16% Hakka and 11% Hainanese. The Cantonese and Hokkien each constitute 7% of the Chinese population, and 3% belong to other Chinese dialect groups.65
The Teochews mainly settled around Chao Phraya River in Bangkok. Many of them worked in government sectors, while others were involved in trade. During the reign of King Taksin, some influential Teochew traders were granted certain privileges. These prominent traders were called "Royal Chinese" (Jin-luang or จีนหลวง in Thai).
The Hokkiens constitute the largest dialect group among the Chinese in Songkhla, Satun and Phuket, while the Hakkas are mainly concentrated in Chiang Mai, Phuket, and Central Western provinces. The Hakka own many private banks in Thailand, notably Kasikorn Bank.
A large number of Thai Chinese are the descendants of intermarriages between Chinese immigrants and Thais, while there are others who are of predominantly or solely of Chinese descent. People who are of mainly Chinese descent are descendants of immigrants who relocated to Thailand as well as other parts of Nanyang (the Chinese term for Southeast Asia used at the time) in the early to mid 20th century due to famine and civil war in the southern Chinese provinces of Guangdong (Teochew, Cantonese, Hainan, Hakka groups) and Fujian (Hokkien, Hakka). Among the ethnic Chinese, assimilation and adoption of Thai culture tends to take place among the Chinese who have a significant amount of Thai ancestry.
In the southern Thai provinces, notably the Chinese community in Phuket Province, the assimilated group is known as Peranakans. These people share a similar culture and identity with the Peranakan Chinese in neighboring Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia.666768 Ethnic Chinese in the Malay-dominated provinces in the south used Malay, rather than Thai as their lingua franca, and occasionally intermarry with the local Malays.69
Substantial numbers of Chinese people of (mainly) Yunnanese descent can be found in villages around Chiang Rai Province. These are descendants of Kuomintang soldiers who fought against the Chinese Communist soldiers in the 1940s, before fleeing to the northern regions and settling among the local people.707172 The Chinese Muslim community, also known as Haw or Hui settled in parts of northern Thailand during the years of the Panthay Rebellion, who eventually formed a distinct community in Chiangmai by the late 1890s.73
Almost all Sino-Thais possess a Thai surname, as was required by King Rama VI in order for them to become Thai citizens. The few who retain native Chinese surnames are either recent immigrants or resident aliens.
However, Sino-Thai surnames are often distinct from the general population, with generally longer names mimicking those of high officials and upper-class Thais74 and with elements of these longer names retaining their original Chinese surname in translation or transliteration. For example, the former prime minister Banharn Silpa-Archa's unusual Archa element is a translation into Thai of his family's former name Ma (trad. 馬, simp. 马, lit. "horse"). Similarly, the Lim in Sondhi Limthongkul's name is the Hainanese pronunciation of the name Lin (林). Or it may have been done for them. For an example, see the background of the Vejjajiva Palace name.75 Note that the latter-day Royal Thai General System of Transcription would transcribe it as "Wetchachiwa" and that the Sanskrit-derived name refers to "medical profession."
In Southern Thai, it is common to simply prefix Sae- (from Chinese: 姓, "surname") to a transliteration of their name to form the new surname; Wanlop Saechio's last name thus derived from the Chinese 周.
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- Roger Kershaw (2001), Monarchy in South-East Asia: The Faces of Tradition in Transition, Routledge, p. 138
- Lim Hua Sing (6 July 2001), "Chinese adopt patriotism of their new homes", Asahi Shimbun, retrieved 13 November 2012
- Duncan McCargo; Ukrist Pathmanand (2005), The Thaksinization Of Thailand, NIAS Press, p. 4
- Surasak Tumcharoen (29 November 2009), "A very distinguished province: Chanthaburi has had some illustrious citizens", Bangkok Post
- The Chinese Association in Thailand (Chong Hua)
- Teochew Association of Thailand
- Hakka Association of Thailand
- (Thai) Thai Hainan Trade association of Thailand
- Fujian Association of Thailand
- Thai Chinese BBS
- Assessment for Chinese in Thailand
- Anti-Chinese Labor riot of 1924, & bottom of page, how Thai Army suppressed 1889 riot between Chinese triads Tang Kong Xi (Teochew) and Siew Li Kue (Fujian)
- Why do Thais have long surnames?