How has the Chinese population changed the demographics in Asia?

Chinese culture
[1] The Chinese always had a migration to other Asian countries, but for what exact reasons?

Have you ever encountered a time when someone asked you where you were from, and they told you you were from a different country? For example, you would say you were from Shanghai, China and someone would mutter, Is that in Japan? Certainly, when you are not accustomed to a set of people you would mistaken them easily. Bringing this into context, how and why exactly do the Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Malaysians and Singaporeans look so similar? In this article, I hope to explore the impetuses and effects of Chinese migration throughout Asia, namely countries like 1) Japan, 2) Vietnam, 3) Malaysia and Singapore.

1) Japan
Map of Japan - Ryukyu Islands
[2] A map of the Ryukyu Islands, Japan.

One of the earliest migration of the Chinese people was to Japan. As Chinese legend has it, a sorcerer named Xu Fu was sent abroad by the stern Emperor Qing Shi Huang to Mount Fuji. Xu’s mission was to retrieve an elixir of life for His Majesty. [3] However, despite his efforts, the sorcerer was unable to find anything and was reluctant to return, as execution would await him. Eventually, Xu stayed in Japan and began a new wave of Chinese migration to Japan. [3]

The Ryukyuan Islands was believed to have remained undeveloped until around the 12th century. It was not until after many Chinese Civil Wars under the Chinese Emperor Taizu (1368-1398) that there was a change in the demographics of the Japanese island. [4] It has to be noted that the Taizu’s legacy, or indeed, the Ming Dynasty, was to rule for three centuries. Keeping in mind that China was deemed as the middle country or 中國 then, the powerful Chinese ruler called all barbarian states in the region to submit to China, prohibiting the free sea navigation and trade routes within the region. This was key, as according to Belgian historian Katrien Hendrickx, it could be seen as a civilising and diplomatic mission. [4]

In Okinawa, one of the main islands, it was divided into three main principalities – Hokuzan (北山), Chuzan (中山) and Nanzan (南山). [4] These would translate directly from Chinese or Japanese as North, Middle and South Mountain or constituencies. China’s diplomatic prestige in the South Seas were key, as Satto gave an oath of allegiance, offering gifts and in return, was offered the title of King of Chuzan, or the Middle Mountain region of the Okinawa Islands. Moreover, in 1392, the Ming Emperor had sent 36 families, as a symbol to imply many people for colonisation in the region. [4] These families were key, as they were to administer the Nahan border within the Ryukyuan Islands. Eventually, this opened the door for increasingly more seamen and merchants, who travelled to and fro, finding entrepreneurial routes between the islands and China. From then onwards, this developed a strong Chinese community, one that maintained their own modes of life, customs and dresses. [4]

2) Vietnam
Map of Southern Chinese territories
[5] The highlighted region showing the Nanyue colony, comprising of south Chinese regions (Guangdong, Guangxi and Yunnan) and north Vietnam.

In 207 BCE, under the Chinese general Zhao Tuo, the southern Chinese regions of Guangdong, Guangxi and Yunnan, together with northern Vietnam was conquered and administered principally by himself. [6, 7] This was named, according to American academic Walker, Au-lac, signifying a pacified southern region. We have to be vigilant here though, as there were many names given to this region – for example Nanyue as well.

Vietnam was split into two main ethnic constituencies – Lac Viet and Au Viet. [7] This colony was to be a centre of refugees, convicts and officers of the Han Dynasty for a full 1,000 years, of which most were men. This was significant, as men married Viet local women, and their offspring became part of the local population. Throughout the Han rule, the Vietnamese rose up through Ngo Quyen in 939 A.D. and Nguyen Trai, as part of a political struggle to gain full sovereignty for their nation. [7] This was key, as until 1829, the Vietnamese people wanted to establish a distinct Vietnamese identity amongst the Ming-Huong or Sino-Vietnamese people. Moreover, they were allowed local political rights, and assimilate to their local culture, customs and etiquette, only if they did not return to China. [6]

3) Malaysia/Singapore

[8] Map of Malaysia and Singapore.

Malaysia and Singapore have been grouped as they were both common destinations for employment in the Asian continent by the Chinese. The Malaysian Peninsula’s demographics divided into the Chinese North, Indian West, and the Dutch East Indian or Indonesian South. Since the 14th century, there has been immigration to Temaisik or Old Singapore. [9] Eventually, the Chinese diaspora expanded to Penang, Malacca and Singapore. Under British, Portuguese and Dutch rule in each of these areas, compounded with the aftermath of the Great Depression in 1929 and the outbreak of World War Two in the Asian theatre (1941-1945), the Chinese travelled from their native Guangdong and Fukien provinces for employment, family visits and retirement purposes. [9] This was fundamental, as there were kheh thaws who were professional recruiters, and the sin khah who were the new recruits or contracters.

Under the Chinese Immigration and Alien Ordinances inaugurated in 1887 and 1933 respectively, this was to limit the outflow of Chinese male immigrants to the Malaysian Peninsula. However, this was key again, as the Indian community, being part of the British royal subjects were not affected. [8] This problem prolonged until the independence of Singapore in 1966 under Lee Kwan Yew and the People’s Action Party (PAP) for Chinese sovereignty over the other Indian and Malayan inhabitants.

The Chinese diaspora to various countries namely Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore were down to colonisation, imperialism and in search of employment. In Japan and Vietnam alike, we have seen two examples of how the Ming and Han Dynasties have sent merchants, civilians or armies to spread their sphere of influence within the region. In turn, these Sino-Japanese and Sino-Vietnamese families blended together as one distinct culture, both of which were free to practise their own type of religion and customs. With Malaysia and Singapore, there has not been as significant of a population exodus by the Chinese community until the aftermath and outbreak of the Great Depression and the Second World War, in search of employment, family visits and retirement. Similar to their early Sino-Japanese and Sino-Vietnamese counterparts in Okinawa and northern Vietnam, the Chinese migrants in Malaysia struggled to find their equality amongst the locals, which caused a lot of politico-social struggles, and the eventual Singaporean independence in 1965 by Lee Kwan Yew and the PAP.

In my personal opinion, I think that through many modes of colonisation and employment opportunities, the Chinese were able to achieve their own sphere of influence within the Asian continent. Obviously, when we speak of colonial powers, we tend to get winded up in the great maritime powers – Great Britain, France, Spain, Portugal and Holland. China can be regarded differently with their impetus of spreading their cultural and economical influences across others, so that trade can flow readily back to the mainland. This is key, as this could be applied to the modern globalised world, where China is an imperial power, in the sense of being an economic and imposing country on weaker and considerably poorer countries found in Africa, South America and Asia. That might be a pointer for how to understand the notion behind encouraging the diaspora of the Chinese communities abroad not only in Asia, but perhaps in another article, to other continents and countries like America, Europe and Canada. I do not want to be far-fetched in my article, but many questions arise from this and we, particularly, as the global audience, could question the effects of these mixed societies that the Chinese bring in abundance to their adopted countries.

Right that is it from me for now, as the university year is fast approaching. I really hope you have enjoyed all my reads so far, despite it being difficult to find a suitable and encapsulating enough of a topic to analyse. If there are any comments you like to say, do not forget to write them below. Thanks a lot and bye for now! 🙂

Signed from your respective blogger,


[3] Lee, C. K., Japan: Between Myth and Reality, (London, World Scientific Publishing Ltd., 1995), Pages 7-8,, date of access: 20/9/2013
[4] Hendrickx, K., The Origins of Banana-Fibre Cloth in the Ryukyus: Japan, (Leuven, Leuven University Press, 2007), Pages 38-41,, date of access: 20/9/2013
[6] Phuong, H. T., “Chapter 8: Ethnic Chinese in Vietnam and Their Identity”, in Suryadinata, L., Ethnic Chinese as South-East Asians, (ed.), (Singapore, South East Asian Studies, 1997), Pages 267-272,, date of access: 20/9/2013
[7] Walker, D. H., East Asia: A New History, (Bloomington, Author House Ltd., 2012), Page 107,, date of access: 20/9/2013
[9] Saw, H-S., The Population of Peninsular Malaysia, 2nd ed., (Singapore, ISEAS Publishing, 2007), Pages 10-18,, date of access: 20/9/2013


Why do we have accents?

[1] In every country, we can distinguish people from where they originate judging from their accents. Question is, how do we?

When you enter a country and traverse each of its four corners, you will discover a variation in terms of accents amongst the townspeople. Indeed, this can be through the simple explanation of diversity in geographical location or region, through history as of immigration, integration or assimilation or the modification of the language itself phonetically to suit the local tongue. In order to depict these points, I will use: 1) Old, Medieval and Colonial French, 2) Afrikaans and Dutch. I would like to highlight I am not linguist expert, I will use a historical angle to analyse, so if I make any faults – comments are more than welcomed below.


But firstly, it is important to grasp the notion of what is a dialect and language. According to Oxford Dictionary, the word dialect where one focuses the language on a specific area or social group. [2] Expanding on that, we have the word language, which despite slight complexities because of its vagueness, can be defined as a system of a communication used by a particular country or community. [3] These definitions are fundamental, because they help us understand the grandeur of the language starts as a nucleus within the word dialect. To explain this further, it is important consider why exactly do we have these accents, as these definitions all conjure each other. Frankly speaking, an accent is defined as pronouncing a language, through various influences. How, where and when we learnt these languages greatly affected the way we say words. This is a ceaseless process that depends on our life experiences: with whom we live with as we constantly migrate throughout history, and the social groups either from a particular community or geographical location. [4] Now that we have comprehended these ideas and definitions, I will continue the analysis through the observation of French and Dutch languages.


1) Variations of French

[5] France divided into two main languages – Langue d’Oïl and Langue d’Oc. 

1.1) Old French/Medieval French 

Since the Romans conquered Gaul, France separated itself into two principal languages – Langue d’Oc and Langue d’Oïl. This separates France into two sections – drawing a line from Bordeaux to Grenoble. With its neighbouring countries, these Romantic languages were sub-divided into three umbrella groups. The Oc as Provençal, Oïl as in Northern French and Si with Italian. [6]


In fact, all these were different ways of saying the word yes. Perhaps because it was one of the quickest ways to differentiate the three apart, no one really knows. With Provençal, Oc refers oui or yes in French as o. [6, 7] We would say this person from Provence speaks the language of yes or lengua d’o from the country of yes or pais d’o. As for Oïl, this is a word that has evolved through time. The word was initially o-il, the same way as oui, c’est cela or yes, it is. Later, the people from Northern France would pronounce the word as Ou-il, until there became a silent l making it as oui in contemporary French. [6, 7, 8] Now you know when you buy the famous wines, eh!


1.2) Colonial French 

Other major derivative of French are African French and Québecois. Within African French, the most significant of them being in countries like Morocco or Congo, there are borrowed words from the Maghreb and African languages and phonetic sounds, where you would hear accentuated words with the heavier r sounds and adopted African words. For example, you would say merci mingi – a melange of merci or thanks and mingi – very much in Lingala, an Congolese tribal language. [9] Conversely, with Québecois French – whenever a native French person tries to impersonate a Québecois, the first thing they would tend to say is tabernacle. This type of French originates from the north and north-western areas of France, of which speak Norman and Patois. [9] As of heavy British rule, there are also some borrowings from the English language. Judging from certain words, I feel Québecois French is a lot more old-fashioned. For example, the word abrier means to cover, rather than metropolitan French couvrir. Here we have a general term of abri or shelter, so to cover something is to be sheltered. Or indeed, un char in Québecois French means car, whereas contemporary French means a chariot. Beautiful that. [10, 11]


2) Variations of Dutch

2.1) Dutch 

During the mid 5th to 12th centuries, Dutch had developed from many influences across its neighbours. For example, concerning Old Dutch, it branched off from Old Frankish, Old East Low Franconian and Germanic roots – therefore close to German, Flemish and English. [12] As the language developed, it started to use some phonetic sounds like “k”, “v”, “w” and “j” and tended to use compounded words rather than separating them. Dutch then developed with a Wallonian or a French-influenced Brussels Dutch through the medieval and modern times, as of the economic prowess the Brussels immigrants brought with them. [12]


2.2) Afrikaans 

Since discovering and settling in the Cape during 1652 primarily by Jan van Riebeeck, the modern Afrikaaner was invented from a blend of many influences. There were three main derivatives of the Afrikaans, the Cape, Orange River and Eastern Border. As you can tell from these names, they were divided in terms of geographical region in South Africa. As the Cape was a colony ideally midway between Europe and the East Indies, there were many influences from other colonial powers like the Portuguese and British languages. [13] In Cape, there were many Malay slaves, thus some Portuguese influences in colloquial language. As for Orange River, there were many native African tribal influences from Griquakwal and Namakwaland. Thirdly, there was the Eastern Border, where many colonists migrated from the Cape towards Natal. Moreover, the retired Dutch and German officers who settled in South Africa became known as the Free Burghers or independent farmers – had the biggest influences in the Afrikaans language. [13] There were the French Protestants or Huguenots who also successfully immigrated to South Africa, as a consequence of the religious friction back in France, under the legalisation of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). They helped to alter the pronunciations and spellings of certain words. This was significant, as the authors J. A. Heese and C. Pama in their book Afrikaners, analysed that these nationalities constituted the Afrikaans language in terms of percentage: Dutch (34, 8%), Germans (33, 7%), French (13, 2%), People of colour (7%), British (5, 2%), Unknown origin (3, 5%) and Other Europeans (2, 6%). [14] 

I am not an expert in Dutch nor Afrikaans, but I thought I could use these examples to illustrate how many social groups throughout history can affect a language. Those of you who are Dutch, you can compare Dutch and Afrikaans with these sites. For an outsider, I feel Dutch is a lighter version of German, with a lot of correlation as a whole with English. Anyway, here are the links for Dutch and Afrikaans tutorial – tell me what you think: 1) and 2)


Effectively, we cannot have a stagnate accent – they frequently change as we immigrate, as we try to add our own more familiar phonetic sounds and spellings to words to help accommodate the adopted mother tongue. These also depend on the neighbouring countries or geographical location in general – as in the case of French, as there are variations that are similar to Belgium, Italy, Spanish and German, as they are all neighbouring countries. These older versions of the languages do change throughout history, as forms of colonisation and assimilation occur – for example in the case of Dutch and Afrikaans. There were Dutch, German and French independent farmers and religious groups who all left their mark in the language. Moreover, accents change according to social classes as well, where with middle and modern Dutch, you had a lot more Belgians from the Wallonia area, giving the language a French twist phonetically and in vocabulary. Right, that is a wrap from me, and I hope you enjoyed my article. Take care! 🙂