Who Are the Thai-Chinese and What Is Their Contribution to Thailand?
A Thai-Chinese Woman
Who Are The Thai-Chinese?
Most first-time western tourists in Thailand think that all Thais are the same. After all, don't most of these people have the same skin color and facial features? Nothing can be farther from the truth. The Thai people are just as diverse as Americans. They include hill tribe people in the north, Muslims in the south, farmers in the northeast, and Thai-Chinese in the cities.
Unless you have lived here for a while, it is hard to grasp the nature and power of the Thai-Chinese who comprise 12 percent of Thailand's population. This significant minority has played a major role in the development of Thailand during the past few centuries. This article first defines Thai-Chinese and then examines their origins, emigration to Thailand, characteristics, and contribution to society and the nation.
Origins of Thai-Chinese
Thai-Chinese are Thai citizens of Chinese ethnicity. According to Wikipedia, over half of ethnic Thai, today are descendants of people who migrated from southern China about 1,000 years ago. They are closely associated with the modern-day Dai people who now live in the Xishuangbanna area of Yunnan Province in China.
Chinese Immigration to Thailand
Today, the people in Thailand who are called Thai-Chinese are descendants of Chinese traders from Fujian and Guangdong Provinces who began arriving at present-day Ayutthaya just north of Bangkok by at least the 13th century.
They are also the descendants of General Taksin, a son of a Chinese immigrant, who first beat back attacking Burmese soldiers, and then founded a settlement at Thonburi across the Chao Phraya River from Bangkok in the late 1700s. Taksin encouraged Chinese immigration and trade, and settlers from Chaozhou in eastern Guangdong came in large numbers.
Thai-Chinese in northern Thailand are the Muslim descendants of the Hui minority in Yunnan Province. They are also the descendants of General Tuan's KMT troops who withdrew from Yunnan into the mountains of northern Thailand after the Chinese Communist civil war victory in 1949. These Thai-Chinese today are called Chin-Ho. Haw is the name of the Yunnan dialect of Chinese which these people speak.
Thai-Chinese in southern Thailand are the descendants of Chinese from northern Malaysia who immigrated to Thailand years ago.
The more than eight million Thai-Chinese in Thailand today are situated in the coastal areas and cities around the country. You will find a sizable concentration in the greater Bangkok metropolitan area and also in cities such as Chonburi, Rayong, Suphanburi, Nakhon Sawan, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Song Kla, and Hat Yai. The Chin-Ho Thai-Chinese are found in the mountains of northern Thailand in Chiang Rai Province bordering Myanmar.
2. Identity and Language
The Thai-Chinese are the most integrated overseas Chinese community in the world. If you ask them whether they are Chinese, they will readily respond that they are Thai, and play down any reference you make to them having Chinese ethnicity. It's easy to understand why. They were required to adopt Thai surnames to become Thai citizens in the early 20th century by King Rama VI. Up until the 1950s or 1960s, they were discriminated against by non-ethnic Chinese, and could not learn Chinese in schools.
All Thai-Chinese speak standard Central Thai because everyone must learn that in the schools. In the homes, 56 percent of the Thai-Chinese speak Teochiu which is a Minnan subdialect. You can hear this speech in Bangkok's Chinatown and also in many shops and businesses in Bangkok. It is usually spoken by older people. Sixteen percent of the Thai-Chinese speak the Hakka dialect which is spoken by elders in the northern Thailand cities of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. Other dialects spoken are Cantonese and Hokkien (Southern Min), and the Hainanese subdialect of Minnan. Most young Thai-Chinese can't speak dialects of Chinese; however, many of them are learning Mandarin in Chinese schools and in Thai private and government schools.
3. Family Life and Characteristics
Many Thai-Chinese operate their own business and live either on the floors above their shop, or, in the case of big business owners, in villas in the suburbs. If you go to a restaurant or shop and see a shrine on the floor with Chinese characters and red lanterns hanging outside, you will know the business is operated by a Thai-Chinese. Three or four generations will live in one family. Shop and restaurant entrepreneurs will work 12-14 hour days, and their children will usually attend the better more expensive private schools. Families will celebrate major Chinese festivals like New Years or the Spring Festival, Ching Ming (Tomb Sweeping Festival), and the Mid-Autumn Festival. Some words of usually Teochiu such as diah for father, moei (younger sister), and jei (older sister) will be thrown in along with Thai when families speak.
Many of the Thai-Chinese today are active in the real estate, hotel, banking, finance, manufacturing, and wholesale and retail trading businesses. Others are engaged in professional fields such as medicine, law, and engineering.
The Thai-Chinese practice a smorgasbord of religions which include Thai Buddhism, Chinese Buddhism. Confucianism, Taoism, Islam, and Christianity.
Almost all Thai-Chinese have Thai surnames because King Rama VI decreed all Chinese must have one if they wanted to become Thai citizens. Thai-Chinese surnames are usually longer than those for the general population, and they retain their Chinese surname in translation or transliteration. For example, Archapongwattana, Limcharoen, Ongsiriwattana, Vongsriprasert, Paiboonyanupap, and Jongboonyaupap are all Thai-Chinese surnames. In the name Archapongwattana, Archa is the Thai translation of the Chinese surname Ma. In the name Limcharoen, Lim is the Southern Min pronunciation of the Chinese surname Lin.
Thai Chinese Cultural Show Circus Thailand
Thai-Chinese Contributions to Society
Thai-Chinese businessmen similarly to Jewish-American businessmen in the United States control 81 percent of the Thai economy. Major department stores such as Central World and banks such as Kasikorn are owned by Thai-Chinese.
In Thailand's history, there have also been numerous prime ministers of Chinese descent including former leader Thaksin Shinawatra and his younger sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, the former Prime Minister.
As long as the family remains strong, Thai-Chinese will continue to play a significant role in shaping Thailand and Thai society. The Chinese Communists will also continue to be active in trying to expand their influence over the Thai-Chinese at the expense of Taiwan and the United States.
Economic facts about the Thai-Chinese are taken from Wikipedia.
© 2012 Paul Richard Kuehn