Chinese in Burma

   People of Chinese ancestry have lived in Burma for many centuries. In the British colonial era, they could be divided into two groups: Overseas Chinese, whose roots were in southern China (principally Fujian and Guangdong Provinces), who either came to Burma directly or previously lived in other parts of Southeast Asia (especially other British colonies, such as the Straits Settlements and Malaya); and migrants from Yunnan Province, which became part of the Chinese empire in the 13th century. The former tended to congregate in urban areas of Lower Burma, and the latter in Upper Burma, including parts of the Frontier Areas close to the Chinese border. Kokang Chinese had their own autonomous state, located east of the Salween (Thanlwin) River in Shan State, while the Panthays, Muslims from Yunnan, were active as traders and mule drivers on China-Burma trade routes. Both groups have played an important role in the shipment of opium to neighboring countries. "Chinatowns" emerged in metropolitan areas of colonial Burma, especially Rangoon (Yangon), Mandalay, and Moulmein (Mawlamyine). In Rangoon, Chinese gold shops are still conspicuous west of Shwe Dagon Pagoda Road in the old downtown business district. According to the 1931 census, Chinese comprised 7.9 percent of the city's population, far outnumbered by Indians or South Asians (54.9 percent). In the country as a whole, they numbered 194,000 in 1931 (1.3 percent of the population).
   Despite the popular stereotype of the Chinese as rich businessmen (many were in fact quite poor), Burmese relations with them were generally better than with Indians, not only because they were less numerous but also because they assimilated more easily into the Burmese population; Burmese people often referred to the Chinese as pauk paw ("distant cousins"). A number of Burma's most prominent figures have been Sino-Burmese, of mixed Chinese-Burmese ancestry, including General Ne Win. But many Chinese left Burma following the June 1967 Anti-Chinese Riots, and those who remained took care to downplay their Chinese identity.
   After the State Law and Order Restoration Council seized power in September 1988, ties with the People's Republic of China became close, and large-scale immigration of Chinese people occurred. The widespread practice of selling the identity cards of deceased Burmese to Chinese immigrants made it possible for them to integrate-administratively though not culturally-into Burmese society. Because there are no accurate census figures, the number of new Chinese residents is not known, but it is believed that they comprise around 30 percent of the population of Mandalay. An article in the Hong Kong-based Asiaweek magazine in 1999 reported that hundreds of thousands of Chinese may have entered the country following flooding in southern China. According to a Thai observer quoted in that article, the inflow has "chang[ed] the whole demographic balance in north Burma," and local resentment of the new immigrants is growing because they control much of the economy, especially in Upper Burma. For example, in Mandalay they have raised property values in the city center, forcing the former Burmese residents to move to cheaper, outlying areas.
   Burma has also served as a way station for Chinese wishing to immigrate to the United States. After paying an exorbitant fee to be smuggled out of China (as much as US$30,000), they pass through Burma to Thailand, whence they go by sea to North America.
   See also China and Burma (Historical Relations); Indians in Burma; Plural Society; Population.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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