- Malaysian Chinese
Ethnic Chinese of Malaysia
Alex Yoong • Nicholas Teo • Michelle Yeoh Total population c.7,150,000 (as of June 2008) Regions with significant populations Malaysia Languages Religion Related ethnic groups Malaysian Chinese Chinese name Traditional Chinese 馬來西亞華人 Simplified Chinese 马来西亚华人 Transcriptions Mandarin - Hanyu Pinyin Mǎláixīyà Huárén Alternative Chinese name Traditional Chinese 馬來西亞唐人 Simplified Chinese 马来西亚唐人 Transcriptions Min - Hokkien POJ Má-lâi-se-a-tn̂g-lâng Cantonese (Yue) - Jyutping maa5 loi4 sai1 aa3 tong4 yan4 Malay name Malay Orang Cina Malaysia
Malaysian Chinese (simplified Chinese: 马来西亚华人; traditional Chinese: 馬來西亞華人; pinyin: Mǎláixīyà Huárén) is a Malaysian of Chinese origin. Most are descendants of Chinese who arrived between the fifteenth and the mid-twentieth centuries. Within Malaysia, they are usually simply referred to as "Chinese" in all languages. The term Chinese Malaysian is also sometimes used to refer to this community. As of 2010, 22.9% of Malaysian population are of Chinese origin. 
The first wave of Chinese settlers came during the Malacca Empire in the early 15th century. The friendly diplomatic relations between China and Melaka culminated during the reign of Sultan Mansur Syah who married Hang Li Po from China. A senior minister of state and five hundred youth of noble births and handmaidens in waiting accompanied the princess to Malacca.  The descendants of these people are called Baba (men) and Nyonya (women).
The second and much bigger wave of Chinese immigrants came during the 19th century and early 20th century as coolies. These immigrants were running away from China due to the fighting of the Opium War in 1840. Their immigration to Malaya was encouraged by the British who needed Chinese coolies to work on their rubber plantations and tin mines. The immigrants came as free labour or indentured labour on a credit ticket system. Free labour meant they financed their own journey with savings or loans from their kinsman. These groups of early Chinese coolies are not surprisingly the most exploited by their employers. They worked long hours to pay off the high interest rates on credit ticket system.
Min Nan people
The Min Nan Chinese （闽南人） form the largest Chinese group in Malaysia and they came from Fujian, eastern Guangdong and Hainan provinces.
The Hokkiens (福建人) are the largest Chinese dialect group in Malaysia. Chinese settlers from the southern regions of Fujian constitute the largest group, and generally identified as Hokkien. The bulk of Chinese settlers in Malaya before the 18th century came from Amoy and Zhangzhou and settled primarily in Penang and Malacca, where they formed the bulk of the local Chinese populace. More Hokkiens settled in Malaya from the 19th century onwards, and dominated the rubber plantation and financial sectors of the Malayan economy. The bulk of Hokkien-speaking Chinese settled in the Malay Peninsula and formed the largest dialect group in many states, specifically in Penang, Malacca, Kelantan, Terengganu, Kedah and Perlis. In Malaysian Borneo, the Hokkiens make up a sizeable proportion within the Chinese community, and are primarily found in larger towns, notably Kuching and Sibu.
Teochew immigrants (潮州人) from the Chaoshan region began to settle in Malaya in large numbers from the 18th century onwards, mainly in Province Wellesley and Kedah (mainly around Kuala Muda). These immigrants established were chiefly responsible for setting up gambier and pepper plantation industries in Malaya. More Teochews immigrated to Johor at the encouragement of Temenggong Ibrahim in the 19th century, and many new towns were established and populated by plantation workers from the Chaoshan region. The Teochews constitute a substantial percentage within the Chinese communities in Johor Bahru and principal towns along the coasts of Western Johor (notably Pontian, Muar and to a smaller extent, Batu Pahat) as well as selected hinterland towns in the central regions of the state. Many rural communes in Sarawak and Sabah were also populated by the Teochews, many of them being descendants of plantation workers which came to set up gambier and pepper plantations, following the administrative pattern of their countrymen in Johor. Smaller communities of Teochews can also be found in other states, notably in Sabak Bernam in Selangor, where many Teochews settled down as rice agriculturalists, as well as in the hinterlands of Malacca.
Chinese immigrants (海南人) from Hainan began to migrate to Malaya and North Borneo from the 19th century onwards, albeit in much smaller numbers than the aforementioned speech groups. The Hainanese were employed as cooks by wealthy Straits Chinese families, while others were engaged in food catering business or the fishery business and formed the largest dialect group in Kemaman district of Terengganu and Pulau Ketam (Selangor) as well as sizeable communities in Penang and Johor Bahru. Smaller communities of Hainanese are also found in Sarawak and Sabah, where they work as coffee shop owners and are mainly found in large towns and cities.
The Henghua people (莆仙人) came from Putian. Their numbers were much smaller than the other Min Chinese from Fujian and they were mostly involved in the bicycle, motorcycle and automobile spare parts industry.
Min Dong people
Min Dong (闽东人) settlers from Fuzhou (福州, also known as Hokchew or Foochow among the Hokkiens and Cantonese respectively) and Fuqing (福清) also came in sizeable numbers during the 19th centuries and dominated the corporate industry in the 20th century. They speak a distinct dialect and are classified separately from the Hokkiens and a large number are Christians. The Foochow formed the largest dialect group in Sarawak–specifically in areas around the Rajang River, namely in the towns of Sibu, Sarikei and Bintangor. The Foochow also settled in large numbers in a few towns in Peninsular Malaya, notably Sitiawan in Perak and Yong Peng in Johor.
The Hakka people (客家人) came from both Guangdong and Fujian provinces. They form the second largest group of people after the Hokkiens. Large numbers of Hakka settled in the western parts of Malaya and North Borneo and worked as miners in the 19th century as valuable metals such as gold and tin were discovered. Descendants of these miners formed the largest community among the Chinese in Selangor and very large communities in Perak (specifically Taiping and Ipoh), Sarawak , Sabah and Negeri Sembilan. As the gold and tin mining industries declined in economic importance in the 20th century, many turned to the rubber industry, and large numbers of Hakka settled in Kedah and Johor (principally in Kulai and Kluang). In Sabah, many Hakkas were involved in agriculture. They cut down the forests to make way for tobacco, rubber and coconut plantations. In time, the Hakka community also dominated the state's industry and economy. However, even today, many Sabahan Hakkas are still involved in agriculture, especially those living in rural towns such as Tenom and Kudat where they are often the backbone of the local industry.
The Cantonese (广东人） mostly came from Guangdong province and a minority from Guangxi province. They form the third largest group of people after the Hakkas. They can be subdivided into people from area around Guangzhou (广府人) and Taishan (台山人). They settled down in Kuala Lumpur of the Klang Valley, Ipoh of the Kinta Valley in Perak, Pahang as well as Seremban in Negeri Sembilan and Sandakan of Sabah. They started the development and turn these early settlement into principal towns. Most of the early Cantonese worked as coolie laborers, engaged in tin mining and rubber plantation. From the late 19th century onwards as the tin mining industry declined in economic importance, the Cantonese as well as other Malaysian Chinese gradually shifted their focus to business and contribute much to the social and economic development in Malaya.
An early census of ethnic groups in the British Malay states, conducted by the British in 1835, showed that ethnic Chinese constituted 8 percent of the population and were mainly found in the Straits Settlements, while the Malays and Indians made up 88 percent and 4 percent of the population respectively. Malaya's population quickly increased during the 19th and 20th centuries, although the majority of Chinese immigrants were males rather than females. By 1921, Malaya's population had swelled to nearly three million, and the Chinese constituted 30 percent of Malaya's population while the Malays constituted 54.7% of Malaya's population, whose growth was fueled by immigrants from neighboring Indonesia (the Indians made up most of the remainder). While the Chinese population was largely transient, and many coolies returned to China on a frequent basis, 29 percent of the Chinese population were local born, most of whom were the offspring of first-generation Chinese immigrants. The British government began to impose restrictions on migration during the 1930s, but the difference between the number of Chinese and Malays continued to close up even after World War II. The 1947 census indicated that the Malays constituted 49.5% of the population, compared to the Chinese at 38.4%, out of a total population of 4.9 million.
Malaysian Chinese historical demographics (%) 1957  1970 1980 1991 2000  2010  2,667,452 (45%) 3,564,400 (35%) 3,564,400 (33%) 4,623,900(31.7%) 5,691,900(25%) 6,390,900(24.6%)
By state & territory
The 2000 Population and Housing Census Report gives the following statistics (excluding non citizens) :
State Population % of Population Johor 柔佛 54,920 35.4% Kedah 吉打 12,569 14.9% Kelantan 吉兰丹 2,575 3.8% Malacca 马六甲 22,392 29.1% Negeri Sembilan 森美兰 22,405 25.6% Pahang 彭亨 14,749 17.7% Perak 霹雳 61,175 32% Perlis 玻璃市 992 10.3% Penang 槟城 44,323 46.5% Sabah 沙巴 691,096 13.2% Sarawak 砂拉越 852,198 26.7% Selangor (including Federal Territory of Putrajaya) 雪兰莪 166,018 30.7% Terengganu 丁加奴 2,641 0.3% Federal Territory Population % of Population Kuala Lumpur 吉隆坡 71,819 43.5%
States with large Chinese population
As of 2008, the majority of Chinese people are mainly concentrated in the west coast states of west Malaysia with significant percentage of Chinese (30% and above) such as Penang, Perak, Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Johor.
Areas with significant Chinese populations(40% and above) for each state are:
Kuala Lumpur 吉隆坡
Kepong, Cheras, Bukit Bintang, Old Klang Road, Sri Petaling, Pudu, Segambut.
Subang Jaya/USJ, Puchong, SS2, Petaling Jaya, Damansara Jaya/Utama, Bandar Utama, Serdang, Port Klang.
Year Total population Malay Percentage Chinese Percentage 1891 81,592 23,750 50,844 2011 5.46 Million 1.45 Million 29 %
Penang island, Bukit Mertajam
Year Total population Malay Percentage Chinese Percentage 1812 26,107 9,854 37.7% 7,558 28.9% 1820 35,035 14,080 40.2% 8,595 24.5% 1860 124,772 71,723 57.4% 36,222 29.0% 1891 232,003 92,681 39.9% 86.988 37.5% 1970 775,000 247,000 30.6% 436,000 56.3% 1990 1,150,000 399,200 34.5% 607,400 52.9% 2005 1,511,000 624,000 41.3% 650,000 43%
Ipoh, Taiping, Batu Gajah, Sitiawan
Year Total population Malay Percentage Chinese Percentage 1891 94,345 44.0% 1901 329,665 150,239 45.6%
Johor Bahru, Kluang, Batu Pahat, Muar, Segamat
States with medium Chinese population
These are states where the Chinese are a significant minority (10% - 29.9%) such as Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Sarawak and Sabah.
The major Chinese population areas (40% and above) for each state are
Negeri Sembilan 森美兰
Bentong, Raub, Mentakab, Kuantan
Kuching, Sibu, Bintulu, Miri, Sarikei, Sri Aman, Marudi, Lawas, Mukah, Limbang, Kapit, Serian, Bau
Kota Kinabalu and Sandakan. Tawau, Kudat and scattered regions in the south (most notably Beaufort and Keningau) also have small but significant Chinese communities
A governmental statistic in 2000 classifies the dialect affiliation of the ethnic Chinese in Malaysia:
Dialect Population Hokkien 1,848,211 Hakka 1,679,027 Cantonese 1,355,541 Teochew 974,573 Mandarin 958,467 Hainanese 380,781 Min Bei 373,337 Foochow 249,413
Although their ancestral origin are different but due to intermarriages between the different linguistic groups and also due to regional influences, different regions are formed each with its own defacto lingua franca to facilitate communication between the different Chinese dialects in the same region.
Furthermore, the younger generations have generally lost command of their own subdialect (e.g. Hainanese, Hing Hua) and prefer to speak the lingua franca in each region.
Klang and Malacca groups are also predominantly Hokkien speaking but the variant spoken is Southern Malaysian Hokkien which has a similar accent to Singaporean Hokkien. Thus, Sarawak Chinese speak their own accent of Hokkien in various places in Kuching.
In Sibu and Sitiawan, Fuzhou (or Foochow) is widely spoken but it is not a lingua franca.
Hakka, specifically the Huiyang (惠陽, Hakka: Fui Yong) variant, is the main Chinese dialect in the East Malaysian state of Sabah. According to a census in 1991, 113000 Sabahans identified themselves as being of Hakka descent. This is a clear majority over the Cantonese, of whom there were 28000, making them a distant second. This makes Sabah the only state in Malaysia where Hakka is clearly the predominant dialect among the local Chinese.
In other regions of Malaysia, there are significant numbers of Hakka people, for example in the town of Miri in Sarawak and in major cities in Peninsular Malaysia. However, many do not speak Hakka due to the stronger influence of Hokkien and Cantonese in Peninsular Malaysia. The variants of Hakka most widely spoken in Malaysian states other than Sabah are the Ho Poh and Moiyan (Meixian) variants, which are very seldom spoken in Sabah itself.
Many Chinese of other dialect subgroups are able to understand and/or speak Cantonese at various levels due to the influence of movies and television programs from Hong Kong, which are aired on the TVB channel through the Astro pay television service. The Hakkas, especially, are able to pick up Cantonese with ease due to the similarities between the Hakka and Cantonese dialects.
Southern Peninsular Malaysia especially Johor are predominantly Mandarin speaking.
This is a result of influence from the Mandarin dominant media from Singapore and proximity of Johor to Singapore. Johor and parts of Malacca are able to receive Singapore's free-to-air TV.
Many Chinese educated Malaysian Chinese families have taken to speaking Mandarin with their children due to the notion that other Chinese dialects are growing increasingly redundant in an era where Mandarin is increasing in importance. This has led to the emergence of a community of young Chinese who are fluent in Mandarin but unable to speak their native Chinese dialect, understand but do not speak it, or prefer not to speak it in public.
Unlike Singapore which has a single medium of instruction, not all families send their children to Chinese medium schools so there still exists Malay or English educated Chinese who don't know how to speak Mandarin. Morever, a significant percentage of older generation regardless of education are more comfortable speaking non Mandarin dialects.
Malaysian Chinese can be categorised to be educated in 3 different streams of education i.e. English educated, Chinese educated and Malay educated. This is due to the different era and type of education offered mentioned below.
Public education in Malaysia is free. There are two types of public schools at the primary level: the Malay-medium National schools and the non-Malay-medium National-type schools. National-type schools are subdivided into Chinese-medium and Tamil-medium schools. For the secondary level, only Malay-medium National schools currently exist. There used to be English-medium National-type schools at the primary and the secondary levels as well, however they had been assimilated to become Malay-medium National schools since the 1980s. In all schools, Malay (the national language) and English are compulsory subjects. By law, primary education is compulsory. Malaysian Chinese citizens can choose to attend any school regardless of medium of instructiion, although virtually none choose to attend Tamil-medium schools due to cultural differences.
At the tertiary level, most Bachelor's degree courses offered at public universities are taught in the national language, that is, Bahasa Malaysia, while post-graduates studies are usually conducted in English. English is used as the primary medium of instruction at most private higher educational institutions.
About 90% of Malaysian Chinese children in Malaysia today go to Mandarin-medium primary schools, while only a small group of 10% or so attend Malay medium primary schools. However, most Malaysian Chinese (more than 95%) switch to Malay medium schools for their secondary education. The rationale behind this is because Malay-medium secondary schools are free while Mandarin-medium secondary schools are fee paying.
The switch from Mandarin medium primary school to Malay medium secondary school for the majority of Malaysian Chinese has resulted in many school dropouts as students are unable to cope with the difference in the medium of instruction. The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) pointed out an estimated 25% of Chinese students dropout before reaching the age of 18; the annual dropout rate is estimated to be over 100,000 and worsening. Certain dropouts become apprentices in workshops, picking up skills like plumbing or motor-repair. Others eager to make a quick buck find themselves involved in illicit trades, such as peddling pirated DVDs or collecting debts for loan sharks. However in October 2011, Deputy Education Minister Wee Ka Siong indicated that the 25% dropout rate may not be accurate as many Chinese students choose to pursue their studies at private schools or overseas such as in Singapore, while the Malaysian government only collates student data from the national school system, giving a false impression of a high dropout rate.
During the colonial period and for years after independence, English schools originally established by the British colonial government were regarded as more prestigious than the different vernacular schools. As a result, a significant number of older Malaysian Chinese who attended school before the 1970s are English-educated. Beginning in the 1970s, English-medium teaching was replaced with Malay-medium teaching in English national-type schools, which became Malay-medium national schools.  Since then, most English-educated parents send their children to Chinese primary schools while a few choose to send their children to Malay-medium national schools. Those who went to national schools would be known as Malay-educated Chinese.
The eventual objective of making Malay the main medium of instruction in schools as stated in the Razak Report (the fundamental report for the education policy of Malaysia), along with the assimilation of English national-type schools into Malay national schools, had led to Chinese education groups being vigorously protective of the Chinese education system in Malaysia. In 2003 to 2011, the Malaysian government introduced an experimental policy of using English as the language of instruction for Science and Mathematics at primary and secondary schools. The decision sparked concerns and protests among Chinese education groups. A compromise was reached that Chinese primary schools would teach Science and Mathematics in both Chinese and English. In July 2009, the education minister announced that the medium of instruction for Science and Mathematics would revert back to the original languages of instruction starting from 2012.
Before Mandarin gained popularity among Malaysian Chinese in the late 20th century, Malaysian Chinese romanised their names according to the pronunciation of their Chinese names in their respective original dialect. E.g.:
The younger generations tend to retain the original dialect for the surname while using Mandarin pronunciation and romanisation for the given name. E.g.:
Male: Chan Yung Choong 陈永聪 (Surname: Cantonese, Given name: Mandarin)
In recent years, it has become increasingly common for given names to be romanised according to the Pinyin system. E.g.:
Female: Wee Xiao Wen 黄小雯 (Surname: Hokkien/Hokchiu, Given name: Mandarin, according to Pinyin romanisation)
Some Chinese will adopt an English nickname for the convenience of Westerners e.g.
Yeoh Choo Kheng 楊紫瓊, Michelle commonly written as Michelle Yeoh
Those who marry Muslims and converted into Muslim will have a Muslim name in front e.g.
Tan Yew Leong, Abdullah commonly written as Abdullah Tan
A majority of the Chinese in Malaysia claim to be Buddhist or Taoist, though the lines between them are often blurred and, typically, a syncretic Chinese religion incorporating elements of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and traditional ancestor-worship is practised, with the fact that each individual follows it in varying degrees. Thus, Chinese Buddhism is traditionally embraced by the Chinese which is brought over from China and handed down over the generations of Malaysian Chinese born in Malaysia.
About 9.6% are Christian (Mainstream Protestants, Catholics and other denominations including a fast-growing number of Evangelicals and Charismatics). This is largely due to the influences of Western educated Malaysian Chinese who went overseas either for studies or work.
The Chinese in Malaysia maintain a distinct communal identity and rarely intermarry with native Muslim Malays for religious and cultural reasons. According to Muslim Laws, the Chinese partner would be required by law to renounce their religion and adopt the Muslim religion. Most Malaysian Chinese consider their being "Chinese" at once an ethnic, cultural and political identity.
However, there are many who have intermarried with Malaysian Indians, who are predominantly Hindu. The children of such marriages are known as Chindians. Chindians tend to speak English as their mother tongue.
In the Bornean states of Sabah and Sarawak, Malaysians of mixed Chinese-Native parentage ('native' referring to the indigenous tribes in those states, e.g. Iban and Melanau in Sarawak as well as Kadazan and Murut in Sabah) are referred to as "'Sino'" (e.g. Sino-Iban, Sino-Kadazan). Depending entirely on their upbringing, they are either brought up to follow native customs or Chinese traditions. A small minority forgo both native and Chinese traditions, instead opting for a sort of cultural anonymity by speaking only English and/or Malay and not practicing both Chinese and tribal customs.
Malaysian Chinese eat all types of food which includes Chinese, Indian, Malay and Western cuisines. Some Malaysian Chinese are vegetarians, as they may be devoted followers of Buddhism, while others do not consume beef, especially those worshipping the Goddess of Mercy (Guan Yin). Malaysian Chinese food contains similarities and differences with the Chinese food in China.
However, there are local inventions such as Loh Mee 滷麵, thick noodle in clear gravy found only in the Klang Valley and dark gravy in Penang. Bak Kut Teh 肉骨茶 originated from Klang and not China. Influences from the spicy Malay cuisine can be found in local inventions such as Curry Mee, Curry Chicken and Chili Crab. The influence from the Peranakan cuisine can be found in dishes such as Laksa and Mee Siam.
There exist some degrees of differences in the Malaysian Chinese culture compared to that of China. Some traditional festivals celebrated by the Chinese community in Malaysia are no longer celebrated in China after the Chinese Cultural Revolution. This is especially true of regional rites and rituals that are still celebrated by the Malaysian descendants of the peasant migrants from China. Some have attributed the traditional practices of Malaysian Chinese to "a little backwater of Chinese culture as it was in China 80 years ago".
Socio-economic position within Malaysia
Malaysian Chinese have the highest household income among the 3 ethnic groups in Malaysia. According to Sulaiman Mahbob, as of December 2007, the monthly average household income was at 4,437 ringgit 
Malaysian Chinese are dominant in both business and commerce sectors in Malaysia. As a result, they are the biggest taxpayers among all ethnic groups in the country. They contribute almost 90 percent of the country's income tax.
Article 153 of the Constitution of Malaysia grants the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King of Malaysia) responsibility for “safeguard[ing] the special position of the ‘Malays’and natives of any of the States of Sabah and Sarawak and the legitimate interests of other communities” and goes on to specify ways to do this, such as establishing quotas for entry into the civil service, public scholarships and public education.
Partly in line with the constitution, Malaysia has devised a long-standing policy of providing affirmative action to Bumiputeras (the ethnic Malays) which spans over four decades. Affirmative action is provided in the form of the Malaysian New Economic Policy or what is now known as the National Development Policy  Under such affirmative action, various concessions are made to Bumiputeras. Amongst many other concessions, 70% of seats in public universities are to be allocated to Bumiputeras, all initial public offerings (IPOs) must set aside a 30% share for Bumiputera investors and monetary support were provided to Bumiputeras for entrepreneurial development.
Malaysian Chinese along with Malaysian Indians are considered "non bumiputera" and hence do not enjoy these concessions.
Prominent Malaysian Chinese
Among emigrants, Chinese Malaysians form the largest outflow amongst all ethnic groups in Malaysia. It is forecasted that the proportion of Malaysian Chinese in Malaysia's total population will fall from 45% in 1957 to 18.6% in 2035 if current trends continue.
- Chinese Singaporean
- Overseas Chinese
- Malaysian Chinese religion
- Demographics of Malaysia
- Islam in China
- May 13 Incident
- New Village
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Ethnic groups in Malaysia by region Nationwide Peninsular Malaysia Sarawak Sabah Expatriates Overseas Chinese AfricaEastern AfricaElsewhere AmericasElsewhere AsiaCentral AsiaEast AsiaSouth-East AsiaSouth AsiaWest Asia Europe Oceania1 An overseas department of France in the western Indian Ocean. See also: Hong Kong Diaspora
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