Thai Chinese

Thai Chinese
Thai Chinese

Utt Panichkul.jpg Thaksin crop.jpg Abhisit.jpg King Bhumibol Adulyadej 2010-9-29.jpg
PPS 2.JPG Chamlong Srimuang 2008-12-27.jpg Thawal Thamrong Navaswadhi.jpg Bundit Ungrangsee 19072007 BKKIFF.jpg
Total population
7,053,240 [1]
Regions with significant populations
Thailand Thailand

Chinese languages, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka, Hokkien, Teochew and Thai


Thai Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Chinese Folk Religions, Christianity

Related ethnic groups

Teochews, Hokkien, Hakka, Hainan, Southern Chinese, Peranakan and other Chinese people

Thai Chinese
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 泰國華人
Simplified Chinese 泰国华人
Thai name
Thai ไทยเชื้อสายจีน

The Thai Chinese are an overseas Chinese community who live in Thailand. Thailand is home to the largest, oldest, most prominent, and most integrated overseas Chinese community in the world with a population of approximately 9.5 million people. Most Thai Chinese have been in Thailand for five generations or more; the Thai-Chinese have been deeply ingrained into all elements of Thai society for the past 400 years. The present Thai monarch, Chakri Dynastry, is founded by King Rama I who himself was partly Chinese. His predecessor, King Taksin of Thonburi dynastry, was the son of Chinese immigrant from Guangdong Province and was born with a Chinese name. Nearly all of Thai Chinese identify themselves as being Thai due to highly successful integration of Chinese communities into Thai society. In addition, over half of ethnic Thai (the rest are southern Thai who are mostly of Malay descent) are descendants of people who migrated from southern China over 1,000 years ago and are directly associated (racially, culturally, linguistically) with China modern day Dai people.

Official statistics in 1987 shows that about 15% of Thailand's population claim to be of Chinese ethnicity.[2] However, it is estimated that at least 30% - 40% (21 - 27 million people) of Thai population are of Chinese descent when taking into account people of mixed ancestry. The community is the most well-integrated overseas Chinese community worldwide and any type of racial conflict is close to non-existent. Contrary to its neighboring countries, Chinese culture and tradition are highly regarded and celebrated in Thailand as part of Thai culture itself. Nearly all of Chinese Thai are fully integrated. Unlike most other overseas Chinese communities, Thai Chinese consider themselves as being Thai rather Chinese and have little interest or knowledge of their Chinese roots. Up until 1980s, Thailand's have long restricted the use of Chinese names to gain citizenship and prohibited the teaching of Chinese language as to fully integrate Chinese immigrants into Thai society. As the result, more than 99% of Thai Chinese have only Thai names and no knowledge of Chinese language. Extensive intermarriages with the Thais, especially in the past has resulted in many people who claim Chinese ethnicity with Thai ancestry, or mixed.[3] People of Chinese descent are concentrated in the coastal areas of Thailand, principally Bangkok.[4] They are well-represented in all levels of Thai society and play a leading role in business and politics. The current prime minister is of Chinese descent as were a majority of the previous prime ministers. More than 80% of top 40 richest people in Thailand are Thai of full or partly Chinese descent.[5] It is estimated that roughly 4% (~400,000 individuals) of Thai Chinese family are USD millionaire (USD 1 million or more of liquid financial assets such as cash and stocks).

Thai-Chinese run businesses are now the largest investor in China among all overseas Chinese community worldwide. Examples of these include. 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.[6] 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 CP 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, 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 and has held many international golf tournaments including Johnnie Walker Golf Tournament and visited by former US President Bill Clinton. In 2008, Mr. Chanchai became the first owner of corporate Jet in the Chinese mainland.[7] Saha-Union, Thailand's leading industrial group, have so far invested over USD 1.5 billion in China, and operating over 11 power plants in three of China's provinces. With over other 30 businesses in China, the company employs approximately 7,000 Chinese workers. 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.

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.[8]

Nearly all ethnic Chinese in Thailand speaks only Thai language, but an extremely small number (mostly elders) are also conversant in Chinese with varying degrees of fluency. The Teochew dialect of Chinese is used as a commercial lingua franca among a very few elderly Chinese business circles, principally in Chinatown of Bangkok.[9]

The proficiency of the Thai language among the ethnic Chinese is attributed to the fact that Thai is a compulsory subject in all schools, while students from a handful of Chinese-medium schools (fewer than 0.1% of all schools) are more proficient in Chinese than those from other schools in general.



Chinese temple in Bangkok

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.[10] 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.[11]

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.[12]

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,[13] one of them is Baan Haw Mosque, a well known mosque in the north.


The history of 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 all four invasions failed. Ayutthaya thus fell to the Burmese in 1767. The Chinese efforts diverted the attention of Burma's Siam army, General Taksin, who was 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-Thai[16] 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.

Many Chinese in the past set up small enterprises so as to eke out a living as street vendors, a profession that was passed on until present day.

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.

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.

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 Pibulsonggram, (in spite of being part-Chinese himself).[18] 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. When diplomatic relations were established with China[19] in the 1970s, resident Chinese not born in Thailand were offered the chance of becoming Thai citizens. The remaining permanent resident Chinese alien population was then estimated at less than 200,000.

Dialect groups

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.[20]

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 in Thai).

The Hokkiens constitute the largest dialect group among the Chinese in Songkhla 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.[21][22][23] 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.[24]

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.[25][26][27] 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.[28]

Linguistic concentrations

  • Teochew
  • Hakka
  • Hainanese
  • Cantonese
  • Hokkien


Thai Chinese can often be recognized by having a surname containing the original Chinese name or its translation. In former prime minister Banharn Silpa-Archa's name, Archa (horse) is the translation of the Chinese surname Ma (馬). Another example is Sondhi Limthongkul, where Lim is the Hainanese pronunciation of the Chinese surname Lin (林). Many Thai Chinese adopted long surnames[29] to mimic the royal names formerly given to high officials by the kings. Ethnic Thais tend to have shorter surnames, though many have now changed them to longer ones. Thai Chinese generally adopted Thai surnames to assist in assimilating into society. When choosing a surname, they would often combine auspicious Thai words with their original Chinese surname.

See also


  1. ^ The Ranking of Ethnic Chinese Population Overseas Compatriot Affairs Commission, R.O.C.
  2. ^ CIA - The World Factbook-Thailand
  3. ^ Chris Dixon (1999). The Thai Economy: Uneven Development and internationalisation. Routledge. p. 267. ISBN 0415024420. 
  4. ^ Paul J. Christopher (2006). 50 Plus One Greatest Cities in the World You Should Visit. Encouragement Press, LLC. p. 25. ISBN 1933766018. 
  5. ^ - Forbes Thai 40 Richest
  6. ^ - CP Group
  7. ^ - Reignwood
  8. ^ Chris Baker, Pasuk Phongpaichit. A History of Thailand. Cambridge University Press. p. 93. ISBN 0521816157. 
  9. ^ Durk Gorter (2006). Linguistic Landscape: A New Approach to Multilingualism. Multilingual Matters. p. 43. ISBN 1853599166. 
  10. ^ Martin E. Marty, R. Scott Appleby, John H. Garvey, Timur Kuran. Fundamentalisms and the State: Remaking Polities, Economies, and Militance. University Of Chicago Press. p. 390. ISBN 0226508846. 
  11. ^ Chee Kiong Tong, Kwok B. Chan (2001). Alternate Identities: The Chinese of Contemporary Thailand. pp. 30–34. ISBN 981210142X. 
  12. ^ Jean Elizabeth DeBernardi (2006). The Way That Lives in the Heart: Chinese Popular Religion and Spirits Mediums in Penang, Malaysia. [[Stanford University Press]]. pp. 25–30. ISBN 0804752923. 
  13. ^ [1]
  14. ^ Bertil Lintner. Blood Brothers: The Criminal Underworld of Asia. Macmillan Publishers. p. 234. ISBN 1403961549. 
  15. ^ Martin Stuart-Fox. A Short History of China and Southeast Asia: Tribute, Trade and Influence. Allen & Unwin. p. 126. ISBN 1864489545. 
  16. ^ Smith Nieminen Win. Historical Dictionary of Thailand. Praeger Publishers. p. 231. ISBN 0-8108-5396-5. 
  17. ^ Rosalind C. Morris (2000). In the Place of Origins: Modernity and Its Mediums in Northern Thailand. Duke University Press. p. 334. ISBN 0822325179. 
  18. ^ Michael Leifer (1996). Dictionary of the Modern Politics of South-East Asia. Routledge. p. 204. ISBN 0415138213. 
  19. ^ "Bilateral Relations". Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the People's Republic of China. 2003-10-23. Retrieved 2010-06-12. "On July 1, 1975, China and Thailand established Diplomatic relations." 
  20. ^ William Allen Smalley (1994). Linguistic Diversity and National Unity: Language. University of Chicago Press. pp. 212–3. ISBN 0226762882. 
  21. ^ Celebrating Chinese New Year I
  22. ^ Peranakan Chinese New Year Festival
  23. ^ บาบ๋า-เพอรานากัน ประจำปีครั้งที่ 19 ณ จังหวัดภูเก็ต
  24. ^ Andrew D.W. Forbes (1988). The Muslims of Thailand. Soma Prakasan. pp. 14–15. ISBN 974-9553-75-6. 
  25. ^ Doi Mae Salong Chiang Rai
  26. ^ Thailand: The Magic Kingdom of Mae Hong Son
  27. ^ Doi Mae Salong
  28. ^ Andrew D.W. Forbes (1988). The Muslims of Thailand. Soma Prakasan. p. 93. ISBN 974-9553-75-6. 
  29. ^ Mirin MacCarthy. "Successfully Yours: Thanet Supornsaharungsi." Pattaya Mail. [Undated] 1998.

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