Burmese Chinese

Burmese Chinese

ethnic group
group=Burmese Chinese

poptime=1,662,000 (est.)
rels=Predominantly Theravada Buddhism and/or Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism.
Minority Islam (mostly among Panthay)

langs=Burmese, Min Nan, Cantonese, Hakka
p=Miǎndiàn huárén
IPA2|təyoʊʔ lù myó

The Burmese Chinese or Chinese Burmese are a group of overseas Chinese born or raised in Burma (Myanmar). Although the Chinese officially make up three percent of the population, the actual figure is believed to be much higher. Among the under-counted Chinese populations are those of mixed background, [cite book |last=Hooker |first=Michael Barry |title=Law and the Chinese in Southeast Asia |year=2002 |publisher=Institute of SoutheastAsian Studies |id=ISBN 981-230-125-9 ] those that have declared themselves as ethnic Bamar to escape discrimination, and tens of thousands of illegal Chinese immigrants that have flooded Upper Burma since the 1990s but are not counted due to the lack of reliable census taking. [cite news|name=China's Ambitions in Myanmar|url=http://www.asiapacificms.com/articles/myanmar_influence/|title=China's Ambitions in Myanmar|date=July 2000]

The Burmese Chinese dominate the Burmese economy although many enterprises today are co-owned by the military. Moreover, the Burmese Chinese have a disproportionately large presence in Burmese higher education, and make up a high percentage of the educated class in Burma.


Generally, the Burmese Chinese in Lower Burma fall into three main groups:
* Hokkien (Burmese: "eingyi shay", or "let shay" lit. long-sleeved shirts) from Fujian Province
* Cantonese (Burmese: "eingyi to", or "let to" lit. short-sleeved shirts) from Guangdong Province
* Hakka (Burmese: "zaka", lit. mid-length sleeve) from Fujian and Guangdong provinces

The Hokkien and Cantonese comprise 45% of the ethnic Chinese population.cite book | author=Mya Than | editor=Leo Suryadinata | year=1997 | title=Ethnic Chinese As Southeast Asians | id=ISBN 0-312-17576-0] Hakkas are further subdivided into those with ancestry from Fujian Province and Guangdong Province, with each called "ein-gyi shay ha-ka" and "eingyi to haka" respectively. The groups have different stereotypical associations. The Cantonese are commonly thought of as the poorest of the Chinese, the Hokkiens are stereotypically wealthier, occupying high positions in the economy, and having connections to the government.

In Upper Burma and Shan Hills, the Panthay and Kokang, mainly speakers of a Mandarin dialect of the Southwestern Mandarin branch, most akin to Yunnanese, predominate. The mountain-dwelling, farming Kokang are classified as a part of the Shan national race, although they have no linguistic or genetic affinity to the Tai-Kadai-speaking Shan, and the largely trading Muslim Panthay are long considered separate local nationalities rather than a Chinese diaspora community. Combined, they form 21% of Burmese Chinese.

Finally, there are the "Tayoke kabya" of mixed Chinese and indigenous Burmese parentage. The "kabya" (Burmese: mixed heritage) have a tendency to follow the customs of the Chinese more than of the Burmese. (Indeed those that follow Burmese customs are absorbed into and largely indistinguishable from the mainstream Burmese society.) A large portion of Burmese Chinese is thought to have some "kabya" blood, possibly because immigrants could acquire Burmese citizenship through intermarriage with the indigenous Burmese peoples.



Most Burmese Chinese typically speak Burmese as their mother tongue. Those with higher education also speak Mandarin and/or English. Some use, usually as a second language, of Chinese dialects/languages still exist. Hokkien is mostly used in Yangon as well as in Lower Burma, while Taishan Cantonese and Yunnanese Mandarin are well preserved in Upper Burma.

During General Ne Win's rule (1962-1988), the ban on Chinese-language schools caused a decline of Mandarin speakers. The number of Chinese schools is growing again today because of the importance of Mandarin Chinese (note: often Standard Mandarin, the national language of Mainland China and Taiwan, as distinctive from the Southwestern Mandarin dialect of the Upper Burma, Kokang and Panthay).


Most Burmese Chinese practice Theravada Buddhism, incorporating some Mahayana Buddhist and Taoist beliefs, such as the worship of Kuan Yin. Chinese New Year celebrations, as well as other Chinese festivals, are subdued and held privately. Clan associations are often the only places where the Chinese culture is retained.

The Panthay or Chinese Muslims (回教華人; _my. ပန်းသေးလူမျိုး, lit. "little flowers") practice Islam.


The Burmese Chinese place a high importance on education, and represent a disproportionately high share of those with advanced (medical, engineering or doctorate) degrees in Burma. The number would be higher still had it not been for the longstanding ban on those without Burmese citizenship from pursuing advanced degrees. Nowadays, many wealthy Burmese Chinese send their children overseas--particularly in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, for advanced studies. [cite news|first=Htet |last=Win|url=http://www.irrawaddy.org/aviewer.asp?a=3799&z=102 |title=The Road To Riches? |publisher=The Irrawaddy |date=2004-07 |accessdate=2006-06-05 ]


The Burmese Chinese have Burmese names and many also have Chinese names. Given names in various Chinese dialects are often transliterated into the Burmese language, using rough equivalentsvague|sound or meaning?|date=March 2008. For example, a Burmese Chinese person named 'Khin Aung' may have the Chinese name of 慶豐 (zh-p|p=Qìngfēng), with '慶' (zh-p|p=qìng) corresponding to 'Khin', and '豐' (zh-p|p=fēng) corresponding to 'Aung'. However, variations of transcription do exist (between dialects), and some Burmese Chinese do not choose to adopt similar-sounding Burmese and Chinese names. Because the Burmese lack surnames, many Burmese Chinese tend to pass on portions of their given names to future generations, for the purpose of denoting lineage.

According to publications of Longsei Tang, a clan association based in Yangon, the ten most common Chinese surnames in Yangon are:
#Li (李)
#Peng (彭)
#Shi (時)
#Dong (董)
#Min (閔)
#Niu (牛)
#Bian (邊)
#Xin (辛)
#Guan (關)


The Burmese Chinese cuisine is based on Chinese cuisine, particularly from Fujian, Guangdong and Yunnan provinces, with local influences. Spices such as turmeric and chili are commonly used. The following is a partial list of Chinese contributions to the overall Burmese cuisine. These are an established part of today's Burmese cuisine that they are hardly differentiated as a foreign cuisine.

* Pauksi -- Steamed buns
* Bhèkin -- Roasted duck
* Igyakway -- Fried cruller/bread-stick
* Htamin kyaw -- Fried rice
* La mont -- Mooncake
* Mewswan -- Thin rice noodle soup
* San-byoat -- Rice porridge
* Panthay khaukswè -- Panthay-style fried noodles
* Sigyet khaukswè -- literally "Noodles laced in cooked oil" usually with chicken


The earliest records of Chinese migration were in the Song and Ming dynasties. In the 1700s, Ming Dynasty princes settled in Kokang (the northern part of present-day Burma). Chinese traders, however, would typically travel as far as the capital city as well as northern towns on the Irrawaddy such as Bhamo. Some of them stayed and started a Chinese community at Amarapura, and when King Mindon Min moved his capital to Mandalay in 1859, the Chinese were the only community that decided to stay behind. Their descendants, many intermarried into the host society, remain important and respected citizens of Amarapura. Another wave of immigration occurred in the 1800s under the British colonial administration. Britain encouraged immigration of Indians and Chinese to its colonial possessions, and such incentives with opportunities for work and enterprise and for accumulating wealth attracted many Chinese. They came to Burma via Malaysia. The Chinese quickly became dominant in the highly lucrative rice and gem industries. Many became merchants and traders owning both wholesale and retail businesses. Their success was reflected in the popular Burmese expression, "Earn like the Chinese, save like the Indian, and don't waste money like the Bamar". They integrated well into Burmese society not least because they, like the Bamar, were of Sino-Tibetan stock and were Buddhists, implicit in the nickname "pauk hpaw" (lit. sibling). [cite news|first=Pho Thar |last=Aung |url=http://www.irrawaddy.org/aviewer.asp?a=381&z=28 |title=Tango with China |publisher=The Irrawaddy |date=2003-09-16 |accessdate=2006-06-05 ] The Chinese are arguably the only other race the Bamar historically have a high regard for, not just for their ancient and uninterrupted civilization but for their skills and intellect as well.

During the 1950s, Burma was one of the first countries to recognize the People's Republic of China as a nation. However, its own Chinese population was treated as aliens. The Burmese Chinese were issued foreign registration cards (FRC), which declared that they were citizens of China. A similar discrimination policy was set up for Indians. When the Chinese Communists expelled the Kuomintang, many fled to Burma and Thailand over the borders of Yunnan Province. The Burmese government fought and removed the armed KMT and forced them to Taiwan;cite book|author=Martin Smith|year=1991|title=Burma - Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity|publisher=Zed Books|location=London,New Jersey|pages=153-154,225-226,98,39] those who managed to stay prospered.

In 1962, Ne Win led a coup d'état and declared himself head of state. Although a "kabya" himself, he banned Chinese-language education, and created other measures to compel the Chinese to leave. Ne Win's government stoked up racial animosity and ethnic conflicts against the Chinese, who were terrorized by Burmese citizens, the most violent riots taking place at the time of the Cultural Revolution in China. When Ne Win implemented the "Burmese Way to Socialism", a plan to nationalize all industries, the livelihoods of many entrepreneurial Chinese were destroyed and some 100,000 Chinese left the country. All schools were nationalized, including Chinese-language schools. Beginning in 1967 and continuing throughout the 1970s, anti-Chinese riots continued to flare up and many believed they were covertly supported by the government. [cite book |last=Steinberg |first=David L. |title=Burma: The State of Myanmar |year=2002 |publisher=Georgetown University Press |id=ISBN 0-87840-893-2 ] Many Burmese Chinese left the country during Ne Win's rule, largely because of a failing economy and widespread discrimination.

The first government-sponsored racial riots to take place in Burma was in 1967, during General Ne Win’s rule. In the riots, the general populace went on a killing spree because of sedition and instigation against the Chinese by various government departments. The massacre lasted for about five consecutive days, during which thousands of Chinese died or were left dying in the streets of Rangoon. Some of the Chinese were thrown alive from the second and third floors of buildings in downtown Rangoon. The dead and wounded Chinese were hauled up unceremoniously and dumped onto army trucks and taken to 'htauk kyan' incinerators and the ‘carcasses’ were sent up in smoke. That showed the true bestial and cruel side of the character of the ruling Burma Military Junta. The only “crime” the Chinese committed was the wearing of Chairman Mao’s badges on their shirts. [Various Goernment Newspapers in Burma.] [Asia Week, Far Eastern Economic Review.] [Bertil Litner Bangkok Post Thailand]

Latha Secondary School was torched by the henchmen of General Ne Win's government, where school girls were burnt alive. Chinese shops were looted and set on fire. Public attention was successfully diverted by Ne Win from the uncontrollable inflation, scarcity of consumer items and rising prices of rice.

Today, the majority of Burmese Chinese live in the major cities of Yangon, Mandalay, Taunggyi, Bago, and their surrounding areas. According to Global Witness, 30 to 40% of Mandalay's population consists of ethnic Chinese. Although there are Chinatowns ("tayoke tan") in the major cities, the Chinese are widely dispersed. The northern region of Burma has seen an influx of mainland Chinese immigrant workers, black market traders and gamblers. In the Kachin State, which borders China in three directions, Mandarin Chinese is the lingua franca.

Notable Burmese Chinese

*Aung Gyi - leading army dissident and Ne Win's former deputy/co-conspirator in the 1962 coup
*Aw Boon Haw (Hakka) - Inventor of Tiger Balm
*Aw Boon Par (Hakka) - Brother of Aw Boon Haw
*U Shwe,Chairman of Shwe Thazin Syndicate,War War Win Bean Factory,Shwe Nan Daw,Sein Nan Daw,Yadanar Nan Daw,War War Win Gold Shop-The Notorious Liaison between SPDC & Chinese Communist Gov to support the Longevity of Junta & its murder of monks .
*Eike Htun [cite news|first=Michael |last=Backman |url=http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/03/19/1047749824134.html |title= Burma's banking meltdown goes unnoticed beyond its borders |publisher=The Age |date=2003-03-30| accessdate=2006-06-22] (Kokang) - Managing director of Olympic Construction Co. and deputy chairman of Asia Wealth Bank, two large conglomerates in Burma
*Kyin Pein aka Loo Kyin Pein of Shwe Latha Company-The Notorious Nationwide Non-Attorney Bribing Brokers for Cases at Courts& Police Stations who was responsible for Mass Gathering of Swan Ar Shin Gangsters to kill & beat monks in September 2007.
*Khun Sa (Kokang) - Major Southeast Asian druglord
*Khin Nyunt [cite web|last=Kuppuswamy |first=C.S. |date=2004-09-11 |url=http://www.saag.org/papers12/paper1161.html |title=MYANMAR: The shake- up and the fall out. |publisher=South Asia Analysis Group |accessdaymonth=22 May |accessyear=2006] - Former Prime Minister (2003-2004) and Chief of Intelligence (1983-2004) of Myanmar
*Lo Hsing Han (Kokang) - Major Southeast Asian druglord
*Steven Law (also known as Tun Myint Naing; Kokang) - Managing director of Asia World Company, a major Burmese conglomerate and son of Lo Hsing Han
*Ne Win (Hakka) [cite book | first=S.T. | last=Leong | authorlink=S.T. Leong | year=1997 | title=Migration and Ethnicity in Chinese History | publisher=Stanford University Press] - Leader of Burma from 1960s to 1980s
*San Yu (Hakka) - President of Burma in the 1980s
*Serge Pun [cite news|first=Michael |last=Backman
url=http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/03/19/1047749824134.html |title= Burma's banking meltdown goes unnoticed beyond its borders |work=The Age |publisher=The Age |date=2003-03-30| accessdate=2006-06-22
] - Proprietor of Yoma Bank, a major banking chain in Myanmar and chairman of First Myanmar Investment Co. Ltd (FMI), one of Myanmar's leading investment companies [cite news |author=Zaw Htet |title=FMI profits beat the business blues |url=http://www.myanmar.com/myanmartimes/MyanmarTimes18-342/b001.htm |publisher=The Myanmar Times |date=2006-11-13 |accessdate=2006-11-26 ]
*Taw Sein Ko (Hokkien) [cite book|first=Paul | last=Strachan | year=1989 | title=Pagan - Art and Architecture of Old Burma | publisher=Kiscadale] - eminent Director of Archaeology (1901-1915)
*Thakin Ba Thein Tin - Communist leader from the 1970s to the 1990s
*Maung Aye - Vice chairman of SPDC and Chief of Staff of Armed Forces
*Major General Kat Sein - former Minister of Health
*Dr. Kyaw Myint - (Minister of Health)
*Myo Thant - Former Minister of Information under SLORC
*Colonel Tan Yu Sai - Minister of Trade under Ne Win's government
*Colonel Kyi Maung- NLD member (1989-2004) and Army Commander of Rangoon in 1960s
*U Thaung - Minister of Labour & Technical Science, Retired Legion and Ambassador
*Lun Thi - Minister of Energy
*Thein Sein - First Secretary of SPDC
*Kyaw Ba - General Formal Minister of Hotel and Tourism

ee also

*Overseas Chinese
*British Chinese


External links

* [http://newidea.nandaw.net/ Newidea! Myanmar information Web Site]
* [http://mocsa.org.tw/ Burma Overseas Chinese Student Association]
* [http://www.gqb.gov.cn/ Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council of the People's Republic of China] (Chinese-language only)
* [ Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission, R.O.C.]
* [http://www.irrawaddy.org/res/china.html Chronology of Chinese-Burmese Relations] of "The Irrawaddy"

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