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The Chinese in Europe, by Gregor Benton and Frank N. Pieke
The Chinese presence in Europe goes back over a hundred years yet studies on the subject are rare. Until the publication of this book, these studies, which numbered three all told, covered the first half of the Twentieth century. They were written by Frederik van Heek from Holland, James L. Watson from Great Britain and Charles Archaimbault from France.Covering the second part of the Twentieth century, The Chinese in Europe therefore stops a gap that has been screaming to be filled.
It was in fact in Europe between the 1960s and the 1970s that the Chinese population has grown the most. Attempting to take all the major aspects of this phenomenon into consideration, the 16 authors of the book take a look at the Chinese communities around a dozen European countries (France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Great Britain, etc.). The writers focus both on the relative invisibility of the Chinese migrants and on the migration policies of the different European states. Bringing us a collection of 14 contributions, Gregor Benton and Frank N. Pieke, who initiated the work, remind us that the pieces sway between two kinds of analyses: national and transnational. Yet while the national analysis exaggerates the coherence and solidarity of the community, from the moment the writers put pen to paper they wonder if the study of the Chinese diaspora should nut be based on successive analysis of distinct national communities.
The overseas Chinese communities in Europe are, in fact, heterogeneous both through the diversity of their geographic origins and the multiplicity of the waves of their migration. The book cites five main groups: 1) the Chinese from the south of Zhejiang, coming originally from Wenzhou and Qingtian, who arrived during the First World War; 2) the Cantonese from the area around the Pearl River Delta, who arrived during the Second World War; 3) the Chinese refugees from Indochina during the 1970s and 1980s; 4) the Chinese from the north of Fujian province who arrived in the mid 1980s; and 5) the Northern Chinese who came following the fall of communism in Eastern Europe.
Even so, Flemming Christiansen, in his chapter entitled Chinese Identity in Europe, stands out as the only writer to propose an analysis that recognises the composite character of the overseas Chinese communities, leaving aside questions such as assimilation into the society of the host country. Rather, he focuses his attention on the dynamism of these communities. For him the flexibility of the links between the overseas Chinese is precisely what enables them to adapt more easily to their environment. Laying to dust the belief in the unifying role of Confucianism he shows that it is other things that keep these communities together: the generations, dialects, beliefs, lineages, level of education, etc.
The book also scores highly for addressing political issues, something that studies on the Chinese diaspora often tend to either gloss over or ignore. Russia is a case in point in this respect; as the title of Anne de Tinguys contribution Chinese Immigration to Russia: A Variation on an Old Theme suggests, the past has caught up and overlapped with the present. In fact, as they have since the beginning of the century, the overseas Chinese networks established in Moscow continue to organise the transfer of their compatriots to Eastern Europe or the United States. In the 1990s, having developed a policy aimed at attracting Chinese investors, certain Eastern European countries such as Romania, Czechoslovakia and Hungary became in spite of themselves a veritable bridgehead of illegal emigration towards Western Europe. Some Chinese entrepreneurs, until then living in these countries, played a central role in these influxes of migrants (in Romania 47 Chinese dummy factories were uncovered as fronts for such activities).
Equally, in China, measures have also been taken to push this overwhelming amount of manpower to move towards job markets in other countries. This government policy is made complete by putting in place, in these new countries of residence, associations aimed at controlling the Chinese who have settled there. Thus we can be forgiven for wondering if the Chinese government is not actually promoting Chinese illegal emigration behind the scenes. Unfortunately this book offers no clear answer to this question, probably in part because the chapters were finished in 1996.
It does, however, at long last demonstrate the great disparity among sources that give the numbers of overseas Chinese and the particular treatment they receive in each of these countries. For example, in France, the official census makes no distinguishing feature either of mother tongue or of the country of origin of naturalised people. Furthermore, figures published by the Population and Migration Department under the Ministry of Employment include only one category for Asia which embraces dozens of countries.
So even if this book, because it is breaking new research ground, does not address all the essential questions (such as comparative analysis of the four generations of Chinese families in Europe), it is nevertheless a pioneering work.
Translated from French original by Tina Frow