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Chinese/Native intermarriage in Austronesian Asia

Chinese/Native intermarriage in Taiwan

The earliest instances of Austronesian and Chinese intermarriage probably occured on the island of Taiwan. Prior to Chinese immigration, the inhabitants of of Taiwan were the descendants of neolithic Austronesians who settled the island around 4000 B.C., absorbing the previous inhabitants.1 Immigrants from China started entering Taiwan as early as the 7th century A.D.2 Significant numbers of Hakka from China had established themselves in Taiwan by the 10th century, they were followed by migrants from Fujian Province, across the strait from Taiwan.3. But large scale Chinese immigration did not take place until European powers established their rule on the island in the 16th-17th century.4 The Dutch in particular encouraged Chinese immigration as a source of agricultural labor for cash crops.5 Chinese immigration continued after Koxinga's forces from China took control of Taiwan in 1644.6

Most of the early Chinese immigrants were male, and marriages with aboriginal women was common.7 There was an old saying among Taiwanese Chinese: 'We have China fathers but not China mothers.' The pingpu, inhabitants of the western plains, were the first aborigines to encounter Chinese migrants; their intermarriage with the Chinese and the adaptation of Chinese names was documented during the Qing Dynasty.8 Pingpu intermarriage with Chinese and assimilation into Chinese culture occured to such a degree that the pingpu's Aborigine status has come under dispute in modern times.9

Although 98% of Taiwan's population today is officially classified as Han Chinese, while the remaining 2% are classified as aborigines, the percentage of Taiwanese 'Chinese' with aborigine ancestry is quite high. Among the benshengren (Chinese Taiwanese descended from Chinese immigrants who arrived before the KMT takeover) population, recent genetic studies reveal that more than 88% of the benshengren population have some degree of aboriginal heritage.10

Chinese/Native intermarriage in Malaysia/Indonesia

Chinese junks first started visiting the Malay world around the 9th century. As early as the 10th century, Chinese refugees from Guangdong and Fujian settled in Java. There had been small numbers of Chinese present in Malaysia and Indonesia prior to the 15th century, but large scale immigrations took place after the reopening of trade routes between China and the Malay world following the visits of the Chinese envoy Zheng He. Another wave of Chinese came to the Philippines during the 16th century to seek opportunities in the Spanish-controlled Mexico-Manila trade, boosting Manila's Chinese population dramatically.11 During the 19th century, the coolie trade brought another influx of Chinese immigrants to the region. Many worked the plantations of European masters in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Chinese Muslims integrated easily into Muslim communities in pre-dominantly Islamic Malaysia and Indonesia, marrying local Muslims. Their children identified as Malay or members of other indigenous ethnic groups. Some of these Chinese immigrants were already Muslims in China. The current Prime Minister of Malaysia is the descendant of a Muslim man from China and a local woman. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's maternal grandfather Hassan (Ha Su Chiang) came from China's Hainan Island to Malaya in the mid 19th century.12 Badawi's Chinese relatives lived in the Muslim village of Hainan's Sanya city, home to descendants of Muslim immigrants from Arabia, Persia and Vietnam who came to China to trade.13 (For more information on the history of Muslims in China, see West Asians in China.)

Other Chinese converted to Islam during their sojourn in Malaya or Indonesia. In parts of Indonesia, Chinese closely involved with native courts tended to convert to Islam and marry native women.14

The Peranakan Chinese of Indonesia/Malaysia/Singapore

Non-Muslim Chinese also intermarried with local women. Chinese immigrant fathers often preferred that their mixed children be identified as Chinese, and married their daughters to other Chinese.15 Those who had become well-off could also acquire brides from China for their sons. A new cultural group, distinct from either the natives or the 'full-blooded' Chinese, came into being. They came to be known as the Peranakan Chinese. (The term 'Peranakan' itself encompasses other immigrant groups, such as Indians, which adopted a native lifestyle.) The Chinese Peranakan men are called Baba and traditionally wear Chinese apparel. The women are called Nonya and combine Malay dress styles with Chinese influences. The blending of cultures is also reflected in the famed Nonya cuisine.

Most Peranakan communities speak native languages as the home language (albeit with many Chinese dialect loan words). Others speak Chinese dialects. Most retain ancestral Chinese religions or accept Christianity.

Relations between Peranakan Chinese and "full-blooded" Chinese

In Singapore, full-blooded Chinese regard the Peranakan as a more beautiful people because of large eyes and distinct features inherited from Malay foremothers. In the past, many older Peranakan regarded more recent immigrants from China as unintegrated foreigners who did not fit into local life. Some full-blooded Chinese in turn mocked the Peranakan as "Chinese who are not Chinese". Today, the line between Peranakan and full-blooded Chinese is blurring due to a high level of intermarriage between the 2 communities, and the government policy that the Chinese language should be taught to all Chinese children, whether they are of Peranakan or "new immigrant" background.

In Indonesia, the more recent, 'pure-blooded' ethnic Chinese tend to look down on the Peranakan Chinese. Documented history give many illustrations: In Jakarta in the 50s-70s, the Glodok complex was owned only by Encek-encek's, the slang word for pure bred ethnic Chinese. Peranakans were (and still are) seen to be of lower class and thus not worthy of setting shop there.

The Peranakans themselves sometimes look unfavorably upon the recent immigrants because they feel that the recent immigrants' lack of integration fuels negative perceptions against all ethnic Chinese. These fears proved well-founded in the light of in recent tensions between the ethnic Chinese and the native Indonesians, in which both Peranakan and full-blooded Chinese were targeted for violence.

The Chinese mestizos of the Philippines

A distinct mixed Chinese-indigenous cultural group arose in the Philippines, as it did in Malaysia and Indonesia. The early Chinese immigrants were mostly men. Many took native wives. By the 19th century, the mixed descendants of Chinese men and Filipinas had established themselves as a community separate from the Chinese. They were called Mestizo de Sangley (A mestizo is someone of mixed parentage, while Sangley, from Hokkien seng di, meaning to trade, was the generic name of the Chinese as used by the Spaniards here in the Philippines.16

In the 20th century, the Chinese-Filipino mestizos have lost their identity as a distinct communities as new mestizos came to be counted as either Chinese or native Filipino.17 A large proportion of Filipinos, especially those from areas with a high mercantile population, have Chinese ancestry, but they no longer identify as Chinese mestizos.

  1. Gary Marvin Davison and Barbara E. Reed, Culture and Customs of Taiwan, p4
  2. Davison and Reed, p6
  3. Robert Green, Taiwan, p36
  4. Davison and Reed, p6
  5. Emerson Jou, "Are We Chinese or Taiwanese?"
    Christopher Salter, Taiwan, p35
  6. Green, p36
  7. TiT Culture: The Tribes of Taiwan, Emerson Jou, Are We Chinese or Taiwanese
  8. Taiwanese Aborigine on,TiT Culture: The Tribes of Taiwan
  9. Aborigines condemn CIP's Pingpu snub, Taipei Times, Jun 27, 2009
  10. Taiwanese people on wikipedia
  11. Dee Huat Guan, The Philippine Peranakan Experience
  12. "Abdullah finds Chinese relatives after long search", The Straits Times 12/24/03
  13. ibid
  14. Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas, ed. Lynn Pan, p164
  15. Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas, ed. Lynn Pan, p153
  16. Dee Huat Guan, The Philippine Peranakan Experience
  17. Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas, ed. Lynn Pan, p190