European Chinese, Chinese Europeans: Strategies and Identities


Professor Gregor Benton and Dr Flemming Christiansen



Department of East Asian Studies, University of Leeds

Report for 1.1.1997 — 31.12.97

Amount of Award: £101,000


Aims and Methods of Research

The project analyses overseas Chinese communities in Europe to understand how Chinese ethnic identity adapts to the changing social, economic and political order in Europe, as well as to developments in China. It understands Chinese ethnicity and organisation as pliable assets used by individuals and groups in the Chinese communities to further individual and communal interests. The role of Chinese communities and their European cross-border convergence stand at the centre of the research. Links with places of origin in China and the impact of Chinese nationalism are important aspects of it.


Confirmation Statement

The research progressed as anticipated, with the modifications stated in the progress report for 01.10.1995—31.12.1995. Funding was concluded on September 31st, 1997.


Highlights of the Report and Important Findings

Activities: The research focussed on analysing a large collection of interviews with leaders of overseas Chinese in Europe. Members of the research team interviewed the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China and visited the Institute for Overseas Chinese Historical Research of the Association for Overseas Chinese Affairs in Beijing. They also visited Professor Zhou Nanjing of Beijing University, a specialist on overseas Chinese. The research team interviewed officials of the Commission for Overseas Chinese Affairs of the Executive Yuan of the Republic of China (Taipei), a leader of a native-place organisation in Taiwan with links to European-Chinese native-place organisations, and scholars at the Academia Sinica, Taipei. A paper on European overseas Chinese from the New Territories and the problems of their "ancestral rights" was presented at an international conference convened by Hong Kong University. The research team interviewed officials of the Heung Yee Kuk New Territories, an organisation strongly related to the overseas Chinese leaders in Europe, especially Britain. A paper was presented at a policy conference arranged by the Municipality of Prato and the University of Florence on the Assimilation or Integration of the Overseas Chinese in Europe.

Findings: Our principal findings are as follows:


Changes to Original Award

Flemming Christiansen was originally employed by Manchester University, but switched to Leeds University at the start of the research project. There have been no changes in the period under review.


Research Staff

Liang Xiujing was employed on a piece-rate basis to conduct interviews and transcribe them into Chinese text. Dr. Terence Gomez, an international expert on ethnic business, was part-financed by project funds to carry out pilot research on Chinese businesses in the UK over a two-month period. Other funds were contributed by the University of Leeds. Gomez' activity has resulted in a successful application for research funds (£42,000 from the ESRC).



Gregor Benton and Frank Pieke (eds.), The Chinese in Europe. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998.

Gregor Benton, "Preface." In Benton and Pieke (eds.), The Chinese in Europe. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998.

Frank N. Pieke and Gregor Benton, "The Chinese in the Netherlands." In Benton and Pieke (eds.), The Chinese in Europe. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998.

Flemming Christiansen, Approaches to Chinese Identity in Europe. In the series Leeds East Asia Papers. No. 35, 1996

Flemming Christiansen, Overseas Chinese in Europe: An Imagined Community? In the series Leeds East Asia Papers. No. 48, 1997.

Flemming Christiansen, Overseas Chinese, Ancestral Rights and the New Territories. In the series Leeds East Asia Papers. No. 49, 1997.

Flemming Christiansen, "Chinese Identity in Europe." In: Benton and Pieke (eds.), The Chinese in Europe. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997, pp. 42-63.

Liang Xiujing and Flemming Christiansen, "Chinese Migration to Europe." In Lynn Pan (ed.), The Encyclopedia of the Overseas Chinese (forthcoming).


Flemming Christiansen and Liang Xiujing, "Pan-European Integration and Chinese Organisations in Europe." In Lynn Pan (ed.), The Encyclopedia of the Overseas Chinese (forthcoming).

Flemming Christiansen, Subethnic Chinese Identity in Europe: The Case of the Siyi and Qingtian. In the series Leeds East Asia Papers, forthcoming.

Chinatown, Europe, a book, is in the pipeline. It will provide a thorough analysis of overseas Chinese identity in Europe.

In the longer term, we will also edit the interviews into a volume to be published in Chinese or English or both.


Engagement with Potential Research Users

Liang Xiujing has been asked by the President of the European Confederation of Chinese Organisations, Mr Woo Che Kwang (Wu Zhiguang) to design a survey of the social situation of the overseas Chinese in Europe. She has done this, and the survey is now being carried out by others. A conference will be held in Amsterdam, provisionally scheduled in February 1998, to discuss the survey. The survey’s conclusions are designed to fit into a policy paper for the organisations.

Flemming Christiansen’s contribution with a paper and as discussant at a policy conference in Prato, Italy, was another example of the non-academic impact of the research. His contribution provides perspectives of interest for policy making in regional settings such as Tuscany that have experienced substantial Chinese immigration in the 1990s.


Detailed Progress

The research on the overseas Chinese in Europe was started in October 1995. In the first phases of the project, we concentrated on clarifying the methodological approaches to the subject, by formulating how Fredrik Barth's work on ethnic groups and boundaries can help us understand overseas Chinese communities in Europe; a critique of Lawrence Crissmann's seminal work (from the 1960s) on the "segmentation of urban overseas Chinese communities" is similarly being prepared, using empirical evidence from Europe. Also in 1995, Gregor Benton initiated a meeting of scholars from all over Europe, currently working on overseas Chinese, and, together with Frank Pieke at Oxford, edited their findings into a 400-page volume (published by Macmillan in 1998) that we took as a benchmark for our further work. Since January 1996, we have undertaken a total of 64 in-depth interviews and conducted many more informal conversations, most of them in May-July 1996. Overseas Chinese in Britain, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Hungary have been included. The interviews were conducted in Mandarin or Cantonese and were taped. The tapes have a total duration of more than 120 hours, and will in transcribed form count more than 1.5 million Chinese characters. They have all been transcribed into Chinese characters. Some overseas Chinese have contributed written accounts. In addition, we have collected various printed materials, including handbooks, runs of journals and papers, pamphlets and other primary source material, which reflect overseas Chinese identity and political organisation. We have also gathered a variety of secondary sources in European languages. During a stay in Hongkong in late November and early December 1996, Flemming Christiansen gathered extensive primary source material for a detailed examination of links between Chinese migrants from the New Territories to Europe with their places of origin. Flemming Christiansen has also visited the authorities in Beijing and Taipei which are responsible for overseas Chinese affairs, as well as major relevant research institutions in the two cities. Gregor Benton collected research materials during stays in the Netherlands and in Beijing.

Flemming Christiansen was co-convenor of an international conference in Oxford in July 1996 on China’s internal and international migration. Flemming Christiansen participated in the annual conference of the British Association of Chinese Studies with a paper on overseas Chinese, and he has addressed a seminar on the topic at Aberdeen University. Flemming Christiansen has participated in an international conference at Xiamen University in November 1996, where he presented a paper discussing basic issues of European Chinese identity vis-à-vis Chinese nationalism. Flemming Christiansen gave a paper at a policy conference in Prato in April 1997, and participated in a Conference organised by the University of Hong Kong in May and June,1997, with a paper on the "ancestral rights" of overseas Chinese from the New Territories in Hong Kong.

There have been no serious obstacles to information gathering, and only two or three community leaders have declined to be interviewed. Our impression is that the overseas Chinese leaders are keen to be heard and understood.

The richness of the interviews with leaders means that we have dispensed with questionnaire-based research of small samples of non-leaders. In this way we can concentrate our effort on the core issues of the research.

We hope to have a book manuscript (Chinatown, Europe) ready for submission to the publisher in spring 1998, thus keeping to the original timetable.