Chapter 1 Chinese immigrant entrepreneurs
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Until the mid-twentieth century, Southeast Asia and North America were the predominant destinations for Chinese emigrants. Amid the Voyage to Nanyang exodus, the California Gold Rush and the Transcontinental Railroad construction, millions of Chinese migrants, overwhelmingly from Guangdong and Fujian provinces in southern China, ventured to Southeast Asia and North America for better opportunities (Godley, 2002). When these early Chinese immigrants first arrived in the host countries, they were in effect sojourners aiming to remit sums of money to their families in China (Dana, 2014: 259). They also intended to return to China in their old age to enjoy the fruits of their ‘arduous labours in exile’ (Willmott, 1966: 254). For example, Loewen (1971: 27) argues that the early Chinese people in Mississippi were not true immigrants, but were sojourners and planning to return to China when ‘their task was accomplished’. These Chinese immigrants were faced with different levels of hostility from local residents, who saw them as greedy individuals, exploiting their advantageous economic position (for example, Chinese in Thailand; Coughlin, 1960). Members of the Chinese community often were excluded from many formal occupations, which led them to focus on the trade and commerce sectors and act as intermediaries between customers and producers. For example, Willmott’s (1966) study found that 84 per cent of Chinese immigrants in Cambodia were engaged in the commercial sector, which is significantly higher than the Cambodian average of 6.5 per cent. Appleton (1960) found that in the Philippines, ethnic Chinese held 23 per cent of the total commercial investment and nearly 30 per cent of the total investment in retail and import–export trade, despite only making up 1 to 2 per cent of the national population. Loewen (1971) found that 97 per cent of the Chinese immigrants in Mississippi, USA, were operating grocery stores.

Editor: Léo-Paul Dana