Overseas Chinese (海外華人) are either ethnic Chinese or people of the Chinese nation (Zhonghua minzu) who live outside of China. China, in this usage, usually refer to Greater China including territory currently administered by the rival governments of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) as per traditional definitions of the term prior to the Chinese Civil War, or only to the People's Republic of China by some. In addition, the government of the Republic of China granted residents of Hong Kong and Macau "overseas Chinese status" prior to their respective handover to Beijing rule, so the definition may be said to loosely extend to them.
Strictly speaking, there are two words in Chinese for overseas Chinese: huáqiáo (华侨 / 華僑) refers to overseas Chinese who were born in China, while huáyì (华裔 / 華裔) refers to any overseas Chinese with a Chinese ancestry. .
It has to be noted that the usage of the term can be relatively fluid geographically. For example, the ethnic Chinese people of Singapore and Malaysia are occasionally excluded from the above said definition of "overseas Chinese" in view of their close cultural and social affinity with China, despite the geographical divide of the said societies. This view is very rare, however, as recent researches shown, majority of the ethnic Chinese in both nations have expressed that they are bonded to their nation, rather than to China (both PRC and ROC).
Overseas Chinese are not limited to ethnic Chinese populations, but rather include also the diaspora of the entire Chinese nation (Zhonghua minzu). For example, ethnic Korean minorities from China who are living in South Korea today are often included in calculations of overseas Chinese, because these ethnic Koreans also identify themselves as part of the Chinese nation (zhonghua minzu). Similarly this also applies to Nusantara Chinese Peranakans in South East Asia.
The Chinese people have a long history of migrating overseas. The overseas Chinese of today can be dated back to the Ming dynasty. When Zheng He became the envoy of Ming, he sent people to explore and trade in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean. Many of them were Cantonese and Hokkien. A large portion stayed and never returned to China.  Physical evidence such as Bukit Cina in Malaysia seems to indicate permanent settlements.
In 19th century, the age of colonialism was at its height and the great Chinese Diaspora began. Many colonies lacked a large pool of laborers. Meanwhile, in the provinces of Fujian and Guangdong in China, there was a labor surplus due to the relative peace in the Qing dynasty. The Qing government was forced to allow its subjects to work overseas under colony powers. Many Hokkien chose to work in Southeast Asia with their earlier links starting from the Ming era, as did the Cantonese. For the countries in North America and Australia, great numbers of laborers were needed in the dangerous tasks of gold mining and railway construction. With famine widespread in Guangdong, this attracted many Cantonese to work in these countries to improve the living conditions of their relatives. Some overseas Chinese were sold to South America during Punti-Hakka Clan Wars in the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong.
With the completion of railways, many overseas Chinese suffered from racial discrimination in Canada and the United States of America and they were barred from entering the country.
After World War II, the last years of the Chinese Civil War increased Chinese suffering. Some educated overseas Chinese did not return to the country as the condition deteriorated.
Many people from the New Territories in Hong Kong emigrated to the UK (mainly England) and the Netherlands in the post-war period to earn a better living .
In 1980s, Britain agreed to transfer the sovereignty of Hong Kong to the PRC; this triggered another wave of migration to the United Kingdom (mainly England), Australia, Canada, United States of America and other lands. The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 further accelerated the migration. The wave calmed after the transfer of sovereignty in 1997.
There are approximately 34 million overseas Chinese mostly living in Southeast Asia where they make up a majority of the population of Singapore and significant minority populations in Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam. The overseas populations in those areas arrived between the 16th and the 19th centuries from mostly the maritime provinces of Guangdong and Fujian, followed by Hainan. There are incidences of earlier emigration in the 10th centuries to 15th centuries in particular to Malacca and Southeast Asia.
More recent emigration from the mid-19th century onward has been directed primarily to western countries such as United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Europe, as well as to South America, where they are called tusán.
Overseas Chinese vary widely as to their degree of assimilation, their interactions with the surrounding communities (see Chinatown), and their relationship with China. In Thailand, overseas Chinese have largely intermarried and assimilated with the native community. In Myanmar, the Chinese rarely intermarry (even amongst different Chinese linguistic groups), but have largely adopted the Burmese culture whilst maintaining Chinese culture affinities. Indonesia, Thailand, and Myanmar are among the countries that do not allow birth names to be registered in Chinese. In Vietnam, ethnic Chinese are required to have Vietnamized spellings of their names. For example, Hu Jintao would become "Hồ Cẩm Đào". Very often, there is no distinct number of the Chinese population in these countries.
On the other hand, in Malaysia and Singapore, overseas Chinese have maintained a distinct communal identity, though the rate and state of being assimilated to the local, in this case a multicultural society, is currently en par with that of other Chinese communities (see Peranakan). In the Philippines, many younger Overseas Chinese are well assimilated, whereas the older ones tend to be considered as 'foreigners'. More recent overseas Chinese immigrants have been despised by many Filipinos due to incidences of some selling illegal drugs, as well as being high profile smugglers. Chinese have also brought a cultural influence to some other countries such as Vietnam, where many customs have been adopted by native Vietnamese.
Waves of immigration
Often there are different waves of immigration leading to subgroups among overseas Chinese such as the new and old immigrants in Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Brunei,Thailand, Ireland, Hawaii, USA, Canada, Myanmar, Russia, Samoa, Singapore, and Philippines.
The Chinese in Southeast Asian countries have often established themselves in commerce and finances. In North America, because of immigration policies, overseas Chinese tend to be found in professional occupations, including significant ranks in medicine and academia. More recent Chinese presences have developed in Europe, where they number nearly a million, and in Russia, they number over 600,000, concentrated in Russia's Far East.
Relationship with China
Both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China on Taiwan maintain highly complex relationships with overseas Chinese populations. Both maintain cabinet level ministries to deal with overseas Chinese affairs, and many local governments within the PRC have overseas Chinese bureaus. Both the PRC and ROC have some legislative representation for overseas Chinese. In the case of the PRC, some seats in the National People's Congress are allocated for returned overseas Chinese. In the ROC's Legislative Yuan, there are eight seats allocated for overseas Chinese. These seats are apportioned to the political parties based on their vote totals on Taiwan, and then the parties assign the seats to overseas Chinese party loyalists. Most of these members elected to the Legislative Yuan hold dual citizenship, but must renounce their foreign citizenship (at the American Institute in Taiwan for American citizens) before being sworn in.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the ROC tended to seek the support of overseas Chinese communities through branches of the Kuomintang based on Sun Yat-sen's use of expatriate Chinese communities to raise money for his revolution. During this period, the People's Republic of China tended to view overseas Chinese with suspicion as possible capitalist infiltrators and tended to value relationships with southeast Asian nations as more important than gaining support of overseas Chinese, and in the Bandung declaration explicitly stated that overseas Chinese owed primary loyalty to their home nation.
After the Deng Xiaoping reforms, the attitude of the PRC toward overseas Chinese changed dramatically. Rather than being seen with suspicion, they were seen as people which could aid PRC development via their skills and capital. During the 1980s, the PRC actively attempted to court the support of overseas Chinese by among other things, returning properties that were confiscated after the 1949 revolution. More recently PRC policy has attempted to maintain the support of recently emigrated Chinese, who consist largely of Chinese seeking graduate education in the West.
Overseas Chinese have sometimes played an important role in Chinese politics. Most of the funding for the Chinese revolution of 1911 came from overseas Chinese, and many overseas Chinese are overseas for political reasons. Many overseas Chinese are now investing in mainland China providing financial resources, social and cultural networks, contacts and opportunities.
Pan, Lynn (1998)The Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas Landmark Books, Singapore ISBN 9183018925
Chin, Ung Ho. (2000) The Chinese of South East Asia . London: Minority Rights Group. ISBN 1 897693 28 1
^ "Population of the UK, by ethnic group, 2001" (Note that in UK usage Asian in this context refer to South Asia). Retrieved on 23 June 2006.
(Source: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)