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Overseas Chinese are people of Chinese birth or descent who live outside the territories administered by the rival governments of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) (mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau) and the Republic of China (ROC) (Taiwan). People of partial Chinese ancestry may also consider themselves Overseas Chinese.
The term Overseas Chinese is ambiguous and inconsistent as to whether it can refer to any of the ethnic groups that live in China (the broadly defined Zhonghua minzu) or whether it refers specifically to the Han Chinese ethnicity, narrowly defined. Korean minorities from China who are living in South Korea today are often included in calculations of overseas Chinese, because ethnic Koreans may also identify themselves as part of the Chinese nation. In Southeast Asia and particularly in Malaysia and Singapore, the state classifies the Peranakan as Chinese despite partial assimilation into Malay culture.
One study on overseas Chinese defines several criteria for identifying non-Han overseas Chinese: there is evidence of descent from groups living within or originating from China, they still retain their culture, self-identify with Chinese culture or acknowledge Chinese origin, although they are not categorized as ethnic Han Chinese. Under this definition, “ethnic minority” overseas Chinese number about 7 million, or about 8.4% of the total overseas population.
The Chinese language has various terms equivalent to the English “Overseas Chinese”. Huáqiáo (simplified Chinese: 华侨; traditional Chinese: 華僑) refers to Chinese citizens residing in countries other than China. Huáyì (simplified Chinese: 华裔; traditional Chinese: 華裔) refers to ethnic Chinese residing outside of China.  Another often-used term is 海外华人 (hǎiwài huárén), a more literal translation of Overseas Chinese; it is often used by the PRC government to refer to people of Chinese ethnicities who live outside the PRC, regardless of citizenship.
Overseas Chinese who are ethnically Han Chinese, such as Cantonese, Hokkien, or Hakka refer to Overseas Chinese as 唐人 (tángrén), pronounced tòhng yàn in Cantonese, Tn̂g-lâng in Hokkien, and tong nyin in Hakka. Literally, it means Tang people, a reference to Tang dynasty China when it was ruling China proper. It should be noted that this term is commonly used by the Cantonese, Hokkien or Hakka and Hokkien as a colloquial reference to the Chinese people, and has little relevance to the ancient dynasty.
The Chinese people have a long history of migrating overseas. One of the migrations dates 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, and many of them were Cantonese and Hokkien.
 Waves of immigration
There were different waves of immigration which led to subgroups among overseas Chinese such as the new and old immigrants in Southeast Asia, North America, Oceania, the Caribbean, Latin America, South Africa and Russia.
In the 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 surge in emigration as a result of the poverty and ruin caused by the Taiping rebellion. The Qing Empire was forced to allow its subjects to work overseas under colonial powers. Many Hokkien chose to work in Southeast Asia with their earlier links starting from the Ming era, as did the Cantonese. The city of Taishan in Guangdong province was the source for many of the economic migrants. 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 the Punti-Hakka Clan Wars in the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong. 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.
From the mid-19th century onward, emigration has been directed primarily to western countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and the nations of Western Europe; as well as to Peru where they are called tusán, Panama, and to a lesser extent to Mexico. Many of these emigrants who entered western countries were themselves overseas Chinese or were from Taiwan or Hong Kong, particularly from the 1950s to the 1980s, during which the PRC placed severe restrictions on the movement of its citizens. In 1984, 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, USA, Latin America and other parts of the world. The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 further accelerated the migration. The wave calmed after the transfer of sovereignty in 1997. In addition, many citizens of Hong Kong hold citizenships or have current visas in other countries so if the need arises, they can leave Hong Kong on a short notice. In fact, after the Tiananmen Square incident, the lines for immigration visas increased at every consulate in Hong Kong. More recent Chinese presences have developed in Europe, where they number nearly a million, and in Russia, they number over 600,000, concentrated in Russian Far East. Chinese who emigrated to Vietnam beginning in the 18th century are referred to as Hoa.
It is estimated that only 26,700 of the old Chinese community now remain in South Korea. However, in recent years, immigration from mainland China has increased; 624,994 persons of Chinese nationality have immigrated to South Korea, including 443,566 of ethnic Korean descent.
In recent years, the People’s Republic of China has built increasingly stronger ties with African nations. As of August 2007, there were an estimated 750,000 Chinese nationals working or living for extended periods in different African countries. An estimated 200,000 ethnic Chinese live in South Africa. In a 2007 New York Times article, Chad Chamber of Commerce Director estimated an “influx of at least 40,000 Chinese in coming years” to Chad. As of 2006 there were as many as 40,000 Chinese in Namibia, an estimated 80,000 Chinese in Zambia and 50,000 Chinese in Nigeria. As many as 100,000 Chinese are living and working across Angola. There are currently 35,000 Chinese migrant workers in Algeria.
Russia’s main Pacific port and naval base of Vladivostok, once closed to foreigners, today is bristling with Chinese markets, restaurants and trade houses. Experts predict that the Chinese diaspora in Russia will increase to at least 10 million by 2010 and Chinese may become the dominant ethnic group in the Russian Far East region 20 to 30 years from now.
The Chinese in Southeast Asian countries have established themselves in commerce and finance. In North America, Europe and Oceania, occupations are diverse and impossible to generalize; ranging from catering to significant ranks in medicine, the arts, and academia.