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Reviewed by:
  • The Chinese in Europe
  • Gary Hamilton (bio)
Gregor Benton and Frank N. Pieke, editors. The Chinese in Europe. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998; London: Macmillan Press, Ltd., 1998. xi, 390 pp. Hardcover $75.00, ISBN 0-312-17526-4.

Although Chinese people have been migrating overseas for over a millennium, mainly following trade routes into what is today Southeast Asia, modern Chinese migration started only in the mid-nineteenth century. From the time the British opened Chinese ports to "free trade" in the 1840s, tens of millions of people left mainland China for locations around the world. A large number of those migrants returned to China at some point, some only after their deaths, when their bones were repatriated to Chinese soil. Many others, however, remained in their new homes, where they established lives for themselves, their children, and their children's children. Some intermarried with the local population and came to identify so completely with the locale that their Chineseness faded away entirely. Others, however, continued to identify themselves as Chinese, even as they reconstructed what that identity meant in their particular societies. [End Page 380]

This worldwide migration and settlement have spawned a sizable literature reporting on how the Chinese fared in this or that location. The best of these writings embeds any particular account of Chinese migration into the historic sweep of what has occurred in East Asia in the last 150 years. Some writers, such as Lynn Pan, in her wonderful book Sons of the Yellow Emperor, provide vivid, almost heroic accounts of individual Chinese succumbing to, or succeeding against, great odds. Other writers, such as Wang Gungwu and G. William Skinner, frame their observations in a more scholarly way, but still endow their analyses with great scope, feeling, and depth. The majority of this literature, however, aims rather low. The purpose of most of these writers is simply to describe the life of Chinese in this or that location. Most of these works supply no names, tell few stories, and just report on the tracks the Chinese left in official statistics—in censuses, official surveys, crime sheets, and other public reports. The Chinese in Europe, falls into this majority.

This edited book consists of fourteen chapters about Chinese living in Europe, all written by different authors or sets of authors. Two of these chapters provide overviews of the Chinese in Europe without emphasizing any particular country. The rest of the book is divided into three sections, the Chinese in Western Europe, in Southern Europe, and in Central and Eastern Europe, and, within each section, into chapters devoted to Chinese living in individual countries. The countries covered by these chapters are Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Russia, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, and Hungary. Most of these chapters have similar outlines. After a brief historical introduction about the Chinese living in country X, the author or authors provide a description of the Chinese origins of the migrants to that country; a statistical summary of the Chinese population, including past and current occupations; a listing of the types of Chinese associations found there; a discussion of the attitudes of the local population toward the Chinese; and some sense of current Chinese identities.

The formulaic outline constrains the information conveyed in each chapter, but, given the self-imposed limitations, there is much useful information in this book. Although a great deal has been written about the Chinese in Southeast Asia, very little systematic research has been done on the Chinese living in Europe. In this sense, the book breaks new ground. Moreover, some of the chapters are particularly informative, especially the chapters on the Chinese in Portugal, Spain, England, France, the Netherlands, and Hungary.

The Chinese in Europe does not really come together as a book, however. The individual country chapters need to be integrated into a larger understanding about Chinese migration in general and Chinese migration to Europe in particular. The brief introductory chapter does not provide enough background to the broader study of Chinese migration to situate this book in the more general [End Page 381] literature. Instead the author and coeditor, Frank Pieke, argues...


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