The Thai-Chinese population, most of whom are second or third generation Han, Hakka, Chao Zhou, Hainamese or
Cantonese, numbers about 9,000,000 or about 14% of the population of Thailand.
It is the largest Chinese community outside China and also the most highly integrated into the
In fact, the Thai-Chinese have been in Thailand for as long as 400 years in smaller numbers but have worked
their way into every level of Thai society even at the very top. Not only that, but most prime-ministers of
Thailand have some Chinese ancestry.
The Thai-Chinese population is heavily over-represented in business (commercial and financial) and politics
on every level. This was a conscious decision by the wealthy Chinese, who married their daughters off into
good families and provided them to be used as royal courtesans at the king's palaces.
Although 14% are ethnic Chinese, 40% are thought to have some Chinese ethnicity. Having said that, most of the
Thai-Chinese population consider themselves Thai first and foremost and then Chinese. Until about
1932, the vast majority of Chinese immigrants into Thailand were men who then married Thai women, however
after 1932, a lot of Chinese women arrived causing Chinese men to 'marry their own kind'.
Racial tension grew around the turn of the 19th Century as Thais remained mostly with farming and the Chinese
entered commerce both as tax collectors, timber millers and agents for British international traders.
Resentment grew and king Rama VI ordered all Chinese to adopt Thai names in an effort to calm the situation.
Tension flaired again between 1930 and 1950, but more than 90% of Chinese immigrants took out Thai
citizenship and international relations with China were consolidated in 1975. Due to their assimilation, nearly all
ethnic Chinese in Thailand speak Thai exclusively, although some elderly Chinese immigrants still speak their
native dialects of Chinese, but they are rapidly dying out.
Despite this high level of integration, many Thai-Chinese business-owners will write the name of their firm in
Chinese and Thai and may use some Chinese words in conversation especially relating to food, religion and
Conversely, Thai-Chinese-run businesses are now the largest investors in China out of all overseas Chinese
communities worldwide. The Charoen Pokphand (CP Group), a Thai conglomerate with US$25 billion in annual sales
founded by the Thai-Chinese Chearavanont family, is currently the single largest foreign investor in China
with hundreds of businesses from agricultural food products, to retail and leisure, to industrial manufacturing and
employing more than 150,000 people in China.
The first-generation Chinese immigrants were mostly devotees of Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism. However,
Theravada Buddhism, which is favoured in Thailand, has since become the religion of many ethnic Chinese in
Thailand, especially among the assimilated Chinese. Very often, many Chinese in Thailand combine practices of
Chinese folk religion with their newly adopted Thai form of Buddhism.
In the north, there are also a number of Chinese Muslims called Chin Ho, who are especially well established in
Chiang Mai, where they have nine mosques including the Baan Haw Mosque.
by +Owen Jones