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Chinese Community Formation

The Chinese in Czechia follow a similar pattern of settlement in core areas to the Chinese elsewhere overseas, but with one big difference—they barely create a community.10 Some 60 % of the Chinese in Czechia live in Prague (Latham and Wu 2013). However, as Moore and Tubilewicz (2001: 614) show, the trend is toward further dispersion. Whereas in 1993 some 90.5 % of all Czech Chinese lived in Prague, in 2000 only 58.6 % did (Moore and Tubilewicz 2001: 614). However, they are concentrated in the neighborhood of the capital.

There are no ethnic enclaves, usually associated with the country of origin, in Prague, except for the Asian “bazaar,” a business and cultural center called Sapa on the southeastern edge of Prague.11 Mainly associated with the Vietnamese community, it includes other, mostly Far East Asian, minorities, including the Chinese. Chinatowns are a key symbol of Chineseness and are important for its preservation (Christiansen 2003). Although current migrants tend to move to non-ethnicized and open immigrant neighborhoods in ethnoburbs (Zhou 2009), not only in the USA but also in the UK, France and italy, they are still aware of Chinatowns or at least of ethnoburbs. The situation in the CEECs is different: the new Chinese migrants settle widely and copy the already existing social and economic clusters. Prague is no exception to this pattern.

As noted above, according to our research, most Chinese in Prague come from Zhejiang. Many respondents and interviewees who originally said they had come from Shanghai or Hangzhou admitted while being interviewed that they actually came from Qingtian or Wenzhou. it can be assumed that the real proportion of people from Qingtian, or who arrived along migration chains from Qingtian, may be even higher. Apart from Zhejiang, the Chinese in Czechia come from Shanghai, Beijing, Shandong and the northeast. The language used by members of the Prague Chinese community is predominantly Putonghua. The Chinese use simplified characters. However, they also speak regional dialects. Despite the regional and ethnic homogeneity of the group, there are three distinct dialects among the Chinese in Czechia from Qingtian as well as other dialects, which, although marginal in the Prague community, represent other regions of China. Regional patriotism is commonplace in Chinese communities throughout Europe, especially among Qingtianese, Wenzhounese and Siyinese, and it leads to subethnic divisions within ethnic communities (Christiansen 2003).

The social and economic stratification within the community is related to age, among other factors. In general, the older, the wealthier. The wealthier group is represented by Chinese senior officials or businessmen and their spouses, mostly living in residential neighborhoods of Prague. The women enjoy being retired in Prague or being a housewife. They appreciate the space, cleanliness, quality of life, cost of living and so on. Men more than 50 years of age go to Czechia for business or other types of work. They moved to Prague before 2005, so they have lived there for at least a decade, though not continuously. They are well traveled and often return to China for several months or even for a year at a time. Women return to China mostly to take care of aging parents or grandchildren, while the children build their careers. Men return to China mostly for business and administrative reasons. They do not see Czechia as their homeland but as a place to live, and they consider themselves Chinese who live in Czechia. They usually do not speak Czech, though most speak English. Most come from parts of China other than Qingtian or Wenzhou (e.g., Shanghai, Beijing and the northeast).

Most respondents were aged 21-40. Those under 30 are predominantly single, while those over 30 are married. Most are employees in family businesses (largely restaurants) and have lived in Prague since 2001. They do not consider Prague to be their lifelong destination. Those above 30 years old have their families with them in Prague—most married before leaving China. Almost all of them came from Qingtian or other parts of Zhejiang. The youngest (under 20 years of age) came to Prague with their parents, work in family businesses and are expected to take over the businesses when their parents retire, although many of them hope not to do so. Only two of the respondents were born in Prague (or Czechia). The age composition of Chinese respondents shows social differences between cohorts. They tend to live in different parts of Prague, come from different places in China and speak different dialects. Nevertheless, there is one commonality across age, and that is their view of Prague as only one stop on their lifelong journey.

According to Hendrick Serrie (1998: 191-196), there are five major types of social organization among overseas Chinese. The first is based on kinship and its members are recruited through birth or marriage. The second is based on surnames understood as ancestral lineage. The third is residential, based on the territorial proximity of its members within the Chinese community. The fourth is based on place of origin, usually the province, county, dialect or town in China. The fifth is contractual—that is, open to all. Most previous studies on the Chinese community in the Czech Republic (Obuchova 2002; Moore 2002) confirm that only the two last types are present among the Chinese in Prague, and even then not to much avail. As Moore and Tubilewicz (2001: 624) said, unlike “their counterparts in Hungary who organized themselves through numerous associations, Chinese in the Czech Republic lacked interest in establishing ethnic organizations.”

Hometown associations among Prague Chinese include the Wenzhou Tong Xiang Hui, Qingtian Tong Xiang Hui and the Fujian Tong Xiang Hui, but in 2015 these associations had little impact on the Chinese community. The Central Association of Chinese Businessmen in the Czech Republic (Jieke Huaqiao Zongshanghui), established in 1995, and the Association of the Chinese in the Czech Republic (Lujie Huaren Lianyihui), established a couple years later by Tang Yunling, a pre-1989 Chinese immigrant, are relatively important.12 Whereas the first focuses only on Chinese businessmen, the latter was established with the idea of serving the community and becoming a platform for mutual cooperation, help and cultural exchange. There are other institutions of a communal character (e.g., two Chinese newspapers), but they have a limited impact on community-building. Although associations have some impact on the settled and older part of the community, they attract little attention from the younger generation, especially the tiny second generation.

Many scholars, including Min Zhou (2009) and Pal Nylri (2014), argue rightly that overseas Chinese have a transnational identity. Pal Nylri (2014) even says that in Hungary, children of the new migrant cohort are trained in transnationalism rather than in accepting their ethnic-minority position in the host society. These migrants maintain their Chinese citizenship and close emotional ties with the PRC. Transnationalism is seen as the most suitable way ofaccommodating to the host society, not just in Czechia. The core idea of transnationalism among migrants, as Linda Basch argues, is that it is a “process by which immigrants forge and sustain multi-stranded social relations that link together their societies of origin and settlement” (Zhou and Lee 2013: 25).

 
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