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New Chinese Immigrants in Spain: The Migration Process, Demographic Characteristics and Adaptation Strategies

Minghuan Li

Most Chinese in today’s Spain are first-generation immigrants; almost all emigrated from China after the late 1970s, when China reopened its door to the West. In about three decades between the mid-1980s and the mid-2010s, the number of Chinese migrants in Spain has grown more than 100-fold. This chapter traces the migration process of the Chinese to Spain, describes their sociodemographic characteristics, and analyzes their economic activities and the social challenges they face. In particular, it addresses the following questions: Why did hundreds of thousands of Chinese choose Spain, not a traditional country of Chinese immigration? How did they migrate? And what are their adaptation strategies to cope with life there?

The Migration Process The Earlier Waves

Historical records demonstrate that a handful of Chinese servants, merchants and novices were found in Spain before the twentieth century. However, the earlier Chinese migrants there were mainly from the

M. Li (*)

Jinan University, Guangzhou, China © The Author(s) 2017

M. Zhou (ed.), Contemporary Chinese Diasporas, DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-5595-9_13

Philippines, a former Spanish colony and one of the most important migration destinations of the Chinese at the time. The Chinese did not begin migrating directly from China until the early twentieth century. The port city of Barcelona became the first place where Chinese seamen and traders chose to settle (Antolin 1998).

According to Chinese records, Chinese migration directly from China to Spain started in the early twentieth century. One record described a circus formed by the people from Shandong arriving from North China by way of Russia. It arrived in Spain in around 1910. Finding that Spain was a country in which it was relatively easy to make a living, the circus decided to set up a base there and went north now and then to perform in other European countries (Xu 1956: 45). Another oral record suggests that the first Chinese in Spain were Chen Xianting and Wang Tingxiang, both from Qingtian in Zhejiang, in around 1914.1

In the late 1920s and the early 1930s, emigration toward Europe surged in the southern part of Zhejiang, particularly in Qingtian and Wenzhou. Most migrants settled in Rotterdam, Hamburg and Marseilles. However, these Zhejiangese saw Europe as a single entity, often transferring from one country to another and then on to a third or fourth country, especially shortly after arriving (Li 1999). Dozens of the earliest Zhejiangese migrants went south to Spain to make a living. Most worked as peddlers selling cheap ties and trinkets. Few intended to settle down in Spain. Instead, they planned to return home with enough money to purchase land for the family. In the winter of 1930, Jin Guangkui, a Qingtianese, set up a Huaqiao Gongyu , lodging house for overseas Chinese) in Madrid for

the 300-odd Chinese living in the city who needed somewhere to live. These people rented bunk beds. Dozens of them lived together, so the Huaqiao Gongyu became a meeting place for Qingtian people. However, most left in 1936 after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Only a dozen or so stayed, most of whom had married Spanish women.

After the 1950s, emigration from mainland China to Spain came to a stop, apart from several hundred immigrants from Taiwan and Hong Kong. In 1949 a dozen Chinese Christians left Shanghai for Spain to study theology. In the early 1950s, the Spanish government provided 150 scholarships to allow students from Taiwan to study theology in Spain. More than 100 students went. Some switched their status to that of immigrant after finishing their studies.2 They later attracted new migrants from Taiwan. In 1955 there were 132 Chinese living in Spain, and the number increased to 336 in 1965. Most came from Taiwan.3

Table 13.1 Chinese immigrants in select European countries

Country

1935

1955

1965

1975

1985

UK

8000

3000

45,000

120,000

230,000

France

17,000

2000

6000

90,000

210,000

Netherlands

8000

2000

2353

30,000

60,000

Germany

1800

500

1200

8000

30,000

Belgium

500

99

565

2000

11,400

Portugal

1200

120

176

300

6800

Austria

N.A.

30

N.A.

1000

6000

Italy

274

330

700

1000

5000

Spain

273

132

336

2000

5000

Source: Li (2002: 830)

Up until the mid-1980s, Europe was not a destination for emigrants from mainland China. Compared with other Western European countries, Spain was among the smallest places of Chinese settlement. The European countries that accepted most Chinese were the UK, France and the Netherlands, mainly from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indochina and Indonesia (see Table 13.1).

 
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