The New Chinese Migrants in France



Like the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, France is one of the major centres of Chinese migration in Europe. Chinese sojourners arrived in France at the beginning of the twentieth century and the 1911 census showed the presence of 238 Chinese in the country. From 1900 to World War I, this little community remained heterogeneous in its socio-economic and professional composition (Archaimbault, 1952). Changes in this community occurred during World War I when the lack of labourers led the French Government to recruit 140,000 Chinese workers (Wou, 1939). The 2,000 to 4,000 Chinese who remained in France after the war constituted the basis of a Chinese community in France. In the 1920s, they were joined by some 2,000 student labourers (Wang, 2001; Bailey, 1988). From the 1920s to the 1940s, Zhejiang immigration in France rose until World War II and the rise of the communist party in China stopped the movement. Yet, Chinese immigration did not cease. Migrants of Chinese origin arrived essentially from the old French Indochina (Viet Nam-Laos-Cambodia) (Le, 1995). Immigration from these countries increased in the 1970s when different conflicts occurred. From the late 1970s to the early 1980s, France also saw the arrival, albeit in smaller numbers, of Chinese from Hong Kong and Taiwan, family members of citizens of the People's Republic of China (PRC). The new wave of Chinese migration from PRC started in the mid-1980s and grew steadily until now, with some peaks, e.g. in the mid-1990s.

Recent fieldwork in France approached this community, in particular, those living in France with a precarious administrative status (asylum seekers or clandestine migrants). In general, the situation of the population covered by this fieldwork was still precarious. Although the paper does not include other categories such as students, entrepreneurs, or researchers, it is nevertheless possible to gather some details on the basis of French official data and reports. The following sections deal with the growing Chinese presence in France, and their precarious status. Most recent research tends to show a diversified Chinese migrant population profile; it also shows that they are still primarily active in the French ethnic Chinese market. In the initial stages of migration, the Chinese migrants continue to maintain links with China and sometimes with Chinese communities in Europe.