At the margins of the Chinese world system: The Fuzhou diaspora in Europe
Fujianese, the majority of whom hail from Fuzhou city and its vicinity, arguably are the most disadvantaged, but simultaneously the most mobile overseas Chinese transnational group. The project will provide information and suggest courses of action through an investigation of (1) Fujian sending communities, (2) the migratory process, (3) patterns of settlement, employment, entrepreneurship in selected countries of destination in Europe, and (4) the transnational links that tie them into a world-wide diasporic community.
Fujianese are smuggled across the globe by professional human traffickers. Our central concern will be the serious human costs of their activities, which supplies established overseas Chinese communities with an nearly inexhaustable source of cheap, docile and expendable labourers. In addition, we will investigate the implications of Fujian migration on the relations between China, Taiwan and receiving countries.
The project will start with gathering basic information on in selected European countries. Subsequently, field research in the home areas of Fujianese emigrants will be carried out. After fieldwork in Fujian, we shall follow the emigrants through Hong Kong, Southeast Asia and Europe. Back in Europe, systematic interviews with migrants from our Fujian fieldsites and their employers, landlords and "immigration service companies" in Europes Chinatowns will be carried out. During the final phase of this study, we will return to Fujian to test initial hypotheses formulated about the Fuzhou diaspora.
At the margins of the Chinese world system: The Fuzhou diaspora in Europe
This project will investigate the most recent, fastest growing, least-known and most disadvantaged group of new Chinese international migrants: those from Fujian province in southern China, the majority of whom hail from Fuzhou city and its vicinity. The project will provide vital information and suggest courses of action in an area that currently is only very imperfectly known through an in-depth investigation of (1) Fujian sending communities, (2) the migratory process, (3) patterns of settlement, employment, entrepreneurship in selected countries of destination in Europe, and (4) the transnational links that tie Fujian migrants into a world-wide diasporic community. Fujianese are smuggled across the globe by professional human traffickers. Our central concern will be the serious human costs of their activities, which supplies established overseas Chinese communities with an nearly inexhaustable source of cheap, docile and expendable labourers. In addition, we will investigate the implications of Fujian migration on the relations between China, Taiwan and receiving countries. The project will start with gathering basic information on in selected European countries. Subsequently, field research in the home areas of Fujian emigrants will be carried out. After fieldwork in Fujian, we shall follow the emigrants through Hong Kong, Southeast Asia and Europe. Back in Europe, systematic interviews with migrants from our Fujian fieldsites and their employers, landlords and "immigration service companies" in Europes Chinatowns will be carried out. During the final phase of this study, we will return to Fujian to test initial hypotheses formulated about the Fujian diaspora.
The onset of reforms in the Chinese Peoples Republic in 1978 heralded in a period of unprecedented economic growth, modernization and opening up to the outside world that continues to this day. The reforms also boosted the trickle of international migration from China that had started to flow after the dust of the civil warfare of the Cultural Revolution began to settle in 1969. Particularly after most restrictions on emigration from the Peoples Republic of China were lifted in 1985, and again after the suppression of the demonstrations of the 1989 Peoples Movement in China, Chinese emigration reached unprecedented levels. In this "new Chinese emigration", Europe has witnessed some of the fastest growth rates of its ethnic Chinese population; currently, the total Chinese population in Europe adds up to well over half a million people (Pieke 1998). Viewed from a Chinese perspective, our continent is a vast frontier, despite the increasingly stringent immigration controls put in place by many European governments.
Research on the overseas Chinese has until recently concentrated on Southeast Asia, North America and Australia. With the exception of the work of James Watson (1974; 1975; 1977a; 1977b), studies of the Chinese in Europe are much less known among students of migration and the overseas Chinese. In most European countries research on the overseas Chinese started relatively late, and is as a rule limited to a Chinese population in one single European country or even city. In many cases, this division of the European Chinese into discrete national "communities" is less a reflection of reality than an artefact of the academic and political "nationalism" informing the research.
The Principal Applicant recently co-edited two books that together provide a comprehensive overview of European overseas Chinese studies and take a first step toward transcending the confines of the European nation state in this field of study (Benton and Pieke 1998; Pieke and Mallee, forthcoming). A further exception to the predominant nationalism in European Chinese studies is the current project at Leeds University on European Chinese: Chinese Europeans, funded under the ESRC Programme on Pacific Asia. Building on the results of these earlier projects, the project proposed here will specifically focus the issues that are at the core of the ESRC Programme on Transnational Communities.
Economically speaking, certain strata among the rapidly growing Chinese communities in Europe are among the most successful groups in Europe. Chinese entrepreneurship is a source of economic growth and employment and creates vital business links between Europe and China. The new Chinese migrants come from often vastly different social backgrounds and geographic areas in China, establishing a rich pattern of transnational communities that are truly global in nature. Yet it should not be forgotten that a high price is often paid for the much-publicized success of Chinese entrepreneurs. Many other Chinese, locked into marginal employment or businesses, remain socially and culturally segregated from majority society in European countries. An adequate understanding of the nature of these marginalized groups is crucial for policy making and business in Europe, and is an important topic of scholarly research.
At the heart of this project will be an in-depth investigation of the most recent, fastest growing and least-known group of new Chinese international migrants: those from Fujian province, and particularly its capital city of Fuzhou and the counties of Lianjiang, Changle and Fuqing in its immediate vicinity. Since 1985, this small area has become one of the main sources of Chinese emigration and the core of a world-wide diaspora that has established itself alongside long-term resident Chinese groups in North America, Australia and Europe. This project will investigate Fuzhou international migration through in-depth research of Fujian sending communities, migratory processes, patterns of settlement, employment, entrepreneurship in the countries of destination and the transnational links that tie Fujian migrants into a world-wide diasporic community.
Most sources on current developments in Chinese emigration do not distinguish between migrants from northern or southern Fujian province. Important exceptions are one scholarly (Kwong 1997) and two journalistic studies (Hood 1994; Xinjing 1995a-c) of migration to the United States, who all specifically deal with migration from the Fuzhou area in northern Fujian, stating that this area is by far the most important source of migrants from Fujian. Peter Kwong, who recently completed a book on Chinese illegal immigration to New York City, writes for instance:
The first task of the project will therefore be to investigate whether such a pattern also applies to Fujian migration to Europe. Yet quantification of illegal migration is a very difficult enterprise, as the quote from Kwong illustrates. The immigrants very business is to remain undetected, and one of the first tasks of the project will therefore be to collect systematic information that will allow a more precise estimate of the extent of Fuzhou immigration to Europe. At the moment, we only have available to us the impressions and rough estimates of people involved in Chinese illegal immigration, such as immigration officials, lawyers and community workers. On the basis of these impressions, we can only draw the tentative conclusion that the main destinations of Fujian/Fuzhou migration are North America, Japan and Australia, with Europe rapidly becoming more popular.
In North America and Japan, Fujian/Fuzhou immigrants have been the majority of Chinese illegal immigrants during recent years. In Europe, the numbers of Fuzhou/Fujian immigrants is more modest, also because of the predominance of Wenzhou immigrants to our continent. However, the importance of the Fujian/Fuzhou immigration for Europe does not lie in the current numbers, but in the developments that we may anticipate in the near future. Immigration of Fujianese to Europe started even more recently that to North America and Japan, and clearly is a spill-over from emigration to these areas: Europe functioned as a through-station for migrants on their way to the US, some of whom decided to stay here or had no other choice. In both the US and Japan, however, immigration authorities have become much more sensitive to the Fujian/Fuzhou inflow, and indications are that in response Fuzhou traffickers try to shift their business to Europe, while Wenzhou migration seems on the rise in North America. We can therefore expect both an absolute increase in the number of Fujian/Fuzhou immigrants to our part of the world, and a rise in its relative weight compared to more established Chinese immigrant groups, such as the Wenzhounese or Cantonese.
The project will investigate the impact and nature of the Fuzhou/Fujian diapora in three main fields: (1) politics and policy making, (2) labour relations and entrepreneurship and (3) community building. The project will focus particularly on members of the Fuzhou/Fujian diaspora in Europe about whom least is known and who are the most immediately relevant to our user groups.
Politics and policy making. The main feature of Fuzhou/Fujian emigration is its overwhelmingly illegal nature. Professional human traffickers smuggle Fujianese across the globe for sums ranging from 10,000 to 50,000 US dollars. Apart from the obvious law enforcement issues that this involves, we will also investigate the potentially serious human rights repercussions of the traffic in Fujianese, and the implications that it may have for the diplomatic relations between China and Taiwan (reportedly the coordinating hub of much Chinese human trafficking, see Hood 1994) and major receiving countries, such as Britain, Germany, France, or the US.
Labour relations and entrepreneurship. Fuzhou/Fujian illegal immigration has supplied established Chinese communities with a nearly inexhaustable source of labour, whose illegal status, lack of personal ties with employers, and crippling debt owed to their trafficker render them docile, cheap and expendable. The Fujianese, as the most recent and least established immigrant group, are particularly prone to exploitation and abuse by employers, loan sharks, human traffickers and criminal gangs (Xinjing 1995a, 1995b and 1995c), stirring cruel memories of debt bondage under the notorious credit-ticket system of the nineteenth-century coolie trade. Especially disadvantaged are women who often face a gruelling "double burden" of domestic work and full time (12 to 15 hours) employment in a restaurant or sweat shop. Policy making to address the inequities within Chinese communities and further the integration of Chinese groups urgently requires the more precise and reliable information that this project proposes to gather. With a primary focus on the ESRC priority theme "Globalization, Regions and Emerging Markets", this project is therefore also immediately relevant to the ESRC priority theme "Social Inclusion and Exclusion".
In New York, cheap Fuzhou/Fujian labour is boosting profits in the Chinese catering trade and allows Chinatown manufactories to compete with cheap imports from China itself (Xinjing 1995b: 89). An ethnic division of labour is emerging in Chinatown with the Fujianese newcomers at the bottom. This project will investigate this ethnic division of labour and supply detailed information on patterns of labour recruitment and labour relations in the enterprises that employ Fuzhou/Fujian immigrants. Fuzhou/Fujian immigrants put up with the hardship they have to face in the hope that they will be able to save enough money to buy their own restaurant or other small enterprise in the future. By collecting data on the patterns of upward mobility of Fuzhou/Fujian immigrants, this project will assess how realistic this hope is, and how likely Fuzhou/Fujian communities are to emancipate themselves from the exploitation and dominance in established Chinese communities and the receiving society at large.
Community building. The sudden insertion of large numbers of Fujianese immigrants poses important questions concerning the nature of Chinese international migration, settlement and transnationalism. In the previous period of mass Chinese emigration during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, only relatively small numbers of Fujianese (known as Hokchia and Hokchiu) emigrated to Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia (Cheng 1985: 21-23; Pan 1991: 230; Purcell 1948, appendix V; Tien 1953, appendix III). Why and how did the Fuzhou/Fujian area suddenly turn to large-scale emigration at the onset of the current period of Chinese mass emigration, despite the absence of a mass migratory tradition such as exists in Chinas main emigration areas of the Pearl River Delta (including Hong Kong), northern Guangdong, southern Fujian, Hainan and southern Zhejiang?
Many Chinese immigrants upon arrival quickly integrate into the local community of people from their own area in China, who provide employment, support, housing and loans when required. Yet how do Fuzhou/Fujian emigrants, who cannot fall back on an existing support network, establish a foothold abroad? As a relatively disadvantaged group, Fujianese cannot exclusively rely on friends and family and need alternative sources of assistance for employment, housing, loans, or legal and translation services. In New York, a whole range of professional agencies have sprung up that provide these services to Fuzhou/Fujian migrants, often at exorbitant fees (Xinjing 1995a: 72), while other migrants turn to criminal gangs for help and protection. Does a similar situation pertain to Fuzhou/Fujian migrants in Europe, or have they found other sources of support?
Fujianese remain psychologically part of their home community and the Fuzhou/Fujiannese global diaspora. Their sole aim is to earn money to send back to their families in Fuzhou/Fujian, and they are quick to move on to wherever there is a promise of even marginally higher wages. Even more than other groups of "new" Chinese migrants, such as the Zhejiangese or urban Chinese, the transient quality of Fuzhou/Fujian international migration takes the Chinese "sojourner mentality" (Siu 1952) to its logical extreme: Fujianese show as yet little evidence of grafting themselves more permanently onto local Chinese communities and the wider societies of destination. Fuzhou/Fujian migration therefore raises the important question whether such extreme transnationalism is to the long-term benefit of the people involved. If it proves to be more than a temporary phenomenon characteristic of the first stages of a new migratory flow, extreme transnationalism may very well lock the Fujianese into a permanently exploited position. Contrary to the benefits that are commonly expected to derive from transnational ties, Fujianese transnationalism possibly renders the dream of self-employment elusive but for the very few who manage to sever at least some the ties with Fuzhou/Fujian and the Fuzhou/Fujian diaspora.
b. Theoretical premises
A satisfactory understanding of transnationalism requires and integrated approach to the entire social configuration in which migrants operate. In the Fuzhou/Fujian case, this includes the specific place of Fuzhou/Fujian home communities in Chinese society and the emerging Chinese world system, the position of migrant families in the home community, the specifics of the migratory process itself, the patterns of insertion and adaptation to the receiving societies, and lastly the transnational links that tie Fujianese across the globe into a geographically dispersed but integrated community.
Diasporas and transnational communities. In our view, one of the objectives of the ESRC programme on Transnational Communities is to stimulate research that will be instrumental in sharpening our analytical tools and help us constructively build upon and ultimately transcend older theories and research. All too often, the words "diaspora" and "transnational community" are used to describe all manner of population groups beyond the reach of any one nation-state (for a useful discussion of the term diaspora, see Cohen 1997). It is therefore vital adequately to operationalize these terms for empirical research, and relate them to older concepts, such as "ethnicity" or "migration".
This project will contribute to this on two counts. First, its empirical findings will test the limits of current work on ethnicity, nationalism and migration. How relevant to the study of Chinese transnational communities are concepts developed in migration studies, such as chain migration, culture of migration, or migration system (Massey et al. 1994; Pieke, forthcoming; Skeldon 1990 and 1997; Zlotnik 1992)? How important is physical mobility between different countries, and the concomitant experiences of separation and reunion from home and family, for the reproduction of transnational communities (Stafford, forthcoming)? In the current debate on the nation-state and nationalism, the focus of attention is understandably enough the impact of "high" or "post" modernity on the sovereignty and independence of nation-states (Eriksen 1993; Smith 1996). In this debate, transnational groups are the bearers of "deterritorialized" nationalisms beyond the grip of any individual state (Appadurai 1990 and 1991; Basch et al. 1994; Duara 1996; Nonini and Ong 1996). Yet how exactly do national governments deal with the potential challenge of deterritorialized nationalism? How does a government negotiate rival claims from other states over a transnational community that it considers to be falling under its own sovereignty? And how do members of a transnational community juggle the pull of several national and local governments? What is the impact of this multicentred state power on more mundane issues, such as business strategies, patterns of settlement and relationships with other ethnic groups encountered in a particular location?
Second, a transnational community of recent migrants is constituted in a field of interaction which is much more than just people living and moving between different locations. Such a migration configuration includes flows of information, goods, money and other resources. Institutions and networks within the migration configuration shape interaction across different sites, such as kinship groups, friendship and home community networks, emigration and immigration officials and commercial human traffickers, other ethnic groups at a particular destination, airlines, railways and shipping companies, and law firms, human rights groups, and anti-immigration activists. A transnational community therefore cannot be studied as an institution or social group in isolation from its environment, but should rather be understood as an aspect of other institutions and communities, business and employment strategies, migration flows, and discourses of exclusion and inclusion.
Diasporas and world systems. To what extent and in what ways is the Fuzhou/Fujian diaspora integrated into an emerging Chinese economic and political "world system"? Globalization studies usually have an implicit Western slant. The global system is first and foremost seen as the result of the globalization of Western political, economic and cultural systems; the "non-West"s agency is limited to resistance or at best counterhegemonic localization and hybridization of global influences (Fardon 1995; Friedman 1990). Yet Chinas sheer size of domestic and diasporic population, the speed of its development, and its self-conscious aspiration to superpower status require that we understand globalization processes from a firmly Chinese perspective. Understanding the Fuzhou/Fujian diaspora as an aspect of a Chinese globalization process is thus of considerable general theoretical importance. On closer inspection, there could actually be many different globalizations, some weaker, some stronger, unfolding either simultaneously or in sequence, and directed toward different cosmopolitan cores. This also gives the concept of "diaspora" greater analytical currency. Diasporas are not synonymous to scattered transnational communities, existing at the margins of a dominant Western capitalist world order, but are aspects, seeds and agents of alternative globalizations and modernities.
Several questions are raised by such a perspective. What are the contours of the emerging Chinese "world system"? What class structure and cultural division of labour are developing within this system? What alternative visions of modernity drive Chinese globalization processes forward? How does this system direct the domestic and transnational flow of goods, labour, capital and information? In what ways will it be similar or different from, and how will it compete with and integrate itself into the world system dominated by the West? How do emigration and settlement in the alien environment of Europe build upon strategies and patterns that also inform the integration of the Chinese countryside in a modernizing urban economy? In what way do Chinese transnational communities tap into the vast business opportunities and political resources of China beyond their own home communities?
Diasporas and ethnicity. Our awareness of the fact that localization patterns have a strong transnational and international dimension also has conceptual ramifications. The concepts of transnationalism and ethnicity are not mutually exclusive, but should be taken together to arrive at a firmer understanding of the twin processes of globalization and localization. From the vantage point of a local observer, a transnational community manifests itself as anything between a loose network of individuals to a tight-knit ethnic group. Their presence involves specific localizing strategies that are a hybrid of local influences, elements taken from the core of the transnational communitys world system and aspects specific to the transnational community at large.
To understand the patterns of insertion of the Fujianese in European societies, we shall study the twin processes of hybridization and localization in a number of locations throughout the continent. How do members of the Fuzhou/Fujian community relate to other Chinese in their locality and to non-Chinese transnational communities? If this entails the formation of a local Chinese (or Asian) ethnic group, for instance, how and for what purposes is this ethnic group mobilized? How do localized transnational Chinese groups negotiate their relationship with the various local and national governments in Europe and Asia that try to assist, influence, or control them? In what ways are the configuration of Chinese communities in a locality altered by the insertion of an additional transnational community such as the Fujianese?
Research of transnationalism presents some specific methodological challenges. The project entails in-depth research of the Fuzhou/Fujian diaspora by exploring its internal dynamics and structure, and the connections that link the diaspora to home communities, kin and friends, governments, enterprises and markets throughout Europe and back in China. This cannot be done by means of traditional single-site or single-community fieldwork or sample surveys. Any one site, no matter how carefully chosen, will reveal only part of the world that the members of a transnational community live in. Researching social actors who operate in different arenas and localities requires ungrounded fieldwork, using multiple fieldwork sites as a baseline and points of departure. Following the links to the outside world forged by the people we study, we are prepared to end up in totally different locations in Europe and Asia.
The investigations will focus on the patterns of interaction that weave the Chinese world system together rather than in the details of their local manifestations. In order to investigate connections that often span thousands of miles, the project will adopt a practice approach that focuses on the ever-changing flux of social action, processes and events rather than on purportedly stable structures (Bourdieu 1977; Giddens 1979 and 1987; Granovetter 1985; Ortner 1984 and 1989). A transnational community can only be studied from the actors point of view. In concrete events, social actors construct communities of family, friends and acquaintances located at multiple sites on the basis of shared discourses of relatedness and belonging (on the rise of the network society, see Castells 1996; on Chinese discourses of connections and belonging, see King 1994, Kipnis 1997, Yan 1996 and Yang 1994).
During our fieldwork in Europe and China, we shall identify a limited number of cases: projects, such as the establishment of an enterprise, the transportation of a group of migrants by a human trafficker, fund raising for a charitable community project (a hospital, ancestral hall, a school), or the founding of a new association. In each case, a detailed study will be conducted of cooperation with other interested parties, fund raising tactics, decision making processes, setting of targets and priorities, and the allocation of revenues and/or benefits of the completed project. During this phase we will mainly use the qualitative methods of in-depth interviewing and participant observation in sites throughout Europe and China that are relevant to the selected cases.
The output of the ungrounded and action-centred fieldwork that we propose to carry out will be an understanding from the actors point of view of how a transnational community is produced and reproduced as a field of cultural signification and social interaction. How do social actors define, challenge and redefine the boundaries and internal power relations of the community? Which discursive formations inform meaningful and efficacious social action in this ever-shifting social configuration? In what ways are the relationships of the community with outside state agencies, businesses, organizations, and other Chinese transnational communities mediated?
Due to the clandestine nature of migration from Fuzhou/Fujian, the truly global distribution of migrants, and the almost complete absence of existing studies of this group in Europe, our field research will have to start with the basics. The first three months of the project will be used to establish contacts in Europe and China, assess the availability and relevance of statistical data and documentary evidence, identify useful internet web sites, design the first fieldwork periods in Europe and China, and learn the Fuzhou dialect. The fieldwork itself will commence with interviews with researchers, journalists, representatives of trade unions, officials at the Intergovernmental Consultations on Asylum and Refugees Policy in Europe, North America and Australia, immigration services and trade unions, Chinese community workers and leaders of Chinese associations, and interpreters and immigration lawyers. These interviews will take place in the main European hubs of Fuzhou/Fujian migration: the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Hungary and Russia. Topics covered in these interviews will be the history, areas of origin, volume, and itineraries of Fuzhou/Fujian immigration and through-migration, employment and housing patterns, immigration procedures and their application to Fuzhou/Fujian immigration, relationship of Fujianese with other Chinese and non-Chinese immigrant groups, and criminality. In addition, we shall collect statistics and case materials on asylum and work permit applications and follow the latter up with initial interviews with the applicants. Further comparative information will be gathered through correspondence and telephone interviews with researchers, immigration officials, lawyers and community workers knowledgeable of Fujianese immigration in the United States and Australia. To facilitate this initial phase of research, contacts have already been established with journalists, institutes or individual researchers in Budapest (Modern Asia Centre), Moscow (Institute of Far Eastern Studies), Florence/Prato (University of Florence, Prato municipality), Paris (Agence France Presse), Hamburg (Museum für Volkerkunde), Berlin (Freie Universität) and Australia (Griffith University). This network will be further expanded in the months ahead.
On the basis of information gathered during this first phase, field research in the home areas of Fujianese migrants will be carried out. We will investigate two townships whose residents emigrate to Europe. To arrange this field research and select these townships, we already have established contacts with researchers at the South Seas Research Institute (Nanyang Yanjiusuo) of the University of Xiamen, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and Peking University. Further contacts with the Fujian Academy of Social Sciences in Fuzhou will be made with the commencement of the project.
During the field research in Fuzhou/Fujian we will collect statistical data and documents on Fuzhou/Fujian emigration and investigate the general demographic, administrative and economic profile of the townships, the emigration history of selected village communities in the two townships, emigration procedures, the role of local governments and lineages in emigration and liaison with emigrants, genealogies of emigrant families, factors influencing migrants choice of destination, linkages between emigrants in Europe and elsewhere and their home community (including return investment and remittances), and the operations of human traffickers working in the area. The method used will broadly be that of anthropological fieldwork, entailing both open interviews and participant observation.
Subsequent to fieldwork in Fuzhou/Fujian, we will follow the transnational connections of these two townships back to Europe. We shall follow the emigrants routes through Hong Kong, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe. Back in Europe, migrants from the study villages will be interviewed on their migration and employment history, their connections with other emigrants from their village throughout Europe, the internal structure and power relations in the transnational communities of Fuzhou/Fujian migrants, and their connections with other Fujianese and members of other Chinese groups in Europe and elsewhere.
During the third and final phase of this study, we will return to Fuzhou/Fujian to check our findings, gather more specific information on the emigrants home communities and migration patterns and test hypotheses formulated about Fuzhou/Fujian migration during our investigations in Europe. To this aim, we shall also conduct a stratified ten per cent household survey in each of the two townships to supplement and check local statistics and quantify the impressions gleaned from the qualitative interviews. Questions to be included are household income, household composition, number, date of emigration, employment, place(s) of residence of emigrant members of the household (including those who have permanently returned to China), cost and sources of funding of emigration, method and itinerary of travel, amount and use of remittances, and frequency and length of migrants return visits.