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The New Chinese Immigration to Japan

Between mobility and integration
Hélène Le Bail

Abstract

Over the past two decades, Chinese students in large numbers have settled in Japan: a rate of immigration recalling that of the early twentieth century. The inflow has brought about the creation of a Chinese community whose members are highly qualified and economically well integrated into society. Japan’s new Chinese residents are intellectuals by profession. Their lifestyle and the way they present themselves set them apart from traditional immigrants. The concepts of “transnational entrepreneurs” and “expatriates” are called on here to account for the connections they maintain with China and Japan.

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1In 2003, according to Japanese government figures, 462,396 Chinese people were living in Japan, making up a quarter of its foreign residents. Although Koreans make up the country’s largest foreign community, the Chinese are by far the most numerous new arrivals since the end of the 1970s. This article deals with these Chinese newcomers, who differ from the traditional image of immigrants in two ways: they are exceptionally well qualified, enjoying high socioeconomic status—12% belong to the most favoured social classes while nearly all could be counted as middle class; and, having created flourishing and active ethnic business activity, the Chinese newcomers are not observed to have segregated themselves economically or residentially as they have in Europe.

2This situation is partially explained by Japan’s policy on immigration. This has been modified since the end of the 1980s but remains very restrictive, allowing only a small number of qualified workers to come in. There is a significant gap between this immigration policy and the presence in Japan of a large number of unskilled or semi-skilled workers1. The gap is explained by the recourse to roundabout methods of importing low-skilled foreign labour, such as running trainee programmes, opening the borders to people of Japanese descent in Latin America (the Nikkeijin) or issuing student visas. Faced with industry’s labour requirements, “the government consciously resorts to side door or back door [immigration] policies”2. In this context, the plan to bring the number of foreign students up to 100,000 by the year 2000 (a project first announced in 1983), provided a privileged immigration route for the Chinese. Chinese students accept unskilled employment: for many, the jobs are temporary, lasting just long enough to fund their studies. Once they have graduated from Japanese universities, those deciding to stay on generally attain skilled posts, even highly skilled posts. The temporary nature of unskilled jobs helps perhaps to explain the low level of segregated activity. And access to skilled employment explains the wide residential dispersal. Above all, the fact that a large number of Chinese immigrants should have come in via the selective route of study accounts for their social mobility.

3In its first part, this article describes the processes by which, as they settled in Japan, the migrants set up networks of student immigrants; it will look at how the new migrant inflows explain the present characteristics of the Chinese population in Japan; and it will seek to explain how its high level of skills and lack of ethnic separatism have favoured social mobility in Japan.

4In the second part, the article looks more specifically at the roles played by transnational entrepreneurs and expatriates, and examines how their sense of place, their connections with their society of origin—China—and of residence—Japan—throw new light on research in terms of returning home or of integration into the host country.

Chinese immigration to Japan: the preponderance of student networks

The old and the new immigrants to Japan: two quite distinct communities

5The Japanese language uses the English terms “oldcomers” and “newcomers” to designate, respectively, immigrants who arrived before 1945 and those who have arrived since the second half of the 1970s. The oldcomers are, in the main, Koreans, but also include a small number of Chinese people, mostly from Taiwan. This article is concerned only with the newcomers, originating mostly from mainland China. These two inflows of Chinese immigrants have few features in common.

6Unlike other countries in the organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Japan carried out its reconstruction and launched its post-war economic take-off without recourse to immigration. It was not until the mid-1970s that the government began opening its frontiers to foreign workers. China, for its part, liberalised its emigration policy only from 1978 onwards. So the inflow of Chinese migrants to Japan was halted for more than thirty years.

7The very slow rise in Japan’s Chinese population between the 1950s and 1980 contrasts with the constantly increasing inflow over the past twenty-five years (see Table 1). Chinese residents numbered 52,896 in 1980; the figure rose to 150,339 in 1990, and reached 462,396 by 20033. When one takes into account those people in irregular situations, estimated by the Ministry of Justice at some 30,000 in 2004, together with those who have taken Japanese nationality, the total number of Chinese people or people of Chinese origin is up around 600,0004. Before the 1980s, the number of long-term immigrants was about 50,000 people; it cannot have increased by very much, given the low birthrate of the Japanese. So we may estimate the number of Chinese people (or people of Chinese origin), who have arrived in Japan since the end of the 1970s and living in Japan, at 550,000 people.

1. Population of Chinese Nationality Officially Registered in Japan

1. Population of Chinese Nationality Officially Registered in Japan
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    C="olcaledI , Sfroal d, Sfroal d Uled emplytPrrc=,"1994, pp. 411-414.mber of Chinese immigraon policy onsignifictwee">here is a significabf iiber"gap beion2" quirementween tree252er KajitceTakamtshl,eop. ome. p. 205.umber of Chinese immigraon policy onsignifictwee">here is a significabf iiber"gap beion3" quirementween t3em352er S ng=soigstfhinese aclass="fushttp://www.moj.go.jp/TOUKEIciallyber of Chinese immigraon policy onsignifictwee">here is a significabf iiber"gap beion4" quirementween t4 m452er Zhwh teaobso, No. 549nuinnuhave1>Thf="5edBy d anle umberris C,ehref="0,rtermmmigrants was about 50,00tinnmexsedle" Rea>Inner the ChieM , n imoiore>, Vol. 41, No. 3,hf="3,hp. 7.mber of Chinese immigraon policy onsignifictwee">here is a significabf iiber"gap beion5" quirementween t5">552er Innerview0cinducte pur TokyocaMtaah 1st.hf="5ember of Chinese immigraon policy onsignifictwee">here is a significabf iiber"gap beion6" quirementween t6">652er Informclasserents Tokyo Molism= llorpe dismlcall"" ta doz1u iertrview icinducte pur Tokyo xml:lwas aboumeigrasstiose acolism= llorpe da-dbenu here is a significabf iiber"gap beion7" quirementween t7">752er Innerview0cinducte pur TokyocaMtaah 9th.hf="5ember of Chinese immigraon policy onsignifictwee">here is a significabf iiber"gap beion8" quirementween t8">852er Innerview0xml:lPc whos re>ajimceJunkoeaNoveigra 18th.hf="4,ial in lledapexaminesesucitdshivmadehiera chula ooad intlesedwnleear Harbinember of Chinese immigraon policy onsignifictwee">here is a significabf iiber"gap beion9" quirementween t9">952er WtigsJineaersZa iie"i0Chuugokuji rshuushokushalelsjittai soeishlki (was about 50,00eilledentur works:evellittlgaondiie of ly),iManoer DtiaJapDinseral ret, Clng="bhe nunt thoseS for toealnmexPefr-f Uled emplytonlLaities<=,"1996ember of Chinese immigraon policy onsignifictwee">here is a significabf iiber"gap beion10" quirementween th0">1052er Aihwa Ong,sFmexible Cme, Duhre of stLindet, Duke Uled emplytPrrc=,"1999ember of Chinese immigraon policy onsignifictwee">here is a significabf iiber"gap beion1h" quirementween thh">1152er SJaptir websnce http:/211.151.90.1/dssem a/web/8/f="3-12-20ember of Chinese immigraon policy onsignifictwee">here is a significabf iiber"gap beion12" quirementween t12">1252er UnherastilytoghrDtesosdier

    Kanaghwa w rlgeskokub Jki jûmi rseikatsusjittai chôs1><ôkokusho ,sRxa inesyG0 ipnhere is a significabf iiber"gap beion13" quirementween thnef1obiic Woda intborrbeents accNonceGlick Sc inl e,tChr tinceBesoc-Sz n:ss a-dbLiti Baschah,routtrf iiber">ts s and the Chint ci rN"e="DsaUnb in :s and the ChinPl" id==,"PostcolivtnsePpad crmon be n hDenerrpeortns, New0York,sRpanledge,"1993ember of Chinese immigraon policy onsignifictwee">here is a significabf iiber"gap beion14" quirementween thpar1452ic Zhwh teaobso, No. 537, Octogra 1st.hf="4,hp. 8ember of Chinese immigraon policy onsignifictwee">here is a significabf iiber"gap beion15" quirementween t15ar1o qic >ajimceJunkoeaersT and the Chinnets s and the ChinneToushttJki Sekal,eCed in Ja,lEain tnty, TokyocaAkashl,ef="3ember of Chinese immigraon policy onsignifictwee">here is a significabf iiber"gap beion16" quirementween t16ar16 qer Innerview0cinducte pur TokyocaAugu>Thf="4mber of Chinese immigraon policy onsignifictwee">here is a significabf iiber"gap beion17" quirementween t17am17voer ersEts4<0,0,rsCygra conc:sRxahapaledIe of lieng gise aAost nuInformclass, New0York,sPalgr ue,af="4,hpp. 237-253ember of Chinese immigraon policy onsignifictwee">here is a significabf iiber"gap beion18" quirementween th8am1/52er Oernm cub id=,b Japnmexcasveyo=anKanaghwa c Jed renveiresm Thisaioa aasveyor-fr">here is a significabf iiber"gap beion19" quirementween th9aw1952a> SJapKamen Doral,eMtaie-An:sr-etce HiM , No. 84,hDeceigra 1998,hpp. 1-12.mber of Chinese immigraon policy onsignifictwee">here is a significabf iiber"gap beion20" quirementween t20im20 qa> >ndgoober">ts deasey habyszlt1u frequchrescredef in Jer">77<. mber of Chinese immigraon policy onsignifictwee">here is a significabf iiber"gap beion2h" quirementween t2him2152er Aihwa Ong,sFmexible Cme, DurhaccNCof stLindet, Duke Uled emplytPrrc=,"1999ember of Chinese immigraon policy onsignifictwee">here is a significabf iiber"gap beion22" quirementween trree2252 t Innerview0cinducte pur TokyocaFebruhave3rd.hf="5ember of Chinese immigraon policy onsignifictwee">here is a significabf iiber"gap beion23" quirementween t2nee23 qic Aihwa Ong,sersUrbe oAs mmes<=:sAnzEcologp cl SJna nhs te aKnowledgezEco ney ,sop. omeember of Chinese immigraon policy onsignifictwee">here is a significabf iiber"gap beion24" quirementween t2pae24 qic SJapgna Limlaunts wme, Cu cegocaUled emplytonlCu cegotPrrc=,"1994ember of Chinese immigraon policy onsignifictwee">here is a significabf iiber"gap beion25" quirementween t25ae2552ic Alexromro PskiEain thary Ra imoS for t,sVol. 22, No. 2, Mtaah 1999,hpp. 217-477.mber of Chinese immigraon policy onsignifictwee">here is a significabf iiber"gap beion26" quirementween t26ae26 qic Chr tistsJopiko,sEwa Morawsk m(dir.),eToat toAs mi0, , New0York,sPalgr ue Mtc=t iks,df="3ember of Chinese immigraon policy onsignifictwee">here is a significabf iiber"gap beion27" quirementween t27ae2pan t >ajimceJunkoeaersTo andinrsh Chru sôshhru sp iaawnizssisô (andgT and the ChinS"f theSeToshttJki seikaiecumbye petiredinishlli (Urbe oWomli,eCed in Ja,lEain tnty),hf="3,hpp. 47-79ember of Chinese immigraon policy onsignifictwee">here is a significabf iiber"gap beion28" quirementween t28ae2/52 t Oernm cub id=,b JapDeme="ios G.sPapademe="iou,8ersPalicyxcinn Amrnt upsaedrdmerous neeiertial ret ,sM

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