The East “Jews”

Considering most of them lived on or not far from the coast, it truly is hardly astonishing that the Teochew people became daring maritime explorers. This led to the second great migration, which happened more than 1,000 years after the first.

Many Teochew started leaving China after the First Opium War via one of the four treaty ports established by Great Britain along the southern coast, chiefly Canton (Guangzhou) and Swatow (Shantou). At the beginning, most left home because of famine, posting back letters along with cash to feed their families and sailing away to earn a better living.

Research done by the China Science and Technology Group in 1994 revealed that the late-1800s diaspora of the Teochew means that now their descendants can be found throughout Southeast Asia, including five million in Thailand, 800,000 in Malaysia and Indonesia, 500,000 in Singapore, 300,000 in Vietnam and 200,000 in Cambodia, as well as a further 300,000 in the US, 150,000 in France and 100,000 in Canada.

The Teochew people are occasionally known as the ‘Jews of the East,’ a term allegedly coined by a Thai paper, after King Rama VI of Thailand commended the Teochew’s “ astuteness and racial royals in fiscal subjects.” Their spread across Southeast Asia was similar to that of the Jews in Europe, as was the resulting discrimination and prejudice that appeared against them, mainly due to their perceived economic clout.

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