Becoming New Overseas Chinese: Transnational Practices and Identity Construction Among the Chinese Migrants in Japan

  • Gracia Liu-FarrerEmail author
Part of the International Perspectives on Migration book series (IPMI, volume 2)


The Chinese in Japan show two curious characteristics. First, they object to being called ‘immigrants’. Instead, they embrace the identity ‘New Overseas Chinese’, a label invented and popularized by the Chinese in Japan. Second, they prefer permanent residency over naturalization. Although it is generally considered easier to obtain Japanese citizenship than permanent residency, three times as many Chinese immigrants applied and obtained permanent residency as Japanese citizenships between 2003 and 2007. This chapter argues that both the choice of ‘New Overseas Chinese’ identity and the preference for permanent residency in Japan speaks of the Chinese migrants’ desire to maintain a flexible cross-border living and are in congruence with their transnational outlooks. It shows that such desire and outlooks are shaped by the intersections of the social and cultural contexts of Japan and supported by the expanding transnational economy between Japan and China. On the one hand, Chinese migrants’ identifications and transnational outlooks represent their strategies to overcome their marginality in a society they perceive as resistant to immigration and closed to outsiders. On the other hand, Chinese migrants, especially skilled migrants, typically employ their Chinese cultural and linguistic skills in the Japanese labor market and occupy economic positions that have to do with businesses in China. Moreover, with the expanding global economy, the recent Chinese migrants in Japan have begun to interact with older and well-established global overseas Chinese networks. Their economic roles and practices further strengthen their identity as ‘New Overseas Chinese’.


Japanese Society Ethnic Identity Collective Identity Host Society Japanese People 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I want to express my sincere gratitude to Caroline Plüss, Chan Kwok-bun, David Chapman and the anonymous reviewer for their constructive comments on this chapter.


  1. Alba, R., & Nee, V. (1997). Rethinking assimilation theory for a new era of immigration. International Migration Review, 31(4), 826–874.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aleinikoff, T. A., & Rumbaut, R. G. (1998). Terms of belonging: Are models of membership self-fulfilling prophecies? Georgetown Immigration Law Journal, 13(1), 1–24.Google Scholar
  3. Bartram, D. (2000). Japan and labor migration: Theoretical and methodological implications of negative cases. International Migration Review, 34(1), 5–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Burke, P. J. (1980). The self: Measurement requirements from an interactionist perspective. Social Psychology Quarterly, 43(1), 18–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Burke, P. J. (2004). Identities and social structure: The 2003 cooley-mead award address. Social Psychology Quarterly, 67(1), 5–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Burke, P. J. (2006). Identity change. Social Psychology Quarterly, 69(1), 81–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Duan, Y. (1998). Fu Ji Dong Ying Xie Chun Qiu [Writing history in Japan]. Shanghai: Shanghai Education Press.Google Scholar
  8. Duan, Y. (2000). Zai ri zhong guo ren mei ti zong lan [An overview of Chinese media in Japan]. Saitama, Japan: Japan Overseas Press.Google Scholar
  9. Fernandez-Kelly, M. P. (1995). Social and cultural capital in the urban ghetto: Implications for the economic sociology and immigration. In A. Portes (Ed.), The economic sociology of immigration: Essays on networks, ethnicity, and entrepreneurship (pp. 213–247). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  10. Gans, H. J. (1979). Symbolic ethnicity: The future of ethnic groups and cultures in America. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 2(1), 1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Glick-Schiller, N., & Fouron, G. E. (1999). Terrains of blood and nation: Haitian transnational social fields. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 22(2), 340–366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Goldring, L. (1998). The power of status in transnational social fields. In M. P. Smith & L. E. Guarnizo (Eds.), Transnationalism from below: Comparative urban and community research (Vol. 6, pp. 165–195). New Brunswick: Transaction.Google Scholar
  13. Gordon, M. M. (1964). Assimilation in American life: The role of race, religion and national origin. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Haller, W., & Landolt, P. (2005). The transnational dimensions of identity formation: Adult children of immigrants in Miami. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 28(6), 1182–1214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. He, B. (2007). Life style and cultural identity: An analysis of ‘new overseas Chinese’ in Japan [Shenghuo Biaxiang yu Wenhua Rentong –Riben Xin Huaqiao Huaren Qunti Shixi]. Journal of Sun Yatsen University (Social Science Edition), 3, 13–17.Google Scholar
  16. Howard, J. A. (2000). Social psychology of identities. Annual Review of Sociology, 26, 367–393.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hu, M. (1998). Gan mo ban che de lu ren [The traveler catching the last train], In Y. Duan (Ed.), Fu ji dong ying xie chun qiu [Writing history in Japan] (pp. 175–181). Shanghai: Shanghai Education Press.Google Scholar
  18. Japan Immigration Association. (2004–2010). Statistics on the foreigners registered in Japan. Tokyo: Japan Immigration Association.Google Scholar
  19. Levitt, P. (2001). The transnational villagers. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  20. Liu-Farrer, G. (2007). Producing global economies from below: Chinese immigrant transnational entrepreneurship in Japan. In S. Sassen (Ed.), Deciphering the global: Its spaces, scales, and subjects (pp. 177–198). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  21. Liu-Farrer, G. (2011). Making careers in the occupational niche: Chinese students in corporate Japan’s transnational business. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 37, 785–803.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Mitchell, K. (1997). Different diasporas and the hype of hybridity. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 15(5), 533–553.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Mo, B. (2008). ‘Shin Tokyojin’ itu tanjo? [When will the ‘New Tokyonites’ be Born?] Asahi Shinbun, February 2, p. B3.Google Scholar
  24. Orellana, M. F., et al. (2001). Transnational childhoods: The participation of children in processes of family migration. Social Problems, 48(4), 572–591.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Pacific Asia Resource Center. (2004). A complete anatomy of 100-yen shop: Globalization in daily life [Tettei Kaibo 100-yen Shoppu: Nichijouka suru Guroubarizeishon]. Tokyo: Commons.Google Scholar
  26. Pak, K. T. (1998). Outsiders moving In Identity and institutions in Japanese responses to international migration. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, Department of Political Science.Google Scholar
  27. Park, K. (2007). Constructing transnational identities without leaving home: Korean immigrant women’s cognitive border-crossing. Sociological Forum, 22(2), 200–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Popkin, E. (1999). Guatemalan Mayan migration to Los Angeles: Constructing transnational linkages in the context of the settlement process. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 22(2), 267–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Portes, A., & Rumbaut, R. G. (2001). Legacies: The story of the immigrant second generation. Los Angeles: University of California Press/Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  30. Rumbaut, R. G. (2005). Sites of belonging: Acculturation, discrimination, and ethnic identity among children of immigrants. In T. S. Weisner (Ed.), Discovering successful pathways in children’s development: Mixed methods in the study of childhood and family life (pp. 111–164). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  31. Sasatani, H. (2007). Kanan de no nihonjin genchisaiyou no tokushou [The characteristics of local employments of Japanese nationals in Southern China]. Whenever Shanghai (July), p.124.Google Scholar
  32. Smith, R. C. (1998). Transnational localities: Technology, community and the politics of membership within the context of Mexico-US migration. Journal of Urban and Comparative Research, 6, 196–241.Google Scholar
  33. Tajima, J. (2005). Daitoshi ni Okeru Chugokukei Ijyusha Chosa [A survey of Chinese migrants in the metropolis]. In J. Tajima (Ed.), Chugokukei Ijyusha kara Mita Nihonshakai no Shomondai. [Japanese social problems in the eyes of Chinese migrants] (pp. 7–37). Tokyo: Research Foundation for Safe Society.Google Scholar
  34. Tsuboya, M. (2008) “Eizokuteki Sojona” Chūgokujin no Aidenteitei (“Permanent Sojourners” Chinese People’s Identities). Tokyo: Yūshindō Bunko.Google Scholar
  35. Warner, W. L., & Srole, L. (1945). The social systems of American ethnic groups. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Waters, J. L. (2008). Education, migration, and cultural capital in the Chinese diaspora: Transnational students between Hong Kong and Canada. Amherst: Cambria Press.Google Scholar
  37. Yoshino, K. (1992). Cultural nationalism in contemporary Japan. London: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Netherlands 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate School of Asia-Pacific StudiesWaseda UniversityTokyoJapan

Personalised recommendations