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Chinese Malaysian are overseas Chinese who reside in Malaysia. Most are descendants of Chinese who arrived between the 17th and 19th centuries. Some people also refer to this group as the "Chinese Malaysian", keeping with the trend of naming ethnicity before nationality, e.g. "Chinese American", "Chinese Canadian" etc.
The Chinese Malaysian people maintain a distinct communal identity and intermarriage with native Malays is fairly uncommon due to the factor of Islam (such a marriage in Malaysia requires the non-Muslim party to convert in order to be legal). Most Malaysian Chinese consider their being "Chinese" both a political and ethnic identity.
The Chinese Malaysian people have traditionally dominated the Malaysian economy, but with the advent of affirmative action policies by the Malaysian government, their share has eroded somewhat. On most counts however, they still make up the majority of the middle and upper income classes of Malaysia.
There are, in general, two sub-ethnic groups of Chinese Malaysian with two metropolitan centers. The Penang group is predominantly Hokkien and the Kuala Lumpur group is predominantly Cantonese-speaking. Modern movements to unify and organize Malaysian, Singaporean and Indonesian Chinese communities introduced standard Mandarin as the language of diaspora ethnic nationalism.
Traditionally, the Chinese Malaysian placed great importance and value on education because of their view of education being a means to improve their standard of living and due in part to the traditional Confucian esteem of education and the educated. Today, the Chinese Malaysian are one of the most academically competitive groups in the country and in the region (including Australia, a popular destination for many Chinese Malaysian students pursuing their tertiary education).
A large segment of the Chinese Malaysian population are predominantly Chinese-speaking. They are commonly known as the "Chinese-educated".
Like the Chinese Singaporean, a group of Chinese Malaysian speak English as their first language (something carried over from the British colonial days). They speak English at home, and make it a point to immerse and educate their children in the English language. Like their counterparts, they are known as the "English-educated". Strictly speaking though, the term is something of an anachronism as British-run public schools no longer exist in the country, and English has not been used as a language of instruction (other than in certain private institutions) since it was gradually phased out the 1970s and 1980s in favour of Malay during an Education plan. However, as of 2002, the Malaysian government has reintroduced English as the language of instruction for Science and Mathematics in national secondary schools and universities.
An aside: while "proper" English is generally spoken and understood among the Chinese Malaysian, the main form used is a patois called Manglish (Malaysian English). Manglish is very similar to Singlish (Singaporean English). Manglish speakers typically understand 80-90% of Singlish and vice versa. See British and Malaysian English differences. Unless specifically Manglish or Singlish terms are used in a conversation, it can be difficult even for native speakers to differentiate the two as the intonation and most terms (especially the infamous lah) are common. Singaporean television sitcoms such as Phua Chu Kang and Under One Roof that make use of Singlish are popular in Malaysia. (Note: The Singapore government has tried to reduce the use of Singlish in these serials, with visible success.)
The Chinese Malaysian community is intricately linked to the Chinese Singaporean community because of a shared history and culture. A fact worth noting is that Singapore was a part of the Federation of Malaysia before it became independent in 1965. Many Chinese Singaporean have relatives in Malaysia and vice-versa. There are also a significant number of Chinese Malaysian residing and working in Singapore. Some families in nearby Johor send their children (around 5000 of them) to school in Singapore, commuting back and forth between the two countries every day. After independence from United Kingdom, both Chinese Malaysians and Chinese Singaporeans migrated.
On that same note, the Chinese Malaysian are culturally much more distant from the Indonesian Chinese, Filipino Chinese and Thai Chinese. This is attributable to the fact that these countries did not have a shared history with Malaysia like Singapore did.
The entire Southeast Asian Chinese Diaspora is characterized by their considerable economic fortunes and their susceptibility to discrimination or political exploitation by native populations and states. This diaspora is commonly referred to as the Nanyang Chinese, 'Nanyang' (南洋) being the Mandarin term for Southeast Asia.
The majorty of the Chinese Malaysian claim to be Buddhist or Taoist (though the lines between them are often blurred and, typically, a syncretic Chinese religion incorporating elements of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and traditional ancestor-worship is practised), with the fact that each individual follows it in varying degrees. About 19% are Christian (Catholic, Methodist and other Protestant denominations) and an extremely small number profess Islam as their faith.
Famous Chinese Malaysian
- Michelle Yeoh - actress, starred in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Tomorrow Never Dies, The Touch
- Robert Kuok - One of the richest men in the Asian Pacific Rim
- Zang Toi - 5th Avenue New York fashion designer
- Jimmy Choo - London-based shoe designer
- Lim Goh Tong - Malaysian businessman who owns the Genting Group. See Genting Highlands
- Vincent Tan - Malaysian businessman, owner of the Berjaya Group
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