Chinese Brazilians

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Chinese Brazilians
Total population
c. 250,000[1]
Regions with significant populations
São Paulo City, Belo Horizonte, Curitiba and Rio de Janeiro
Portuguese, Cantonese, Mandarin and Macanese Patois
Related ethnic groups
Asian Brazilians, Asian Americans, Macanese people

Chinese Brazilians (Portuguese: Sino-brasileiro or Chinês-brasileiro; Chinese: 巴西华人 or 巴西华裔) are people of Chinese ancestry who were born in or have immigrated to Brazil. The Chinese Brazilian population was estimated to be approximately 250,000.[1]

Starting the early 19th century in 1814 when the Chinese tea planters were sent from Portugal to the Royal Botanical Garden in Rio de Janeiro.[2] Under the call for abolition slavery, more Afro-Brazilian slaves stopped working on plantations, so the Brazilian government was looking for compensation for the labor loss in the middle of the 19th century.[3] After considering immigrants such as the Europeans, the Brazilian government decided to hire Chinese laborers, as they were more willing to take the hard task than the Europeans did.[3] The Brazilian government started to import some Chinese laborers from Canton, California and other Latin American countries in the 1870s.[3] Continuing the commercial contract with the Chinese government, the Brazilian government imported more Chinese laborers to Brazil in the 1880 and 1881.[3] The earliest group of Chinese laborers started migration to Brazil, and solved the temporary labor loss in Brazil in the late 19th century.[3]

São Paulo now has the largest Chinese Brazilian population, in particular on the district of Liberdade. The majority of the Chinese immigrants settle in São Paulo, which 2,000,000 out of 3,000,000 Chinese Brazilians in total. Some Chinese immigrants work as merchants for international trade, and they work as lawyers, member of the parliament and the house of representatives and doctors. Chinese immigrants have integrated into the Brazilian society by building inter-cultural exchange in the communities.[4] Besides being an area famous for its strong Japanese presence, a significant number of Taiwanese immigrants have settled in Liberdade, and many Chinese immigrants have come to Liberdade following the Communist revolution in 1949.[5][6] Many Cantonese from Hong Kong and Portuguese-speaking Macau, including some Macanese of mixed Chinese and Portuguese descent, have also settled in Brazil. These Macau immigrants can usually speak and understand Portuguese (its Creole, Macanese or Patuá, is also spoken), allowing them to adjust more easily to life in Brazil.[7] Today, the majority of Chinese Brazilians only speak Portuguese, although some may be bilingual, speaking Portuguese and Chinese.[4]


It is known that there were Chinese in Brazil as far back as the late 18th century; Rugendas painted a depiction of Chinese Tea planters in Rio de Janeiro during the period of the Portuguese Royal family in Brazil.[7] In 1814 John VI of Portugal brought 300 Chinese from Macau to work in the Botanical Garden of Rio de Janeiro.[7]

Chinese started moving to Brazil in the late 19th century when Brazil called for abolishing slavery.[3] As a result, the number of Afro-Brazilians slaves were decreasing gradually, which created labor shortage.[3] To solve the problem, the Brazilians came up with a plan of having immigrants to the country to replace the slaves.[3] While considering having other European immigrants to replace labor shortage, some Brazilians knew that the Europeans took longer time to adapt to Brazil before working, whereas Chinese took less amount of time and could quickly get into work. Moreover, European immigrants were less willing to work in the field under harsh conditions and get paid by a small amount while Chinese laborers were accustomed to the low pay, “lived with less comfort than all other peoples,” and “more temperate.”[3] Plantation jobs were a kind of low pay job, and hiring more Chinese with a very low wage could also cut down the cost of labor.[3] Many Brazilian planters and the Brazilian government believed that Chinese were “the only colonists capable of enduring the hardships and the thousand privations peculiar to [Brazilian] rural labor.”[3] Some Brazilians claimed that “only [Chinese] workers who could save Brazilian agriculture.”[3]

Therefore, the Brazilian government planned to import Chinese laborers as some other tropical countries which had done the same thing since the 1840s.[3] However, as China had known that the Chinese laborers had received harsh labor treatments in countries like Cuba and Peru, China had prohibited all other forms of immigration but the voluntary ones, and allowed importation of laborers only to countries with commercial treaties.[3] Despite the barriers set by the Chinese government, Brazilian companies still managed to have 1,000 Chinese to work as tea planters in 1874.[3] In 1875, the Brazilian companies tried to have more Chinese workers to Brazil by recruiting those in the province of Guangdong (Canton) and California.[3] To legally import more Chinese laborers, the Brazilian government negotiated a commercial treaty with China, but China signed the commercial treaty with reluctance in Tianjing, China on September 5, 1880 with a revised contract on October 3, 1881.[3] With the low cost of transportation that is 35 milreis per passenger, which is less than 20 U.S dollars, the new Brazilian companies tried to seek more laborers from China by connecting with the director of the China Merchants Steam Navigation Company called Tong King Sing.[3] By building up a friendly trade relationship with the Tong, Brazil was able to import more Chinese laborers, but the workers were under the commitment of five-year contract.[3] Despite more Chinese laborers were transported to Brazil right away from China, but with the continuous opposing attitude from the Chinese government in the 1890s, the Brazilian government found another solution to hire more Asian labor as the Japanese had become the new target.[3]

Having Chinese immigrants to Brazil to work in coffee and tea plantations raised controversies in Brazil while the Brazilian government sought to solve the problem of labor shortage as a result of a call to end slavery.[3] Brazil was seeking for modernity starting the late 19th century, as their core value for progress was whitening, while having non-white population would degenerate the society.[3] Some Brazilians were against Chinese immigration because of cultural and racial inferiority to the Europeans based on the Social Darwinism.[3] There was a theory about the ultimate disappearance of Chinese in the Brazilian society, which a country with civilization.[3] Some Brazilians were also afraid of Chinese domination in Brazil after immigration as Chinese would take over the places with exotic cultures, opium, pigtails and pagan religions.[3] Chinese immigrants unlike other Indians and Africans who were Christianized, the Chinese immigrants were unable to be integrated in to the society.[3] Some Brazilians were also feared that the Chinese would not leave Brazil once they settled, and they would live in Brazil in groups and monopolize in businesses which created competition with domestic workers. There were some pro-Chinese immigration Brazilians that time as well.[3] The Republican leader Quintino Bocayuva wrote pamphlets to defend on having Chinese laborers would benefit Brazil in 1868.[7] It was advertised in the pamphlet A crise da lavoura by listing reasons like Chinese were skilled at agricultural work, and some negative aspects of Chinese would not hurt Brazil because Chinese were passionate for gambling, emigrated alone, inward looking and they worked and returned to China.[7]

Some Chinese laborers were unhappy about their work, so they fled to Rio de Janeiro.[7] Some Chinese laborers returned to free status, and they made a living through selling street foods and merchandises in the late 19th century.[4] In the middle of 20th century, more Chinese who lived in the US and Africa started moving to Brazil as a result of wars and prosecutions, while some Chinese who lived in Hong Kong and Taiwan also choose Brazil as their new settlement.[4] Another wave of immigration came as well in the late 1970s when Chinese immigrants from Guangdong and Zhejiang Province, and city of Shanghai and Beijing also settled in Brazil.[4] Even though the immigrants came in with different level of literacy, some literate ones worked as merchants, lawyers, doctors and government officials.[4]

Chinese Brazilians who moved to Brazil in the early years were struggling, as they borrowed money from relatives for subsidies and started with small businesses, for example, some sold Cantonese snacks like Yau Gok (Gok ai).[5] While other Brazilians worked only eight hours a day, the Chinese immigrants worked more than twelve hours a day.[5] With intelligence, persistence and diligence, the Chinese Brazilians started to succeed in different forms of small and big businesses.[5] Some old generations with high literacy were actively involved in the Brazilian community, as they worked as members of the house of representatives and parliament, lawyers and doctors.[5] In the recent 25 years, more Chinese Brazilians went to Brazil for international trade.[5]

20th and 21st Century Immigration

Life in São Paulo

There are around 3,000,000 Chinese immigrants in Brazil in total nowadays, while 2,000,000 Chinese immigrants live in São Paulo, São Paulo.[4]

Chinese merchants started to expand their business after immigration, but some negative influences hindered the growth.[6] For instance, in 2007, the Brazilian judicial system had settled down the largest shopping center and 50 stores in São Paulo, and arrested six merchants. Even though there were illegal operation and smuggling among the Chinese immigrants, but it was not the majority.[6]

The Brazilian Dream

Street No. 25 in São Paulo is a place with 2.5 km in length (approximately 1.55 miles) where the majority Chinese Brazilians mainly sell their merchandises to make a living.[6] There are more than 3,000 Chinese Brazilians run the stores out of 4,000 shops in total, and the expansion took place in less than 30 years. Working in the Street No. 25 is not easy for the Chinese Brazilians as some of them started with no Portuguese language background, and they were struggling to communicate with other Brazilians except other Chinese. Some shop owners sought for business opportunities that they would not have back in homeland with children and parents left behind.[6] The Street No.25 was not the safest area in São Paulo and some Chinese immigrants were robbed when they started business in Brazil.[6]

Recognition and Legacy

The Brazilian House of Representatives and the city of São Paulo Parliament passed the proposal of setting August 15 as “Chinese Immigrants Day.[5] Since the middle of the 19th century to nowadays, Chinese migrated to Brazil for tea and coffee plantation in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, which Brazil has became one of the earliest countries in the world with the knowledge of tea planting.[5] Chinese has been a group of immigrants in Brazil striving to integrate into the Brazilian society, promoting China and Brazil’s international trade, and intercultural communication.[5]

Dynamics, Social and Civic Engagement

As more Chinese migrated to Brazil and worked hard, Chinese immigrants has gained higher recognition in the Brazilian society while China is becoming one of the most powerful world economic power, which Brazil has established international trade with.[5] Under the fact that São Paulo is the most populated city in Brazil, the Chinese Brazilians in the community hosted cultural events like acupuncture demo, cheongsam, dragon dancing and Chinese art, which attracted different ethnic groups to watch and improved inter-cultural communications.[5] The Chinese Brazilians has gained high recognition and respect in the communities. This has occurred because the Chinese community donated money local to charities by doing this they are contributing to the community actively.[5] Despite the social recognition and China-Brazil diplomatic relationship, some robberies still take place. Chinese Brazilians in São Paulo collaborated with the local police to discuss solutions to the problems.[5]

Notable people

  • Ken Chang, a Brazilian actor of Chinese descent, popular TV series star in Taiwan and China.
  • Gui Lin, an Olympic Athlete in Table Tennis.
  • Felipe Almeida Wu, 2016 Olympic silver medalist in shooting - 10 m air pistol.
  • Shaoyu Li (李少玉), as a Cantonese descent, was elected as a member of parliament for São Paulo in 2010, which she was the first Chinese Brazilian woman in politics.[8] With the mission of promoting Chinese culture and serving Chinese overseas, Li has been assisting youth Chinese Brazilians finding their cultural heritage and having other political members and Chinese overseas to participate in cultural events.[4] With her involvement in Chinese culture promotion, acupuncture is now popular among Brazilians for chronic arthritis, martial arts has been a popular self-defense with large number of schools, and Peking Opera has widely used in performances which was performed by Brazilians.[4]
  • William Woo (威廉巫): a second generation Chinese Brazilian.[4] In 2000, he was successfully elected as a member of parliament for the city of São Paulo and continued through re-election in 2004. Wu was elected as a federal house of representative, which he was the first Chinese Brazilian in political position.[9]


  1. ^ a b "'Estou orgulhoso com a minha raíz da China' --Leone Da Silveira Lee, primeiro e único general brasileiro com descendência chinesa" ['I am proud of my Chinese roots' --Leone Da Silveira Lee, the first and only Brazilian general of Chinese descent]. China Radio International online (in Portuguese). 22 May 2007. Retrieved 8 January 2017. 
  2. ^ Lesser, Jeffrey (1999). Negotiating National Identity: Immigrants, Minorities and the Struggle for Ethnicity in Brazil. Durham & London: Duke University Press. p. 16. ISBN 0-8223-2260-9. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa Conrad, Robert (1975). "The Planter Class and the Debate over Chinese Immigration to Brazil, 1850- 1893". International Migration Review. 9: 41. doi:10.2307/3002529. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j 凯迪网络. "中国人移民巴西简史 【猫眼看人】-凯迪社区". Retrieved 2018-03-28. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m L_3139. "巴西设中国移民日 侨胞两百年辛苦打拼终获认可 - 华人新闻_海外华人新闻网 - 海外网". Retrieved 2018-03-28. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f "原创 这些华人在南美打拼,风光背后满是辛酸". Retrieved 2018-03-28. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f Lesser, Jeffrey (1999). Negotiating national identity : immigrants, minorities, and the struggle for ethnicity in Brazil. Durham, N.C: Duke University Press. pp. 17–21. ISBN 0-8223-2260-9. 
  8. ^ "Candidate: Shaoyu Li". 
  9. ^ "Brazilian Federal The House of Representatives". 


  • Teixeira Leite, José Roberto (1999). A China no Brasil: influências, marcas, ecos e sobrevivências chinesas na sociedade e na arte brasileiras [China in Brazil: Chinese influences, marks, echoes and survivals in Brazilian society and art] (in Portuguese). UNICAMP. Universidade Estadual de Campinas. ISBN 978-85-268-0436-4. 

External links

  • A Presença Chinesa no Brasil - Pesquisa Bibliográfica. Fundação João Nabuco/João Nabuco Foundation of Brazil together with the International Institute of Macau present: "The Chinese Presence in Brazil - A Bibliographic Research".
  • Padrões de Linguagem nos Imigrantes Chineses - Diglossia. This is a scholarly article written in Portuguese, the title meaning "Diglossie - Patterns of Language of Chinese Immigrants [in Brazil].
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