The largest diasporic exodus fanning out of mainland China took place in the context of the immense turmoil, turbulence, suffering, and pauperization of the masses from late 19th to early 20th centuries. Today, over 24 million diasporic Chinese and ethnic Chinese are spread across Southeast Asia in Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos, Indonesia, and Timor-Lester. The first generation (G1) diasporic Chinese came to Southeast Asia with the mentality of sojourners because their emigration was self-imposed and for survival, fueled by the astounding historical, social, political, and economic circumstances of the times. Giving and generosity naturally follows back to motherland; it was focused on “giving back to China and loyalty to motherland”. The longstanding heritage in these cultures holds strength in the ethos of the “heart” when it comes to beneficence and philanthropy.
The next generation (G2 now born outside of China) began to recognize that the success of their family businesses was dependent on resources, access to networks, and social norms of these local communities, outside of China. We begin to see flexibility in identifying with local communities since their stakes as Nationals are now becoming evident. After WWII, and the realities of a closed-door policy in China from 1949-1978, their vision of retiring back in China became less and less viable. It forced many already outside of China to shed their sojourner mentality.
Impulses of the “heart” are soon quickly checked by rational prudence of the “head”. In the lands they have just adopted as their new homes, they quickly assimilate, advocate, and find resources for their own survival – including continued re-migration until families found the most suitable location to settle. Naturally, this leads to multiple loyalties over a lifetime. To assimilate and optically appear to be “local”, their philanthropy is often used as a platform to affirm their identity as Nationals. Without the “motherland memory” to fall back on, future generations will likely reduce their giving to their parents’ country of origin.
More recently, globalization, information/digital age, social media have all converged to redefine human connectivity, ease of travel, social-political dynamics, and more. Entities in the diasporic world are now hybridized – thriving on flexible identities and multiple loyalties. Current generations from the original diasporic Chinese are now more “transnational” Chinese than diasporic.
However, this hybridity is contextual or versatile in different social settings. As they become westernized or secular in lifestyle, education, ethos, and religion, there will come the time when they cease to “give back” to their parents’ or grandparents’ homeland. Their choices in philanthropy follows the contextual mutation of their own Chineseness and evolution of flexible identities and multiple loyalties through religion, lifestyles, ethics, worldviews, and localized social norms.