Chinese flourish in Vietnam business hub
HO CHI MINH CITY - Restaurant owner Dao Chi Hoa looks puzzled when
asked if the ethnic Chinese community feels resented in
Hoa, whose ancestors hail from Guangdong in southern
China, also scoffs at suggestions the ethnic Chinese here
could one day suffer the same racially motivated brutality
inflicted on their brethren in Indonesia.
While not hugely rich, ethnic Chinese control a fair chunk
of trade and commerce in Vietnam, especially in
southern Ho Chi Minh City, the country's business hub.
Yet by keeping their heads down -- and being blessed
with similar traditions and religious beliefs to the
Vietnamese -- the Chinese in Ho Chi Minh City appear
to be steering clear of the racial divide that haunts their
kin in parts of Southeast Asia.
Officials estimate the Chinese community in Vietnam's
commercial capital of five million people at about
500,000, or half the total in the country.
``I don't think that situation will happen in Vietnam,'' Hoa
said, referring to the violence directed at ethnic Chinese
in Indonesia just before President Suharto's downfall in
``The Chinese and Vietnamese are living here in one big
family,'' said Hoa after a lunch-time crowd of patrons
had finished eating Peking duck and wanton noodles.
``I feel very free to live here, as do other Chinese. There
is no resentment. Vietnam has become my second
Hoa's restaurant lies in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City's
``Chinatown,'' an area known as Cholon.
Commerce is the labour of choice and Cantonese or
Mandarin the language of the bustling streets and
alleyways in Cholon.
Chinese signs adorn shopfronts, red lanterns hang from
gawdy hotel ceilings and the elderly shuffle into pagodas
Each afternoon 30,000 children pack 18 language
schools -- some cramming 80 students to a class -- to
Even state-run Ho Chi Minh City Television airs a nightly
news bulletin in Mandarin, albeit one that adopts Hanoi's
line on issues such as sovereignty disputes in the South
BUSINESS NOT WITHOUT ITS PITFALLS
Truong Ty, director of Van Thanh Plastics Company in
Cholon, says business has boomed since his firm opened
From initial investment of 8.0 billion dong ($577,000),
the company is now worth 50 billion dong ($3.61
``The government gives equal support to Chinese and
Vietnamese businessmen,'' said Ty, who hails from
But business hasn't always flourished for Cholon's
The area's day of reckoning came on the morning of
March 24, 1978, when without warning police, soldiers
and thousands of students wearing red armbands
swarmed into the capitalist haven to stamp out free
Seeking ideological purity in the former Saigon following
the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, the raiders shut
businesses, seized property and confiscated countless
Tens of thousands of Chinese fled Vietnam, many in
rust-bucket boats that sank or fell victim to pirates.
Now, for most Chinese, that nightmare seems a world
Hanoi dumped the baggage of communist central
planning and adopted market-oriented economic
reforms a decade ago.
Officially at least ethnic Chinese have the same rights as
indigenous Vietnamese if they are naturalised citizens.
In general, they seem relaxed talking about their status
even though they remain aware of the traditional
uneasiness that tempers Hanoi's relationship with its giant
northern neighbour, which once ruled Vietnam for 1,000
CHINESE VALUED MEMBERS OF THE COMMUNITY
Adherence to Confucian traditions and beliefs in
Buddhism and Christianity have helped the Chinese
assimilate in Vietnam, said Tran Dai Tan, adviser to the
Chinese Affairs Department of the Ho Chi Minh City
People's Committee, or local government.
Telling the two races apart is almost impossible and
there has been plenty of inter-marriage.
Government officials said the ethnic Chinese in Cholon
were active in municipal interests and the Communist
But their main interest was enterprise.
``The Chinese feel secure in business as well as their
social and cultural life. I can say that ties between the
communities have become closer over the 10 years of
the reform process,'' said Ha Tang, head of the city's
Chinese Affairs Department.
About 20 percent of 6,000 private companies and
150,000 small individual businesses in the city were run
by Chinese, said Tang, himself from Guangdong.
The Chinese accounted for more than 30 percent of the
city's output because their companies used better
equipment, he said.
Neglecting to mention the 1978 raid on Cholon, Tang
claimed that in 300 years there had been no violence
directed against the Chinese in Ho Chi Minh City.
Tang and other officials had no statistics on the wealth of
the Chinese in Ho Chi Minh City, itself the most
prosperous part of Vietnam with per capita income at
$1,000 compared with the national average of just over
SOUND OF MANDARIN FILLS THE AIR
At the Pham Van Hai language school in Cholon,
headmaster Vuong Bai Xuyen eagerly shows a Reuters
television crew around packed classrooms as the sound
of 2,500 young voices reciting Mandarin echoes off the
building's dank walls.
Xuyen, who also hails from Guangdong and is a member
of the communist party, said ethnic Chinese had gained
respect by helping Vietnam win independence.
``We have made a great contribution in resisting the
Americans and the French,'' said Xuyen, who as a young
man left Ho Chi Minh City and journeyed to Hanoi to
join the communist forces fighting the U.S.-backed
Back out in busy Cholon, Guangdong-native Ly Cuong
Thanh expresses no concern about the fate of the
Chinese in Vietnam.
Thanh, who owns a shop selling compact discs of
Mandarin love songs, even has no knowledge of the
violence in Indonesia.
``I don't see any discrimination here. My wife is
Vietnamese, I am Chinese but we are a family,'' he said.
By Dean Yates - REUTERS - August 16, 1998.