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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 2 .

New Chinese Migrants in Europe: the case of the Chinese Community in Hungary
Pal Nyiri

Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999
144pp. Bibl. Hb.: 35.00; ISBN 0-7546-1154-X

Nyiri's monograph, originally a doctoral thesis at Moscow State University, offers a comprehensive, descriptive summary of the background, motivation, socio-demographic characteristics, occupations and status of Chinese migrants in Hungary, from l989 on. Based on original fieldwork done from l992 to l998, the study narrates the results of nearly a thousand interviews, and summarizes information from a variety of other sources, such as the Hungarian Chinese Association (HCA), newspapers, and publications from both Hungary and the People's Republic of China (PCR). Since Nyiri conducted his interviews without a fixed or structured questionnaire, there are no statistical findings, a possible weakness in the methodology, since comparisons and generalizations are hard to make. Also, there are few direct quotes from respondents. The thorough bibliography is useful, but an index would also be helpful.

The study indicates that after the Tiananmen Square repression of 1989, China experienced a "Hungary fever" (p29) that fed on Chinese insecurities at home and the drive for better business opportunities and living conditions abroad. Psychological factors, such as the possible Asian roots of Hungarians, made Hungary into "treasure land" (p31) where Chinese migrants in 1992 exceeded 30,000 persons. The number today stands at about 10,000. In contrast to "traditional" (qiaoxiang) (p118) immigration into Europe, the new migrants emerge as an educated, ambitious, financially viable and aggressive group who do not desire to blend in, become Hungarian citizens, or marry Hungarians, and who have not formed an integrated ethnic community within Hungary. Rather they take advantage of financial, business and educational opportunities in Hungary while maintaining close ties to the PCR. Many "shuttle traders" go back and forth, with Chinese government encouragement and support. Some have acquired factories, hotels, and shops with PCR state subsidies. In 1992 a total of 1400 Chinese companies operated in Hungary; "Chinese Shop" signs proliferated. Hungary has also become a Chinese distribution center for East Central Europe. A quasi-political network, economic ties, and links to the PCR's state enterprises, financing and government agencies are also maintained.

The new migrants keep a low political profile and neither the author nor the respondents discuss the comparative merits of various political systems. The feelings of Hungarians vis a vis the Chinese migrants has not been probed, although in general the Chinese seem to be accommodated with minimal ethnic conflict. The study provides an excellent model of a migrant population that has coped successfully with its new environment.

Gabriel S. Pellathy
Associate Professor of Political Science

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