Chinese people in India are two communities with separate origins and settlement. One is of immigrants from China and Indian-born people of Chinese ancestry and the other is of expatriate Chinese living in India for terms of usually 2–3 years.
The immigrant community started centuries ago and became more prominent in the late 18th century with arrivals working at the ports in Calcutta and Madras, and has gone on to contribute to the social and economic life of Kolkata through manufacturing and trade of leather products and running Chinese restaurants. There are an estimated 5–7,000 Chinese expatriates living in India as of 2015, having doubled in number in recent years.
Chinese Indians today are located in ethnic neighborhoods in Kolkata and Mumbai. The largest population is in Chinatown, Kolkata where about 2,000 live and another 400 Chinese Indian families in Mumbai's Chinatown
This community of Chinese works as tannery-owners, sauce manufacturers, shoe shop owners, restaurateurs and beauty parlors owners. Many of the shoe shops lining Bentick Street, near Dharmatolla, are owned and operated by Chinese. The restaurants have given rise to fusions of Chinese (especially Hakka) and Indian culinary traditions in the widely available form of Indian Chinese cuisine.
Chinese Expatriates in India
Expatriate Chinese in India are concentrated in the cities of Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, and Bangalore. The Mumbai neighborhood of Powai is described by the Economic Times as an "upcoming hub" for Chinese expats, who according to the newspaper "form close communities within themselves."
The story of Chinese capital in India is well known, but the story of Chinese entrepreneurs and professionals trickling into the country is yet unfolding across WeChat groups. This Monday one interesting article was published on rediff.com with the title "Do you know 5,000 Chinese live in India?"
Every month, Qiguo Mark Su, executive chef at the Shang Palace, a Chinese restaurant at the Shangri-La Hotel in Bengaluru, imports at least 2.5 kg of Sichuan peppercorn (Hua jiao) for his loyal diners. A quite common spice in his home country, it is harder to source in India. "It is one of the ingredients that make a Chinese meal authentic," says Su, a native of China's Sichuan province.
The conversation veers towards the customs and etiquette of Chinese dining. "It isn't really part of Chinese culture to be served food. We like to do that ourselves," says Su's colleague and translator, Athena Chen, assistant manager (guest relations) at the hotel.
Behind them, a girl, barely five, is running around barefoot on the carpeted floor. She doesn't respond to English. When Chen offers her a dumpling, addressing her in Mandarin, the child perks up.
Even on a weekday, a good chunk of Su's regular guests is Chinese. Shang Palace is one of the places they frequent for authentic cuisine from their homeland, besides Memories of China (Vivanta by Taj) and a restaurant called New Leaf in Indiranagar.
"If you walk into any one of these places, you're bound to see one or more familiar face," says Junjie Li, referring to the small, well-knit community of Chinese expats in Bengaluru.
For many of the expats, India is more than just a business opportunity. The Hindi-speaking Jian, a self-confessed fan of Rani Mukerji, and his wife Feiyun Zhao had an Indian wedding ceremony two years ago.
"I have devoted my life to India and it only made sense to have Indian rituals," he says.
But understanding a foreign land's history and culture isn't always easy. One expat asks me to explain if India's caste system is as prevalent as she's been told. That conversation will take longer than a working lunch, I say. Then there is the difference in work cultures.
"It took me some time to realize that when Indians say they'd e-mail in an hour and then didn't till a day later, that wasn't a reason to not trust them. It wasn't meant as an offense," says Charu Purohit, co-founder, and director of Bengaluru-based ACN Globiz, a one-stop solution for foreign businesses looking to venture into India.
Married to an Indian from Jaipur, Purohit's birth name is Chen Ping. Her sister-in-law rechristened her Charu. Now even her Chinese contacts know her by her Indian name. "In China, we tend to do things immediately. We want everything now," says Purohit.
In a way, she says, India has taught her to relax. Purohit is also the founder of the Bangalore Chinese Chamber of Commerce, a body registered in 2016.
In the absence of an ecosystem that caters specifically to Chinese businesspeople, bodies like Jian's ChinIndia Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Purohit's Bangalore Chinese Chamber of Commerce perform important roles.
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