“Small Is Beautiful”: Lessons from Laos for the Study of Chinese Overseas

Danielle Tan

Abstract


During the colonial period, Laos welcomed the smallest overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, communities that almost disappeared after the communist forces seized power in Laos in 1975. Yet, this landlocked country shares a long history with China and even experienced a Golden Age thanks to the thriving caravan trade between Yunnan and mainland Southeast Asia. The Greater Mekong Subregion initiative, a development programme launched by the Asian Development Bank, has revitalized these historical trade routes, causing thousands of Chinese migrants to pour onto the new roads of Laos, channelled through the North–South Economic Corridor linking Kunming to Bangkok. Depicted as “an army of ants” that plunders the natural resources of this poor country, these Chinese migrants are also the main drivers of development. The paper seeks to examine the specificity of China’s engagement in Laos. I suggest that this small and forgotten country can provide insightful lessons to better understand the current changes taking place in Chinese migration worldwide.

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