Welcoming the Dragon in India

KAVITHA SRINIVASA | Updated on November 15, 2017

Elizabeth Chen , a Delhi-based Chinese professional, finds India rich in career opportunities.

India-born Chinese Yang Yen Thaw, a lawyer and filmmaker, on holiday in Goa.

Chinese-Indians prepare to usher in a new year.

Elizabeth Chen is a Delhi-based Chinese professional, who first came to India to do a course in public relations. “My initial decision was to complete the course and pursue a career in public relations in Taiwan, China or Hong Kong. However, I decided to stay on as lucrative offers came my way. My career took off, and I have not looked back since then,” says Chen, who didn't want to join her family's restaurant business in Taiwan.

As GenNext Chinese move beyond family businesses and sift through global opportunities, and as the West grapples with economic crises, India increasingly appears to hold promise, with its IT prowess proving especially attractive. Over the last 15 years, there has been a significant increase in the number of Chinese expats working in India as chartered accounts, software professionals and entrepreneurs. According to data from the Chinese Embassy, 60,000 visas were issued to Chinese arriving in India between 2004 and 2010. The numbers increased nearly fourfold during this period.

“For many Chinese, India is traditional, yet the malls and restaurants come as a pleasant surprise, as they are indicators of a modern India with a global outlook,” says Ankit Shrivastava, Marketing Executive, India and International Relations, Dezan Shira and Associate, a foreign direct investment (FDI) specialist.

While GenNext Chinese are finding a footing across metros, an earlier generation of Chinese arriving in India traditionally made Kolkata their base. “Kolkata was home to India's largest Chinese population, whose livelihood depended on the leather business, beauty parlours and restaurants. The mindset changed as the younger generation explored newer avenues to improve their prospects,” says Dr Alka Acharya, Associate Professor in Chinese Studies, Centre for East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. In an interesting twist of irony, Indian chefs steward Chinese restaurants and North-East personnel manage Chinese beauty parlours today.

Eric Yang, India Country Manager for Taiwanese company EDIMAX Technology, is an India-born Chinese (IBC) who grew up in Kolkata and later honed his IT skills in Taiwan. “As a third-generation IBC, I am grounded in Indian culture and thinking. Adaptation in a foreign land is not easy, especially given the language and cultural differences, but as an Indian it gives you an added edge due to our upbringing, and thus career options are broader,” says the Mumbai-based professional.

For some Chinese such as Luo Ping, Bollywood beckons. The talented artist won over fans with his soulful singing on the television show Super Idol 13.

Law and documentary films may appear completely divergent, but Yang Yen Thaw has struck a balance between the two. The founder-principal of YANG, a corporate and intellectual property law firm in Bangalore, Yang belongs to a family of shoemakers. A law professional with expertise in cross-border investments, the multilingual Yang in his spare time pursues diverse interests. The most recognised among these is his narration for the documentary film Legend of Fat Mama. Released worldwide in 2005, the film fetched Yang the Best Narration/ Voice Over at the 52nd National Film Awards. “The film is the journey of a Chinese who moved from Kolkata to Canada and, after spending a lifetime there, returns to Kolkata, to his memories. It dwells on the Chinese lifestyle in India, their pain, journeys and happenings,” explains Yang, adding, “It was weird sitting among film celebrities, and me, a lawyer from nowhere, claiming an award for their bread-and-butter! Nevertheless, it was a fantastic experience.”

With cultural exchanges between India and China dating back to ancient times, similarities abound. This, in turn, eases the process of assimilation. “Chinese expatriates fit into the Indian ethos because Indians could be global by way of working but they still believe in their culture and ethos, which is the case in China too,” says Shrivastava. Festivals are another meeting point, with many Chinese enthusiastically celebrating the wide variety found in India — be it Puja in Kolkata, Pongal in Tamil Nadu, Ganesh Chaturti in Mumbai, Lohri in Delhi or Ramzan and Holi. As Yang puts it, “How could we resist Diwali mithais, Christmas goodies, biryanis and other delectable fare that India has to offer?”

Indians, on their part, have developed a big love for Chinese cuisine, and even adapted it to create a distinct “Indian-Chinese” cuisine. From street hawkers to star hotels, Chinese food is a hot favourite everywhere. “We generated revenue 30 per cent above the normal daily sales during the 2011 Chinese New Year. We expect an increase of around 10-15 per cent in covers this year, as this has been the trend in our restaurant for the Chinese New Year dinner,” says Huang Zhiwen, Dimsum Chef, Zen, The Leela Palace Bangalore.

Published on January 19, 2012

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