Thai-isation: Removal of Chinese traces in Thailand

Anonymous student post

Although it is stepping back a few weeks, I would like to look at the assimilation of ethnic Chinese in Thailand. I think it is an important case to consider as it generally accepted that Thailand has successfully overcome the difficulties of incorporating the Chinese into the Thai national identity. Balasegaram (2001) writes of how “integration … of the community has been the greatest in Thailand and Philippines”.

To begin, we have covered the theoretical approaches to assimilation and segmented assimilation, which have been generally centred around Milton Gordon‘s “Seven Stages of Assimilation” as a linear process, in one way or another. For example, Alba and Nee (1997)

Garuda as national symbol of Thailand

Garuda as national symbol of Thailand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

presented highly influential work concerning the “causal mechanisms” that generate assimilation, but this all still lays on the foundations that Gordon laid out. Some have called for a fresh direction of assimilation, not by completely rejecting Gordon’s initial work, but argue that it is outdated in current circumstances, at least in the United States that is. Moon-Kie Jung (2010) offers that we should move away from “assimilation” and instead give greater attention to the “politics of national belonging”.

We have additionally looked at the effects of the assimilated or semi-assimilated, both first and second generation, such as their progression in the educational institutions, the workplace and society’s acceptance at large, including self-identity. From this, I became curious in how assimilation, or attempted assimilation, takes place at the policy-making level. Prof. Moorehead’s link regarding Amy Chua‘s most recent work, The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America (2014), reminded me of a particularly outstanding chapter in her 2003 book, World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability, which is titled “Mixing Blood: Assimilation, Globalization, and the Case of Thailand”.

Chua notes that Thailand’s population of ethnic Chinese stands at 10% of the Thai population, but the Chinese are practically invisible following years of assimilation. A closer look however reveals that the “ethnic Chinese” in Thailand account for a “wildly disproportionately wealthy, market dominant … minority” (Chua 2004:179). According to Chua, they dominate the largest banks and conglomerates and “all of Thailand’s billionaires are ethnic Chinese”. Yet, there is a distinct lack of resentment. Intermarriage is much higher compared to surrounding countries, such as Indonesia and Malaysia. So how did this come to be?

Chua answers this question quite simply; “through decades of coerced assimilation” (p. 180). Following immigration from China to Thailand in the 19th century, Thailand began to take a nationalist stance against the Chinese, and it was in fact King Rama VI of Thailand that coined the term “Jews of the East” due to their economic dominance. The Thai government‘s solution to this issue took the form of what we can call “Thai-isation”, through a “systematic and ruthless campaign” (p. 183). Chinese schools in Thailand initially faced severe restrictions, and then were closed down. Chinese books were banned, as were newspapers and social organisations. Thai dress was enforced, Chinese industries were nationalised, remittance of money to China was criminalised and harassment ensued for anyone still showing signs of “Chineseness”. Those with a Chinese surname began changing their names to be more “Thai”, but as one of Chua’s students notes: “You can tell who the Chinese are because they’re the ones with the longest last names. That’s because they felt that had to “out-Thai” the Thai and because the Chinese weren’t allowed to take on a Thai surnames that already existed” (p. 184).

These events clearly show a more extreme angle of assimilation from a state-level. The repression of the Chinese in attempt to erase a minority’s dominance has only really made the issue cloudy and obscures a great deal. I wonder now to what level other national governments have gone to in order to try and create a more “harmonious” society. Japan? Britain? Australia? Have they followed routes like Thailand in the past, and do they today present a more politics of belonging approach?


Alba, R. and Nee, V. (1997). Rethinking Assimilation Theory for a New Era of Immigration, International Migration Review, Vol. 31, No. 4, pp. 826-874.

Balasegaram, M. (2001). ‘Analysis: South-East Asia’s Chinese’, BBC News, 29 August 2001. Retrieved from on 22 June 2014.

Chua, A. (2004). World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability. London: Arrow Books.

Jung, M, K. (2009). The Racial Unconscious of Assimilation Theory, Du Bois Review, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 375-395.


Filipino hostesses in Japan: Volition or Coercion?

Rhacel Parreñas in the field, working as a hostess in Tokyo

by Jonas Horvei

According to the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons (2013), human trafficking can be defined as:

“[t]he recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”

In this week’s blog post I would like to examine to whether or not Filipino hostesses working Japan can be considered as victims of human trafficking, especially under the category of sex trafficking. I will also consider whether there is a possibility that this is not the case of human trafficking, but rather an action which they carry out by their own volition.

First of all I would like to examine what kind of typical activities a hostess performs while working in a bar in Japan.

  • Takes on the role as an entertainer
  • Pours her customers drinks, often alcoholic beverages
  • Dances with them
  • Sings for her customers, often karaoke
  • Talks with her customers, being engaged in a conversation, often with a bit of “flirtative” nature, often while at the same time complimenting them.

On the basis of only this, it is naturally impossible to say whether these people working in such establishment are victims of human trafficking or not. Nevertheless if we look a bit deeper and consider if this at the perspective of sex trafficking we can start hypothesizing at least. According to the U.S Code §7102 – (10) sex trafficking can be defined as the following;

The term “sex trafficking” means the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act”.

Judging from this definition, there does not seem to be any particular aspects that resembles a commercial sex act, and thus I argue that such kind of cannot be considered a case of sex trafficking. Although occasionally acts such as masturbating the customer did occur, nothing was mentioned whether this was carried out by their own volition or not. Looking at the culture of south-east Asian countries though, such “happy ending” customs are fairly normal in especially massage establishments such as in China and Thailand, which might explain why this is not necessarily  considered prostitution. While there are Filipinos working as prostitutes in Japan, at least on the surface it seems to me at first glance that the Filipino who come to serve as hostess, are mainly not victims of sexual trafficking.

For the meantime, let us go back to the case of human trafficking and see if there is any evidence that these workers can be considered victims of such a phenomenon. While indeed, it is likely that some of the Filipinos who migrate to Japan are forced to go against their own volition, and thus can be defined as victims of human trafficking, I argue that this is the exception rather than the norm. According to Parreñas (2011 p.3) no conclusive evidence exists that these workers are victims of human trafficking, but rather research indicates that most of the workers take this decision by themselves, and migrate by their own volition. Yet again according to Parreñas (2003 p.199), as much as 34 to 54 percent of the Filipino population is sustained by remittances by migrant workers. Such numbers tells exactly how much of an importance overseas Filipinos workers affect the homeland economy.

Nevertheless despite most of these people not being victims of human trafficking, there is no question that especially for migrants in such vulnerable occupations the working conditions can be lackluster, and that they might be victims of forced labor. This is something which needs to urgently be addressed, preferably in collaboration between the Philippines and the Japanese government.

Since 1999, Japan’s immigration policies have made it considerably more difficult, ultimately forcing many bars to shut down and many having difficulty coming over to work as hostesses (National University of Singapore, 2012). However, imposing restrictions on entertainer visas is in my opinion not a solution to combat human trafficking, or rather it is not a solution to improve the labor conditions for Filipino hostesses. Rather, I think such restrictions are what actually promotes and can actually be the trigger to human trafficking in the first place.

These migrants cannot work in their own country, the wages are either not enough to support a family, or simply they cannot find a jobs. Then naturally the next step is to seek work elsewhere, a different city, or a different country. Suddenly these options start to dwindle, and one is only left with the options of either living a life full of poverty or as a last resort they become victims or sexual trafficking, or become prostitutions out of their own volition to take care of their family.

I argue that hostess is a harmless job, and as long as this work is carried out of their own volition, restrictions should be lessened on entertainer visas, back to the way they used to be. Still, these people will continue to be exploited due to their resident status and so on, and therefore I believe the most important step to take now is rather than imposing more and more restrictions, a step in the right direction would be to protect these people by giving them more rights to them being victims of forced labor, and to collectively come up with a solution which can benefit all parties involved.

As summarized by the United Nations Global Programme against Trafficking in Human Beings report, a lot of the responsibility lay at the hands of the Japanese and Filipino government to improve this situation (Cameron and Newman).


“Human Trafficking.”  United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Accessed 17 Nov. 2013.

“U.S Codes – USC§ 7102 Definitions” Cornell University Law School. Accessed 17 Nov. 2013.,

Parreñas, Rhacel Salazar. Illicit Flirtation; Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo. Stanford University Press (2011).

Parreñas, Rhacel Salazar. 2003. “The Care Crisis in the Philippines: Children and Transnational Families in the New Global Economy.” Pp. 39-54 in Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy. New York: Metropolitan Books

“Filipino in Hostess Clubs.” National University of Singapore, 29 Apr. 2012. Accessed 17 Nov 2013

Cameron, Sally, and Edward Newman. “Trafficking of Filipino Women to Japan: Examining the Experiences and Perspectives of Victims and Government experts” United Nations University. Online-only journal. Accessed Nov 17. 2013.