Malaysian Chinese are overseas Chinese who reside in Malaysia. Most are descendants of Chinese who arrived between the 17th and 19th centuries. Some people also refer to this group as the "Chinese Malaysian", keeping with the trend of naming ethnicity before nationality, e.g. "Chinese American", "Chinese Canadian" etc.
The Malaysian Chinese people maintain a distinct communal identity and intermarriage with native Malays is fairly uncommon due to the factor of Islam. Most Malaysian Chinese consider their being "Chinese" both a political identity and an ethnic identity.
The Malaysian Chinese people have traditionally dominated the Malaysian economy, but with the advent of affirmative action policies by the Malaysian government, their share has eroded somewhat. On most counts however, they still make up the majority of the middle and upper income classes of Malaysia.
There are, in general, two sub-ethnic groups of Malaysian Chinese with two metropolitan centers. The Penang group is predominantly Hokkien and the Kuala Lumpur group is predominantly Cantonese-speaking. Modern movements to unify and organize Malaysian, Singaporean and Indonesian Chinese communities introduced standard Mandarin as the language of diaspora ethnic nationalism.
Traditionally, the Malaysian Chinese placed great importance and value on education because of their view of education being a means to improve their standard of living and due in part to the traditional Confucian esteem of education and the educated. Today, the Malaysian Chinese are one of the most academically competitive groups in the country and in the region (including Australia, a popular destination for many Malaysian Chinese students pursuing their tertiary education).
Like the Singaporean Chinese, a group of Malaysian Chinese speak English as their first language (something carried over from the British colonial days). They speak English at home, and make it a point to immerse and educate their children in the English language. They are commonly known as the "English-educated", although strictly speaking the term is something of an anachronism as British-run public schools no longer exist in the country and because English has not been used as a language of instruction since it was gradually phased out the 1970s and 1980s in favour of Malay (however, as of 2002, the Malaysian government has reintroduced English as the the language of instruction for Science and Mathematics).
There is also a large segment of the Malaysian Chinese population who are predominantly Chinese-speaking. They are known as the "Chinese-educated".
An aside: while "proper" English is generally spoken and understood among the Malaysian Chinese, the main form used is a patois called Manglish (Malaysian English). Manglish is very similar to Singlish (Singaporean English). Manglish speakers typically understand 80-90% of Singlish and vice versa. See British and Malaysian English differences. Unless specifically Manglish or Singlish terms are used in a conversation, it can be difficult even for native speakers to differentiate the two as the intonation and most terms (especially the infamous lah) are common. Singaporean television sitcoms such as Phua Chu Kang and Under One Roof that make use of Singlish, are popular in Malaysia. (Note: The Singapore government has tried to reduce the use of Singlish in these serials, with visible success.)
The Malaysian Chinese community is intricately linked to the Singaporean Chinese community because of a shared history and culture. A fact worth noting is that Singapore was a part of the Federation of Malaysia before it became independent in 1965. Many Singaporean Chinese have relatives in Malaysia and vice-versa. There are also a significant number of Malaysian Chinese residing and working in Singapore. Some families in nearby Johor send their children to school in Singapore, commuting back and forth between the two countries every day. After independence from United Kingdom, both Chinese Malaysians and Chinese Singaporeans migrated.
On that same note, the Malaysian Chinese are culturally much more distant from the Indonesian Chinese, Filipino Chinese and Thai Chinese. This is attributable to the fact that these countries did not have a shared history with Malaysia like Singapore did.
The entire Southeast Asian Chinese Diaspora is characterized by their considerable economic fortunes and their susceptibility to discrimination or political exploitation by native populations and states. This diaspora is commonly referred to as the Nanyang Chinese, 'Nanyang' (南洋) being the Mandarin term for Southeast Asia.
The majority of Malaysian Chinese claim to be Buddhist or Taoist (though the lines between them are often blurred and, typically, a syncretic Chinese religion incorporating elements of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and traditional ancestor-worship is practised), but many are nominal and are in reality atheists/agnostics. A fair number are Christian (Catholic, Methodist and other Protestant denominations) and an extremely small number profess Islam as their faith.
Famous Malaysian Chinese