At the time of the Revolution of 1911, as many as ten million Chinese lived abroad. The great majority were poor coolies but a minority had already moved into the business pursuits for which they are well known today. Within this group, particularly in Southeast Asia, could be found a stratum of very wealthy merchants. Because few individuals viewed their expatriation as permanent but rather sought to identify with the homeland and its culture, there had been considerable interest in the events of the late Ch'ing period. It is widely assumed that the multitude actively opposed the Manchu regime and gave its support to the reform and revolutionary movements encouraged by K'ang Yu-wei and Sun Yat-sen. This traditional conclusion is, however, unfounded. Although most overseas Chinese had lost faith in Manchu leadership by 1909, only a small percentage took political action. In fact there was a time, forgotten by some historians, when prosperous merchants abroad wanted closer relations with the Ch'ing dynasty.

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