Just to clarify the question, what I mean is that when you say that you're Chinese (in the English language), for example, you could mean it both ethnicity and nationality-wise. But in Japanese, it's "中国人". Because of the kanji 国, it sounds like it pertains to nationality and not ethnicity, but there are Chinese people outside of China, like those in Taiwan or Malaysia.

e.g. You can say "I'm a Chinese living in Malaysia/I'm Chinese-Malaysian" and you'd understand that the person is a native Chinese in Malaysia, but if you say "私はマレーシアに住んでいる中国人です” it sounds (to me) as if a Japanese person would interpret it as someone from China is living in Malaysia. Is there any other way to say this or any other term to use that refers to ethnicity?

I've been wondering about this for quite some time now because unlike homogenous societies where you can tell someone your nationality for them to understand what ethnicity you likely are, you can't for culturally diverse countries.

  • Are you sure you are talking about race? Being Chinese is a matter of ethnicity and not of race. If you want to specify race then the Chinese are mongoloids. So your question might better be "differentiating ethnicity and nationality in Japanese."
    – eltonjohn
    Commented Jul 6, 2015 at 10:34
  • @eltonjohn ignorant me thought the two were the same thing but I'll see if I can edit that!
    – user7988
    Commented Jul 6, 2015 at 10:50

1 Answer 1


Not being much of an immigration-based country, many Japanese people are often not consciously aware of the distinction between, for instance, "Chinese-Malaysian" and "Chinese living in Malaysia".

The "proper" ways to express those are:

「中国系{ちゅうごくけい}マレーシア人{じん}」 = "a Chinese-Malaysian"

「マレーシア在住{ざいじゅう}の中国人」 = "a Chinese (citizen) living in Malaysia".

The key word here is 「系{けい}」= "pertaining to", which is very useful.

「イタリア系アメリカ人」 = "Italian-Americans"

「日系{にっけい}カナダ人」 = "Japanese-Canadians" Note we say 「日系」 instead of「日本系」 in these phrases.

So, 「A系B人」 means "a citizen of Country B of Country A's descent".

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