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The term “Nanyang” (南洋) denotes the geographical region south of China (Southeast Asia) as well as the ethnic Chinese migrant population in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam. The Chinese had sporadic venture into the Southeast Asia during the Han Dynasty period. More significant 'Nanyang' communities of overseas Chinese came about during the Ming dynasty (1371–1435) through the expedition of Zheng He (Cheng Ho) who sent many traders to explore and trade in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. This led to the first wave of Chinese immigrants to Southeast Asia.

Following the expedition of Ho, there was a lapse of imperial Chinese interest in the Nanyang, a period which corresponded with the first contacts with the European traders and merchant missionaries in the Southeast Asia. Chronologically, the regional development of Nanyang as the trade frontier of Chinese civilization coincided with the early onset of Western imperialism in the Southeast Asia.

The Nanyang generations have contributed vastly to the development of Southeast Asia such as agricultural and mining techniques, commercial enterprises, pottery, carpentry and metal working. The hard works built upon the ventures of early Chinese immigrant had transformed their enterprising activities into significant organizations. There are also various forms of other social legacy such as political organizations, drama, literature, Chinese medicines and definitely distinctive cuisines.