British Chinese

British Chinese
British Chinese
Gok Wan cropped.jpgKatie Leungpremiere2008.jpgHerman Li.jpg
Vanessa Mae.jpgJasonLai.JPG
Notable British people of Chinese origin:
Gok Wan, Katie Leung, Herman Li, Vanessa Mae, Jason Lai
Total population
United Kingdom United Kingdom Over 430,000 (2007)
England England 400,300 (2007)[1]
Scotland Scotland 16,310 (2001)[2]
Wales Wales 6,267 (2001)[3]
Northern Ireland 4,145 (2001)[4]
0.4% of the UK's population (2001) [5]
(not including recent legal immigrants, illegal immigrants, people who are part ethnically Chinese, etc)
Regions with significant populations
London, Belfast, Manchester, Birmingham, Brighton, Liverpool, Glasgow, Sheffield, Newcastle upon Tyne, Oxford, Aberdeen

English, Chinese (including Mandarin, Cantonese, Min, Hakka, and other varieties)


Non-religious, Buddhism, Christianity.

Related ethnic groups

Other Han Chinese, Overseas Chinese

British Chinese
Traditional Chinese 英國華僑
Simplified Chinese 英国华侨
Alternate name
Traditional Chinese 英國華裔
Simplified Chinese 英国华裔

British Chinese (Chinese: 英國華僑/ 英国华侨), including British-born Chinese (also informally referred to as BBC)[6] are people of Chinese ancestry who were born in, or have migrated to, the United Kingdom. They are part of the Chinese diaspora, or overseas Chinese. The British Chinese community is the second largest in Europe just after France and thought to be the oldest Chinese community in Western Europe (if not all of Europe), with the first Chinese coming from the ports of Tianjin and Shanghai in the early 19th century, many thousands of whom settled in port cities such as Liverpool in 1804 and earlier.

Today, many Chinese families and communities have been in the UK for several generations. These communities have an active ethnic life with many activities and support networks for members, but have also integrated into the British community at large. Compared to most ethnic minorities in the UK, the Chinese are more widespread and decentralised, with a record of high academic achievement, and have one of the highest inter-ethnic marriage rates in the country. Since the relatively elevated immigration of the 1960s, the Chinese community has made rapid socioeconomic advancements in the UK over the course of a generation. There still exists a segregation of the Chinese in the labour market, however, with a large proportion of the Chinese employed in the Chinese catering industry.[7] The Chinese are said to form a relatively invisible community. While anti-Chinese sentiment on the part of the "white" majority host community has abated since the 1970s, segments of the UK press still frequently resort to stereotypical depictions of Chinese in their coverage of news events concerning China or Chinese in Britain.[8][page needed]

Most British Chinese are people or are descended from people who were themselves overseas Chinese when they came to Britain. Most are from former British colonies, such as Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. People from mainland China and Taiwan and their descendants constitute a relatively minor proportion of the British Chinese community. There are Chinese communities in many major cities including London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Cardiff, Sheffield, Belfast, and Aberdeen. In the 2001 Census, 247,403 people listed their ethnicity as Chinese, accounting for 0.4 percent of the total population.[5] The Chinese community is the fastest growing ethnic group in the UK, with 9.9 percent annual growth between 2001 and 2007. More than 90 percent of this growth was contributed by net migration.[9]



Early history

Shen Fu-Tsung was the first ever recorded ethnic Chinese person to set foot in what is now the United Kingdom, having visited over 300 years ago in 1685

The first recorded Chinese person in Britain was a Jesuit scholar called Shen Fu Tsong who was present in the court of King James II in the 17th century. Shen was the first person to catalogue the Chinese collection in the Bodleian Library. The King was so taken with him he had his portrait painted and hung in his bed chamber. The portrait of Shen hangs in the Queen's collection.[10]

In the 1750s to 19th century, the British aristocracy developed a passion for Chinoiserie, which affected not only furniture and ornaments, but fashion and society as well; upper-class gentlemen enjoyed dressing up in dragon and mandarin robes on festive occasions and ladies endeavoured to procure Chinese boys as pages or pets.[11]

The first settlement of Chinese people in the United Kingdom dates from the early 19th century. Because many of the Chinese settlers were originally seamen, the first settlements started in the port cities of Liverpool and London. In London, the Limehouse area became the site of the first Chinatown established in Britain and Europe.

The East India Company, which was importing popular Chinese commodities such as tea, ceramics and silks, and bringing Asian sailors too, needed trustworthy intermediaries to arrange the sailors' care and lodgings while they were in London.[12] A Chinese seaman known as John Anthony took on this lucrative role looking after Chinese sailors for the East India Shipping Company in the late 18th and early 19th century. By 1805, Anthony had amassed both the fortune and the influence to become the first Chinese man to be naturalised as a British citizen—an act so rare it actually required an Act of Parliament.[13]

British shipping companies first started employing Chinese sailors during the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) to replace the British sailors who had been called up to the Royal Navy. They soon discovered that they worked for less, did not get drink to excess, and were easier to command. Conditions aboard ship appalled Lee Cheong, for instance, when he visited his father's quarters: "The smell ... I remember the smell and the incredibly cramped conditions. I remember going down below, rows and rows of bunks, knapsacks and all sorts of junk stuffed in every nook and cranny ... lots and lots of people milling around. I couldn’t think of anything worse than those sorts of conditions."

With the advent of steam in the 1860s, the recruitment of Chinese seamen increased on the trading routes from the Far East.

In 1865, the first direct steamship service from Europe to China was established in Liverpool by Alfred and Philip Holt's Blue Funnel Line, using cheap Chinese crews.

The first Chinese student to graduate from a British university was Wong Fun who received his MD in 1855 from Edinburgh. He marked the beginning of a steady flow of students from China, encouraged by educational reformer Zhang Zhidong who believed Western learning was needed to reverse China's fortunes and help it to catch up with the rest of the world. Many Chinese graduates did indeed return to make a significant contribution to their country, but some stayed.[14]

In 1877, Kuo Sung-tao, the first Chinese minister to Britain, opened its legation in London, and in 1882, Wu Tin Fang became the first Chinese student to be admitted to the bar in London. In the mid-1880s, Chinatowns started to form in London and Liverpool with grocery stores, eating houses, meeting places and, in the East End, Chinese street names. In 1891, the Census recorded 582 Chinese-born residents in Britain, though this dropped to 387 Chinese-born residents in 1896. 80% were single males between 20 and 35, the majority being seamen.

By 1890 there were two distinct, if small, Chinese communities living in east London. The Chinese from Shanghai were settled around Pennyfields, Amoy Place, and Ming Street (in Poplar) and those from Canton and Southern China lived around Gill Street and Limehouse Causeway. There was much prejudice against the East End Chinese community largely due to exaggerated reports of gambling and opium dens. This may have been true of some, but for the majority of Chinese people, life consisted of hard work in the London Docklands, struggling to save for a passage for the return voyage to the Far East.[15] Like much of the East End it remained a focus for immigration, but after the devastation of the Second World War many of the Chinese community relocated to Soho.[16][17]

After the 1890s, the Chinese community in the East End grew in size and spread eastwards, from the original settlement in Limehouse Causeway into Pennyfields. This area was provided for the Lascar, Chinese, and Japanese sailors working the Oriental routes into the Port of London. The main attractions for these men were the opium dens, hidden behind shops in Limehouse and Poplar, as well as the availability of prostitutes, Chinese grocers, restaurants, and seamen's lodging-houses. Hostility from British sailors and the inability of many Chinese to speak English fostered a distinct racial segregation and concentrated more and more Chinese into Pennyfields. Gradually the drab shops of Pennyfields were transformed into Chinese emporia and their colourful interiors became an exotic contrast to the grey streets of Poplar. It was written at time that "[t]he Chinese shops are the quaintest places imaginable. Their walls decorated with red and orange papers, covered with Chinese writing indicating the "chop" or style of the firm, or some such announcement. There is also sure to be a map of China and a hanging Chinese Almanac."[18]

The heady smells of burning opium, joss-sticks, and tobacco smoked through the hubble-bubble, produced an atmosphere much sought after by the literary and artistic coterie of fin-de-siècle London. Pennyfields became a 'sight' for West End society. From the 1890s until the 1920s, parties regularly went east at night, expecting to find the unusual and morally degenerate in Pennyfields. Instead they found a commonplace street. The Pennyfields of legend was always more exciting than that of reality. But it was different from the rest of Poplar: "In the darkness of Pennyfields dark faced men are passing. Over the restaurants and shops are Chinese names."[19]

In 1901, the first Chinese laundry opened in Poplar, and it was immediately stoned by a hostile xenophobic crowd. The Trades Union Congress (TUC), concerned about the importation of Chinese labour into the South African gold mines, suggested that the mine-owners and the Conservative government were "preventing South Africa becoming a white man's country". Also during that time, the first report on the Chinese in Britain was produced by the Liverpool City Council amidst concern over Chinese marrying English wives, gambling, and opium-taking. Liverpool's Chief Constable, however, expressed the view that the resident Chinese were "quiet, inoffensive and industrious people".

In 1907, the first recorded Chinese restaurant was opened in London. By 1918, the number of Chinese living in Pennyfields, Poplar totalled 182; all were men, nine of them had English wives.[20] At its height during the 1930s, Chinatown (which included Limehouse Causeway) consisted of 5,000 residents, many of whom were sailors. A few Chinese remained in Pennyfields until its demolition after 1960.[21] As early as the 1920s, many of the houses occupied by the Chinese were described as "very old and in many cases extremely dilapidated externally". Internally, most were clean, uncrowded, vermin-free and less susceptible to infectious disease than their English neighbours.[22]

In opposition to cheap Chinese crews, many crowds of angry British seamen prevented Chinese seamen from signing on ships in 1908. The Chinese had to return to their boarding houses under police escort to avoid molestation. In response to the general increase in hostility, from around 1900–1910, Chinese Mutual aid (or Benevolent) associations were set up in London and Liverpool. In contrast to the semi-mythical Chinese (Masonic) secret societies, these associations looked after the interests of their members, arranged burials, and assisted in cases of exploitation. (See also Tiandihui, Triad society and Triads in the United Kingdom.)

The 1911 Census recorded 1,319 Chinese-born residents in Britain and 4,595 seamen of Chinese origin serving in the British Merchant Navy. Also during this time, China was going through domestic and international turmoil as the Republic of China was established with the overthrow of the Manchu Qing dynasty. The turmoil wasn't limited to the Chinese mainland; during the 1911 Cardiff riots in Wales, every one of the city's 30 Chinese laundries was attacked by Welsh mobs.

As more Chinese seamen began to settle in the ports of London and Liverpool, a powerful set of myths began to develop about "Chinatown". The 1913 publication of the first Sax Rohmer novels about the evil genius Dr. Fu Manchu kick-started a near-hysterical interest in London's Limehouse, turning it from a few drab streets of shops and restaurants to the most infamous patch of land in Britain—which supposedly harboured cunning "Chinamen" who lured white women into their opium dens. This exotic netherworld was featured in countless novels, films, and songs, and engrained the stereotype of the Chinese as inscrutable criminals in the heart of western popular culture.[23]

A short-lived plan was propsed by the British Government to introduce several hundred thousand Chinese labourers into Britain in 1916, but trade union leaders protested that such a project would have had "calamitous effects on the standard of life".

In 1917, 1,083 Chinese left Shandong on a British ship bound for Le Havre, as the first group of a total of nearly 100,000 recruited to unload munitions and supplies in France for the Allied effort in World War I (see the article on the Chinese diaspora in France for more details).

After World War I ended, the Aliens Restriction Act was extended in 1919 to include peacetime, bringing about a decline in the Chinese population in Britain. The Zhong Shan Mutual Aid Workers Club was established, offering a meeting place free from British ridicule and humiliation. It aimed to unite the overseas Chinese in Britain, to improve their working conditions and to look after their welfare.[24] Also in 1919, the Cheung clansmen founded a limited liability company controlling a group of successful restaurants, the first step in a new business trend. The 1921 census figures put the Chinese-born resident population at 2,419, including 547 laundrymen, 455 seamen and 26 restaurant workers.

In the early 1920s, many of the Crescent Moon literary group spent time in British universities, including the Cambridge romantic poet Xu Zhimo (1896–1931) and LSE essayist Chen Xiying.

In 1925, the Kuomintang sent a representative to London, establishing a close relationship with the Zhong Shan Workers Club to gain their support. The 1925–1926 Canton-Hong Kong strike included Chinese workers who were based in the UK, following the massacre of workers in Shanghai by the British.[25] Effects of the immigration regulations were felt in Liverpool's Chinatown as the local press reported in 1927 that "the whole Chinese quarter has a dying atmosphere".

The 1931 Census showed a drop to 1,934 Chinese residents. There were over 500 Chinese laundries established in Britain as well as two to three Chinese restaurants open in Soho catering to the British clientele of the West End theatre crowds. In 1935, the first Chinese school—the Zhonghua Middle School—was established in Middlefields, Ealing with thirty students. In 1937 at the beginning of World War II, Japan attacked China, which led to the establishment of the China Campaign Committee in Britain with the support of Chinese students, Chinese intellectuals (such as Professor G.H. Wang, researching at the London School of Economics), and by the Chinese communities in London, Liverpool, and Manchester. In 1938, two attempts to load a cargo of iron for Japanese munitions were defeated by dockers in Teesside and London and Chinese seamen who refused to sign on the Japanese ship, despite bribes. Also in that year, "China Week" and "China Sunday", supported by the Archbishop of York and other Church leaders as well as the Chinese communities in Britain, raised funds for the International Peace Hospital in Yenan.[26]

When World War II broke out in full in Europe in 1939, the Chinese Merchant Seamen's Pool of approximately 20,000 was established with its headquarters in Liverpool. These men manned the oil-tankers on the dangerous Atlantic run. the China Campaign Committee and Chinese students, including K.C. Lim and Kenneth Lo, organised a petition of 1.5 million signatures in 1940, in protest of the closure of the Burma Road by the British Government.

During both world wars, hundreds of thousands of Chinese seamen and workers were recruited and many hundreds were killed and injured aboard British ships, including those torpedoed by German submarines. A Chinese seaman called Poon Lim set the world record of 133 days for survival on a wooden raft after his ship was sunk by a German U-boat in 1942.[27]

Despite such risks, Chinese seamen were treated far worse, with less pay and fewer rights than their British counterparts. A London meeting of Chinese seamen launched a campaign, eventually successful, to win a wartime danger bonus for Chinese seamen equal to that granted to British seamen.

After the Second World War was over, however, the British Government and the shipping companies colluded to forcibly repatriate thousands of Chinese seamen. The Blue Funnel Line fired all of its Chinese crews. Many of those left behind wives and children they would never see again. More than 50 years later in 2006, a memorial plaque in remembrance for those Chinese seamen was erected on Liverpool's Pier Head.[28][29]

Post-World War II

The 1951 Census recorded a big increase in Britain's Chinese population, then standing at 12,523, of whom over 4,000 were from Malaysia, and 3,459 single males from Hong Kong. The influx of Chinese into Britain coincided with the increased pressure in Hong Kong due to the build-up of the huge numbers of refugees streaming in from China following the end of the Chinese Civil War. At the time, nearly 100 Chinese restaurants were open, as former embassy staff and ex-seamen found a niche in this trade. Records showed remittances to Hong Kong of HK$ 2.5 million.

The largest wave of Chinese immigration took place during the 1950s and 1960s and consisted predominantly of male agricultural labourers from Hong Kong, particularly from the rural villages of the New Territories. This also included immigration, through Hong Kong, from the Guangdong province of China. The majority of these Chinese men were employed in the then growing Chinese catering industry. Chinese-run laundry businesses were the other major source of employment for the Chinese, but it was a declining industry and Chinese-run laundries are today non-existent. By 2004 for comparison, according to official figures, just under half of Chinese men and 40% of Chinese women in employment worked in the distribution, hotel, and restaurant industry.[30]

The 1961 Census recorded Britain's Chinese population at 38,750, with a fivefold increase in Hong Kong-born residents in London. The Association of Chinese Restaurateurs was formed to maintain the good reputation of the Chinese catering business and to organise recruitment from the New Territories.

Since the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act, restrictions were placed on immigration from current and former British colonies, and these were tightened by successive governments. The Immigration act included a voucher system and significant Chinese migration to Britain did still continue by relatives of already settled Chinese and by those qualified for skilled jobs, until the end of the 1970s. Today, a significant proportion of British Chinese are second or third generation descendants of these post-World War II immigrants. Approximately 30,000 workers from the New Territories were resided in Britain in 1962 and records showed remittances at HK$40 million. Ninety-six wives from Hong Kong joined their husbands in Britain in the beginning of that year, indicating a new phase from 'sojourning' to family reunion and a more settled life.

In 1963, Soho's Chinatown finally took over from the East End as the Zhongshan Workers' Club opened in the West End, showing films and running classes. The first Chinese New Year celebrations were held in Gerrard Street. The Overseas Chinese Service opened the first specialised agency to assist the Chinese in dealing with the host society by offering a translation and interpreting service. The Kuo Yuan restaurant introduced Peking Crispy Duck to Britain.

In 1971, the Census recorded Britain's Chinese population at 96,030, more than doubling in ten years. By now, nearly every small town and suburb in the UK had its own Chinese restaurant. Out of the 4,000 Chinese owned businesses, about 1,400 were restaurants, indicating that as the market for restaurant trade reached saturation, the takeaway trade had already taken off.

In 1976, Britain's Chinese population included approximately 6,000 full-time students and 2,000 nurses. The Chinese Community Centre opened in Gerrard Street with Urban Aid funding to deal with the problems experienced by the Chinese community.

In Northern Ireland, the first ethnic minority to arrive in significant numbers was the Chinese in the 1970s. There are 4,200 speakers of the language (as of 2004)[31] and, although this is dwarfed by the numbers claiming to be able to speak Irish and Ulster Scots, it was said for many years that Mandarin Chinese was the second most widely spoken "first language" in Northern Ireland after English. Chinese people first arrived in Northern Ireland in the 1960s. Chinese is the largest non-native restaurant genre in Northern Ireland, as many of the initial immigrants set up food outlets in order to make a living.

In 1980, in what was considered a media breakthrough, David Yip starred as the main character in the popular TV series, The Chinese Detective.

The 1981 British Nationality Act deprived Hong Kong British Overseas Territories citizens of the right of abode in the United Kingdom, an issue that caused some controversy in the years leading up to the territory's handover to China in 1997. After the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, it was considered necessary to devise a British Nationality Selection Scheme to enable some of the population to obtain British citizenship to maintain confidence in Hong Kong and to counteract the effects of the emigration of many of its most talented residents. The United Kingdom made a provision to grant citizenship to 50,000 families, whose presence was important to the future of Hong Kong, under the British Nationality Act (Hong Kong) 1990. (See also British nationality law and British nationality law and Hong Kong).

In 1981, the Census recorded Britain's Chinese population as 154,363. Thirty-five Chinese-language newspapers and 362 periodicals were on sale from seven bookshops in Soho. Sing Tao itself had a circulation of 10,000 in Britain. The Chinese population now numbered the elderly, and 30,000 children in British schools. Of these, 75 percent were born in the country, representing a new phase of settlement.

In 1982, the Merseyside Chinese Community Services opened the 'Pagoda of Hundred Harmony', an advice centre built with the help of an Urban Aid grant. In 1983, the Chinese Information and Advice Centre (CIAC), an amalgamation of the Chinese Workers Group (1975) and the Chinese Action Group (1980) received Greater London Council (GLC) funding for a centre. Sixty Chinese associations, including women's groups and old people's clubs, were consolidated into two national umbrella organisations. There were approximately 7,000 restaurants, takeaways and other Chinese owned businesses, indicating a slow-down in the rate of growth. There were 926 students attending the Chinese Chamber of Commerce Mother Tongue School, which ran classes up to O-level standard.

The most significant migration from China commenced in mid-1980s. This coincided with the Chinese government's relaxed restrictions on emigration, although most left for the United States, Canada, and Australia.

In 1984-85, the British and Chinese governments signed the Draft Agreement on the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong to China in 1997. Construction was also begun of Manchester's Chinatown archway (now the largest in Europe), and was completed in 1987. The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee report identified five main problems faced by the Chinese in Britain. Recommendations included more language training, careers advice, community centres, and interpretation and advice services. Over 50 percent of the Chinese population was under 30; 50 percent lived outside the large metropolitan areas; only 2 percent were professionals, which included doctors, solicitors, architects, bankers, stockbrokers, business executives, teachers and university lecturers.

In 1986, Ping Pong, the first Chinese film from the Chinese community in Britain, opened in London. Directed by the British-born director Po-Chi Leong, who had directed several features in Hong Kong, the film was a rich, lively tale set in London's Chinatown. It had a largely unknown cast and dealt with traditional Chinese themes of family responsibility and duty. In 1987, Manchester's Chinatown Archway, the largest in Europe, was completed, marking co-operation between the government of China, Manchester City Council and the local Chinese community. Currently, the largest Chinese arch in the UK is located in Chinatown, Liverpool. It was constructed in 2000 and is also the largest such archway in the world outside of China.[32]

As Hong Kong and China became wealthier during the 1990s, Hong Kong and Chinese parents increasingly sent their children to study in the UK and elsewhere. An estimated 80,000 Hong Kong and Chinese students attended UK universities in the academic year of 2004-05.

Small numbers of unskilled migrants from China sought employment in the UK in the early 1990s. In recent years, there has been an increase in illegal immigrants coming from China and other countries into the United Kingdom, some of whom pay traffickers (so-called "snakeheads") to smuggle them into many Western countries. Due to historical and cultural reasons, a sizeable proportion originate from Fujian province in southeast China. Others are citizens from the Commonwealth countries (mostly former British colonies), who have been able to obtain tourist or student visas and remain in the UK after their visas have expired. Most work in the black economy or are employed as illegal cheap labour, usually in agriculture and catering. This activity became publicised nationwide in tragic consequences in the form of the 2004 Morecambe Bay cockling disaster, though most migrants have remained invisible.

In April 2001, one of the largest demonstrations by the Chinese community, with around 1,000 people protesting, was held in London against media reports that Chinese restaurants had started the 2001 United Kingdom foot-and-mouth crisis by using diseased meat. Within weeks, a Chinese community monitoring group reported that trade at restaurants and takeaways had plummeted because an unsubstantiated rumour had become a scare story labelling an entire community as "dirty". Following the march, the then Agriculture Secretary Nick Brown publicly denied that the rumours had begun in his department and described the controversy as a racist attack on the Chinese community.[33] As of 2001, there were about 12,000 Chinese takeaways and 3,000 Chinese restaurants in the UK.[34]


The Chinese Arch in Liverpool's Chinatown is the largest such arch outside of China

From the beginning of Chinese settlement in the ports of London and Liverpool, there were no Chinatowns but communities of mixed families. Because few Chinese women were able to come to Britain, Chinese seamen established homes with local women. Many did not actually marry because that meant the woman could lose her British citizenship and would become an alien, resulting in restrictions on travel and benefits. The children of such unions often faced discrimination when it came to finding jobs. Many followed the example of Yorkshire-born Harry Cheong who had an exemplary army record during the Second World War, including fighting in Burma for which he was mentioned in dispatches. But on leaving the army he had to change his surname to get a job interview and has since lived as Harry Dewar. Such name changes have meant much Chinese history in Britain is now difficult to trace. Notable people who had Chinese fathers and English mothers include footballer Hong Y "Frank" Soo, who played for Stoke City (1933–1945) and Leslie Charteris who wrote The Saint novels that were made into the successful 1960s TV series.[35]


The first presence of Chinese people in Liverpool dates back to the early 19th century, with the main influx arriving at the end of the 18th century. This was in part due to the Alfred Holt and Company establishing the first commercial shipping line to focus on the China trade. From the 1890s onwards, small numbers of Chinese began to set up businesses catering to the Chinese sailors working on Holt's lines and others. Some of these men married working class British women, resulting in a number of British-born Eurasian Chinese being born during World War II in Liverpool. At the beginning of the War, there were up to 20,000 Chinese mariners in the city. In 1942, there was a strike for rights and pay equal to that of white mariners. The strike had lasted for 4 months. For the duration of the War these men were labelled as "troublemakers" by the shipowners and the British Government. At the end of the conflict, they were forbidden shore jobs, their pay was cut by two-thirds and they were offered only one-way voyages back to China. Hundreds of men were forced to leave their families, with many of their Eurasian children continuing to live in and around Liverpool's Chinatown to this day.[36] See [2].


Sheffield has no official Chinatown although London Road, Highfield is the centre of the Sheffield Chinese community. There are many Chinese restaurants, supermarkets, and community stores as well as the Sheffield Chinese Community Centre. The Sheffield Chinese community is pressing for the street to be formally labelled Sheffield's Chinatown. The Chinese community in Sheffield is also spreading toward the city centre, with a notable number of Chinese people, greatly influenced by the city's university, which has the largest number of Chinese in the country.


London's Chinatown, located in the Soho area of the West End of London.

Britain began trading with China in the 17th century and a small community of Chinese sailors grew up around Limehouse over the next two centuries. From the early 20th century, restaurants and laundries dominated this dockside Chinatown. Due to heavy bomb damage, however, the area was demolished after World War II. The Chinese established a new and larger Chinatown in Soho. Many immigrants found employment in its restaurants during the 1960s and it is now a flourishing Chinese community in the heart of London.

The history of Chinese migration to London can be traced to the early 15th century, when the Ming Emperors of China sent out a series of fleets, many under the command of the Admiral Zheng He. These fleets consisted of the largest ships built anywhere in the world at the time. Their missions were to sail throughout the Far East, across the Indian Ocean to India, the Red Sea, and the East coast of Africa.

The Chinese communities of Southeast Asia, especially those of Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, are thought to date from this period. The arrival of the first Chinese seamen in London was linked to the growth of British trade with China and Southeast Asia during the 18th and 19th centuries. Chinese sailors had reached London on board East India Company ships by 1782. This small group lived around Pennyfields and Limehouse Causeway near the docks.

As the activities of the most important commercial association in the world at that time, the East India Company, expanded, China became a hugely important and profitable market. In the mid-18th century, imported Chinese products became fashionable, particularly porcelain. Tea dominated the Anglo-Chinese trade as it quickly became an English habit and its consumption grew in Britain, but there was nothing comparable that the Chinese wished to buy from the British.

The Company began to export opium from India to China, selling the drug to raise the money to buy shipments of tea. This was against the law and angered China's authorities. In 1839, war broke out between Britain and China over the opium trade. Britain defeated China and under the terms of the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, Hong Kong became a British colony.

In 1857, the Second Opium War resulted in the unequal Treaties of Tianjin which included a clause allowing Britain and France to recruit Chinese to the British Colonies, North American, South America, and Australia as cheap labour (otherwise known as "Coolies") following the cessation of the slave trade.

Forced to pay for defeat in these and other colonial wars, impoverished Chinese people were driven abroad where they were often treated with suspicion, hostility, and even violence. Cheap labour was often used as a pretext by British employers against demands for higher wages, and Chinese people became targets for frustrated British seamen. For example, the Ebbw Vale Company threatened to import cheap Chinese labour from Nevada to break a strike of their workers in Wales. Yet frequently the community did organise itself to better its conditions. The record of British people is not all negative either; for the most part, it was only a minority who did speak out and join with Chinese people to fight these injustices.[37]

Chinese sailors were employed as Lascars on East India Company ships. Most Chinese seamen were engaged in the "country trade" between China and the main Indian ports. Some did make it to London on East Indiamen. Later in the 19th century, as more ships—especially the fast tea clippers—sailed directly from China to Britain, the number of Chinese sailors in the port increased. There was even a visit to London by a Chinese junk. The Keying reached Gravesend on 28 March 1848, after sailing from Canton to New York. This was the first Chinese vessel to enter the Port of London. Queen Victoria boarded it while moored in the River Thames.

For those Chinese who were left destitute in east London, there was some hope that they would be accepted into the Strangers' Home for Asiatics, Africans, and South Sea Islanders. This place of safety was opened in 1857 in West India Dock Road. Research into local inquests has highlighted some maltreatment of Chinese crew. In one case, a Chinese Lascar called Chan arrived in London from Calcutta on the ship Norma. Chan, who was in a very weak condition, was found by two other Lascars who carried him to the Dreadnought hospital ship at Greenwich. Almost as soon as he boarded the ship, he collapsed and died. A coroners' examination showed that he had died from starvation. In 1860, a total of 47 Chinese were admitted to the Seamen's Hospital. In 1863, two Chinese inmates who had been at the Strangers' Home for a year retired to spend the rest of their days in London.

Between 1854 and 1856, many Chinese seamen were housed at the "Oriental Quarters" by the riverside at Shadwell. They were off the High Street, near the present day Wapping Underground Station. These Oriental Quarters were lodging houses frequently run by English women who often spoke Oriental languages, and went by names such as Chinese Emma or Canton Kitty. Their premises were often used as gambling houses and opium dens. Some ran Chinese gambling houses, where card games were held downstairs and the upstairs served as an opium room. About 20 Chinese men lived in each. The 1851 census found 78 Chinese-born residents all living in London and a parliamentary enquiry expressed doubt as to whether there was sufficient space for living conditions.

The China tea trade via Canton was resumed despite increased competition from India, which quickly surpassed China as the primary source of tea. In December 1877, the Louden Castle discharged 40,000 packages of China tea at the London Docks. Chinese seamen stranded in London were allowed to work in the docks and many were involved in unloading China tea. One of the best-known Chinese Lascars was James Robson. Robson had been found as a castaway baby and taken on board a British ship by the wife of the captain. James was brought to London and grew up at Poplar. He became a seaman and cook on the Cutty Sark between 1885 and 1895. Another Chinese man who served on the Cutty Sark was Ah Sing Lee, a steward from Singapore. He was taken on at Shanghai in 1879 and discharged at London in 1880.

The 1881 British census included British vessels at sea that had a number of Chinese aboard Royal Navy vessels, such as the HMS Encounter, the HMS Comus, and the HMS Sheldrake. There were also Chinese cooks, stewards, and servants on board the HMS Mosquito and the HMS Iron Duke. The British India Steam Navigation Company (BISNC), with ships such as the SS Almora and the Blue Funnel Line brought more Chinese seamen to London, especially after 1890.

By the 1850s, there were occasional records of Chinese women arriving in Britain as the nurses or 'Amahs' to British missionaries who had served in China. One example is Sing Seng, who arrived in London in 1858 from Ningpo. After some time in London, she returned to China in the service of a bishop to Hong Kong. Local sources suggest that by 1860 there were some Chinese men married to English women. Many lived at riverside settlements such as Deptford and Woolwich. Most Chinese seamen lived to the north of the river. By 1880, the Chinese community was based in Limehouse and consisted mainly of seamen from Shanghai and Canton who catered for the Chinese and Indians that arrived at the docks. In 1881, there were several Chinese seamen living in the boarding house of Mr M. Lamar at 14 Limehouse Court.

By 1890, there were two distinct communities in London— Chinese from Shanghai were settled around Pennyfields, Amoy Place and Ming Street (presently the area between Westferry and Poplar DLR stations), and the Chinese from Canton and Southern China were settled around Gill Street and Limehouse Causeway. The historian Sir Walter Besant put the Limehouse Chinese community at less than 100 people in 1891.

By the end of the 19th century, the transient Chinese dock community in London numbered over 500. Virtually all were single men, and some married English women.

In 1901, there were more than 40 Chinese sailors aboard the Bulysses at the Royal Albert Docks: 21 were from Canton, 12 from Soochow, at least three from Hainan Island, and one from Hong Kong.

By 1911, the area of Limehouse and Pennyfields was known as Chinatown. At Pennyfields there was a Christian Mission for the Chinese and a Confucian temple. At Limehouse Causeway there was the famous Ah Tack's lodging house.

There was much prejudice against the East End Chinese community, with much of it initiated by the writings of Thomas Burke and Arthur Henry Ward. Both of these men wrote about the Chinese community. Burke and Ward exaggerated the Chinese community's true size and made much mention of gambling, opium dens, and "unholy things" in the shadows. Though there were some individuals involved in gambling and opium smoking, for the majority of Chinese people life was hard work in the docks. It was a struggle to find passage for the return voyage to the Far East. The novelist Arnold Bennett, who visited the Limehouse Chinatown in April 1925, correctly remarked: "On the whole a rather flat night. Still we saw the facts. We saw no vice whatever. Inspector [of Police] gave the Chinese an exceedingly good character."

Changes to labour laws during the early 20th century meant that Chinese sailors found it increasingly difficult to find employment on ships. They turned instead to running restaurants and laundries.

The rector at St Anne's, Limehouse, estimated that at its peak after the First World War the local Chinese community never numbered more than 300 people. At that time, the community was still based around Limehouse Causeway and Pennyfields. The area was marked with lodgings for seamen and restaurants. These streets were heavily bombed during The Blitz.

During World War II, around 10,000 Chinese men enrolled in the Merchant Navy while others defended Hong Kong and undermined Japanese forces in the Far East. The London docks were badly damaged by bombing, and the remains demolished by the council. Now, only their names remain to evoke the past community. There are names such as Canton Street, Mandarin Street, Pekin Street, Ming Street and Nankin Street. Today, mostly elderly Chinese people live in the Limehouse area.

Despite the decline of the London shipping industry, the Chinese population grew steadily after the Second World War. After the war, the Chinese began to move into Soho and bought up cheap property. Entire families were also entering the laundry trade. Chinese hand laundries were made obsolete in the 1950s by the introduction of laundrettes and eventually much later the widespread use of domestic washing machines.

Yet the Chinese community continued to grow in the 1960s. This expansion was in part due to the labour shortage in Britain and the demand for Chinese labourers. During the same period, there was a collapse of traditional agriculture in the New Territories (the mainland area of Hong Kong), as farmers became disillusioned with land reform in Hong Kong and faced tough competition from rice farmers in Thailand and Burma. This led to the migration of single men seeking employment in Chinese restaurants in London, especially in the Soho and Bayswater areas. Most spoke Cantonese or Hakka, though written Chinese was a means of communication for the whole community. These restaurant workers sent part of their wages home to support their families.

The increase in immigration was initially composed of single men coming to Britain on work permits. Sometimes the men would register their age as 10 years younger than they really were. This was especially true of those seeking employment in the Merchant Navy. After saving enough money they would bring their families over and establish their own catering businesses.

During the 1960s, the number of Chinese people in London rose fivefold. The Chinese established various organisations such as language schools, gambling houses for socialising, and a Chinese Church in the West End. One notorious club was the Chi Kung Tong (Achieve Justice Society), the first Triad Society in Britain.[38]

The city's largest ethnic minorities. See also The Guardian newspaper's January 2005 survey and maps of ethnic and religious diversity in London[39]

By the late 1960s, the Chinese restaurants and shops around Gerrard Street, Lisle Street, and Little Newport Street had evolved into "Tong Yan Kai", otherwise known as Chinatown. The general public developed a taste for Chinese food during the postwar restaurant boom.

In the 1970s and 1980s, many ethnic Chinese who had settled in Vietnam for generations were forced to leave as "boat people" following the Vietnam War. Many settled in Lewisham, Lambeth, and Hackney, as well as elsewhere in the UK.

The 1980s and 1990s saw a migration of academics and professionals from Chinatown to the suburbs of Croydon and Colindale.

Since the 1980s, London's Chinatown has been transformed by Westminster City Council to become a major tourist attraction and a cultural focal point of the Chinese community in London.

Today over 100,000 Chinese people live in London, and are more evenly dispersed throughout the city and its boroughs. Roughly a quarter of the Chinese population of the United Kingdom now live in London, mainly in the boroughs of Barnet, Haringey, Waltham Forest, Hackney, Southwark and Westminster. Mare Street in Hackney is the hub of a small Vietnamese community. The principal languages of the London Chinese community are Cantonese and Hakka (from the New Territories, Hong Kong, and Vietnam). There are also some speakers of Hokkien, Teochew and Hainanese. The Chinese from the People's Republic of China, Taiwan, and Singapore tend to speak Mandarin (or Putonghua). A large network of Chinese schools and community centres offers support and a means of passing on cultural identity from one generation to the next.

Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, is the most important celebration for Chinese and other East Asian communities. It links overseas Chinese and their descendants to their heritage, even though they live thousands of miles away from their ancestral homelands. Celebrations for Chinese people are of great traditional significance and include a ritual cleaning of their houses and visit to the temple, but also involve feasting with the family, celebration, fireworks, and gift-giving. This festival follows the lunar calendar so it can fall any time from late January to mid-February and begins on the first day of a new moon and ends with the full moon on the day of the Lantern Festival.

Celebrations in London are famous for colourful parades, fireworks, and street dancing. The route starts in the Strand and goes along Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue. Other activities include a family show in Trafalgar Square with dragon and lion dances and traditional and contemporary Chinese arts by performers from both London and China. There are fireworks displays in Leicester Square, as well as cultural stalls, food, decorations, and lion dance displays throughout the day in London Chinatown.


Manchester Chinatown

There are Chinatowns and Chinese community centres in almost every place where there is a substantial Chinese community, and new immigrants and long term citizens can find help and support there.

There are also many activities of interest to new generations and the community at large, such as women's groups, health talks, day trips, cookery sessions, English-language classes, and IT training courses. There are celebrations of Chinese and British festivals, volunteer groups to help members of the community, as well as a work experience scheme for local school students to spend placements working within businesses in the community.

There exists several organisations in the UK that support the Chinese community. The British Chinese Society is a non-profit organisation that runs social events for the Chinese community. Dimsum is a media organisation which also aims to raise awareness of the cultural issues that the Chinese community face.[40] The Chinese Information and Advice Centre supports disadvantaged people of Chinese ethnic origin in the UK.

Since 2000, the emergence of Internet discussion sites produced by British Chinese young people has provided an important forum for many of them to grapple with questions concerning their identities, experiences, and status in Britain.[41]


In several major cities there are Chinatowns, which have become tourist attractions where Chinese restaurants and businesses predominate, although in some cases relatively few Chinese people may live there. There are Chinatowns in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Sheffield, Belfast, and Aberdeen.


There are Chinese community centres in Chinatown, Barnet, Camden, Islington, Lambeth, Haringey and Tower Hamlets. Major organisations include the London Chinese Community Centre, London Chinatown Chinese Association, the London Chinese Cultural Centre.

The Westminster Chinese Library, based at the Charing Cross Library, holds one of the largest collections of Chinese materials in UK public libraries. It has a collection of over 50,000 Chinese books available for loan and reference to local readers of Chinese languages; music cassettes, CDs, and video films for loan; community information and general enquiries; a national subscription service of Chinese books; and Chinese events organised from time to time.

The London Dragon Boat Festival is held annually in June at the London Regatta Centre, Royal Albert Docks. It is organised by the London Chinatown Lions Club.[42]

Contemporary issues

Language poses a serious problem for the older generation and for women working at home. Isolation and depression are common and, increasingly, Chinese community groups are providing advocacy and counselling to alleviate these problems. For men in the catering trade, unsociable hours and the lack of after-hours venues has led to the problem of late-night gambling clubs.

Accommodation tied to work is still common practice for those working in restaurants. As a result, homelessness is a serious issue faced by many elderly retirees. Limited access to Chinese-speaking housing associations makes it harder for them to obtain advice on housing and rights.

For older Chinese Londoners, tri-lingual community centres are an invaluable resource providing essential advice and services. For the younger generation of British-born Chinese, these centres provide a meaningful way to participate in their community and keep in touch with their language and cultural identity.

The connection between China and London has developed recently, with China hosting the 2008 Olympic Games, before handing the baton on to London. A series of cultural and business exchanges and exhibitions have increased awareness about Chinese culture for many Londoners. The Trafalgar Square celebration of Chinese New Year is now a firm fixture on London's Festival Calendar.

Min Quan

Min Quan is a branch of The Monitoring Group that provides casework, advocacy, and support services to victims of racial and domestic violence from the Chinese community. This work includes actions against the police for misconduct, representation and advocacy, training, information dissemination, a helpline, and open surgeries.

In 1999, the New Diamond Restaurant in London Chinatown was attacked. Volunteers formed a group to support and represent the victims of the attack. The volunteers mounted a campaign highlighting the plight of the waiters, set up an emergency Helpline for the victims, and an advice surgery in Chinatown. The need for these services was so great at the time that the fledgling Min Quan group was soon overwhelmed with calls for assistance from across the country during the winter months of 1999. Throughout this time, the volunteers carried out their activities with the assistance of The Monitoring Group (TMG), a long-established anti-racist organisation. In 2000, Min Quan formalised its status and became a branch of TMG.


The Chinese Arts Centre is the international agency for the development and promotion of contemporary Chinese artists. Established in 1986, it is based in Manchester, the city with the second largest Chinese community in the UK, and the organisation is part of the region's rich Chinese heritage. The Chinese Arts Centre also hosts the International Chinese Live Art Festival which showcases work by Chinese artists from across the world.

The Yellow Earth Theatre Company is a London-based international touring company formed by five British East Asian performers in 1995. It aims to promotes the writing and performing talents of East Asians in Britain.

The Chinatown Arts Space is an organisation that promotes East Asian visual and performing arts.[43]


British Chinese film productions include:


Britain has been receiving ethnic Chinese migrants more or less uninterruptedly on varying scale since the 19th century. While new immigrant arrivals numerically have replenished the Chinese community, they have also added to its complexity and the already existing cleavages within the community. Meanwhile, new generations of British-born Chinese have emerged. The educational success of the younger, British-born Chinese has brought professional and economic prosperity to the Chinese community.

Main migration waves

Chinese migration to Britain has a history of at least 150 years. Until the Second World War, Chinese communities lived around Britain's main ports, the oldest and largest in Liverpool and London. These communities consisted of a transnational and highly mobile population of Cantonese seamen and small numbers of more permanent residents who ran shops, restaurants, and boarding houses that catered for them.[44] The number of Chinese seamen (who mainly worked as stokers) dwindled sharply during the Depression and the subsequent decline of coal-fired intercontinental shipping after the Second World War. In the 1950s, they were replaced by a rapidly growing population of Chinese from the rural areas in Hong Kong's New Territories. Opening restaurants across Britain, they established firm migration chains and soon dominated the Chinese presence in Britain.[45] In the 1960s and 1970s, they were joined by increasing numbers of Chinese students and economic migrants from Malaysia and Singapore.

Chinese migration to Britain continued to be dominated by these groups until the 1980s, when rising living standards and urbanization in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia gradually reduced the volume of migration from the New Territories. At the same time in the 1980s, the number of students and skilled emigrants from the People's Republic of China began to rise. Since the early 1990s, the UK has also witnessed a rising inflow of economic migrants from areas in China without any previous migratory link to the UK, or even elsewhere in Europe. A relatively small number of Chinese enter Britain legally as skilled migrants. However, most migrants arrive to work in unskilled jobs, originally exclusively in the Chinese ethnic sector (catering, Chinese stores, and wholesale firms), but increasingly also in employment outside this sector (for instance, in agriculture and construction). Migrants who enter Britain for unskilled employment are from both rural and urban backgrounds. Originally, Fujianese migrants were the dominant flow, but more recently increasing numbers of migrants from the Northeast of China have arrived in the UK as well.[46] Migrants now tend to come from an increasing number of regions of origin in China. Almost all Chinese unskilled migrants enter the country illegally and work in the nether economy, as the Morecambe Bay tragedy of February 2004 showed. Many claim asylum in-country, avoiding deportation after exhausting their appeals. In the United Kingdom Census 2001, the population enumerated as Chinese totalled approximately 247,000.


Chinese Gospel Church in Liverpool

The population figure of 247,403 (approximately 0.5% of the UK population and around 5% of the total non-white population in the UK), cited from figures produced by the UK's Office for National Statistics (ONS), is based on the 2001 national census. However, it may not be an entirely accurate figure of the current population of people of Chinese origin in the UK. Reasons for this include: some had not participated in the 2001 national census, some had not specified their ethnic group in the census, either intentionally or unintentionally, and successive Chinese migration to or from the UK since 2001. A recent publication from the ONS, "Focus on Ethnicity and Religion (October) 2006",[47] gave some detailed figures on the makeup of the UK's Chinese population that were based on the information by those who had identified themselves as 'Chinese' in the United Kingdom Census 2001.

It should be noted, however, that in the United Kingdom, "Asian demographics" and "Chinese demographics" are separate. In British usage, the word "Asian" or "British Asian" when describing people usually refers to those from South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives, etc.).

Geographic distribution

Compared to most ethnic minorities in the UK, the Chinese tend to be more widespread and decentralised. However, significant numbers of British Chinese people can be found in Birmingham, Brighton, Cambridge, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Milton Keynes, Hull, Oxford, Sheffield, and Swansea. In Northern Ireland, Chinese make up the largest non-white minority, although the population of roughly 4,000 is relatively small.

Many locations with a high visible Chinese cultural presence are called Chinatowns. Liverpool's Chinatown is situated around the Berry Street and Duke Street area in the city centre. The Ceremonial Archway, which was built in Shanghai, China, is located at the heart of Liverpool's Chinatown. Before World War II, the original Chinatown was situated around Pitt Street. In London, there is a Chinatown centred around Gerrard Street, Soho, in the West End of central London which has many Chinese restaurants and businesses; it is mostly a commercial area, most Chinese live in other parts of London, especially north London and Colindale in particular. Sheffield's unofficial Chinatown is located at London Road.


According to the website, Yue Chinese (Cantonese) is spoken by 300,000 Britons as a primary language, whilst 12,000 Britons speak Mandarin Chinese and 10,000 speak Hakka Chinese. The proportion of British Chinese people who speak English as a first or secondary language is unknown.[49]

Largest urban Chinese communities

(2005 estimates)[50]

London demography

According the Census statistics, there was only one ward in London with a more than 5% Chinese population, which was Millwall in Tower Hamlets at 5.4%.[51] The Chinese population is extremely dispersed, possibly because people want to set up a Chinese restaurant or takeaway that is a certain distance from the next one.[52]

Chinese population spread (%) in London
Borough Total population Chinese population Chinese percentage
City of London* 7,700 100 1.3
Barking and Dagenham 165,500 1,500 0.9
Barnet 326,100 7,600 2.3
Bexley 221,000 1,800 0.8
Brent 270,300 3,500 1.3
Bromley 297,900 2,200 0.7
Camden 222,800 6,000 2.7
Croydon 335,800 2,700 0.8
Ealing 305,700 4,400 1.4
Enfield 283,400 3,000 1.1
Greenwich 221,600 3,400 1.5
Hackney 207,100 2,800 1.4
Hammersmith and Fulham 171,000 1,800 1.1
Haringey 224,100 3,400 1.5
Harrow 214,000 2,900 1.4
Havering 226,300 1,100 0.5
Hillingdon 247,900 2,700 1.1
Hounslow 216,600 2,000 0.9
Islington 184,200 4,300 2.3
Kensington and Chelsea 175,800 4,700 2.7
Kingston upon Thames 153,900 2,500 1.6
Lambeth 270,300 3,500 1.3
Lewisham 253,200 3,500 1.4
Merton 195,300 2,900 1.5
Newham 249,700 3,400 1.4
Redbridge 249,000 2,600 1.0
Richmond upon Thames 178,000 1,600 0.9
Southwark 264,000 6,800 2.6
Sutton 183,100 1,500 0.8
Tower Hamlets 209,400 4,900 2.3
Waltham Forest 220,300 2,000 0.9
Wandsworth 276,400 2,700 1.0
Westminster 228,600 7,300 3.2
London 7,456,000 107,100 1.4

Education and employment

In terms of educational achievement, figures in 2002 showed that British Chinese pupils were more likely to have gained five or more A*-C GCSE grades than any other ethnic group, with 77% of British Chinese girls and 71% of British Chinese boys respectively achieving that target. British Chinese school pupils had the lowest exclusion rate at 2 per 10,000. A British Chinese person was also more likely to possess a university degree, or hold a job in a professional class, than the average Briton, but conversely, British Chinese people had the highest proportion with no qualifications (20%), and twice the unemployment rate (10%) compared to white Britons (5%). British Chinese men also had the highest rate of working-age economic inactivity (defined as those of working-age not available for work and/or not actively seeking work) of all males at 37%, twice the rate for white British men. The vast majority of economically inactive British Chinese men were students.[30] The British Chinese were more likely to be self-employed (16%) than any other ethnic group except for Pakistanis. In 2004, just under half of British Chinese men in employment worked in the distribution, hotel, and restaurant industry, compared with one-sixth of their white British counterparts. British Chinese women are also concentrated in the distribution, hotel, and restaurant industry, as two-fifths worked in this industry in 2004. The British Chinese were most likely to have been employed in managerial and professional occupations (38%), compared with 27% for white Britons.

Health and welfare

Chinese men and women were the least likely to report their health as "not good" of all ethnic groups. Chinese men and women had the lowest rates of long-term illness or disability which restricts daily activities. The British Chinese population (5.8%) were least likely to be providing informal care (unpaid care to relatives, friends or neighbours). Around 0.25% of the British Chinese population were residents in hospital and other care establishments.[53]

Chinese men (17%) were the least likely to smoke of all ethnic groups. Fewer than 10% of Chinese women smoked. Fewer than 10% of the Chinese adult population drank above the recommended daily alcohol guidelines on their heaviest drinking day.[53]

The Chinese National Healthy Living Centre was founded in 1987 to promote healthy living, and provide access to health services, for the Chinese community in the UK. The community is widely dispersed across the country and currently makes the lowest use of health services of all minority ethnic groups. The Centre aims to reduce the health inequality between the Chinese community and the general population. Language difficulties and long working hours in the catering trade present major obstacles to many Chinese people in accessing mainstream health provision. Language and cultural barriers can result in their being given inappropriate health solutions. Isolation is a common problem amongst this widely dispersed community and can lead to a range of mental illnesses. The Centre, based close to London's Chinatown, provides a range of services designed to tackle both the physical and psychological aspects of health.

Inter-ethnic marriage

The British Chinese have one of the highest inter-ethnic marriage rates in the country when compared to other ethnic groups. According to the United Kingdom Census 2001, 30% of Chinese women intermarried, a figure twice that for Chinese men (15%).[53]

Voter registration

A survey conducted in 2006, estimated that around 30 percent of British Chinese were not on the electoral register, and therefore not able to vote.[54][55] This compares to 6% of whites and 17% for all ethnic minorities. The figure for Black Africans is 37%.

In a bid to increase voter registration and turnout, and reverse voter apathy within the community, campaigns have been organized such as the British Chinese Register to Vote organised by Get Active UK, a working title that encompasses all the activities run by the Integration of British Chinese into Politics (the BC Project) and its various partners. The campaign wishes to highlight the low awareness of politics among the British Chinese community; to encourage those eligible to vote but not on the electoral register to get registered; and to help people make a difference on issues affecting themselves and their communities on a daily basis by getting their voices heard through voting.[56]

Notable individuals

Society and business

At the turn of the 20th century, the number of Chinese in Britain was small. Most were sailors who had deserted or been abandoned by their employers after landing in British ports. In the 1880s, some Chinese migrants had fled the US during the anti-Chinese campaign and settled in Britain, where they started up businesses based on their experience in America. There is little evidence to suggest that these "double migrants" had established close ties with Britain's other, longer-standing Chinese community. By the middle of the 20th century, the community was on the point of extinction, and would probably have lost its cultural distinctiveness if not for the arrival of tens of thousands of Hong Kong Chinese in the 1950s.

Starting a small business was the main way the Chinese coped with their limited ability to find employment in a generally alien and hostile English-speaking environment. They forged inter-ethnic partnerships to overcome the twin problem of raising funds and finding employees. In the first half of the 20th century, most Chinese were involved in the laundry business, while migrants who arrived after the Second World War worked primarily in the catering industry. As these businesses grew, so too did the demand for labour, which entrepreneurs met by exploiting kinship ties to bring family members into Britain. Business partnerships broke up and evolved into family firms, starting and gradually reinforcing the move away from community-based enterprise. With this, competition escalated, since most migrants were involved in the same sector of industry.

This competition necessitated the community's geographical dispersal which further hindered its attempts to struggle collectively for greater protection from the authorities against racist discrimination. In urban areas, the experience of racism forced the Chinese into "ethnic niches", consisting primarily of restaurants and takeaways, thus heightening competition and placing further limits on communal cooperation. The more entrepreneurial of these migrants would strive to leave these enclaves and were usually the ones who achieved social mobility. Later arrivals—the seafarers (in the first half of the 20th century) and immigrants from Hong Kong (from the 1960s)—were unable to cooperate to challenge the policies of the British government which were designed to prevent them from entering other economic sectors, even as part of the labour force. In addition to the generalised racism that they encountered, these Chinese migrants were trapped by policies to remain in economic spheres where their links with the majority population were curtailed and competition with the latter was minimized.

Government policies also had an important bearing on the issues of integration and enterprise development. The Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher in the late 1970s and early 1980s actively promoted the setting up of small enterprises, essentially as a mechanism to deal with the problem of racism.[57] The government was then of the view that since immigrants preferred to concentrate on small businesses due to the hardships and difficulties, in the form of language barriers and racist discrimination, they experienced in the UK they would opt for opportunities for business ownership rather than employment with or by non co-ethnics.

While small enterprises have helped migrants to cope with the problem of their isolation and alienation in the new environment, a good segment of their children, on the other hand, have done well in education, notably at the tertiary level, and have made a prominent presence as professionals and in the high-tech sector.[58] Given the knowledge that their parents worked long hours and under difficult conditions to alleviate themselves from poverty, most children of migrants scorn the notion of taking over their parents' businesses, specifically those that function as small enterprises. The dreariness of the nature of work and life in a takeaway also has a bearing on why they generally shun the businesses run by their parents.

By the turn of this century, the Chinese in the UK could be broadly categorized into four main categories:

  • Hong Kong Chinese from the rural New Territories who started arriving in large numbers in the 1950s and 1960s. Many of them moved into catering and food wholesaling and retailing.
  • Southeast Asian Chinese, who also started arriving in the 1960s. Primarily from middle-class, professional backgrounds, some of them have also gone into business, including catering.
  • Arrivals from mainland China and urban Hong Kong in the 1980s, who have gone into business related to technology and manufacturing.
  • British-born Chinese, whose members are mostly well-qualified and work in hi-tech industries.[59]

Given their diverse national and class backgrounds, even though a small community, the Chinese never aspired for social cohesion. The absence of this goal of social congruence is reflected in the creation by them of numerous social and economic institutions to represent their interests. Most of these associations, fraught with divisions, have now ceased to operate.[59] Moreover, a large number of poor Chinese migrants in the UK were forced to work for other Chinese who exploited them so badly that they could not wait to leave to set up their own enterprise. The diversity that exists within this society is what informs the character of the Chinese community in Britain.

The largest Chinese enterprises are involved in wholesaling and retailing and are mainly controlled by migrants born in Hong Kong. There is no evidence that they have invested in launderettes. Unlike the situation in the US, the Chinese community in the UK has not built on its long presence in this sector. Although a small number of Chinese launderettes still operate in a number of cities, they do not seem to operate as companies.

The lists of directors and shareholders of Chinese-owned companies provide no evidence of interlocking stock ownership or of interlocking directorships. A number of them were created and ran as partnerships before coming under the control of one individual or family. Most of the start-up funds for these businesses have come from personal savings or put together by family members. There is little evidence that they have had access to ethnic-based funding, and there are very few instances to suggest that financial aid has been provided on intra-ethnic grounds; rather, such assistance was for the mutual benefit of both borrower and lender.[60] An example of an ethnic Chinese who capitalised on his ethnicity to create a Chinese-based business center in the UK is W. W. Yip. An immigrant from Hong Kong who started out as a waiter, Yip became a restaurateur and later built his reputation as a leading wholesaler and retailer of Chinese food products. He is the owner of Britain's largest Chinese enterprise in terms of sales volume.[61]

See also


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  2. ^ "Analysis of Ethnicity in the 2001 Census – Summary Report", February 2004, accessed 28 March 2011.
  3. ^ Chinese in Wales
  4. ^ Chinese in Northern Ireland
  5. ^ a b "Population Size", Office for National Statistics, 8 January 2004, accessed 28 March 2011. Archived 27 March 2011.
  6. ^ Garner, Steve (2009), Racisms: An Introduction, Sage Publications, p. [1], ISBN 9781412945813 
  7. ^ Pang, Mary; Lau, Agnes. "The Chinese in Britain: working towards success?", International Journal of Human Resource Management, 1 October 1998, 9(5): 862–874. (subscription required)
  8. ^ Lee, Gregory B. (2003). China's Unlimited: Making the Imaginaries of China and Chineseness, Routledge; University of Hawaii Press.
  9. ^ "Population Estimates by Ethnic Group: 2001 to 2007 Commentary", Office for National Statistics, 14 September 2009, accessed 28 March 2011. Archived 27 March 2011.
  10. ^ "Chinese in Britain – Episode 1: The first Chinese VIPs", BBC Radio 4, 2008, accessed 28 March 2011.
    • Batchelor, Robert K. "Shen Fuzong", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, May 2010, accessed 28 March 2011. (subscription required)
  11. ^ Clegg, J. SiYu magazine Feb/March 1988.
  12. ^ A South Asian History of Britain: Four Centuries of Peoples from the Indian Subcontinent, Michael Fisher, Shompa Lahiri and Shinder Thandi. London: Greenwood Press, May 2007.
  13. ^ The Gentleman’s Magazine, August 1805 - obituary of John Anthony
  14. ^ "Western Learning for Practical Application Chinese Students in Scotland 1850-1950", Dr Ian Wotherspoon in SINE (Journal of the Scotland-China Association), Issue 2/2004, Scotland-China Association, Edinburgh
  15. ^ Pennyfields British History Online
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  17. ^ 'Chinatown' literature accessed 10 May 2007
  18. ^ J. Platt, 'Chinese London and its Opium Dens', Gentleman's Magazine, vol.279, 1895, pp.274–82.
  19. ^ E.S. Pankhurst, "From Piccadilly to Poplar", Workers Dreadnought, vol.XI no.8, 10 May 1924.
  20. ^ 29. THLHL, Pennyfields Application for Ration Books 1918.
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  25. ^ Carroll, John Mark Carroll. [2007] (2007). A concise history of Hong Kong. Rowman & Littlefield publishing. ISBN 0742534227, 9780742534223. pg. 100
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  27. ^ Sole Survivor: A Story of Record Endurance at Sea, Ruthanne Lum McCunn (Scholastic NY 1996) The fictionalised account of the Chinese seaman Poon Lim, whose British merchant ship was torpedoed by German submarines in 1942. His 133 days of survival on a wooden raft is still the longest recorded survival story in modern history.
  28. ^ Yvonne Foley has set up Half and Half, a network for families of Chinese seamen who were repatriated after the Second World War.
  29. ^ Chinese Liverpudlians: A history of the Chinese Community in Liverpool, by Maria Lin Wong. Liver Press, 1989.
  30. ^ a b National Statistics 2004
  31. ^ House of Commons Hansard Written Answers for 20 January 2004 (pt 13)
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  35. ^ BBC - Radio 4 - Chinese in Britain
  36. ^ Liverpool and its Chinese Seaman
  37. ^ The Chinese in Britain This is a historical article from an early issue of China Now magazine. Jenny Clegg tells the story of Britain's Chinese community and their hosts' ambivalent reaction. Abridged from SiYu magazine Feb/March 1988.
  38. ^ Robertson, Frank. Triangle of Death. The Inside Story of the Triads - the Chinese Mafia. Routledge 1977. p. 14.
  39. ^ January 2005 survey and maps of ethnic and religious diversity in London Guardian Online
  40. ^ Casciani, Dominic. "Chinese Britain", BBC News, 2002, accessed 28 March 2011.
  41. ^ Parker, David; Song, Miri. (2007). "Inclusion, Participation and the Emergence of British Chinese Websites", Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 33(7): 1043–1061. (subscription required)
  42. ^ "London Chinatown Lions Club", London Chinatown Lions Club, accessed 28 March 2011. Archived 27 March 2011.
  43. ^ Allen, Daniel. "London caught in a China vibe", Asia Times, 21 April 2009, accessed 28 March 2011. Archived 27 March 2011.
  44. ^ Parker, David. 1998. Chinese People in Britain: Histories, Futures and Identities. In The Chinese in Europe (eds) G. Benton & F.N. Pieke. Basingstoke: Macmillan.
  45. ^ Watson, James L. 1974. Restaurants and Remittances: Chinese Emigrant Workers in London. In Anthropologists in Cities (eds) G.M. Foster & R.V. Kemper. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
  46. ^ Pieke, Frank N., Pál Nyíri, Mette Thunø & Antonella Ceccagno. 2004. Transnational Chinese: Fujianese Migrants in Europe. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  47. ^ National Statistics 2006
  48. ^ National Statistics England Estimates
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  51. ^ What the maps don't show 21 January 2005
  52. ^ London by ethnicity: Analysis
  53. ^ a b c National Statistics 2001
  54. ^ Association of Electoral Administrators news article
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  56. ^ UK Chinese - Getting ready to vote
  57. ^ Atkinson, John and David Storey, eds. 1993. Employment, the Small Firm and the Labour Market. London: International Thomson Business Press.
  58. ^ Berthoud, Richard. 1998. The Incomes of Ethnic Minorities (ISER Report 98-1). Colchester: University of Essex, Institute for Social and Economic Research.
  59. ^ a b Benton, Gregor and Edmund Terence Gomez. 2001. Transnationalism and Chinatown: Ethnic Chinese in Europe and Southeast Asia. Canberra: Centre for the Study of the Chinese Southern Diaspora, Australian National University.
  60. ^ Gomez, Edmund Terence and Gregor Benton. 2004. “Transnationalism and the Essentializing of Capitalism: Chinese Enterprise, the State, and Identity in Britain, Australia, and Southeast Asia”. East Asia: An International Quarterly, 21 (3).
  61. ^ Inter-Ethnic Relations, Business and Identity: The Chinese in Britain and Malaysia. Edmund Terence Gomez. September 2005. UNRISD programme on Identities, Conflict and Cohesion


Further reading

There have been very few books written on the history of the Chinese in Britain, with what exists are mainly surveys, dissertations, census figures, and newspaper reports.


  • Graham Chan (1997) Dim Sum: Little Pieces of Heart, British Chinese Short Stories, contains a collection of 16 short stories that serve up slices of British Chinese experiences and culture. (Crocus Books.)
  • Hsiao-Hung Pai (2008) Chinese Whispers: The True Story Behind Britain's Hidden Army of Labour. Penguin.
  • Wai-ki E. Luk (2008) Chinatown in Britain: Diffusions and Concentrations of the British New Wave Chinese Immigration. Cambria Press.
  • The Chinese in Britain, 1800–Present: Economy, Transnationalism, and Identity by Gregor Benton and E. T. Gomez, Palgrave, 2007.
  • Parker, D. "Britain" in L. Pan Ed. (2006) Encyclopaedia of the Chinese Overseas, Singapore: Chinese Heritage Centre (revised edition).
  • Tam, Suk-Tak. "Representations of 'the Chinese' and 'ethnicity' in British racial discourse". In: Sinn, Elizabeth, ed. The last half century of Chinese overseas. Aberdeen, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1998. 81-90.
  • Maria Lin Wong, Chinese Liverpudlians: A history of the Chinese community in Liverpool (Birkenhead, 1989).
  • Shang, Anthony (1984) The Chinese in Britain, London: Batsford.
  • Summerskill, Michael. "China on the Western Front. Britain's Chinese work force in the First World War". London: [The author] 1982 236p.
  • The Anglo-Chinese author Timothy Mo wrote the Booker prize-winning novel Sour Sweet about a Chinese family running a restaurant in late sixties and seventies London who fall foul of a group of Triads.
  • Choo, Ng Kwee, The Chinese in London (London, 1968).
  • May, John, "The Chinese in Britain, 1869-1914" in Colin Holmes (ed.), Immigrants and Minorities in British Society (London, 1978), pp. 111–124.


  • Parker, David. Chinese people in Britain: histories, futures and identities. In: Benton, Gregor; Pieke, Frank N., eds. The Chinese in Europe. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan; New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998. 390p. 1998 67-95
  • Parker, David. Emerging British Chinese identities: issues and problems. In: Sinn, Elizabeth, ed. The last half century of Chinese overseas. Aberdeen, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1998. 508p. 1998 91-114
  • Parker, David. Rethinking British Chinese identities. In: Skelton, Tracey; Valentine, Gill, eds. Cool places: geographies of youth cultures. London; New York: Routledge, 1998. 66-82
  • Baker, Hugh D.R. Nor good red herring: the Chinese in Britain. In: Shaw, Yu-ming, ed. China and Europe in the twentieth century. Taipei: Institute of International Relations, National Chengchi University, 1986. 318p. 1986 306-315


  • Graham Chan. "The Chinese in Britain". Adapted from an article originally published in Brushstrokes, issue 12, June 1999. For additional articles and stories go to Graham Chan's website
  • John Seed. ‘"Limehouse Blues": Looking for Chinatown in the London Docks,1900-1940’, History Workshop Journal, No. 62 (Autumn 2006), pp. 58–85. The Chinese In Limehouse 1900 - 1940. By John Seed 31 January 2007 - A talk at the Museum in Docklands.
  • Akilli, Sinan, M.A. "Chinese Immigration to Britain in the Post-WWII Period", Hacettepe University, Turkey. Postimperial and Postcolonial Literature in English, 15 May 2003
  • Archer, L. and Francis, B. (December 2005) "Constructions of racism by British Chinese pupils and parents", Race, Ethnicity and Education, Volume 8, Number 4, pp. 387–407(21).
  • Archer, L. and Francis, B. (August 2005) "Negotiating the dichotomy of Boffin and Triad: British-Chinese pupils' constructions of 'laddism'", The Sociological Review, Volume 53, Issue 3, Page 495.
  • Parker, D and Song M (2007) Inclusion, Participation and the Emergence of British Chinese Websites. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies Vol 33 (7) : 1043-1061.
  • ‘Belonging in Britain: The second generation Chinese in Britain’ Miri Song, University of Kent, England (pdf, 13 pages)
  • Ethnicity, Social Capital and the Internet: British Chinese Web Sites (pdf, 57 pages)
  • Gregory B. Lee, Chinas unlimited: Making the imaginaries of China and Chineseness (London, 2003). An academic study of culture and representation, including testimony from the author’s experience growing up in Liverpool.
  • Diana Yeh. ‘Ethnicities on the Move: ‘British-Chinese’ art - identity, subjectivity, politics and beyond’, Critical Quarterly, Summer 2000, vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 65–91.
  • Ng, Alex. "The library needs of the Chinese community in the United Kingdom." London: British Library Research and Development Dept. 1989 102p (British Library research paper, 56.)
  • Liu, William H. "Chinese children in Great Britain, their needs and problems". Chinese Culture (Taipei) 16, no.4 (December 1975 133-136)
  • Watson, James L. 1974. Restaurants and Remittances: Chinese Emigrant Workers in London. In Anthropologists in Cities (eds) G.M. Foster & R.V. Kemper. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
  • —. 1976. Emigration and the Chinese Lineage: The Mans in Hong Kong and London. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • —. 1977a. Chinese Emigrant Ties to the Home Community. New Community 5, 343-352.
  • —. 1977b. The Chinese: Hong Kong Villagers in the British Catering Trade. In Between Two Cultures: Migrants and Minorities in Britain (ed.) J.L. Watson. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.


Media coverage

  • China Now 2008, the largest festival of Chinese culture ever to take place in the UK
  • Silk Screens 19 July 2008 - BBC Video Nation, a series of simultaneous outdoor film screenings and live events in Birmingham, Glasgow, London and Manchester celebrating the lives of the British Chinese in the run-up to the Beijing Summer Olympics. Part of China Now (above).
  • The Missing Chink - an ironic take mixing comedy and vox-pop on the general low visibility of Chinese people in British society and media, the four 5-minute episodes was broadcast on Channel 4 after the 7 O'Clock News from January 19–22, 2004. It was written by and featured Paul Courtenay-Hyu, and starred Paul Chan, David Yip, Burt Kwouk, Rory Underwood MBE, Matt Wilkinson, Scott Corben and Simone Tully-Kedge. (All four episodes can be seen on Youtube)
  • Chinatown - A three part series broadcast on BBC Two on 24th, 31 January and 7 February 2006, explored in depth the changes taking place in Britain's growing Chinese community.

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