How significant is the culture and art
to the development of British Chinese community?
Media director, British Chinese Project
After the results of the EU referendum came out, many British Chinese voters voiced their concerns for the expected rise of discrimination against ethnic minorities over social media. The Guardian published an article on the effects Brexit will have on EU funding to the film industry in Britain. As an organisation that is interested in British Chinese representation in all spheres of life, the British Chinese Project (BC Project) also shared this article. One of our followers commented on the shared link: ‘The film industry is the least of our problems… Should we really be discussing about it over issues such as racial discrimination?’
Because of the hard work of many generations of British Chinese, our community today is made up of much more diverse occupations. There are young British Chinese working as lawyers, doctors, engineers and other well-respected white-collar jobs than ever.
In the casual social events the BC Project organise in the past, many participants were practicing lawyers or law students. However, some of these young British Chinese would not describe law as their greatest passion; some have chosen this career path because of family expectations.
Last year the BC Project also did a simple survey on what our community members see as the largest challenges. The results showed that the lack of representation for the British Chinese community in mainstream UK politics and media. For instance, there are any Chinese anchors and actors on the BBC or Channel 4; in mainstream movies, there are rarely characters that are British Chinese and not stereotypically nerdy and unsociable.
In American cinema, for the longest Chinese actors played nothing other than ‘second-class citizens,’ villains or nerds. Recently, this trend changed as television series such as Fresh off the Boat gained popularity and public approval. The series features a Chinese immigrant family’s story adapting to the American way of life, giving more attention to an America that is constantly becoming more multicultural.
In Britain, Chinese faces are lacking in all mediums of culture and art, such as television, cinema, theatre and visual art. Of course there are many reasons to such underrepresentation of Chinese in British media. The lack of family support for young talents to persuade careers in media and art is indisputably one of the key reasons. Art is part of culture. Without much support and exposure, not many would actively seek artistic experiences.
Let us not undermine the tremendous growth in the culture and art sector has achieved in the British Chinese community. Grassroots organisations like the UK Chinese Arts Association, UK Chinese Artist Association and Chinese Visual Festival are some of the remarkable outcomes of efforts made by British Chinese artists. Chinese Visual Festival was founded by curator Xuhua Zhan and Jing Jing Guo and has been running for the last six years. Compared to the very humble beginning, when the founders had to print out posters and put them in London Chinatown themselves, Chinese Visual Festival has come a long way. Now the festival has a set venue in King’s College and attracts thousands of viewers every year for the great artistic values and insights into Chinese cinema it offers.
In other words, artistic creation is never a simple matter in any situation. If it was simple, it would have been a subject of hobby rather than something that requires years of exploration and pursuits. British Chinese people are at the crossroad of two incredibly rich cultures, and this should make what we would like to express more distinctive and creative.
Going back to the starting point of this article, the racial discrimination our community faces is not unconnected to the fact that our culture is not recognised and respected in the mainstream British Chinese society. If the British Chinese community has its unique and acclaimed cultural and art products, would it put our community in a better position in Britain?
Hong Kong people in the UK
Media Officer, British Chinese Project
19 years have passed since Hong Kong returned to Chinese ruling. How the residents of Hong Kong identify themselves has always been a topic that interests many. In the recent years, many media professionals have tried to cover the identity struggle the younger generation of Hong Kong people is facing. For those Hong Kong people living in the UK, how do they see themselves?
The British Chinese Project (BC Project) has been working on a documentary featuring young Hong Kong immigrants in the UK who were born in the 1980s and 1990s. They are from all walks of life and have moved to the UK for different reasons. What they have in common is that they are all ethnic Chinese from Hong Kong.
Choosing their own identity
Maisie was born in Hong Kong in 1994 and came to study in the UK two years ago. Very often she will be asked about her identity. In most cases she would answer that she is from Hong Kong. If asked about her nationality, she would say that she is Chinese without any hesitation. She usually follow it up by stating the difference between mainland China and Hong Kong – in regards to political system, culture and language, Hong Kong and mainland China are drastically different.
Her self-perception largely comes from family and schooling. Maisie’s parents recognised that they are Chinese ethnically and culturally. The education she received at school gave her a chance to choose own identity by not imposing any particular values and objectively teaching students Hong Kong’s history from the colonial period to its return to China.
Issac and Karen recently got engaged in the UK. Both born in the 1980s, Issac has British citizenship and has lived an extended period of time in both Hong Kong and the UK. On the other hand, Karen was born and raised in Hong Kong. She came to the UK two years ago to study and now plans to work and live in the UK.
Both of them identify themselves as both Chinese and Hong Kong people. However, when I asked them their preference between Hong Kong before and after the handover, the couple both said they miss the pre-1997 Hong Kong.
Karen thinks colonial Hong Kong was a simpler place to live compared the Hong Kong now, where immigration brings much tension. While recognising that they were too young to truly understand the society back then, it seemed to them that Hong Kong people before the handover were mostly more tolerant and content.
Karen describes the relations between Hong Kong and the UK as an ex-couple – they get in touch from time to time. In comparison, Issac thinks that Britain gave its child, Hong Kong, to China. As the result, Hong Kong now has acquired a different “title” and atmosphere.
Hong Kong is my home
Gill was born in Hong Kong in 1992 and has recently completed her Masters studies in the UK. She is now staying in London on the so-called Working Holiday visa. Although she recoginses her ethnic origin, she still thinks that there are many fundamental differences between mainland China and Hong Kong having lived in both regions. Specifically, she thinks Hong Kong people’s mannerism and work culture are completely different from those of the mainlanders.
She also misses the pre-handover Hong Kong but this is not because of the colonial government. To her, Hong Kong before 1997 was in its best shape and produced many great films. Hong Kong’s vitality and optimism at the time made her childhood memorable.
While living in Britain, Gill never considers herself a part of the country. To her belonging has more to do with her social network, and the fact remains that most of her close friends are international students rather than UK nationals. She is open to any opportunity the future brings, but eventually she would like to go back to Hong Kong to contribute to the city.
Beyond the given identity
After interviewing these young Hong Kong people about their identities and lives in the UK, I came to the conclusion that they can objectively think about their political and social belonging while connecting their feelings to their childhood. Although at 1997 all of the interviewees were perhaps not grown up enough to have their own unique understanding of the handover, now they all have many interesting things to say about Hong Kong in the recent years.
For different reasons they have chosen to stay in the UK – studies, work, social connections and etc. However, they still see Hong Kong as their true home. There is nothing they could have done to change Hong Kong’s fate in 1997. Nor could they choose their own skin colour and the place they were born. But all these factors would not stop them from feeling proud about their identity. With their experiences living in Britain, the interviewees in this documentary seem to have a different understanding of what it means to be from Hong Kong, China.
Do not let “casual racism” get by
Racial discrimination experienced by Chinese international students in the UK
Kelly Si Miao Liang
Research Coordinator, British Chinese Project
In 2015, the British Chinese Project carried out a study on international students from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan about their experiences studying in the UK. Between October and December last year, the research team collected almost 1000 responses to our online surveys and met 32 students from across the country to talk in detail about their everyday life. This research is commissioned by the All-Party Parliamentary Chinese in Britain Group and will soon be published as a policy report.
A part of this research project focused on racial discrimination. Racially motivated hate crime is now among the most covered stories in the British press since the EU referendum. In this week’s BC Column, I would like to present some of the racial discrimination cases from our past research.
Half of the students have been victims to racial discrimination
49% of the 988 students who participated in our research stated that they have personally experienced some forms of racial discrimination. Unlike the dramatic hate crime incidents that often make newspaper headlines, most of the discrimination cases the students faced fall mostly into two categories: racist language and unfair treatment.
Racist language can be anything from racial slurs, like ‘Chinese! Go back to your country’, to racist jokes, to less explicit statements. For instance, a public relations student in Surrey was once told by her landlady that Chinese people know nothing other than money. She moved out soon after without seeking justice.
Unfair treatment based on race and ethnicity is less straightforward. A PhD student in Brighton told me about an English bus driver who treated a group of Chinese students very differently to everyone else: ‘the driver told us to “shut up” while he did nothing about a group of drunk white people who were also being loud’.
Implicit racial discrimination can also happen at university. ‘My instructor kept on picking at Chinese students’, a business management student in Birmingham told the research team, ‘I used the word “perseverance” in my essay, which I got from the dictionary. My instructor questioned me and I didn’t remember what the word meant. Then she accused me of plagiarism’.
Perhaps one can argue that this student informant was overreacting to a particularly severe university lecturer. However, the student must have had other related experiences to come to that verdict regarding her instructor.
Doing nothing does not make one a pacifist
Another memorable case of unfair treatment took place in a London restaurant. A law student, along with two friends visiting from China, asked to be seated by the window but was turned down by a waiting staff. The waiter later seated a white couple at the window table.
In this kind of situation, most Chinese customers would either not notice at all or choose to avoid complications by not asking. However, this student decided to defend her right and asked. The waiter did not give a valid reason and got into a quarrel with the student and her friends. ‘He told me everyone can sit here’, the student was still upset recounting the incident, ‘just not us’.
The dispute escalated quickly with the waiter taking the students’ shopping bags and placing them outside of the restaurant without their consent. This prompted nearby customers to advise the girls to call the police for the unacceptable service. The restaurant manager later came out to address the issue and apologised to the students.
Although the waiting staff did not explicitly make reference to the student’s ethnic background, the student and her friends felt the waiter’s offense was racially motivated. discrimination However, no legal action was taken because the student’s friends were visiting and did not wish to waste more time on unpleasant matters.
More than one third of victims never report to the police
More than 38% of Chinese students who have been victims of crime, including hate crime, never reported to the police due to a number of reasons. Some considered the police highly inefficient, who would not treat racial discrimination cases seriously; others did not know how to seek police help, as most British universities do not provide sufficient information regarding hate crime and Chinese students are generally unfamiliar with racial discrimination.
The British Chinese community at large also has a tendency to leave crime unreported, be it theft, physical violence or racial verbal abuse. According to a past report the BC Project wrote, this is largely due to language barriers and a lack of confidence in the police.
Without any form of punishment or condemnation, individuals who have committed hate crime would get the wrong idea and think that their racist attitudes are acceptable. Racially motivated attacks on those who don’t look Anglo-Saxon have spiked dramatically since the EU referendum results came out.
Let us support victims of hate crime by publicly condemning the racist individuals and record the acts on our smart phones. We should encourage the victims to report to the police using the evidence we have collected.
If you are the victim it is important that you do not let racial discrimination of any form get by. Seek justice through your local police. Living in Britain, a nation that exercises the values of liberty, equality and diversity, means that it is vital that we as ethnic minorities defend our rights.
Being British, being Chinese
Ethnic minorities in the UK are experiencing a rapidly increasing level of hate crime after the EU referendum. Racially motivated attacks on those who are not Anglo-Saxon have spiked over the last two weeks. From firebombs to graffiti, individuals who have been bitter about immigration for a long time have misinterpreted the results as support for their xenophobic impulses.
However, a significant portion of British immigrants are born and raised in the UK. Their identity is more complex than their ancestry and family values. Is identity defined by the official citizenship documents one gains from one’s country of birth? To what degree is identity connected to the social norms and values one carries? Is it possible to have multiple ethno-cultural identities at the same time?
This topic inspired Chenxu, an intern here at the British Chinese Project, to gain a deeper understanding on the different factors influencing identity. He sat down with Aaron, a British-born Chinese (BBC) student, to explore what his identity of being both culturally British and ethnically Chinese means.
Growing up as a minority
Chenxu: Can you tell me about your childhood?
Aaron: I was born and raised in Nottingham. We are the first ones in our family to have been born here. I attended a small private school of a predominately white population. I very quickly adopted British culture – eating British food, following football and singing weekly hymns.
Chenxu: Were there any other Chinese or East Asian students in your school?
Aaron: Throughout school and sixth form, I was one of only two or three students of full Chinese heritage. At the time, it didn’t really matter to me because it was natural to me.
Chenxu: This is quite common among second generation British Chinese. Many of my BBC friends are like you, growing up without much exposure to Chinese culture and people. I think this is related to how the older generation settled in the UK before the 1990s.
Aaron: Yes, many first-generation Chinese immigrants dispersed across the country in order to avoid competition, especially those who were employed in the catering sector. Growing up with white British friends, I was rarely conscious how I was different.
Chenxu: Without much of a presence of Chinese people or culture in early years of your life, it is understandable that you did not feel particularly ‘Chinese.’
Aaron: I definitely felt a stronger sense of being British than Chinese as a child. When I was 11 or so, I visited Hong Kong. At the time, I wanted to make it clear to everyone that I was from England and spoke English only. I remember a specific time when a lady at a shopping centre tried to sell my friend and I some fragrance. Although I understood her, I didn’t respond and just waited for a family friend to communicate to her.
Chenxu: Why do you think your younger self did that?
Aaron: With the stereotypically submissive Chinese characters in the UK film and media industry, being Chinese was often seen as a negative thing by many BBCs. The portrayed roles weren’t necessarily things I wanted to be a part of. Until this day, there are rarely any positive depictions of Chinese people in UK films and media in general. If they appear at all, they are often portrayed in a geeky or foreign way. It was much easier to present myself as a British person. So when I was in Hong Kong the first time, I was consciously acting as a so-called westerner.
University life and new encounters
Chenxu: Has anything changed from then on?
Aaron: Yes. In 2014, I finished sixth form and started university. Suddenly, I found myself surrounded by thousands of oversea students, especially those from China and Hong Kong.
Chenxu: What did this mean?
Aaron: It was the interaction I had not previously experienced. It encouraged me to speak Cantonese outside of home. Before university, I didn’t know in which ways being able to speak Cantonese can or could be an asset to me. As I met more Chinese students, I realised it was much easier to start a conversation if I spoke Cantonese with them and that led me to make some of my best friends in university.
Chenxu: Are there a lot of Chinese students in the University of Nottingham?
Aaron: Yes! Also, we also have a campus in Ningbo, China, and that provides students from the Nottingham campus the opportunity to study in China and vice-versa. International students from Hong Kong and China definitely benefits our university in terms of diversity of opinions and culture.
Chenxu: It is the same in my university, the London School of Economics. Some departments are filled with students from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. In school year 2014-15, there were approximately 120,000 ethnic Chinese students studying in the UK. This is the reflection of the so-called ‘studying abroad fever’ in China.
Aaron: What’s the ‘studying abroad fever?’?
Chenxu: It is a social phenomenon in China nowadays. There are more and more parents sending their children to pursue education overseas, and this is not limited to those who can afford it. Some families would do everything they can to make sure their children can study in top UK or US universities in order to stay competitive in the Chinese job market.
Aaron: I guess China’s rise is one of the reasons why we see more and more international students and in sparking my interest to think more about my Chinese roots!
Chenxu: Maybe that is one way of looking at it.
An Expanding Identity
Chenxu: Are you more comfortable speaking Cantonese now?
Aaron: It took me some time but I eventually got used to it. Now my friends and I often send messages in English with Chinese pronunciation. It is always fun for me to read them out loud but for my friends, it’s more like matrix decoding. I recall asking my girlfriend for two pounds for the laundry, and rather than writing it in Chinese as ‘Leung Bong’, I wrote ‘Learn Bon’, with a second attempt of ‘Lurn Bon’.
Chenxu: Do you think your Cantonese is on par with native speakers?
Aaron: Definitely. I still feel more confident speaking in English – it just comes more natural to me. I try to speak Cantonese as much as possible, but I often pause for thought on specific words because I still lack practice and vocabulary. But at the end of the day, I want people to know that I can speak Cantonese and I am very proud of it.
Chenxu: Has speaking Cantonese changed the way you think about yourself?
Aaron: I think just by the difference in attitude I’ve explained – identity is certainly a transformative process. Certain stages in life play a major role in shaping yourself as a person and getting to know students from Hong Kong and China have also developed me as a person. By understanding my friends’ lifestyles and what is important to them gives me an education to the culture they’re from, something reading alone would not provide. University has just been a great opportunity for me to embrace my Chinese heritage and background.
Chenxu: Other than university, do you think there are other ways for individuals like yourself to integrate their Chinese identity more in their lives?
Aaron: I think the work of NGO’s and other Chinese representatives in tackling these issues are essential. I mean, taking the British Chinese Project’s annual fundraising walk for example, it’s a positive event because it involves the community in its work; it exposes individuals to the efforts which may help build their identities or bring awareness to the experiences of other people. These events are a great opportunity for many BBC’s like myself to be more aware of the social issues many others face.
Young British-born Chinese working in Parliament and their family influence
Research Coordinator, British Chinese Project
In addition to public figures like Lord Nat Wei and Alan Mak, the MP for Havant, there are also other members of our community working in politics. In this column, I would like to introduce two young British-born Chinese professionals who work behind the scene at Parliament.
Each MP relies on a small group of talented and dedicated individuals to support them in different areas. These include managing diaries, conducting policy research, working with different groups in the MP’s constituency and organising campaigns. Kalun Lau and Daniel Wilkes are two of the many who work diligently to aid MPs handle their heavy workload. They are some of the few Chinese among the thousands of staff working for MPs.
Small but important
Raised by a loving Chinese mother and English father, Daniel Wilkes started his career in autumn 2015 as an intern to Barry Gardiner, the Labour MP for Brent North, London. After becoming familiar with the various tasks an MP’s assistant needs to do, Daniel found himself working primarily on policy research and liaising with external partners, like the British Chinese Project.
Gardiner MP is currently the Shadow Minister of Energy and Climate Change. Daniel studied politics and international studies at university, and he sometimes has to learn about new topics very fast in order to prepare the research his MP needs. Daniel welcomes the challenge: ‘It is always good to learn new things. Compared to the diary manager, my job is already very relaxing.’
Kalun Lau, a second-generation Hong Kong immigrant, is currently working for Andrew Mitchell, the Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield. He is a caseworker and his daily workload consists of answering emails from Mitchell MP’s constituents, preparing meeting notes and liaising with local partner organisations and institutions.
With the EU referendum fast approaching, Kalun has been receiving emails from across the political spectrum. Sometimes he has deal with more interesting queries.
‘Once I received an email from a gentleman asking Andrew to propose to Parliament that 24 June 2016, the day after the referendum, be made the UK’s independence day,’ said Kalun jokingly, ‘it made me laugh so hard, but it was not fun to reply in a professional manner.’
Growing up as British-born Chinese
Both Daniel and Kalun grew up in the UK, in neighbourhoods with few Chinese children of their age. Daniel’s parents are lawyers and his mother always had Chinese clients. ‘When I was growing up I did not feel that I was different,’ Daniel remembered, ‘I still do not think that I am meaningfully different from everyone else just because I am half Chinese.’
40% of the public school which Daniel attended for his sixth form consisted of people of colour. The mix of different cultures inspired his young mind and made him more curious about international affairs.
Kalun’s experience differs from Daniel’s in that he was constantly reminded of his heritage when growing up. His father was a member of the police force in Hong Kong before its return to China. When his family moved to the UK, Kalun’s father had very few employment opportunities due to the language barrier. Eventually, Kalun’s father decided to start a Chinese take-away business, like many other Chinese migrants.
Kalun’s father and grandfather were both policemen. He wanted to continue the family tradition: ‘when I was growing up I also wanted to join the police force. My father’s resilience in adapting to life in the UK and his devotion for the family were things I’ve always admired.’
Family members were also role models for Daniel: ‘although my childhood dreams were related to sports, as I grew older my family showed me the importance of politics.’ Daniel’s mother, solicitor Christine Lee, founded the British Chinese Project in 2006 to protest the lack of consultation with the Chinese community by UK policymakers. As a teenager, Daniel witnessed these difficult battles and became more interested in politics and the ways it could affect the British Chinese community.
Unlike Daniel, Kalun did not have an interest in politics until university. During the 2010 general election, Kalun got involved in politics for the first time, campaigning for the Liberal Democrat party and their promises to stop tuition fee hikes. His hopes were dashed as the Liberal Democrats failed to deliver the policy changes they proposed.
However, this did not lead Kalun to distrust politics. Instead, he continued learning and following national and international political affairs while regularly taking part in student society debates.
Reflecting on the reasons he decided to pursue a career in politics, Kalun pointed to a particularly inspiring lecturer of his: ‘he showed me how equality can be promoted through different employment legislation. I then realised that I need to be a part of the momentum for the change I wish to see.’ Eventually, Kalun settled down as a Conservative party supporter and found his way to work for a Conservative MP with a voting record he supported.
On the other hand, Daniel does not think it is necessary to identify with a political party. He thinks passionately taking a side would limit his understanding of the general picture. ‘I think it has to do with my family,’ Daniel reasoned, adding, ‘we have voted for all of the major political parties at some point. We vote based on policies and not party allegiance.’
These two young British Chinese have not yet made up their minds regarding becoming politicians themselves one day. They do not think ethnic Chinese voters should vote for candidates of their ethnicity rather than parties offering policies more favourable for them.
However, both Daniel and Kalun believe that the Chinese community in the UK needs more role models in the political arena. It will lead to a better representation of the community’s interests and act as a form of empowerment for future generations of British Chinese to pursue what is currently an unconventional career path.
To do this, our community needs to take more interest in political debates. Families need to create an environment at home where British Chinese children are exposed to social issues outside of their immediate school and social lives. We can change the public perception of the Chinese being the least represented ethnic minority in the UK. That change can and needs to start with you and me.
What can future British Chinese politicians learn from Sadiq Khan’s success?
Jiaqi Hou PhD
Project manager of the British Chinese Project
On 7 May 2016, the results of the London mayoral election were released. Labour Party’s Sadiq Khan became the new mayor of London after winning approximate 1.3 million votes, the highest number of votes a mayor elect has ever received in London’s history.
Khan is drastically different from his predecessors in that he comes from a working class British Pakistani family. However, his humble background and religious identity as a Muslim were among the key reasons for his success in the May 2016 elections.
Khan has never tried to hide or deny the fact that he is a Muslim, and strongly believes that being Muslim is not in any way incompatible with being British.
In the months leading to the election, the Conservative Party launched a series of campaigns attacking Khan’s religious affiliation. Far from panicking, Khan calmly, persistently and eloquently addressed the issue head-on, pointing out that Islam is not the same as terrorism.
Khan’s victory in the London mayoral election is illuminating for the increasing number of British Chinese politicians, especially in the area of identity politics.
Being a British Muslim
Khan has made it clear on many occasions that he is an ethnic Pakistani, Muslim, Londoner and British citizen. Khan’s view is that an individual can hold all of these identities which each form different facets of his or her overall identity. Identity is not a zero-sum game; a person can have multiple identities which are not mutually exclusive or conflicting at all.
Politicians of ethnic minority backgrounds, including British Chinese, often have to address the issue of their identity and loyalties. Many politicians who are not white are concerned about the risk of alienating themselves from the perceived mainstream society should they choose to publicly emphasise their ethnic origins.
In most cases, minority politicians choose to ignore or downplay their ethnicity in order to focus on issues that are important to them and avoid unproductive debate. Sometimes, they may even feel compelled to cut off their ties to their ethnic groups in order to demonstrate their commitment to being part of the perceived mainstream society.
Facing smear campaigns
The fact that Khan is a practicing Muslim has attracted much controversy and public scrutiny.
For instance, his vote for legalising same-sex marriage enraged many Muslim fundamentalists who then sent him death threats. A public opinion research by the Guardian found that some Muslim in London did not regard Khan as a legitimate representative of the Muslim community.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Conservative Party portrayed Khan as a Muslim with ties to extreme Islamists and terrorists.
However, the Conservative’s smear campaigns backfired. Their unfounded accusations not only failed to weaken Khan’s support base, they also alienated the Muslim groups who had thus far been supportive of the Conservatives.
As a second-generation immigrant, Khan decided to embrace his identity as a Muslim as opposed to distance himself from the British Muslim community.
Vote for policies, not personalities
Some can argue that Khan was playing the ‘Muslim card’ in order to gain support from the one million-strong Muslim population in London. However, this argument does not take into account that, regardless of their ethnicity, most British voters vote for political parties and policies as opposed to personalities they can identify with. There are not many concrete studies demonstrating the effects of candidates’ ethnic origins on their election victory chances.
The hitherto successful minority politicians have emphasised their British values rather than appeal to groups sharing their respective ethnicities. From various analyses of the 2015 general elections results, the majority of non-white politicians who won are in constituencies with mostly white residents. We need to question the merit of the claim that minority politicians can only get minority voters on board.
We can conclude from the election outcomes that by identifying himself as a Muslim, Khan did not jeopardise his campaign. Although the Conservative Party did commence a smear campaign against Khan based on his beliefs, Khan’s identity as a Muslim actually brought more positivity and supporters to the Labour Party and helped him win the election.
When minority politicians show pride in their heritage and do not downplay their ethnicity, British voters may not always react negatively. Based on the 2016 London mayoral elections, it is fair to say that voters can understand that being British can mean different things to different people.
Khan’s pride in being a British Muslim reflects his positive experiences living in the UK. For those British Chinese who wish to stand in future elections, rallying voters may not necessarily require them to ignore or downplay their Chinese roots.
Perhaps it is not so difficult to imagine and understand that one can be a successful and politically active British citizen and ethnically Chinese at the same time.
Research Coordinator of the British Chinese Project
On Saturday 9 April, 2016, the British Chinese Project (BC Project) carried out a fundraising walk for 13 different community centres across London. During this 26-kilometre walk, BC Project’s staff, supporters and members of the London Chinese community visited 5 different community centres and learnt about their work and challenges.
While some centres are having difficulties recruiting competent full-time staff, others are struggling to secure funding. The public funding system is complex and bureaucratic, and successful funding applications tend to be for individual projects rather than centres. This significantly limits the capability of community centres to upgrade and improve their venues and equipment.
The walk was a great occasion for meeting new people. Many elderly participants I talked to told me about their difficulties accessing medical services due to the long queuing time and lack of multi-language support. Some British Chinese seniors reside far away from central London and they expressed their wishes for more Chinese community centres close to where they lived.
Some of the Chinese international student volunteers shared with me their experiences living in the UK. Whilst they were largely satisfied with their lives in a city as diverse and exciting as London, some students spoke of their encounters with petty crime such as theft and robbery. Many Chinese international students who have been victims of such crime felt frustrated as they had rarely received any effective assistance from the London Metropolitan Police.
Power of our votes
I believe that many members of the British Chinese community can relate to the issues mentioned by our fundraising walk participants. To various degrees, most of us think there is room for improvement at various levels of the UK government in terms of public service provision and market regulation. In order to bring about the changes to our everyday life the British Chinese community wishes to see, we need to be more active in politics.
Many first-generation migrants from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan may not be familiar or have yet to participate in democratic elections. Perhaps, the word ‘politics’ itself has a cold, harsh and negative connotation for some British Chinese. Actually, politics and elections are closer to our everyday life than many would think.
Take securing public funding for Chinese community centres for example. We need to work with sympathetic councillors and city government members who are willing to put funding increase for community activities on government agenda and speak out in the press. Before commencing group bidding as such, we need to ensure that we have relatable political representatives at the local level. In order to do that, we need to give our votes to candidates who are trustworthy and genuinely interested in topics such as diversity, community welfare and social integration.
Another good example is limiting gambling establishments in London Chinatown, an issue this column has explored about one month ago. With more than 30 betting shops and casino currently standing in and around Chinatown, the peril of problem gambling tearing apart families and community has never been larger.
To stop more gambling sites from taking over London Chinatown, we need representatives at the Westminster city government and London General Assembly who are willing to challenge the current zoning regulations and gambling classification rules. On a larger scale, we also need to ensure that the new London General Assembly and mayor are progressive and responsive to the demands of different social groups and communities. One of the only ways to do that is voting for the right candidates.
5 May is our chance
With the London Mayoral and General Assembly Elections taking place on Thursday 5 May, as well as local elections across the UK, the British Chinese community has a great chance to make a difference. Not only can we express through votes our opinions regarding housing, public funding, transportation fairs and other everyday matters; we can also start building lasting relationship with local councillors, Assembly members, constituency representatives and the mayor who will respond to our demands.
The ethnic Chinese community has doubtless been a marginal group in politics. There has not been any official data collected on the turn out rate and voting patterns for ethnic Chinese voters in local elections. This is due to hitherto low level of political participation of our community across the UK. In order to draw attention from the politicians, press and governmental bodies overseeing elections, such as the Electoral Commission, the British Chinese community needs to step up, cast our votes and demonstrate the power we possess.
The success of Labour Member of Parliament (MP) Daniel Zeichner in the 2015 General Elections as a good example for British Chinese voters making a difference. The support of ethnic Chinese voters in Cambridge was a major contributing factor for Zeichner MP’s victory in this marginal seat. Now Zeichner MP holds regular communications with the Cambridge Chinese Community Centre and he is actively involved in assisting the centre in finding a stable venue of activity.
‘Votes are our voice,’ Solicitor Christine Lee, chair of the BC Project, passionately argued, ‘we need to give incentives to politicians so that they feel obliged to respond to us and let them know the weight of our support. After all, the ethnic Chinese community is the third largest ethnic minority in the UK. We deserve much more attention and bargaining power and we need to work for it.’
For find out how to participate in upcoming 5 May London elections please visit the official website www.londonelects.org.uk (information also available in Chinese). To find out more about various local council elections please visit their own websites.
Media Director of the British Chinese Project
Chinese community centres are instrumental in facilitating the settlement of new Chinese immigrants in the UK. The first Chinese immigrants came to the UK over 200 years ago. However, it was not until the 1980s that the first Chinese community centre was established, when Dr. Xitang Liu founded the London Chinese Community Centre in 1980. Today, there are Chinese community centres in all major cities in the UK serving over 400,000 British Chinese people.
Chinese community centres offer a wide range of services: information and assistance on accessing public services, language classes, cultural activities, physical exercises, visiting the home of the elderly, group lunches, concerts, art shows, youth clubs, fundraising events and much more. Chinese community centres have given many struggling British Chinese community members much-needed help.
Serving different generations
Jun Kit Man was born in the UK. After graduating from university, he started work and therefore had less time to spend with his family. It was not until university that Jun realised that the reason his mother had never had many friends was due to language barriers. In order to help his mother have a better social life, Jun introduced her to a local Chinese community centre. At the centre, Jun’s mother met Chinese immigrants of different generations, backgrounds and professions.
Jun’s mother enjoyed making new friends and joined badminton classes that were organised by the centre. She also enjoyed getting involved in different activities. Jun remembers his mother telling him about an activity in which the participants were divided into groups and each group had to prepare lunch for another group. It has been six years since Jun’s mother first joined the local Chinese community centre and she still goes there every week.
Eddie Chan, the director of Chinese National Healthy Living Centre (CNHLC), told us a story of a Chinese international student. The student fell very ill soon after he arrived in the UK and before he was able to register with his university. He was worried because he was not familiar with the UK medical system. After hearing about the CNHLC, the student sought help and received timely treatment with the assistance of the centre’s staff.
We were deeply impressed by Eddie’s passion to serve the Chinese community. He was not afraid to taking on challenges, be it slowing down the spread of dementia in the British Chinese community or providing counselling services in Chinese language to help those who suffer from mental and emotional issues. Eddie is selfless and dedicated.
Challenges community centres are facing
In spite of their importance to different generations of British Chinese people, many Chinese community centres struggle to secure long-term funding. Dr Jiaqi Hou, project manager of the British Chinese Project, points out that most Chinese community centres do not receive financial support from the government. Centres may apply for project-based funding to lottery funds for short-term financial support. However, many centres do not have the necessary expertise or the resources to apply for short-term funding. These centres have to rely on private donations for their day-to-day operation.
Cambridge Chinese Community Centre (CCCC) is a good example. CCCC is arguably the most active Chinese community centre in the UK at the moment in terms of membership and frequency of activities. However, CCCC has never been able to acquire a long-term venue. It rents space from local schools on the weekend for activities. We met many staff members of the CCCC. They have their own careers and their work with the CCCC is purely voluntary. They wish to use their free time to build a functioning and open-minded community for their children and fellow community members.
The demography of Chinese immigrants in the UK is changing rapidly. As the older generation of British Chinese continue to hit retirement and age-related health restrictions, many Chinese community centres also face issues in terms of staffing and development.
Chinese community centres overwhelmingly rely on volunteers to carry out their activities. Paid staff are very few compared to volunteers. There are generally more elderly volunteers retiring than young ones joining. Whom can Chinese community centres rely on for future events and activity organisation?
Without Chinese community centres, it will become more difficult for British Chinese to preserve our cultural heritage and organise our contribution to British society. It will be an even more daunting task to deliver services specifically designed for the Chinese community in Britain. As the fastest growing ethnic minority group in the UK, do we wish to see many Chinese community centres continue to struggle?
Alex Yip, vice-chair of the British Chinese Project and a councillor for Birmingham, articulates the importance of grassroots efforts to help Chinese community centres. The British Chinese Project recently held its second annual fundraising walk in order to publicise the difficulties community centres are facing and raise funding for them. The fundraising walk this year will not only donate to 11 different Chinese community centres but also develop a platform to assist them in applying for public funding.
Alex wishes to make the UK public more aware of the vital cultural enrichment that the British Chinese community brings to this country. Chinese community centres serve more than the British Chinese community. They are key to sustaining cultural harmony and diversity of the UK as a whole.
Research Coordinator of the British Chinese Project
MSc International Studies, Peking University and the London School of Economics
A part of our work at the British Chinese Project (BC Project) is reaching out to the public and raising awareness of the current state of the Chinese community in the UK. In September 2015, BC Project took the opportunity to have a stall in London Chinatown’s mid-Autumn festival. We had several activities to encourage interaction with the public, including a simple quiz with questions on people’s estimates of the size and political representation of the British Chinese community.
For me, the most unexpected reaction was that people were surprised to find out that only one of the 650 Members of Parliament (MPs) was ethnic Chinese and he was only elected in 2015. People were even more surprised when I told them the equivalent figures for other multicultural countries. Three of the 535 members of the US Congress are ethnic Chinese. Five of the 338 parliamentarians in Canada are Chinese and the first ever Chinese-Canadian politician was elected in the 1960s.
After hearing these facts, many were impressed at the level of representation and integration in Canada and the US. Not a single person asked the BC Project why Britain was so behind in terms of socio-political integration of immigrants. None of our participants could imagine that one day Britain could be as integrated and politically diverse as Canada.
I would like to give some everyday examples of what integration and multicultural policies look like in Canada to show how readily some of these could improve the situation for the Chinese community in Britain. Regardless of the ruling party, the Canadian government has always been committed to realising the model of a multicultural society enshrined in the constitution in 1971.
I grew up in Canada and attended state education since the age 12. Programmes and activities to introduce young Canadian to different cultures start early. In a typical secondary school such as the one I attended, there were regular field trips to Little Italy, Chinatown, the Indian quarter and various First Nation Canadian reserves. During these trips, our teachers walked us through cultural buildings and explained to us how these various ethnic groups were important parts of Canada.
In home economics classes, a Korean Canadian classmate taught everyone how to make dukboki during the same year we learnt how to make French toast with Canadian maple syrup. I also remember signing up to a school-wide campaign to experience Ramadan where students of different ethnicities and religions showed solidarity with Muslim students by fasting for a day and eating with them after sunset. These different programmes did not make my high school a paradise where bullying and ethnically based social groups were non-existent. They nevertheless encouraged students to be interested in different cultures and accept them as a part of Canadian society.
Building a tolerant society is not restricted to programmes aimed at young Canadians. Immigrants of my mother’s generation also benefit tremendously from various publicly funded integration programmes. My mother attended evening English classes together with immigrants from Mexico, India, Poland and Iran. Her Canadian teachers took them to different local restaurants, events and shows and some even invited the students to their houses. My mother’s language school even offered free day care for students with small children to make it easier for students to attend.
As much as my mother struggled to learn English, she enjoyed going to school with classmates who looked and thought very differently from her. The common challenge they faced of becoming honourable members of Canadian society brought them together and made them believe that they did not have to fit the stereotype of being white in order to be a Canadian.
After three years of studying English, my mom passed the citizenship test and became a Canadian in 2013. Last year’s Canadian general election was the first time she was able to participate in a democratic election. She talked with campaigners from different political parties and discussed political issues with her Caucasian, Persian and Punjabi neighbours. The election guidebook in 27 global languages and 11 native Canadian languages also made it clear to people with a non-English background that they were welcome to take part in the political process. My mother wanted to vote because she would like to see more immigrants find a welcoming home in Canada like she did.
The Canadian policies and services which my family enjoyed exist because generations of former immigrants stood up and campaigned for greater equality and inclusiveness. These immigrants include formerly enslaved Blacks, Chinese railway workers and Japanese agricultural workers and fishermen. The liberalisation of Canada’s immigration policy in the 1970s also acted as a catalyst for different ethnic communities to present their needs and demands to the national government. Canada is a former colony and a young country which also made it easy for Caucasian Canadians to envisage a society rich with social, ethnic and political diversity.
While the Canadian model of immigration integration has been fairly effective in Canada, this does not necessarily mean it is suitable for the UK. The rich history and cultures of the UK have given it a much more historically embedded identity which cannot be easily expanded. Furthermore, the fact that a large part of the UK immigration come from former British colonies puts many immigrants in an unfavourable position to challenge the dominance of the country’s white majority.
Those who participated in BC Project’s outreach programmes may have been unaware of the historical and political factors contributing to the limited integration of Chinese immigrants in the UK. But they surely experience its symptoms on a daily basis: limited language and integration support for new immigrants, very limited multilingual assistance for public services, decreased public funding for Chinese community centres and Chinese language schools. We, the British Chinese community, need to understand that these everyday challenges are symptomatic of the bigger challenges facing all immigrants in the UK.
There is much more the UK can do to ensure that its multicultural society thrives and benefits all citizens. Britain does not need to adopt the Canadian model of multiculturalism in order to make social integration work. However, the effective engagement programmes the Canadian government has implemented can be a source of inspiration for both the UK government and the British Chinese community.
We cannot end our discussion by simply noting that ‘Chinese immigrants have a stronger voice in Canada.’ Instead we need to ask ourselves why and take action to close the gap between the Chinese community in Britain and other countries. The BC Project strongly believes that community organising, taking part in elections and communicating with local political representatives are the necessary first steps for creating a country that is more tolerant and accommodating for immigrants of all generations and ethnicities.
Ethnic Chinese account for about 1% of the population in Britain but they only occupy one seat in each of the House of Commons and House of Lords, which comes to 0.01% of the total number of seats. British Chinese are even more poorly represented at a local level.
In the past, many have blamed the British Chinese community itself for the lack of political representatives. Low voter registration rate, low voter turnout rates, being under-informed due to language barriers and the aversion to confrontation common in Chinese culture are often listed as the reasons why we do not see many British Chinese taking part in politics.
This article looks at the issue from a different perspective. It focuses on different approaches to ethnic minority candidates among the different levels of the major UK political parties.
The proportion of ethnic minorities in politics is a good indicator of a country’s political diversity. In an ideal representative democracy, representatives are elected and their demography would match that of the general society, including the gender ratio and composition of different ethnicities.
British democracy is determined by the behaviour and fortunes of the three major political parties, the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats. Therefore, the attitude of these three parties towards minority candidates largely determines the candidates’ failure or success in elections.
There are two easy ways to measure political parties’ attitudes towards minority candidates: each party’s willingness to endorse minority candidates in elections and the number of elected ethnic minority candidates.
Party leaders and minority candidates
The leaders of the three major parties have all publically expressed their commitment to increase the number of minority MPs. In a Britain that is ethnically diverse, having different groups within a political party can increase its legitimacy. Also, party leaders must make politically correct statements in public.
A more important reason is that the demography of Britain has changed dramatically in recent years and the power of ethnic minority voters has received public attention. Having more minority candidates is thus one of the most effective ways of showing that a political party welcomes and cares about ethnic minorities.
Over the last two general elections, the number of elected minority MPs has increased from 15 to 41 and this fact is in line with the efforts of UK political parties to accommodate more party members with minority backgrounds. The number of British Chinese MP Candidates has also grown steadily and the 2015 general election finally saw the first British Chinese MP elected.
Local party branches and candidate selection
Although the national level of the three major political parties may value party members with a minority background, local branches are a different story and they can also heavily influence the candidate selection process of in each constituency. In constituencies with few ethnic minority voters, local branches often think having non-white candidates could be unfavourable and hence are more reluctant to nominate minority candidates .
In reality, local party branches tend to put ethnic minority candidates in constituencies where ethnic minority voters are more concentrated or even in districts deemed unlikely for that party to win . This tendency significantly hampers the ability of minority candidates to win elections.
Expectations of a British politician should be
According to research on minorities participating in politics , in Britain a typical politician is white, male, middle-age, university educated, middle-class, heterosexual and married. Candidates who fail to tick all of these boxes need to make more efforts to compensate. Often a minority candidate downplays his or her ethnic and cultural identity in order to appear more similar to typical British politicians.
There is a direct correlation between the increasing number of ethnic minority candidates and the efforts made by the national level of the three major UK political parties. However, local party branches and expectations of what politicians ‘should’ look like still have negative impacts on minority candidates’ prospects.
As an important minority group in Britain, the British Chinese community should have a political impact equal to their social and economic achievements. We need to have more British Chinese leaders to challenge the establishment from within. At the same time, we also need to see more ordinary British Chinese people support and vote for their political representatives. Only through votes can the British Chinese community draw the attention of British political parties to more sincerely consider the needs of our community.
2. Durose et. al. ‘Acceptable Difference: Diversity, Representation and Pathways to UK Politics’, Parliamentary Affairs. 2013
3. Durose, C. et al. (2011) Pathways to Politics Research Report 65, Manchester, Equality and Human Rights Commission. Fawcett Society (2008) Seeing Double: Race and Gender in Ethnic Minority Women’s Lives,
4. London, Fawcett Society. Lovenduski, J. (2012) ‘Feminising British Politics’, Political Quarterly, 83, 4.
Chances and Challenges Facing the British Chinese Communities
Chances and Challenges Facing the British Chinese Communities
First published on 19/2/2016, UK-Chinese Times
Media Intern of the British Chinese Project
The sound of the beating drums along Trafalgar Square marks the official beginning of Chinese New Year celebrations in the heart of London. Tens of thousands of families Chinese and non-Chinese descended onto the streets to see the main parade awash with lion dancing, dragon dancing and entertaining dancers dressed into traditional Qipaos. The words ‘kung hei hat choi’ and ‘sun nin fai lok’ can be seen splashed across fai chuns everywhere, as well as coming out of the mouths of the young and old alike. Many wore traditional garments in red, hoping the traditional lucky colour will rub off for the year ahead.
The normally busy streets of downtown London were closed off for pedestrians to roam around to see the parade, which tens of thousands of people lined up to enjoy. Market stalls filled the busy precinct selling things like red trinkets, paper dragons and stuffed-toy monkeys, other stalls sold a cause, exchanging ideas and offering revellers a taste of Chinese culture. Barricades surrounded giant displays of dragons, boats and even a colourful swan, which were scattered around the city centre as masses took pictures and admired the works of art commissioned by various organisations celebrating the new year.
For the first time since its inception ten years ago, The British Chinese Project incorporated a wishing tree, a centerpiece to it’s market stall, which stood at one and a half metres high, attracting hundreds to write messages of hope. These red cards were then placed onto the branches of the trees, which acted like arms to hold onto the voices of those who entrusted their dreams. Children with the help of their parents, the youth and the older generation all stooped their heads and penned phrases like “love,” “health and happiness” and even a “BMW X5” as what they hoped for in the year ahead. English wasn’t the only language well-wishers used, some took to their native tongues writing in Chinese, Spanish, Russian and a lady from Iran also participated with fevour.
The British Chinese Project, founded in 2006 by solicitor Christine Lee, is a non-for-profit organisation, which has been working tirelessly with the British Chinese community to promote rights of Chinese people, one of the largest ethnic minority groups in Britain. Recognising Chinese New Year as one of the most important events on the calendar, British Chinese Project members and volunteers like the rest of the British Chinese community have been involved in numerous functions to ring in the new year including celebratory dinners and other community functions.
Chinese communities across Britain also celebrated in similar fashion with communities including the Cambridge Chinese community, one of the largest Chinese communities in Britain, holding its second Chinese New Year show on New Year’s Eve to mark the festive occasion.
Chinese Community in Cambridge
Held in Netherhall School in Cambridge, the event was run entirely by volunteers and was attended by hundreds of locals including the local member for Cambridge Daniel Zeichner and Deputy Mayor councillor Jeremy Benstead. The audience of over 350 people were treated to more than 20 different acts by about 100 performers including lion dancing, singing and waist drumming.
In a bid to promote racial harmony and better understanding of Chinese culture organisers also incorporated performances by other cultural groups with Irish and Polish dancing and a Russian singer showcased at the event.
“This isn’t just for the Chinese community. We want to use the opportunity to promote race harmony and to increase understanding of China and Chinese culture,” Dr Wei Sun, Chairman of the Chinese Cambridge Centre told the British Chinese Project.
Dr Sun hailed the event a success and said he plans to hold the event at a larger venue next year, as all the tickets for this year were completely sold out.
“It will definitely be even bigger,” he said of plans for next year’s celebrations.
Alongside community events, politicians from major political parties also marked the significance of the New Year by organising different events during the Chinese New Year period to connect with the Chinese community.
Political Party Leaders and the Chinese Community
On the evening of Chinese New Year’s Day British Prime Minister David Cameron held a drinks reception to mark the occasion, inviting members of the Chinese community and other dignitaries to his residence at number 10 Downing Street.
In his speech, Prime Minister Cameron emphasised to those who gathered the importance of a good bilateral relationship between the UK and China. He also highlighted the role that British Chinese people play in acting a mediator to help facilitate the relationship between the two nations.
Fellow conservative Member of Parliament Lord Michael Bates was also in attendance along with his Chinese-born wife Xuelin Bates. Lord Bates discussed the issue of voter registration amongst the Chinese community with members of the British Chinese Project. He expressed his support for the work the organisation has done in the area and also for its upcoming fundraising walkathon, which aims to use the funds to establish a new Chinese community centre for local British Chinese to enjoy.
The Chinese for Labour organisation also held a reception ushering in the New Year at the Labour party’s headquarters in London. Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn, his deputy Tom Watson and Chair of Chinese for Labour Sonny Leong all took part in the reception held the evening after Chinese New Year.
Opposition Leader Corbyn addressed the crowd saying the Labour Party would campaign to reintroduce post-study work visas for international students, a scheme which was scrapped in 2012, and also fight against racism and discrimination.
Chinese ambassador to the UK Liu XiaoMing has also been busy during this festive period, attending Chinese New Year functions held by the major parties and further promoting the bilateral ties as well as the interests of British Chinese.
For Ambassador Liu, the progress of political participation by British Chinese is one of his main areas of interest.
Ambassador Liu’s sentiments are echoed by Jiaqi Hou, Project Manager at the British Chinese Project, who too believes that Chinese New Year is an important way for British Chinese to engage in the political process.
“Chinese New Year is the most significant festival towards Chinese people across the world,” Hou says.
“All British party leaders would either take the opportunity to attend Chinese New Year receptions organised by different Chinese organisations or send greetings to the Chinese community in the UK.”
As such the British Chinese Project uses these occasions as a platform to communicate directly with political leaders and senior members of various parties to raise issues of concern amongst British Chinese.
From Cultural Celebrations to Political Representation
However, Hou is aware that issues facing the Chinese community cannot be solved without follow-up action.
“The All Party Parliamentary Chinese in Britain Group (APPCBG) will be launched at House of Parliament in March and British Chinese Project will act as the secretariat of the group,” he says, adding that the British Chinese Project will keep conducting community-based research projects, such as the recently completed survey on the life and issues faced by international students and submitting reports through the APPCBG for parliamentary members and Lords to discuss.
A sentiment is shared by the British Chinese Project, which in the coming months will continue it’s work in promoting awareness to politics, aiming to increase Chinese political participation in the upcoming local elections in May.
“With more Chinese people registering and voting in elections, political parties cannot ignore Chinese votes and will have to listen to our concerns,” an optimistic Hou said.
The British Chinese Project believes that continuing to empower British Chinese people in the future will ensure that Chinese culture and heritage will not be lost.
“To improve the status of the Chinese people in the UK, we need to be more actively involved in public affairs and learn how to express our views to the mainstream society,” according to Hou.
Just like the symbol of the wishing tree, a plant, which in real life will continue to grow and spread its branches, the British Chinese Project hopes that through different community outreach projects the British Chinese community will continue to grow and prosper and celebrate Chinese New Year with the families for many generations to come.