Pero’s Bridge – Bristol 

We understand the word ‘Diaspora’ to mean large communities of people living outside or away from their place of origin. In a similar manner to the African, Jewish, Indian, Chinese people were also living all over the Western hemisphere. Generally, via a route from the island Hong Kong. The focus here are the Chinese communities in Britain.

Birmingham – Chinatown Wall Graffiti.
Birmingham – Chinatown Wall Graffiti.
Birmingham – Chinatown 2022
Birmingham – Chinatown 2022

Chinese communities have existed in the UK and have played an active part in British society for over 300 years. The Chinese British communities have had a lasting impact on UK’s culture from wartime service and the nations cuisine to achievements in literature, sport, music, and fashion.

Birmingham – Chinatown 2022
Birmingham – Chinatown 2021
Birmingham – Bull Ring Area 2021

Through the popular cultures of writing, graphic novels, fashion, design, music, film and new media, young people of Chinese descent born in the UK, are continuing to explore the intersection between their different cultures – developing a unique perspective that incorporates, both Chinese and British identities.

Today, we ask, what does it mean to be Chinese and British? 

Visit: LKN – & – From here you can begin to search and discover the Chinese legacies all over the UK.

Members of the Chinese Footprints Project team, sketched by Ryszard@ming-AI, (London) Institute

2022 – The Chinese British population across the UK is the largest it has been, with over 400,000 people of Chinese heritage living in Britain.

2021 – Over 100,000 people from Hong Kong apply for British residency under a new government scheme.

1997 – Hong Kong transfer of government from the UK to the People’s Republic of China takes place. Many Hong Kong residents take up their right to live in the UK.  

1978 – Vietnamese refuges and migrants, many with Chinese heritage, leave Vietnam following the war with USA, and begin to arrive in the UK.

1960s – Increased emigration from Malaysia and Singapore to the UK, following both countries Independence. Laundries, once an industry dominated by Chinese business owners, gradually died out in the 1950s and 1960s, replaced by automatic laundrettes and home appliances. The photography by Nick Hodges taken in the 1970s, shows one of the last Chinese – owned laundries in Manchester – operated by Mr. Chui, the Ying Fong Chan – hand laundry, closed in the 1980s.

1946 – After their service in the Second World War, hundreds of Chinese seamen are forcibly repatriated.

Qei Hui Lan – international socialite and style icon 1920s.

Qei Hui Lan, was an international socialite and style icon. She was widely acknowledged for popularising the cheongsam, the traditional Chinese dress. The Chinese Indonesian wife of Wellington Koo, who served as a Chinese ambassador to Britain in the 1920s, Qei Hui Lan featured several times in fashion and lifestyle magazines, such as Vogue and Tatler during the early years of the 1920s. 

The challenges of Finding work as immigrants in the early 20th century. Led many Chinese arrivals into industries such as Merchant Shipping, and Laundries. Later, many moved into Catering, with jobs in Restaurants and Take-Aways being a common experience.

Woman & Child, East London, Limehouse, 1920s.

Anna May Wong, East London, Limehouse 1920s.

As well as being a source of income, these small businesses were and still are centres of community, an important part, and the make-up of many cities. Many Chinese British people excelled in careers such as Science, Medicine, Law, and Politics.

invitation Poster 1920s.

Below a poster calling the community to a meeting with a visiting Ph.D. scholar Dr. Pan, who was in Limehouse, London, 1920s to build an Ancestral Hall.

1st Battalion, Chinese Regiment 1898 -1903.

Chinese workers in a World War One munitions factory, UK. 
Smashed Windows of local Chinese owned laundries. 

1916 – The British and French armies make a deal with the Chinese government to enlist Chinese labourers during the First World War. In 1911, a worker’s strike led by the National Sailors and Fireman’s Union, culminated in violence against Chinese businesses in Cardiff, Wales. The union feared that the settlement of Chinese sailors in Britain would undercut wages. Racial conflicts erupted during the strike, with people smashing the windows of local Chinese owned laundries. Even though these businesses had no direct connection with shipping.

Sun Yet-sen.

1896 – Sun Yat-sen, a political revolutionary, is detained in London by Chinese officials for his support of uprising against the Imperial Qing government in China.

Scholars & Chinese Models.

1839 – 1842 – First Anglo-Chinese war, also known as the Opium War. Liverpool Chinatown is the oldest in the UK and in Europe. Liverpool was a globally significant trading port in the 1850s, when Chinese merchant sailors started to settle in the city. International trade of goods such as silk and tea provided plenty of work. 

Boarding houses were set up in Liverpool for Chinese seafarers near the docks in Cleveland Square, Pitt Street, and Frederick Street, a flourishing Chinatown soon developed. Due to Britain’s trade with China, small Chinese communities grew around the docks of Limehouse in the East end of London from the 1880s. Chinese people settled and set-up businesses, creating London’s first Chinatown.

1805 – John Anthony becomes the first Chinese person nationalised as British through an Act of Parliament.

Ceramic Vase – made in China 1800s – Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

Ceramic Vase decorated with 100 Shou – one hundred different characters.

Shou is the Chinese word for Longevity. A Chinese saying states that “there are three happy things in the world – prosperity, status and longevity.” The calligraphers in ancient China, concentrated their attention on how to write the symbol of Shou in various forms and different styles. As a result, many varieties of this symbol were created. 

1770s – William Macao, the first Chinese Scotsman, arrives in Scotland. He lived and worked in Edinburgh for over 50 years.

Coastal Landscape. Paint on Glass. Late 1700s early 1800s.
Coastal Landscape. Paint on Glass. Late 1700s early 1800s.
Landscape with a Chinese maiden seated on a water buffalo. Paint on Glass. Late 1700s early 1800s.
Shen Fuzong Tsung – was the first Chinese person recorded to set foot in the UK 1685. His portrait currently hangs in Windsor Castle.

1600s – A few key individuals and two cities define the early history of the Chinese British community. The first recorded individuals arrived from the late 1600s. Shen Fuzong Tsung a Jesuit scholar, in 1685, becomes the first recorded Chinese person to visit the UK. His portrait currently hangs in Windsor Castle. The early visitors were often scholars, merchants, and artisans. 

They mostly came from southern port cities such as Canton (Guangzhou) and Macao. Over time, larger numbers of Chinese people across east and southeast Asia settled in the UK. As trade grew and travel became easier, communities began to develop in the docklands in Liverpool and London – the UK first Chinatowns. In memory of Chris & Richard Sang from JA.


Chinatown – Wall Graffiti
Wednesfield-Wolverhampton-West Midlands, UK, 2020.