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Find out where London's first Chinatown was before it relocated to Soho, and where the centres of Chinese population are based now in the capital.
Did you know?
Today over 78,000 Chinese people of diverse origins live in London.
The Chinese community is one of London's oldest communities. Britain began trading with China in the 17th century and 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. By the end of the 19th century, the Chinese dock community in London numbered over 500; primarily single men and some married British women.
Regional origins aside, the Chinese are a heterogeneous community. Throughout history, different waves of Chinese immigrants settled in different parts of London. Today, Chinese Londoners are more evenly dispersed throughout the city and its boroughs. 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.
London’s first Chinatown sprang up around the East End’s Limehouse district in the 1880s. Chinese seamen settled there to escape the cramped lodgings provided by the East India Shipping Company. It remained a vibrant community until the Blitz and a postwar slump in shipping led to its decline. Today, mostly elderly Chinese people live in the Limehouse area. Only a few street names, restaurants and a Chinese Sunday School stand as reminders of the earlier Chinese presence.
Chinatown, major tourist attraction
The next major wave of immigration came in the 1960s. Land reform in Hong Kong brought disillusioned agricultural workers to Britain in search of a new livelihood. Many settled in Soho and Bayswater, drawn to the booming Chinese restaurant trade. By this time British soldiers from the war in the Far East had created a new customer base for Chinese cuisine. As the restaurants enjoyed success, the area came to be known as Chinatown.
Lewisham, Lambeth and Hackney became the next focal points for Chinese immigrants in the late 1970s when Vietnamese Chinese people fled the war. The educational success of the younger, British-born Chinese has brought professional and economic prosperity to the Chinese community. The 1980s and 90s saw a migration of scholars and professionals from Chinatown to the suburbs of Croydon and Colindale.
The Chinese community in London dates back to the 18th century.
Chinatown has since been transformed by Westminster City Council, to become a major tourist attraction and a cultural focal point of the Chinese community in London. More recent arrivals to the area have been mostly Fujian immigrants from mainland China. Chinese Community Centres, schools and churches offer key services. They provide meals and Chinese satellite TV access for the elderly, as well as sports facilities, language lessons and housing advice.
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.
Chinese food, a favourite amongst Londoners
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.
last updated: 11/07/2008 at 17:22