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Chinese in Britain

Episode 1: The first Chinese VIPs

In 1686 a young Jesuit convert from Nanking called Shen Fu Tsong arrived at the court of James II and became the first recorded instance of a Chinese person in Britain. The King was so taken with him he had his portrait painted and hung in his bed chamber.

Dr David Helliwell of Oxford University describes how Shen was the first person to catalogue the Chinese collection in the Bodleian Library, showing the librarian which way up to hold Chinese books as well as what they contained.

The next Chinese came courtesy of the English East India Company, which was importing popular Chinese commodities such as tea, ceramics and silks and bringing Asian sailors too. It needed a trustworthy intermediary to arrange their care and lodgings while they were in London.

A Chinese man known to historians only as John Anthony took on this lucrative role. Dr Michael Fisher, of Oberlin University describes how, by 1805, Anthony had amassed both the fortune and the influence to become the first Chinese man to be naturalised as a British citizen – something which was so rare it actually required an Act of Parliament.

Michael Alphonsius Shen Fu-Tsung.
Picture: Michael Alphonsius Shen Fu-Tsung, "The Chinese Convert", Sir Godfrey Kneller
Royal Collection © 2007 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
The picture is currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery  - Between Worlds: Voyagers to Britain 1700 –1850 to 17 June. 020 7312 2463 (recorded info)

John Anthony told the judge at the old Bailey how Chinese swore their oath by cracking a saucer...
Picture: John Anthony told the judge at the old Bailey
how Chinese swore their oath by cracking a saucer.(
Source: The Graphic 1911)

Further reading:

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Shen Fuzong (c.1658–1691), Robert K. Batchelor.

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.

The Gentleman’s Magazine, August 1805 - obituary of John Anthony



I believe that it is so important to me in that I am master of history in Capital Normal University in Peking, I am interested in history and studying English recently i found that BBC is so good and I like it very much. Thank you.
Shen nan

What a fascinating beginning! I found both the stories riveting. The research done is formidable! Well done and I look forward to more.
R. Visram

Michael West
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Chinese in Britain

Episode 1: 30.04.07
Episode 2: 01.05.07
Episode 3: 02.05.07
Episode 4: 03.05.07
Episode 5: 04.05.07
Episode 6: 07.05.07
Episode 7: 08.05.07
Episode 8: 09.05.07
Episode 9: 10.05.07
Episode 1011.05.07
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