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23 September 2014
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Chinese today
The history of Chinese
Names and writing system

Chinese today by Viv Edwards

Putonghua, also known as Mandarin, is spoken by an estimated 874 million, and Cantonese by 70 million people.

Scattered communities of Chinese seamen date back to the nineteenth century in ports such as Cardiff, Liverpool and Bristol. The largest group of overseas Chinese in the UK today, however, came from Hong Kong in the 1960s and 1970s. Following the requisition of land for development purposes and an influx of refugees from the People's Republic of China during the Cultural Revolution, unemployment became a serious problem. Many people, especially those with little formal education, sought work in catering businesses overseas. Later, with the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997, new arrivals came increasingly from professional backgrounds.


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Many refugees from Vietnam are also ethnic Chinese who either speak Cantonese or use it as the language of wider communication in the Chinese community. They had played an active role in the Vietnamese economy, but were often denied official employment and educational opportunities. Racist feeling increased following a border dispute in 1978 when large numbers began to flee the country.

With changes in policy in the People's Republic of China and the growing dependence of British universities on overseas students, small but growing numbers are being allowed to study and work in the UK.

Today, there are an estimated 300,000 Chinese in the UK with important communities in Birmingham, Liverpool, London, Manchester and Newcastle. In London, Cantonese was the eleventh most widely spoken language in a 2000 survey of schoolchildren, with the highest proportions living in Hackney, Southwark, Lambeth and Greenwich.

Celebrations such as the Chinese New Year and the Dragon Boat Festival provide an opportunity for the wider community to enjoy Chinese culture, at the same time as raising funds for community groups working to keep Chinese languages and traditions alive.

Three Chinese language newspapers and periodicals serve the UK community. Local radio stations broadcasting in Chinese include Me FM in Aberdeen.

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Your Comments
What is your experience of Chinese?

Claire Fan
Hi, Im half Chinese and Half English, i look neither but sadly only speak English. I would love to speak fluent Cantonese/Mandarin so it is possible for me to talk to my family in Hong Kong. I do not know of a place that will teach me without charging ridiculous prices. Does the British society do this on purpose? If anyone has an information i would love to know.

Chloe From Derbyshire
I am Chinese and I think that there is not enough recognition in the public. I also think there should be a piece of mandarin to listen to and more information of the original Chinese spoken in Hong Kong- Cantonese- which I speak.

Bryony from Surrey
I agree with Skye. In about 30 years China will be the world's power. I am also half chinese but I feel more chinese than italian. I recently found out that Germany is the only European country with over a third of the population learning chinese!! No wonder many employees and firms in China are German.

Dan from Greenock
Nice to see some recognition of the Chinese language here. I was born in Glasgow to Chinese parents and although I have been living here most of my life I still use alot of Cantonese at home and when visiting relatives. There is a large thriving Chinese community in Glasgow and a large number of mainlander Chinese studying at the university I'm attending.

Skye Brown from Suffolk
Hi, Just like to say that i like how the BBC website are involving the Chinese Culture because i agree that it's a very important country. Our future is in China's hands, it would be really great if people are encouraged to learn a little about the language and the history. I can speak Cantonese myself as i am half Chinese and i am ever so grateful to have a chance to be involved in such an amazing culture.





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