1960s >> 1969 >> no-777-may-1969

The Chinese in Britain

One more minority problem is developing here and seems likely to be dumped on the government’s plate should unemployment increase sufficiently to force the matter into the front rank of problems.

According to L. Wong (Overseas Chinese in Britain) there are 45,000 Chinese here; 30,000 immigrant workers from Hong Kong, with the remaining 15,000 consisting of students and nurses from other countries such as Malaysia and the West Indies, and more are coming in all the time.

They are not a homogeneous group in terms of dialect spoken, education, or country of origin, and moreover each group looks upon all others as alien. For instance, many of the Chinese here are villagers from the Hong Kong area, but are subdivided into Hakkas (the original inhabitants of the province of Canton, centuries before the Cantonese arrived) and the Cantonese. But these days the mutual hostility has greatly diminished, and intermarriage is quite common. Then again, the urbanised educated from Hong Kong find little in common with the villagers.

The Malaysian Chinese students regard Hong Kong Chinese students as ‘different’, and vice versa.

Many of the working-class Chinese find employment in the Chinese restaurants which have become quite a popular institution in Britain, enlivening our world of bricks and mortar with an exotic splash of colour, and sometimes relieving the housewife of her chores at the kitchen stove. There are about 1,000 of them, with more opening all the time, of which 200 are in London.

Some restaurant workers are resentful of the long hours they have to work and complain that employers are able to conceal this from the officials.

There are clubs and associations for each of the different groups here, including restaurant workers. Some of these clubs hold one or two religious observances during the year, but in common with workers all over the world, the Chinese are steadily dropping all mystic beliefs. On Ch’ung Yand day, one of the Chinese traditional days of mystic ritual, at the Chinese cemetery in London’s East End a few years ago only 25 people were present, Ng Kwei Choo reports in The Chinese in London.

The clubs are the battlegrounds where the Nationalists and so-called Communists compete for political loyalties.

The Nationalists are the political party who represented the capitalism of developing China before the second world war. Since last century, when China was overrun by Western capitalists, exploitation was carried on through a Chinese middleman—a compradore, a variety of capitalist peculiar to China. For instance, commercial crops were bought and collected by a compradore’s organisation in the interior of of China which also provided transport to the required treaty port where the Western merchant company took over and proceeded to clean, sort, pack, ship to the West, and finance. The compradores, though originally tied to Western enterprises, began over the years to operate in their own right and eventually with other budding capitalists formed their own political party under the leadership first of Sun Yat-sen then Chiang Kai-shek. Their policy, although phrased in pseudo-socialist terms, was to develop China largely by private enterprise for the benefit of the indigenous ruling-class. They lost the civil war with the Communist Party and retired to the island of Formosa. Here, with American aid, they act as a thorn in the side of the Chinese government on the mainland.

On the other hand, the so-called Communist Party of China, who control the Chinese government, are committed to state capitalism for the major industries, and battle for the support of the Chinese in Britain.

For instance, a visit to a Communist Party film-show in London typically starts with a playing of the national anthem, at which the audience stands to attention. Among the films is one entitled A Stroll in Peking depicting the contrast between Peking under the Nationalists’ regime and the new Peking. Another entitled Change of Circumstances depicts the Communist Chinese as saviours of the oppressed with the Nationalists and Japanese as the villains of the piece. This film works up hatred for the Japanese and helps the audience to become patriotic Chinese.

The Chinese in Britain are in many ways a miniature of the Chinese in the world at large; they have their sectarian loyalties but it is no contradiction to say that in essentials they have very much more in common with British workers than they have differences. We are all workers of the world.

Frank Offord