In search of Chinatown


This is the first of 2 blogs about my interest in British Chinese culture. There is nothing to do with martial arts and my blogs often cover a number of topics and themes that I am interested in. It might not get many readers, but I ok with that.


How well do you know Chinese people?

You might ask yourself how much do you know about other ethnic groups? A lot of what most people know is really down to stereotypes. Often from family, friends and the media. We often don't have a rounded view of things. Then as it is now, if you're a member of an ethnic minority, you're this or that. At times back then, I disliked being who I was. I know I'm not alone in this. However, over time I have become comfortable with who I am and developed an interest in the culture of Chinese people overseas. Stereotypes still exist and the media has made no attempts to improve the image of people of East Asian descent. As a result casual racism is unfortunately considered acceptable towards East Asians. One of these stereotypes is Chinatown, which is often thought of as a bit dodgy.


In search of Chinatown?

If your thinking between Soho and Leicester Square, then your answer is correct. However, that isn't the Chinatown I'm searching for. Chinatown in Gerards Street is actually the second, with the first being in the East End. You might wonder why? Because you've not heard of it? That is correct, because you're unlikely to do so. It's gone from the maps and certainly not in any tourism literature. So what happened? Well before your imagination runs away. There wasn't anything like the Chinatown massacre of LA of 1871.


Chinatowns in the UK were not like those in the USA. Communities formed and grew organically. Chinese people in the 19th Century started to seek employment overseas. China under the waning final days of Qing Dynasty had many issues. One war and rebellion after another meant people looked elsewhere. South East Asia was a common choice, but the UK was also considered. The first Chinatown in the UK was actually in Liverpool and East London was a little later. Liverpool and and East London were busy ports back then, so sailors landed and then they settled. In East London, they settled in the area behind what is now Canary Wharf. The area this Chinatown spanned was actually quite large. It would be from around Limehouse DLR (District Light Rail station) to Poplar DLR and down to Westferry DLR. Not all Chinese people who lived here come from the same area. On one end are those from Guangdong Province (Canton) and on the other, from Shanghai. From what I read, it was a proper community, where people had lived and businesses thrived.


You're probably wondering what happened. Well then came WWII and the London docks were targets for German bombers. Sadly, Chinatown had its share of casualties. After the war, the Chinese communities were move elsewhere, as they had to rebuild the East End. Which is why not much in that part of London is that old. East London is still home to a large Chinese community, but it's not like how it was. There is a Chinese presence in the Canary Wharf area and down to the Isle of Dogs, but it is unlikely that they had any links to the old Chinatown. Very little exists of the old Chinatown. You'd only know from few street signs that hold any clue to this area's past.


The current Chinatown is a much smaller neighbourhood and functions as business and entertainment district. Whilst Gerard Street is known as the main street, Chinese businesses reach all the way to Soho, Covent Garden and towards Leicester Square. This Chinatown developed since the 1950's. I have a love hate relationship with this Chinatown. In my childhood, I disliked the place and thought it was rather limited. Afterall, nothing can replace my native Hong Kong. However, in recent years I see things differently. People have moved on and it's now a different scene. I still think it's a bit limited and as members of the Chinese community, we can do much better. When compared to the Chinatowns of New York City (they have about 3 main Chinatowns), LA and San Francisco, then it's true. That said, I do enjoy taking pictures here. It isn't home, but I do relate to it and to be honest, it's a bit trendier than it used to be.


I'm a keen supporter of Chinese traditional arts and it is one of the reasons why I practice Taiji. These arts have to be passed on. So I'm doing my bit.


Thank you for reading my blog.


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