The story of London’s Chinese community
Our multicultural capital is home to all sorts of groups: Neil Simpson finds out how London’s Chinese community have built a home away from home
Parallel to the bright lights of Shaftesbury Avenue, China Exchange on Soho’s Gerrard Street works to promote China’s impact on the world.
China Exchange CEO Freya Aitken-Turff reveals the story of this community: ‘London’s original Chinese community were sailors, working in the Docklands in the late 1800s. With British Naval forces caught up in the Napoleonic Wars, a small but impactful Chinese community of about 300 households formed in Limehouse. However, heavy World War II bombing made it unsafe.
‘From the 1700s, Soho had a reputation for multiculturalism. After the war, Londoners became more willing to try Chinese and other foreign food. There were a couple of Chinese businesses established in Gerrard Street and so, as the Limehouse community was displaced and more people migrated from Hong Kong, many settled there.
‘During the 1970s, the number of Chinese businesses increased dramatically, from four or five in the 1970s to about 40 by 1979. In 1985, Westminster began working with the community to formally establish Chinatown, installing its gates of welcome and stone lions.’
To find out more, join China Exchange’s monthly walking tour (the next tour will be Sat 23 Nov 2019; £27). Led by a community-trained history champion, it includes a classic Chinatown lunch.
Read our interview with Chinese Londoner Ellen Chew, the founder of Chinatown’s Rasa Sayang restaurant