Chinese british The Chinese group 

Total population in Britain: 243,000
Proportion of all people in Britain: 0.4%
Source: Census 2001, Office for National Statistics; Census 2001 General Register Office for Scotland

The Chinese Census group encompasses a number of Asian nations and the there is no dominant country of birth. The proportions of the Chinese population born in the UK and in Hong Kong are the same (29 per cent), with 19 per cent born in China and 8 per cent in Malaysia. Smaller numbers of people were also born in Vietnam (4 per cent), Singapore (3 per cent) and Taiwan (2 per cent).

 Patterns of migration

There has been immigration from mainland China to Britain since the 19th century, when sailors drafted into shipping firms such as the East India Company began to settle in Britain's larger ports. In the docks of East London, Liverpool, Bristol and Cardiff Chinese laundries, lodging houses and restaurants were set up to cater for Chinese seamen ashore. The decline of the shipping industry in the 1930s saw some return to China, but the 1950s marked the beginning of a major wave of migration from Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.

Two decades of economic boom made Britain an attractive place to travel to for education and employment, especially for people living in the New Territories in Hong Kong, who were free to enter Britain and whose rice-based economy was suffering from the competition of cheap rice from Thailand and Burma. Many were single men with little intention of settling permanently who only brought their families over when it was clear that they would be staying.

Since the 1980s there has been a new wave of migration from mainland China, largely in the form of people seeking educational opportunities. This is reflected in the large young Chinese population in the university towns Oxford and Cambridge (2,460 and 2,325 respectively).

The Chinese population is most concentrated in London and the South East (33 per cent and 14 per cent respectively) with the rest spread fairly evenly around Britain. The relatively scattered distribution of this group partly reflects the fact that a high proportion of mid 20th century migrants from Hong Kong set up restaurants and takeaways in places were there was little competition. As a result the 'Chinatowns' in British cities are small commercial districts rather than the larger residential neighborhoods typical of the USA or Canada.


Of all the ethnic groups, the Chinese has the highest proportion of members with no religion (53 per cent). Of the remainder, 21 per cent identified themselves as Christian and 15 per cent as Buddhist - 25 per cent of the Buddhist population in Britain (White British people made up 34 per cent).

Age profile

The median age of the Chinese population is 27, with 76 per cent aged between 16 and 65, 19 per cent under 16, and 5 per cent over 65. The age profile of the Chinese population reflects the pattern of immigration to the UK with a narrow base and a peak at about age 20 reflecting educational migrants from mainland China and a slow tapering at an older age reflecting the economic migrants from the 1950s and 1960s.


A range of Chinese dialects are spoken in Britain. Chinese migrants from Hong Kong and some parts of Southern China are likely to speak Cantonese and sometimes Hakka whereas student migrants from mainland China tend to speak Mandarin the official language of mainland China.


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