Tag: China

From Shanghai to Chinatown

In 1865, Alfred and Philip Holt founded the Blue Funnel Line and established the first direct steamship service between Europe and China. Prior to 1861, the London census showed a mere 78 Chinese-born residents in the entire city. This new steamship line would change all that.

English: Stenton (ship) Blue Funnel Line.
Stenton (ship) Blue Funnel Line. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Blue Funnel Line quickly built up its reputation thanks to its high quality service, management and crews. Much of the staff was hired from England, Scotland and Wales; however, a large percentage of the crew was made up of Chinese sailors. By using Chinese crews, the Blue Funnel Line was able to cheaply staff their liners, as the Chinese workers were paid a mere fraction of the salary earned by the European seamen.

The first major influx of Chinese immigrants arrived in 1866. Quite a number of Chinese sailors arrived in Liverpool and decided to stay on rather than return with the ships. The sailors settled in near the docks in Cleveland Square, and the beginning of Europe’s oldest “Chinatown” was born.

The Holt Shipping Company established a series of boarding houses in the area to accommodate their workers, as many Chinese immigrants signed on for temporary service with the ultimate goal of settling in England. Numbers rose steadily, and by 1871 – a mere six years later – there were over 200 Chinese living in Liverpool.

A strong Chinese community naturally grew up in the area, as Chinese immigrants settled in and opened their own businesses. The resident Chinese ran a bustling trade, catering to their own countrymen who arrived unaccustomed to the English language and traditions. Chinese-run boarding houses, restaurants, laundries, and stores opened practically overnight, offering familiar comforts to new immigrants and visiting seamen.

Many of the Chinese men who settled in Liverpool ended up marrying local women. In fact, the Chinese seamen were often seen as better prospects for marriage (than their British counterparts) as they didn’t drink and were typically hard workers and good providers.

English: Liverpool Chinese Gospel Church, Chin...
Liverpool Chinese Gospel Church, Chinatown, Liverpool, England (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw a further expansion of Chinese influence both in Liverpool and throughout England. The Chinese settlement in Liverpool gradually spread further inland, stretching along side streets such as Kent Street, Greetham Street and Cornwallis Street. Dozens of Chinese restaurants were established, as were quite a number of gambling houses which catered to visiting Chinese seamen.

London was seeing a similarly expanding Chinese population, with two distinct communities established in the East End. The 1891 census recorded 582 Chinese-born residents in London, and a full 80% were men (mostly settled sailors).  By 1911, approximately 1,319 Chinese-born residents were living in England, and another 4,595 were serving in the British Merchant Navy.

The extension of the Alien Registration Act in 1919 brought a decline in the Chinese population; however, this provided the resident Chinese to further establish themselves and improve working conditions. Hundreds of Chinese laundries were established across the country, along with dozens of restaurants and even the first Chinese school.

World War II provided work for thousands of Chinese seamen, who were recruited to serve aboard British ships. At the end of the war, however, the Blue Funnel Line fired all of its Chinese employees – as did most other shipping lines – and thousands of Chinese seamen were forcibly repatriated. Many left behind wives and children, as they were never able to return to England.

The 99 Year Lease

Sir Henry Pottinger's house in Victoria, Hong ...
Sir Henry Pottinger’s house in Victoria, Hong Kong, 1845. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hong Kong officially become a Crown Colony of the British Empire in 1843, and Sir Henry Pottinger took charge as governor of a settlement that quickly descended into chaos and lawlessness as more and more people arrived and settled.

The population of the island grew rapidly from a mere 33,000 in 1850 to 265,000 by 1900. With so many British citizens living in Hong Kong the army felt pressed to protect the growing colony from China’s ever-present threat.

Relations between China and the British colony were strained at best. The Second Opium War (or Second Anglo-Chinese War) had broken out in 1856 and raged on for two full years before the two governments signed the Treaty of Tientsin. In spite of the treaty, there were continued skirmishes between the British and the Chinese until the British and French marched on Beijing and pressed the Chinese into the Convention of Peking. This convention ratified the Treaty of Tientsin, placing Stonecutters Island, Kowloon Peninsula and the entire Victoria Harbour (and its approaches) into British Hands.

1930s in Hong Kong
1930s in Hong Kong (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In order to protect these new territories, as well as to provide water for the growing population, the British approached the Chinese government to request a land extension which would connect Hong Kong with the new territories. Surprisingly, China agreed and offered Britain 235 islands and a hefty slice of territory that reached north to the Shenzhen River. This land increased the size of the Hong Kong colony by 90%. Unlike previous agreements, the British were granted these lands on a 99 year lease, guaranteeing their claim on the colony until 1997.

Word spread as fortunes were made by British merchants in Hong Kong. Business was booming in trading houses dealing in silk, tea, opium, and spices. Both British and Chinese emigrants flocked to Hong Kong’s harbour. In 1900, over 11,000 ships arrived in Hong Kong harbour, bringing waves of new settlers. A decade later, the population was nearing 300,000. There were few immigration or visa procedures required for British citizens to live or work in Hong Kong, so it was fairly common for young blue collar workers to find work in Hong Kong when the economy at home took a downturn.

As the lease term drew to a close, both governments began considering the upcoming transition. Plans were made throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, and on July 1, 1997, sovereignty was transferred from the United Kingdom to the People’s Republic of China.

Throughout the 99 year lease, Britons made up only a small percentage of the entire population. Exact numbers have been hard to estimate, as not all immigrants registered with the British Consulate. Much of the population was also transitory, with most staying a short while and then returning home to England. By the transfer of sovereignty in 1997, Hong Kong’s Immigration Department estimated that there were around 22,000 Britons living in Hong Kong (though that number could range between 16,000 and 28,000). Today, about 95% of the population is Chinese, and less than 3% is made up of British and American citizens.


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