by Rakib Ehsan
Saturday, 21
January 2023
Anniversary
13:00

The UK’s hidden success story: the British Chinese

The group has a proven record of academic and economic achievement
by Rakib Ehsan
Edinburgh Chinese New Year Festival. Credit: Getty

While British Indians have established themselves as an inspirational national success story, there is a much smaller Asian ethnic minority group worthy of special mention with Chinese New Year on Sunday: the British Chinese.

This section of the population — primarily of Han ancestry — constitutes the second-largest group of overseas Chinese-origin people in Western Europe (after France). The 2021 Census showed that there were over 445,000 people of Chinese origin living in England and Wales, which is 0.7% of the population. Compared to other larger ethnic minorities, British Chinese people are more geographically dispersed and socio-politically decentralised, with a proven track record of high academic and socio-economic achievement. But what are the socio-cultural factors that help to produce such impressive educational and economic outcomes?


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Based on my experience of the Chinese-origin population in my hometown of Luton, there is an exceptionally high value placed on education — including post-secondary academic attainment. This often involves the provision of supplementary tutoring, irrespective of financial barriers which have reduced over time.

As well as a cultural emphasis on hard work, there tend to be robust parental interventions in reducing children’s exposure to counter-productive influences under the ‘Confucian Paradigm of Man’. An unshakeable belief in social mobility and advancement is thus an important part of the picture: hope and optimism over grievance and pessimism.

The statistics on British Chinese academic and socio-economic success are striking. ONS data for 2019 showed that Chinese-heritage workers have the second highest level of median hourly pay out of all ethnic groups (£15.38/hour) — comfortably higher than the figure for the white British mainstream (£12.49/hour).  Recent analysis has also found that out of all ethnic groups living in Britain, children of Chinese origin were the least likely to live in poverty (only 12%). To put this in perspective, the corresponding figure for white children is 26%, and 52% for their black peers.

There is a clear link between educational and socio-economic achievement. Chinese-origin pupils lead the pack when it comes to average ‘Attainment 8’ GCSE scores in England for the academic year 2020-21, with an average score of 69.2 out of 90. The corresponding figures for their Indian-origin and white British peers are 60.7 and 49.7 respectively, while for pupils of Black Caribbean heritage it is 44.0. To illustrate the sheer degree of cultural resilience in such communities, Chinese-origin pupils who receive special educational needs (SEN) support have a higher average Attainment 8 score than the overall pupil population with no identified SEN (55.8 and 54.5 respectively).

The outstanding academic performance and socio-economic progress made by Britain’s Chinese-origin communities exposes once more just how reductive the ‘BAME’ acronym is — as well as being a hammer blow to crude notions of ‘white privilege’. The Sewell report had its fair share of critics, but it was a seminal piece of work that called for family structure and community dynamics to be at the heart of our social policy thinking. Importantly, it challenged mainstreamed cultural obsessions over protected characteristics such as race and ethnicity when considering matters of economic integration.

Britain should not only celebrate the successes of its Chinese-heritage communities — it must learn from their experiences and take note of the cultural drivers of social mobility and young people’s development.

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Dominic A
Dominic A
17 days ago

This is news? You’d be hardpressed to find a Chinese community anywhere in the World (and there are many) that has not thrived. The exceptions are under extreme authoritarian government. All of which makes for excellent lessons in the power of self-determination, rather than waiting for government to sort you out; as well as the destructive, retarding power of poor government.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
17 days ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Indeed in my rather small English County Town (‘Arcadia’) a small Chinese community have thrived for over seventy years, providing an excellent restaurant. Never seen in daylight they seem to toil throughout the night.
Occasionally we hear of ‘Triad Wars’ in larger towns and dismembered bodies. being found in dustbins, but in ‘Arcadia’ all is peace and serenity.

Last edited 17 days ago by stanhopecharles344
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
17 days ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Is Unherd a news outlet? Of course not, so it’s unfair to be critical about articles which may well be enlightening in at least some respects to its readers.
You otherwise make some perfectly valid points.

Last edited 17 days ago by Steve Murray
Liam S
Liam S
17 days ago

This will be partly cultural and possibly even partly genetic (dare anyone mention ‘Bell Curve’?).
As the author has personal experience of Luton, it would also be interesting if the article had also considered the largest Asian origin population in Luton. Is the Luton Pakistani population similarly inspirational and if not, what cultural or ideological differences could have led to the difference in outcomes?

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
17 days ago
Reply to  Liam S

Oh, the Luton Pakistani population is inspirational all right. Not the same inspiration as the Chinese, Indian or Vietnamese, but a lot of inspiration there, rest assured.

Jon Barrow
Jon Barrow
16 days ago
Reply to  Liam S

Yes, being a taboo subject nobody dare address the IQ effect; hence we don’t know much about it.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
16 days ago
Reply to  Jon Barrow

We used to…. I’m coming back in my next life as an Ashkenazi Jew.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
16 days ago
Reply to  Jon Barrow

My comment has gone into moderation. We used to… I’m coming back in my next life as an Ashken…i J.w

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
16 days ago

This moderation system is driving me bonkers. I have written 2 emails just in the past week complaining about it.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
16 days ago
Reply to  Arkadian X

More people need to complain. It is clearly an off the shelf package which moderates words like nazi.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
16 days ago

Lol. One of my moderated comments was Nazi; I was referring to a movie role.

D Glover
D Glover
16 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

I once had a post blocked because I had typed ‘every joke has to have a *utt’ with a ‘b’ where the * is.
They just block if you use certain words.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
16 days ago
Reply to  Liam S

“Asian”? what a stupid description! Just to avoid ” ‘ her fence” no doubt?

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
16 days ago
Reply to  Liam S

One community wants to create ghettos and introduce 6th century laws while demanding free handouts from its host. The other community wants to create a prosperous life for its future generation while respecting the law of its host.

j watson
j watson
16 days ago

Yes and huge credit to this community.
But there’s a coming problem. We are just waking up from our slumber to how the CCP has infiltrated so much of the west – our technologies, our access to critical resources, our financial institutions, our supply chains, our Universities, our research institutes, even no doubt some politicians and parties. As well of course as our social media. Furthermore the distinct possibility of conflict in the south China sea will create tensions that do not currently exist. As we awake many eyes will turn to the Chinese British community.
Without question the vast majority here are running from the CCP and extolling our values better than more than half the indigenous British population does itself. But maybe not 100%? And that’ll be enough to create a serious tension.
This is not a prospect anyone should welcome but unfortunately it’s coming. It’ll behold us to both be wide-eyed about the degree of CCP infiltration and manipulation but use our best values to distinguish that from the fabulous positive contribution so many in this community are now making to the UK.

Last edited 16 days ago by j watson
Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
16 days ago
Reply to  j watson

Clap for the NHS.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
16 days ago

Cry more like!

Peter B
Peter B
16 days ago
Reply to  j watson

A pleasure to find myself in total agreement with your for once. Both points are valid. I imagine a fair chunk of the ethnic Chinese came from Hong Kong – a quite remarkable success story created by Chinese skill and hard work and British administration and rule of law government. As you say, many Asian cultures – South Korea is another – have taken the best Western values and combined them with their own and been hugely successful.
They work hard and are self-reliant.
I do momentarily wonder whether BLAME might be a better label than BAME ? In other words, it includes all groups who are ready to blame other groups for their relative lack of success. I’m not saying that isn’t sometimes justified. But it doesn’t seem to be the best way for them to actually make progress.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
16 days ago

It’s a rather skewed population since, when it comes to the Chinese, it isn’t the uneducated poor who have managed to make it to these shores.
Whereas the Indian population in the U.K. does have a much higher proportion of poor and uneducated immigrants, making their relative success in later generations much more impressive.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
15 days ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

I believe that plays a much bigger part than most people care to admit. A major cause between the black African boys and black Caribbean boys in the UK in my opinion is that those whose parents/grandparents came from Africa generally had to be wealthy and skilled (such as doctors) in order to get a visa. This meant they lived in nice areas, went to good schools and had all the contacts a life of privilege gives you.
By comparison most of those who came from the Caribbean (especially during Windrush) did so as poor and unskilled labourers. They lived in poor areas with high crime rates and failing schools, and unfortunately statistically if you’re born poor that’s how you’ll remain

D.S. Huen
D.S. Huen
5 days ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

A sizable number of Chinese entered UK by jumping ship when their vessel docked in UK. Sailors had low social status in East Asian society. But then, the culture they came from valued education and hard work and when the host country offers education for free, hey, lap it up! More recent ones have included those coming to study in UK and are enticed to remain.
And you have to distinguish South Asians. The Ugandan Indians who entered UK were middle class when they were slung out by Idi Amin. While they took on menial tasks way below their skill level, they ensured that their children pursued education to enter the professions here – they have done very well indeed. There are a large number of Hindus here from privileged Brahmin backgrounds and they certainly know how to succeed too. In contrast, the Muslims came in to supply labour, frequently from poor backgrounds. The marked difference in cultural capital largely explains the vast gulf in attainment.

Sage Vals
Sage Vals
17 days ago

BAME is no longer an acceptable term. The correct expression is now ‘global majority’.

I like to keep up with these things ☺️

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
17 days ago
Reply to  Sage Vals

What on earth does BAME mean in the first place?

R Wright
R Wright
17 days ago

BAME means ‘black, asian, and minority ethnic’. It is government statistic nonsense and the left moved on from it to ‘Person of Colour’ because it means they can toss high performing East Asians and Jews out of it and treat them as ‘honorary white people’.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
17 days ago
Reply to  R Wright

Thank you so much.
I must “get out more”!

Last edited 17 days ago by stanhopecharles344
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
16 days ago

The Left has recently decided it’s racist by exclusion, so if you want to wind them up keep using it!

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
16 days ago
Reply to  R Wright

No! It is actually even more National Socialist, and Goebbels propoganda , to use the excellence , outperformance and low crime rate of Indian Hindus, and Chinese to distort the less attractive and positive statistics of ” certain others”…

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
16 days ago

not a new ” British Army Mechanical Engineers” surely?

Liam Sohal-Griffiths
Liam Sohal-Griffiths
17 days ago
Reply to  Sage Vals

Indeed, my doctor’s surgery now has a mural welcoming the ‘global majority’. And you’re right, BAME is a ridiculously meaningless term. Firstly, the ‘B’ are presumably included within the ‘ME’ in the first place, so why mention them twice? Secondly, ME would imply that minorities such as the Polish, Welsh, Latvians etc. should be included but clearly from its usage they are not. ‘BAME’ always was ill thought out and pointless terminology, as is ‘global majority’.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
17 days ago
Reply to  Sage Vals

Thank-you. I do have a hard time keeping up with these things, by the time I’ve learned a new term that term is considered insulting. Unless I can get my terminology right I shall never be acceptable in the circles of power.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
17 days ago

Just another thought – if I’m now a member of a global minority, do I get special protections?

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
16 days ago
Reply to  Sage Vals

I am classed as WOPASEGEN … ” WoPaddy second generation”…

Peter B
Peter B
16 days ago
Reply to  Sage Vals

In another comment, I suggest it might better be replaced by BLAME, since membership appears to require blaming “oppressor groups” and rating that as far more important than using your own hard work, skills and initiative to actually do something about your own situation.

John Williams
John Williams
16 days ago

As someone who lives in the second oldest Chinese community outside of China, Liverpool. I sometimes wonder at their seeming aloofness from the dominant culture.
I can’t recall for instance a prominent Chinese politician. In fact, I can’t recall any Chinese politicians.
I would welcome any thoughts as to why this is.

Last edited 16 days ago by [email protected]
Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
16 days ago
Reply to  John Williams

lich cronstlitluency ?

John Williams
John Williams
16 days ago

I don’t understand your phrase.

Last edited 16 days ago by [email protected]
Chris Milburn
Chris Milburn
15 days ago
Reply to  John Williams

Great point. Thomas Sowell has written about this phenomenon. Successful groups often are successful by being self-supporting and individualistic. As such they don’t spend (?waste) time trying to change the world (through, for instance – politics) but instead put their nose to the grindstone getting educated, working hard, and learning to master the system as it exists. It’s not a value judgment, but rather a description which I think is accurate.

D.S. Huen
D.S. Huen
5 days ago
Reply to  John Williams

I can offer some thoughts on this.
First, they come from societies where politics is a dangerous activity. Better to focus on doing as well as you can financially and investing in your children and build resilience and mobility. A fair dose of the latter – once you’ve immigrated once, doing it again is rather easier.
Also, you may think they are well-integrated because they don’t cause problems but that would be mistaken. First, they remain immigrants in their minds, not locals. They have values that are at variance with the society at large but since the prime objective is to succeed and ensure the success of their children, they intend to keep a low profile rather than to engage and put down roots. Put bluntly, they don’t want to be like the locals but also don’t want to make a fuss about it because that is unhelpful to their interests/welfare. Invisibility is good. The second generation is adept at code-switching but are also consequently inscrutable – what they actually think is not openly on display. An indicator of impending integration would be when they no longer know how to speak Chinese or one of its dialects. Chinese language is a sine qua non of traditional Chinese culture and in that framework, those that don’t are no longer Chinese. The Chinese-Americans have explored that transition extensively. At that point, intermarriage will eventually fully integrate those into general society.

G A Braine
G A Braine
16 days ago

I always find it fascinating, we are so liberal and the global leaders don’t want Strong national communities and families. They want completely mixed and different societies that don’t integrate and are weaker nations. China recognise this weakeness and follows more nationalistic goals, they just do it in such an awful anti human way. If we could create a more nationalistic cohesive society maybe we would back to the days of optimism and grit like the 50’s and 60’s.

j watson
j watson
15 days ago
Reply to  G A Braine

Think you’ll find not too many refugees trying to get into China. Nor economic migrants. There’s a reason for that which is not benign.

Pete Marsh
Pete Marsh
16 days ago

“But what are the socio-cultural factors that help to produce such impressive educational and economic outcomes?”
They have an average IQ that is higher than most other populations. And a good work ethic.

Helen Malinowski
Helen Malinowski
13 days ago

Well said. Same in Australia:
Successful academically; highly motivated to work from kitchen hand, to waiter; – to owner by establishing their own businesses; to reach the top academically. ….to integrate. Due to their very old culture of respect for learning, they are our most successful immigrants.