The group has a proven record of academic and economic achievement
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.