PortCities London

Chinese in the Port of London

Post-war migration
Despite the decline of the London shipping industry, the Chinese population grew steadily after the Second World War. Entire families were entering the laundry trade.

The invention and widespread use of the washing machine in the 1950s led to a decline of laundrettes. Yet the Chinese community continued to grow in the 1960s. 

From laundries to restaurants

This expansion was in part due to the labour shortage in Britain and the demand for Chinese labourers. During the same period there was a collapse of traditional agriculture in the New Territories (the mainland area of Hong Kong).

The increase in immigration was initially composed of single men coming to Britain on work permits. Sometimes the men would register their age as 10 years younger than they really were. This was especially true of those seeking employment in the Merchant Navy. After saving enough money they would bring their families over and establish their own catering businesses.      

River View Chinese Restaurant, Wapping.
View full size imageRiver View Chinese Restaurant, Wapping. © NMM

Late 20th-century communities

In the 1970s and 1980s many ethnic Chinese who had settled in Vietnam for generations were forced to leave as 'boat people' following the Vietnam War.

Roughly half of the Chinese population of the United Kingdom now live in London, mainly in the boroughs of Haringey, Waltham Forest and Hackney. Mare Street in Hackney is the hub of a small Vietnamese China Town.

The principal languages of the London Chinese community are Cantonese and Hakka (from the New Territories, Hong Kong and Vietnam). There are also some speakers of Hokien, Teow Cheow and Hainannese.

Today, the Chinese from the Peoples Republic of China, Taiwan and Southeast Asia tend to speak Mandarin (now called Pu Tung Wah).