A photo-essay about the Chinese communities of Birmingham and Solihull who grew up in the shadow of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) and migrated to the UK in the 1990s.
In the early 1990s, a wave of skilled Chinese migrant workers came to the UK seeking a better life. Amongst them, my parents, who settled in Birmingham and lived there for 20 years. Many of these migrants were born during and shortly after the Cultural Revolution. They became academics, and left China on the back of PhD offers to study in Britain. Over time, they became one of the most successfully integrated groups in British society and one of the least visible, representing <1% of the population as of 2015. The vast majority of their children studied at Oxbridge, Imperial, LSE, and many went on to qualify as doctors, lawyers, and actuaries. The Chinese parents remain - to a large extent - their own social group, with English colleagues but Chinese friends. When they first arrived, many worked as kitchen hands, library assistants, shelf stackers, to support themselves and their families. They passed the TOEFL exams required to gain entry to the country, but fluency of language and culture remained far off. Now they are entering their pre-retirement years; they have achieved their dreams of gaining professional employment and stability and their children are largely self-sufficient. There is time - and for many of them it is the first time in their lives - to relax, and enjoy the fruits of their labour, to live a second youth in place of the one they never had. These pictures are a glimpse into the lives of the Chinese communities of Birmingham and Solihull.
Table set with Christmas crackers alongside traditional Chinese dishes: roast duck, sweet and sour ribs, and lotus root.
Chinese medicine practitioners Dr. Zhao and Dr. Wang perform a popular song ‘The Red Star lights the way for me to go into battle’ from a film released during the Cultural Revolution. Dr. Wang plays a pipa (琵琶) - a traditional Chinese lute.
Wedding banquet in Chinatown to celebrate the marriage of dentist and a second generation neurosurgeon. The couple were married in the summer in Oxford, but the groom’s parents are active members of the community and have followed the tradition of organising a Birmingham wedding banquet for the Chinese families.
Crowd of Chinese parents watch in fancy dress as their friends perform a procession down the staircase.
Breakfast at the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre where Dr. Ding and his wife are staying in order to visit friends in Birmingham over the festive period. They moved back to China in 2012 for work, but still consider Birmingham their home.
Lanhua Dance Group rehearses in the studio built by Mrs Wang’s (centre) husband in their back garden so that she would have somewhere to dance – her childhood dream. In September 2016 the group performed in front of the Birmingham Bull Ring as part of a Multicultural Show.
The audience laughs at party games at a wedding banquet that involve the groom miming a famous Chinese song to his new bride and having her guess the lyrics.
Three engineers pull crackers at Professor Dong’s (right) son’s new house.
Second generation Chinese migrants sit with the bride and groom on stage while the parents prepare the venue for the next event.
Upstairs at the Zhangs’ house, the ladies get ready for their performance.
Gentlemen’s photo at the Zhangs’ house - an annual tradition of photo-taking to document those present at a table lit with candles spelling the new year.
Bride and groom play a game where the bride has to swing a gummy snake with her mouth, and the groom has to catch it in his.
Second generation Chinese youth react to their parents’ fancy dress costumes as the procession comes down the stairs.
An engineer couple take their turn in the fancy dress procession.
Upstairs, the women line up in their traditional qi pao while the men wait downstairs to see the procession. As their wives descend, the crowd shouts, “Whose younger sister is this?” and take photographs as the women pose.
Host Mr. Zhang records the procession on his phone for sharing on WeChat and email later.
“It’s not been easy for us. At least the English people have got roots here, family, neighbours. We’ve got by all these years with our friends.”