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Remapping the Cultural and Linguistic Landscape of the Chinese in Britain

The past two decades have witnessed a steady rise in the number of people from mainland China living and working in Britain, including professionals, skilled workers, investors and young people who come to study in the UK’s schools and universities. Yet the existing literature on the Chinese in Britain has predominantly focused on the Cantonese-speaking communities from Hong Kong and to a lesser extent Southeast Asian countries. There is an urgent need to document and conceptualise this important demographic and cultural shift, not only for a better understanding of the new development of Chinese communities in the UK but also for the benefit of Britain whose future is increasingly built upon its understanding of and relations with the rest of the world including China.

With the generous support by the Language Acts and Worldmaking Small Grant Scheme and the AHRC Open World Research Initiative (OWRI), on Saturday 15 February 2020, the University of Westminster hosted a conference about remapping the cultural and linguistic landscape of the Chinese in Britain. The conference was organised by Dr. Cangbai Wang, Reader from the School of Humanities, and hosted by HOMELandS (Hub on Migration, Exile, Languages and Spaces) in collaboration with Westminster’s Contemporary China Centre (CCC). It successfully brought together researchers, Chinese language teachers, community leaders and policy makers to identify and examine the changing linguistic and cultural landscape of the Chinese in Britain. The first conference of this kind in recent years, it contributed to a better understanding of the new development of Chinese communities in the UK, and will pave the way for further research on this important issue and continuous dialogues between academic and public communities.

The event began with an opening address from Professor of Chinese Studies and deputy head of College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Professor Gerda Wielander. Professor of Sociology at Goldsmiths Caroline Knowles and Professor of Applied Linguistics at University College London Li Wei gave keynote speeches. Professor Knowles spoke about conceptualising ethnicities and urban space in a mobile world, while Professor Li discussed multilingualism in the Chinese community in Britain, investigating diversities from within. Four session discussions were organised in the afternoon of the conference, focusing on issues of ‘negotiating Chineseness in a changing Britain’, ‘speaking Chinese in multilingual London’, ‘British Chinese as a transnational subject’ and ‘theorising and doing British Chinese heritage’ respectively. Sessions speakers included both established and young scholars from a number of universities and cultural institutes in the UK.

Read the University of Westminster's news item about the conference here.

The conference organiser is working with the contributors to publish a special issue on the topic of ‘remapping the cultural and linguistic landscape of the Chinese in Britain’ at British Journal of Chinese Studies, the official journal of British Association of Chinese Studies (BACS).