Stories of the Chinese diaspora: COVID-19, Chinatowns and political participation

with Freya Aitken-Turff (CEO at China Exchange), Michael Wilkes (Former Vice Chair at British Chinese Project) and Jessie Lau (Board Member and Online Editor-in-Chief at NüVoices)

Saturday, April 25, 2020, 14:00 (British Summer Time)

Access via a virtual conference platform – details to be sent via an Eventbrite update

“China” is now a familiar subject of discussion in Western news media, academic and policy circles – be that as a people, cultural civilisation or rising world power. The same, however, is less true for the c. 40 million Chinese residing overseas that constitute far more proximate and local portrayals of “Chineseness” and “China” than the Middle Kingdom itself.

Yet, over time, the diaspora has assumed a unique mix of identities and roles in the new communities into which it has integrated. Over the span of a generation, it has grown from a diaspora simplistically known for its family businesses and parenting attitudes to being increasingly prominent in public life, culture and arts. For instance, a watershed moment for the UK Chinese community came when, for the very first time, the UK in 2015 elected its first-ever British Chinese MP into Parliament. Even more recently in 2018, against a backdrop of whitewashing in Hollywood, Crazy Rich Asians was celebrated as starring an all-Asian cast and retelling a story about Asian people penned by Asian writers.

The stories of the Chinese diaspora, however, are not uniformly triumphant. Some raise questions that give rise to complex or painful answers. For instance, as increasing numbers of overseas Chinese millennials pursue their individual ambitions away from family-owned businesses, doubts have been over the future of Chinatowns and the Chinese restaurant business. More recently, the outbreak of COVID-19 has triggered a wave of anti-Chinese prejudice, and has undermines the mutual understanding built between the Chinese diasporas and the wider societies they have integrated into.

YCW London is delighted to host Freya Aitken-Turff, Michael Wilkes and Jessie Lau in conversation, who have all worked closely with the UK Chinese diaspora.

About Freya Aitken-Turff

Freya is the CEO of China Exchange, a UK charity that creates opportunities for people to learn about China, Chinese culture and London’s Chinatown. In 2017, she was awarded a fellowship by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust to research how Chinatowns around the world are responding to the challenges which London’s Chinatown faces. Prior to this, Freya headed up communications and stakeholder relations at Asia House and worked in international public affairs for financial institutions, including Prudential plc, Zurich Financial Services, HBOS plc and HSBC.

Currently, Freya is co-authoring a book, Chinatown Stories. She convenes the Chinatown Collective, a group of people with interests that connect with Chinatowns and identity and is a committee member of the Yan Kit So Memorial Prize for Food Writers. Freya studied Mandarin at Fudan University in Shanghai.

About Michael Wilkes

Michael is the former Vice Chair of the British Chinese Project, a non-partisan non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting the engagement, understanding and cooperation between the Chinese community and wider UK society. In 2015, Michael led grassroots community campaigns that heightened awareness around the lack of British Chinese representation in UK politics, during the General Election in which eleven British Chinese stood for Parliament. Previously, he co-authored the Parliamentary report on the Chinese community and policing. Michael is a trainee solicitor, holds a diploma in Mandarin Language from Tsinghua University, and is a graduate of both UCL and the University of Exeter.

About Jessie Lau

Jessie is a journalist, researcher and artist covering identity, politics and human rights — with a focus on China. In response to rising racial prejudices due to COVID-19, she recorded more than 150 incidents of racially-motivated attacks on Asians across the UK and worldwide, and appeared on the UK’s Channel 4 News to share her findings.

Jessie’s writing has been published by Foreign Policy, The Nation, The Economist, The Diplomat Magazine, Quartz and The New Statesman, among others. She was previously a staff reporter with the South China Morning Post, and has worked on broadcast stories for Channel 4 News and the Associated Press. A Board Member and Online Editor-in-Chief at NüVoices — a collective supporting women working on China subjects — she has spoken about Hong Kong and China issues on programmes hosted by a variety of institutions including BBC World News and Chatham House. Jessie holds degrees in history, international studies and English from the London School of Economics, Peking University and the University of California, Berkeley. She tweets @_laujessie and her website is

Instructions to sign onto the virtual conference platform will be provided via an Eventbrite update.

London – Stories of the Chinese diaspora: COVID-19, Chinatowns and political participation (25 Apr, Sat)
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