Alan Mak is MP for Havant, and is Co-Founder of The Blossom Awards.
Britain has long had a relationship with China, but we mustn’t conflate China with British-Chinese people – British citizens of Chinese heritage, many born and bred in this country, and who call the UK home.
Whilst numerically smaller than other BAME groups, the 400,000-strong British-Chinese are the country’s third biggest ethnic minority, and make an outsized and positive contribution to our economy and society.
Though present in Britain for at least 150 years, most first generation British-Chinese immigrants came to this country from the 1960s onwards, leaving behind Mao’s Cultural Revolution to look for opportunities elsewhere. Some like my father came via Hong Kong, then a British Colony, where he’d worked as an airport engineer – and most toiled away night and day in takeaways, restaurants and laundries in their new home. I spoke about his journey to Britain in my Maiden Speech:
“He had escaped communism and dictatorship to find freedom and opportunity here in Britain. He worked as a waiter and a bartender, standing at the back of restaurants. It was tough work, but it allowed him to save up and open a small shop up in Yorkshire with my mother. We lived above our shop, and much of my childhood was spent working in it. That journey from the back of the room to the front—from the shop floor to the Floor of this House—sums up the spirit of the opportunity society that my family and I have cherished, and which we must safeguard for future generations.”
My father’s generation now look on with pride as their British-born sons and daughters have flourished in an impressive and wide range of fields unimaginable to their parents. Britain has given them limitless opportunities to shine and make the most of their talents.
Actresses Gemma Chan from London and Motherwell’s Katie Leung rose to prominence in Dr Who and Harry Potter respectively whilst astrophysicist and broadcaster Kevin Fong has worked with the UK Space Agency to help further British involvement in human space flight.
Jimmy Choo-protégé Beatrix Ong received the MBE aged just 34 for her shoe designs. Wagamama, the ubiquitous noodle bar chain, was set up by Alan Yau from Norfolk whilst Brian Yip runs one of Britain’s most successful family-owned grocery wholesalers from Birmingham.
Those are some of the famous faces and well-known stories, but there are many others. In fact, across all four nations of the United Kingdom, there are thousands of other British-Chinese making a big difference in their communities too.
Away from the limelight, these unsung heroes are our teachers, small business owners, NHS staff, carers and Armed Forces personnel. ConservativeHome readers up and down the country will no doubt count British-Chinese people as family, friends, colleagues and neighbours, and know that this is a well-integrated community of people that work hard but who receive little public recognition. For example, the latest figures show that less than one per cent of all Honours went to British-Chinese recipients.
So to shine a light on their endeavours and successes, I’ve launched The Blossom Awards – a new initiative to celebrate the work of brilliant individuals from the British-Chinese community, and recognise the contribution that British-Chinese people as a whole make to our country. These are the first-ever awards focused on British-Chinese people – and we’re looking for inspirational, unsung figures from every constituency who have achieved outstanding success or made a difference to society. It could be an NHS or care worker who has gone the extra mile responding to COVID-19; an entrepreneur creating new jobs; a scientist making breakthroughs; or a young person doing great things in their community.
Instead of a vulnerable minority open to attack in tough times, I hope the Awards will change perceptions and present a more accurate picture of the British-Chinese community today: a modern, patriotic community of diverse talents whose contributions to our national life are varied and valued.
Nominations are now open, and ConservativeHome readers can help make the Awards a success by encouraging talented people with British-Chinese heritage to apply. I hope the Awards will bring to light stories of determination, courage and accomplishment that inspire us all in these challenging times.
Nominations are now www.TheBlossomAwards.org.uk.