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Post-war Chinese settlement

Tung Hing restaurant, 1959, Snow Hill

Like many of the migrant communities in the West Midlands, the present structure of the Chinese population took shape in the 1950s and 1960s. With Hong Kong still a British colony, and at that point relatively underdeveloped, men from the rural New Territories region of Hong Kong began to arrive in Britain. The expanding post-war economy, changing family structures and food tastes created a demand for convenience food, and Chinese catering businesses spread throughout the land.

In Birmingham, the first Chinese restaurants were established in the late 1950s, Tung Kong on Holloway Head, Kam Ling on Livery Street, and Tung Hing at 15 Snow Hill (pictured right).

One of the earliest Chinese settlers in Birmingham, Mr John Wong, recalled the rapid development of Chinese restaurants in the 1960s in an interview that can be heard in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery's City Sound Archive: As people were getting educated in Chinese cuisine these restaurants did a roaring trade, through word of mouth. Slow Boat opened in 1961 under St Martins Car Park, Heaven Bridge was on Smallbrook Queensway and by 1968 the Old Happy Gathering opened on Pershore Street, serving more authentic Cantonese cuisine.

Dragon Inn Chinese Takeaway. Photo: Terry Lo

By the early 1970s Chinese businesses and community associations were clustering around the Hurst Street and Digbeth areas. Wing Yip opened the regions first Chinese supermarket in Coventry Street. A Chinese Club on Bromsgrove Street reflected the political tensions of the day by showing Chinese communist inspired films.

The first generation of male migrants was increasingly joined by family members and Chinese takeaway businesses spread throughout the suburbs.

New Year celebrations. Photo: Terry Lo

Community institutions were established to meet the social needs of this emerging population, in particular translation and support for victims of racial harassment. The Chinese Community Centre was formed in 1977, and by the 1980s several supplementary schools were teaching the Chinese language to British-born Chinese children at weekends.

The consolidation of Birmingham Chinese population estimated at just over 5,000 in the 2001 population Census - is reflected in the development of the Chinatown area in the Arcadian Centre. This has become the setting for the annual Chinese New Year celebrations.