Putting the needs of Chinese migrants on the map

Submitting Institution

London School of Economics & Political Science

Unit of Assessment

Anthropology and Development Studies

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Human Society: Anthropology, Demography

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Summary of the impact

Recent Chinese migrants to London have come mainly from mainland China and not, as previously, from Hong Kong and South-East Asia. LSE research has established the difficulties that new migrants face in accessing existing support mechanisms within the Chinese community. The research findings have put the needs of these new migrants on the map of central and local government and Chinese third sector organisations. They have helped change the prevailing view of the Chinese community as a `model' community, with no need for external support, to a more realistic appraisal of the needs of its vulnerable members, who suffer hardships and require help.

Underpinning research

Stephan Feuchtwang and Charles Stafford were commissioned by the anthropology market research agency ESRO to collaborate with them in a research programme on the lives of Chinese migrants in London on behalf of the Chinese in Britain Forum (CIBF). They served on the Advisory Group of the ESRO research team throughout, starting with the design and implementation of the research all the way through to data analysis, the writing of the report (Migration, Integration, Cohesion: New Chinese Migrants in London:
http://www.chinesemigration.org.uk/pages/en/download1.html) and the dissemination of its findings from 2009 onwards.

Feuchtwang and Stafford were approached to undertake this sensitive project because of their track record in academic research on Chinese society and culture (from 1995 onwards) and their experience of long-term fieldwork in China — a fact explicitly acknowledged by CIBF. Specifically, Feuchtwang was consulted because of his expertise in Chinese communities — and in particular in social support mechanisms and leadership. His work on family disruption [1,2] showed that members of disrupted families, dislocated from rural to urban Taiwan, maintained links with their place of origin if they could afford it, while simultaneously making their new place of residence a `home', developing new aspirations and learning new ways of operating. His work on local leaders in China and Taiwan [3] showed that their followers' loyalty depended on the leaders' capacity to get things done, and that this had significant implications for community cohesion. Stafford's expertise was sought because of his work on, among other things, the social consequences of separation within families and wider communities, a topic of particular relevance to studies of migration [4,5]. He showed the importance of what Chinese call "social capacity" — the knowledge needed to maintain networks of relationships, locally and across distances of separation. Equally relevant is his work on Chinese collective identity and the moral/ethical imperative for members of communities to look after each other [6,7]. Stafford's research provides the baseline against which to appreciate the extra strain confronted by Chinese migrants to London as they face a radically different social environment.

Another key reason why Feuchtwang and Stafford were approached by ESRO is that the research commissioned by CIBF presented unique methodological challenges, due to the poor English language skills of many migrants, the cultural barriers that made some research methods (surveys/focus groups) problematic and the difficulties related to accessing vulnerable or undocumented communities. To meet these challenges the research team relied on Feuchtwang's and Stafford's long experience in ethnographic methods. Finally, Feuchtwang and Stafford were recruited because of their extensive experience in supervising a large number of doctoral candidates, some of whom they were able to recruit to the CIBF project. Aside from ESRO director Robin Pharoah (PhD on leadership in central China), these included: Zhang Hui (PhD on communal inequality in rural China), Eona Bell (PhD on Chinese migrants in Scotland) and I-chieh Fang (PhD on internal migration in China).

The research commissioned from Feuchtwang and Stafford generated significant empirical data about London's Chinese community. For example: the predominant language has shifted from Cantonese to Mandarin; new migrants are often poor and uneducated, unlike the settled Chinese population; living conditions are overcrowded; the migrant use of public services, especially public housing services is negligible; access to the Chinese third sector is also negligible due to linguistic/cultural divisions; there may be as many undocumented as documented Chinese migrants in London; London's Chinese population is likely to be double the official estimates. Moreover, the research demonstrated significant divisions between the settled Chinese population and the new economic migrants, and revealed the poverty and isolation of many newcomers, in spite of their attempts, in some cases, to sustain communal networks via mechanisms previously explored in research by Feuchtwang and Stafford. It also highlighted cultural misunderstandings and expectations which impede integration, such as migrants' ideas about `getting ahead' which were based on assumptions acquired in China but that proved relatively unhelpful in the UK.

KEY RESEARCHERS: Stephan Feuchtwang has been at LSE as a research fellow and professor since 1998. Charles Stafford is professor of anthropology and has been at LSE since 1995.

References to the research

Stephan Feuchtwang: selected publications on communal identity and collective memory:

1. 2011. After the event: the transmission of grievous loss in Germany, China and Taiwan. Berghahn Books, London, UK. LSE Research Online ID: 32186


2. 2008. Disruption, commemoration and family repair. In: Brandtstädter, Susanne and Santos, Gonçalo D., (eds.) Chinese kinship: contemporary anthropological perspectives. Routledge, London, pp. 223-245. Available from LSE on request.


3. 2001 (with Wang Mingming) Grassroots Charisma; four local leaders in China. Routledge, London. LSE Research Online ID: 19893

Charles Stafford: publications on communal ethics, identity and sociality:

4. 2002. Living with separation in China [edited volume]. Routledge, London. LSE Research Online ID: 3318

5. 2000. Separation and reunion in modern China. CUP. LSE Research Online ID: 12835

6. 2013. Ordinary ethics in China [edited volume], London: Bloomsbury. Available from LSE on request.

7. 2010. The punishment of ethical behaviour. In: Lambek, Michael, (ed.) Ordinary ethics: anthropology, language, and action. Fordham University Press, New York, UK, pp. 187-206. Available from LSE on request.


Evidence of quality: the underpinning research was subject to peer review and published by leading academic presses (Cambridge, Routledge, etc.).

Details of the impact

Through its findings, the research has:

A. Put the needs of the Chinese community back on the Government's agenda: The CIBF was established in 1996 as a response to the Home Office Select Affairs 1985 Committee Report "The Chinese in Britain". However, during the 2000s, much public and third sector attention switched from race/ethnicity to faith-based organisations, leaving CIBF in a relatively marginalized position. This was not helped by the Chinese community's reputation and willingness to project itself as a `model' migrant community that was not in need of support. The project and the subsequent report enabled CIBF to re-establish a relationship with governmental institutions, in particular the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), the former Minister for Social Cohesion, Shahid Malik MP, as well as the former Big Society advisor, Lord Nat Wei. As a consequence of the report launching 2009 — which Shahid Malik attended — CIBF was asked to present results from the research to senior DCLG policy officials at a workshop. Also as a result of the report, Communities Minister Andrew Stunell convened a roundtable meeting in November 2010 for members of the Chinese community, enabling them to explore matters of concern with DCLG. Finally, despite changes in government, CIBF has managed to maintain a relationship with the DCLG, which would not have been possible without the report [A]. The research and publications have given CIBF an empirical basis for approaching policy-makers, thus helping it fulfil its mission to strategically identify and respond to the needs of the Chinese community, to promote these interests to government, and to encourage the community's active civic participation in British society.

B. Strengthened the hand of the local government to gain more resources: The report was distributed to over 200 Local Authorities and Westminster City Council used it to improve the collection of census data in 2011 [B]. It did this by sharing the findings with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and pushing for more resources to increase engagement with the Chinese Community and to better tackle cultural and linguistic issues. As a result, ONS committed additional resources to train interviewers, and provide community support and comprehensive training on cultural sensitivity. One new census officer was given a specific remit for the Chinese community for the 2011 census. The report has strengthened Westminster City Council's ongoing efforts to highlight the specific challenges of this particularly diverse London borough and has enhanced its commitment to pioneering innovative approaches to understanding the needs of Westminster's population.

C. Focused the need for Third Sector organisations within the Chinese community to provide better support for new migrants: By highlighting differences between the needs of new and older migrants, and by demonstrating that many third sector organisations effectively exclude the former, the report has accentuated the need for Chinese community organisations to cater for these newcomers. It also legitimated the proposal that CIBF lead the formation of a new group of Chinese third-sector providers, supported by DCLG, although this was delayed by the change in government.

The report has been cited and used widely:

  • A number of other Chinese organisations cite the report as evidence of the changing needs of the Chinese community in Britain and of the new challenges confronted by the Chinese community, third sector providers and political representatives [D].
  • The Chinese Information and Advice Centre (CIAC) has used the report to legitimate its existence, challenge assumptions about its clients and advocate for its service users [C].
  • Migrants Rights Network [E] cites the report to illustrate the significant problems faced by many new Chinese migrants to the UK in accessing public services and earning decent wages. This is exacerbated by restrictive immigration policies towards migrant workers, students and undocumented migrants.
  • As a result of the report, CIBF has been invited to become advisory members of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation's Ethnicity and Poverty Programme [A], and has consequently changed the group's perspective on the issues facing Chinese community. The report has been cited in their publications [F].

D. Raised the profile of issues facing the Chinese community in London: Extensive media coverage on the launch of the report, in China [H] and in Chinese language media in Europe [I,J,K,L], has drawn attention to the needs of Chinese migrants in the UK and raised the profile of CIBF. The report earned the prestigious Market Research Society's first Virginia Valentine Award for Cultural Insight in 2011. Judges commended the report for overcoming "...the huge linguistic and cultural barriers and the problems of accurately identifying communities and sub-communities. This study...challenged the received wisdom regarding the Chinese community in the UK, with the result being a new "official" understanding of the Chinese community and a seat at the top table of strategy making for the CIBF" [G].

Sources to corroborate the impact

All sources listed below can also be seen at: https://apps.lse.ac.uk/impact/case_study/view/86


A. Testimony by Chair, Chinese in Britain Forum. This source is confidential.

B. Testimony by Head of Research and Customer Insight, Westminster City Council. This source is confidential.

C. Testimony by Chair, Chinese Information and Advice Centre. This source is confidential.


D. Chi Chan (Min Quan) Discussion paper on the UK Chinese Community and Representation. Conference on the Representation, Rights and Migration of the UK Chinese Community. 16th March 2010. House of Commons. http://www.tmg-uk.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Conference-Pack-16-Mar-2010.pdf Source file: https://apps.lse.ac.uk/impact/download/file/1542

E. Migrants Right's Network. On the cusp: Chinese advocacy conference in London.
http://www.migrantsrights.org.uk/blog/2010/03/cusp-chinese-advocacy-conference-london Source file: https://apps.lse.ac.uk/impact/download/file/1543

F. Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Experiences of Forced Labour among Chinese Migrants. November 2011 http://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/files/jrf/Chinese-migrants-forced-labour-full.pdf Source files: https://apps.lse.ac.uk/impact/download/file/1544


G. Market Research Society (MRS) Virginia Valentine Award

Media coverage

H. New Tang Dynasty Television (NTDTV) press report. 20/12/2012

I. Sing Tao Daily. 16/12/2009. London. (Front page headline)

J. Epoch Times 17/12/2009. Birmingham. (Front page headline) Source files:

K. UK Chinese Times. Issue 298. (Front page headline) Source files:

L. EU Chinese Journal. (Front page headline) Source files: