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Using documentary photography, Wyatt Erskine examines the commercial Chinese community of London. Known as a world wide capital for diversity, areas still exsist where there are signs of segregation of other cultures, spaces that contain a whole collective. No country in the world has experienced such dramatic urbanisation in the past 20 years as China. Since the introduction of a market economy in the early 1 980’s, both new and old cities have grown at an unprecedented rate, with high density skyscrapers sprouting up on every corner. In London, this has been reflected with the creation of a 'fake' China, picked up and placed at the heart of a capital where it perhaps does not belong .

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“A city is a place where people can learn to live with strangers, to enter into the experiences and interests of unfamiliar lives. Sameness stultifies the mind; diversity stimulates and expands it�.


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Wardour Street, City of Westminster, W1 October 201 2

Lost in translation; two cultures clash as post is delivered by the Royal Mail, an iconic service unique to Britain. As a result of multi culture society, the traditional British high street has dramatically changed, giving way to a more diverse array of commerical industry.


Above

China Town, City of Westminster, W1 October,201 2

London’s original Chinatown was located in the East End, where Chinese employees of the East India Company had first moved to the area in the 1 8th century. The Company employed thousands of Chinese sailors; most were based in China, but a small number chose to leave their ships and settle in the docks at Limehouse. By 1 91 4, there were a few hundred Chinese leftover running around thirty Chinese businesses in the area: mostly small shops and restaurants which catered for left over employees of the comapny.


By 1 950, London’s Chinese were short of income and short of a place to live. However, a new phenomenon was to turn this situation around. British soldiers had returned from the Far East with a new appetite for Chinese cuisine. A few restaurateurs set up business in Gerrard Street in the West End, a street that already had a reputation for interesting cuisine as the site of some of London’s first European restaurants. The popularity of the new Chinese establishments attracted more Chinese entrepreneurs away from the East End to seek their fortunes, and the Chinatown of today was born.


By the late 1 960s, Chinatown was truly established as a centre for London’s Chinese community – now numbering in the tens of thousands as more and more Chinese workers arrived from the British territory of Hong Kong. The area became home to a Chinese supermarket, a Far Eastern travel agency and other services set up to cater for the everincreasing number of restaurant workers in the area.


Families were reunited as wives and children arrived from Hong Kong to join their husbands; and as the community grew, so did the area’s reputation for world-class Chinese cuisine. Chinese Gates, street furniture and a Pavilion were added as Chinatown came of age symbols of the success and the cultural heritage of this fascinating area of London.


With the Chinese community spreading across different parts of London as a consequence of a large and growing professional middle class, Chinatown inevitably remains its spiritual home, as well as one of London’s biggest tourist attractions.In recent times the proximity has no longer been a residential area, but, with its many Chinese shops, restaurants and services, has been transformed to become a sight to see and a cultural focal point for London’s Chinese community. Most recently the huge growth of the

Chinese economy has led to large numbers of students from mainland China coming to London to study, as well as a rapidly increasing presence of major Chinese businesses and business people whose companies are seeking to expand through offices or European headquarters in London. The Chinese community is one of the most rapidly growing in London and this is expected to continue in the coming decades. Chinese food, culture, art and lifestyles are enjoying a real boom in London as a result.


The West and China share an important characteristic - they both believe they are universal, a model for all others. But the way they each have interpreted this in practice has been entirely different. For Europe, and latterly the US, it meant projecting their power around the world, most spectacularly during the height of colonialism in the 1 9th and first half of the 20th Century, when a large part of the world found itself under European rule. We governed from afar, exported our ways of doing things, imposed our languages, our education, our religion and much else.

The Chinese, in contrast, preferred to stay at home. They believed the Middle Kingdom, the old name for China, literally meaning the centre of the world, was the highest form of civilisation. So why step outside into ever darkening shades of barbarianism? The fact that China has had little experience of, or exposure to, the rest of the world until very recently - the past 30 years to be exact - has served to reinforce a tendency to see other countries through a Chinese prism.


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www.wyatterskinephotography.com

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