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The Chinese community of Manchester

© Sandy Lo

Being one of the important focal points for the Chinese in the North West, Manchester has the third biggest Chinese population after London and South East. According to the 2001 Census, of 247403 Chinese in Britain, 26887 were reported living in the North West (0.4% of the total population in the area). Unlike other ethnic minority communities, the Chinese immigrants are widely distributed around the city. The economic situation of the community can be characterized as having a high self-employment rate, with most of the people working in the catering industry, though the Chinese community in Manchester has the highest rate of employment in professional or managerial positions among other ethnic minority groups and there is a high proportion of semi-skilled manual workers. The community also has a high rate of people getting high level of qualifications.

The Chinese immigrant population can be divided into various groups speaking different Chinese dialects ('fang yan') with different countries of origin. There are five main groups:

  1. Hong Kong Chinese,
  2. PRC Chinese,
  3. British-born Chinese,
  4. Malaysia Chinese, and
  5. Chinese from other countries

Each group's family income, education levels, age distributions and English proficiency are very different among themselves. Hong Kong is the main country of origin of most local Chinese, but China is where the recent immigrants come from. Therefore Cantonese is the dominant Chinese dialect within the community, as shown by some studies such as Lo (2001), a study of the language use patterns of Manchester Chinese, even though more and more Mandarin-speaking people from China have come to the UK for study or work in the recent decade. Among other Chinese dialects, Hakka and Mandarin are the first languages of some immigrants after Cantonese. The former is the first language of most elderly people. The Cantonese spoken by the Manchester Chinese community is a local variety, with variations mainly in lexicons from their counterparts in Hong Kong.

Except where translation and interpretation services are available, English, as the language of the host British community, is used in public domains like government and schools for communication with non-Chinese but it is more frequently used with other peers or siblings by some British-born Chinese.

Cantonese and English are the main combination for code-switching among young people, while the elderly seldom made use of any code-switching, though some of them know both Cantonese and Hakka. While code-switching is not often used at work in, at mainstream schools with teachers or in family unless among siblings, it is used much more frequently in situations like the conversations among friends, and at religious services, depending on the interlocutors.