The Chinese Community in Northern Ireland
The history of the Chinese Community in Northern Ireland traces its roots to the early 1960s, when the first Chinese arrived here. Since this period their numbers have evolved progressively. Currently there are around 8000 Chinese resident in Northern Ireland, representing 51% of the total ethnic minority population. The Chinese community is currently the largest and most dispersed ethnic minority group living in the North. The majority of this community lives in the Greater Belfast Urban Area; there are also significant numbers in Craigavon, Lisburn, Newtownabbey and North Down. Irwin and Dunn, noted in their study of ethnic minorities, that the Chinese community is growing at a faster rate than the general population. A high proportion of the Chinese resident here, were born outside Northern Ireland, with seven out of ten of those having been born in Hong Kong. Other places of origin include China, Malaysia and Singapore. Entering for the purposes of employment is by far the most common reasons for moving to Northern Ireland; followed by requests for study visas and as spouses of British citizens. The CWA has also witnessed recently an increase in applications for political asylum from people fleeing The People's Republic of China.
Most, although not all, of the Chinese resident here are concentrated in the catering industry. The long demanding and unsociable hours associated with this industry has compounded the problem of isolation experienced by many in the Chinese Community.
Within China there are various dialects spoken in different parts, as different from each other as English is from French, but they all emerged out of the same language, and are written in one standard form.The three main spoken forms of the Chinese language are:Cantonese This language is spoken by many of the Chinese from Main- land Hong Kong, The New Territories, Malaysia and Singapore. According to Holder in his research 'Mapping Minority Ethnic Languages in Northern Ireland', Cantonese is spoken by about 80-90% of the Chinese Community in Northern Ireland. (Holder)Haka this dialect of the Chinese language is spoken by people from the New Territories of Hong Kong - about 5% of Chinese in Northern Ireland, mainly elderly members of the community. (Holder)Mandarin Mandarin is currently the most common native language in the world; it is spoken by people originating from China and Taiwan. It is also spoken by a small proportion of Chinese students from Singapore and Malaysia. According to Holder it is spoken by about 10% of the Chinese Community in Northern Ireland. (Holder)
The Chinese do not have an institutional religion. Religion is more a personal thing. A small proportion of the Chinese community in Northern Ireland are Christians, others may be influenced by Taoism (ancestor worship) or Buddhism, although very few Chinese residing here strictly practice these faiths. Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism are commonly regarded as the three religious pillars of Chinese society. Confucius taught that political and social life could be reformed if everyone lived by 'li' (courtesy and reverence) and 'shu' (consideration for others.) This is seen today in the strength of family ties and the importance still accorded to males. Religion is not institutionalized into the system, as such there are no special days for worship and praying is very much a personal affair which takes place in one's home.The Chinese have a very rich and varied religious tradition and an extremely complex system of magical beliefs and practices. Amongst the older generation, especially women, belief in the traditional religion is still strong but due to the growth of modern education and influences exerted by the West, religious skepticism amongst most of the younger generation has increased. However, amongst the numerous Chinese immigrants in Northern Ireland there is still a minority who cling to traditions and customs comparable to those of traditional China. The desire for happiness and prosperity, which in the past often found expression in superstitious customs and habits, can in many cases still be observed today. The old superstitions, however, have gradually become superfluous. Many old forms have taken on a new meaning. Most people no longer consider the attainment of happiness and fulfillment dependent on spiritual factors. Today's festivals are marked by joy in accomplishments and confidence in the future.
Although traditional festivals are celebrated in many countries throughout the world China with its long history and predominantly agricultural society, have particularly large number of festivals. A life of agricultural labour is a hard one, and thus festivals have always helped to enliven the daily routine and dispel the weariness of the rural folk, despite the fact that this was not exactly their original meaning.Within Northern Ireland Chinese religions, festivals and traditions are observed in the Chinese community to an extent practicable in overseas Chinese societies.
Chinese New Year
The celebration of Chinese New Year is one of the most important festivals within the Chinese community. This celebration falls between late January and mid-February, it represents the first day of the month of the Chinese Lunar calendar. New Year is seen as a time to start things afresh and settle old debts or feuds. During this period of festivity specific emphasis is placed on getting rid of any evils and misfortunes, which may have accumulated in the old days, therefore debts, are settled and accounts closed. Preparations for the festival usually begin two weeks in advance, as business accounts are settled and households are swept spotlessly clean; it is believed that to do any work during Chinese New year is to sweep away good luck. This old superstition that cleaning would do away with misfortune and bring good luck has become simply a good habit. Each Chinese year is named in sequence after twelve animals; ancient legend believes that the years got their names when the Buddha asked all living creatures to come to him but only twelve turned up. To mark their faithfulness, the Buddha named a year after each of the animals.
In terms of diet, the Chinese have very definite customs of their own concerning food, its preparations, its service and the manner in which it is eaten. The older generation held the belief that rice is the only form of staple food which can provide energy and vitality. Most Chinese people believe in the concept of 'Yin' and 'Yang' the balance of 'cold and hot' energies in the human body. Diet plays an important part in maintaining the individual's normal health balance and in correcting imbalances, as different foods are believed to have either 'heating', 'cooling' or 'neutral' properties.
Thus it is not uncommon to find that Chinese patients appear to have lost their appetite during their stay in hospital, or complain about the meals served to them in Western style. A traditional Chinese belief relating to diet during hospitalization concerns the consumption of soup which has been boiled for a long time (6-7HOURS). Many believe that the consumption of well-boiled soup will help clear one's system and promote a speedy recovery, particularly after surgical operations.
Some of the main difficulties currently confronting the Chinese Community in Northern Ireland relate to:
- The Language Barrier,
- Difficulties in obtaining equitable access to health and social services, welfare, housing provision and education,
- Experiences of social isolation
- Experiences of Racial harassment and discrimination.