By Y Tan
Chinese politics has always been controversial and this debatable topic can sometimes be taboo among many. But when it comes to British politics, the Chinese population that live in the UK seem to prefer to distance themselves from it.
According to the BC (British Chinese) Project, which seeks to raise the presence of the UK Chinese community in the British political arena, reasons for so many Chinese people not voting in the past are “not understanding the voting system and ballot papers” and “not knowing who to vote for.”
The British Chinese population, which only accounts for 1% of the country’s 60 million in total, lags far behind other ethnic minorities when it comes to voting, let alone campaigning. It is estimated that 30% of British Chinese people were not on the electoral register, and therefore not able to vote. This figure compares to 6% of white Britons who aren’t registered and the Chinese have the second lowest election registration rates after Afro-Caribbean people at 37%.
Author Dr. Henry Tam says, “If almost 90% of Chinese cannot be bothered to vote, why would politicians pay much attention to their concerns? And what little encouragement that must be to any Chinese thinking of standing for public office.” When the Chinese are left unheard, some might perceive that they are indifferent or side with current policies and are consequently seen as a “silent community”. Tam also suspects that the lack of a large concentration of Chinese people in any area of the country could be a factor. London has the largest Chinese population with 1.5%, while the North East, North West, Yorkshire, East and West Midlands, East and South East of England all have British Chinese populations of over 0.5% each.
It has been noted that other ethnic minority groups – especially Afro-Caribbeans and South Asians – in Britain are very vocal when it comes to politics and there is an increasing number of politicians and activists from these backgrounds in today’s society. The Chinese however, are a lot quieter on this front.
Jackson Ng, Director of the Conservative Friends of the Chinese seems to think it’s to do with a lack of engagement. He says:
“The British Chinese community is under represented in politics and although the Conservative Friends of the Chinese are the largest Chinese political organisation in Britain and are actively championing for our community, we still need more people registered to vote, joining parties like the Conservative Party and actually voting”
“We need more British Chinese in parliament. We only have a Conservative member of the House of Lords who is Chinese in Lord (Nat) Wei but we need more to join us.”
“We Chinese care about family, education and entrepreneurial values. We fight for these values which are close to our culture, we need to engage politically.”
So what are other speculative reasons for a lack of both Chinese people voting in the UK and Chinese politicians? With there never having been an ethnically Chinese MP in the UK, Jackson Ng questions why this is the case and urges everyone to participate politically, particularly when this section of the community is one of the most thriving and prosperous of all ethnic minorities in Britain.
Others have mentioned Chinese politics, Communism and the Cultural Revolution as means for why some Chinese residents who were born in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan avoid politics, believing that the consequences of speaking out against those in power or supporting any Party – including opposing ones – could put their personal lives and security at risk. Anna Lo recalls her life with family in Hong Kong: “We didn’t discuss politics at home, and the government was worried about people becoming interested in politics, in case they began to support Red China”, thus many parents discourage their children from taking an interest in politics.
But what about the current generation of British Chinese people who were born here? Most are not aware of the full story or outcomes of the Cultural Revolution and are more accustomed to British life and culture, yet voting numbers are still down and Chinese faces on the political front are still absent. This is perhaps one of the most puzzling problems and least understood.
Every year in the run-up to the electoral voting season, members of the Chinese community who are politically focused continue to help the British Chinese population understand the voting process and the political Parties in Britain that they can vote for. Hopefully by next year figures will be up and the Chinese voice will also be on the rise.