By CY Tan – Political Correspondent
In a previous article, we outlined the problems regarding the lack of British Chinese people voting. Possible reasons for this included not knowing who to vote for, not understanding British politics and being instilled with traditional ideals of Chinese culture that dates back to the Cultural Revolution and the risky consequences of getting involved in politics.
However, young Chinese people in the UK – roughly a quarter of Britain’s 500,000 Chinese population, the equivalent of those who were born here – are actually going out and voting. And not only that, some are also encouraging their parents to vote too, if they’re eligible. We spoke to a few of them to find out why they feel it is important to vote, and we got some positive and perhaps surprising responses.
Speaking exclusively to Nee Hao, Jackson Ng who works in Parliament as a political advisor and runs the Conservative Friends of the Chinese from the Conservative Party Headquarters says: “We have set up the Conservative Friends of the Chinese because we recognise that the British Chinese community is one that contributes a lot to Britain and we want to hear from them.
This is why we have, in the last 18 months, organised over 15 public and private events where British Chinese could meet and speak to Cabinet Ministers, Members of Parliament and also learn how to get more involved in politics and civic life. The British Chinese community has not had that much political engagement ever – this can only be positive for our community.”
Sean Tan of Reading and his Shanghai-born wife Bei Bei, who is now a British citizen, are voters. They believe voting is extremely important because whomever they vote for and whatever the outcome in the election could potentially change their lives, for better or worse. Sean also says his Malaysian-born parents, who have lived in the UK for over 40 years and now hold British passports, also vote. “I think they’ve been voting for the past 20 years since they became UK citizens,” says Tan. “They believe that now they’re eligible to, they may as well exercise that right, especially because they are living here permanently.”
Jasmine Ling says that she had her brothers and sisters also vote and gave a similar reason to Sean and Bei Bei, adding that “young people in general these days – not just the Chinese – are becoming more and more interested in or knowledgeable about politics as the problems that derive from it, such as the economic recession and higher education, directly affect us.”
24-year-old Hong Kong-born Lee Hong, who is now a British citizen after living in the UK for more than two thirds of his life and moved here before the return of Hong Kong to China, votes as well. “If I was living in Hong Kong now, voting could be a problem due to all the issues regarding politics over there these days, so I’m grateful that I can vote here where it is far more democratic,” he says.
In an interesting revelation, Vivian Wong from Manchester tells us that the first time she voted was because so many of her friends from university did and she felt compelled to find out more and do so too. “It wasn’t peer pressure exactly but if you’re a non-voter amongst friends or others you know who do, you’re always asked the question as to why you don’t because most of them feel it is important to do so,” she says.
At 21, although she has been eligible to vote for 3 years, Vivian said she never did before, putting it down to two things: not knowing much about the different Parties and because she didn’t realise that she could vote in Manchester when she is originally from London. “I know it sounds silly, but no-one ever really told me more about it and to be honest, I never really asked.” She says that after she voted in the local election this year she felt better and more informed, hoping her vote did make a difference.
Jackson Ng, who has always been at the forefront of encouraging more British Chinese to be active in politics said: “Having worked in Parliament in the past 3.5 years, I rarely come across Chinese people in British politics, especially young British Chinese where as other ethnic minorities are very well represented. This imbalance needs to readjusted, first by getting them out to vote and then by getting people interested in getting involved with politics.”
Christina Sim and her boyfriend Sun Ying – who are supporters of the Conservative Friends of the Chinese group (half of their members are below the age of 35) – are both British citizens and say they vote but also encouraged their parents to vote too.
“Neither of my parents have voted in about a decade, not since after Tony Blair became PM,” Christina says, “they felt that the ones they always used to vote for, the Conservatives, never got far. But then a couple of years before Cameron came to power after I spoke to them about the strong chance that the Tories would do well, they eventually took up voting again and I guess it did help make a difference.” She tells us that now the next General Election is looming her parents will vote again in the hope that the Conservatives will stay.
Sun Ying says that his parents had never voted before until a couple of years ago – his mother still holds a Hong Kong passport and his father didn’t believe in voting since he grew up in China during the 60s. “When I turned 18, that was about the same time my dad also became a British citizen but he still wasn’t keen on the idea, saying he didn’t understand all the different Parties and their policies. I had to sit him down and educate him on them, as well as the importance of why he should,” he tells us. “He has voted since then as I went with him, but I still don’t think he quite gets it. I think it is good he has participated though.”
Both Christina and Sun Ying say that they like the fact that the Conservatives are so far the only Party that has actively reached out to this ethnic community, and hope that more British Chinese people will soon feel less alienated from British politics in the future.
Jackson hopes that more and more British Chinese will be involved with politics and perhaps a starting point will be the Conservative Friends of the Chinese Christmas Party this year on 27 November 2014 where their guest of honour is the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond. Click here for details.