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The rich history of London’s most iconic cultural district

Chinatown Stories shares the history of London's most iconic cultural precinct alongside the experiences of the people and recipes that have shaped it. Telling the untold stories of London's Chinatown that help us understand the places, people and food that have shaped the capital's iconic cultural precinct, Chinatown Stories offers history, social commentary and recipes all with the aim of sharing the heritage that we can see and that which we cannot see in this special neighbourhood.

The nine streets in south Soho that make up London's Chinatown have a rich heritage that pre-date its Chinese influences. From origins as monastic lands that were sold off after Henry VIII's reformation, the area became a thriving multicultural neighbourhood that developed a reputation for foreign foods in the 1800s. It was a focal point for intellectual circles in Georgian London with coffee houses and salons a plenty. And it has played host to wild times while Ronnie Scott opened his first jazz club and music venues sprang up with acts including the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. It's a neighbourhood that consistently thrived, dived and then adapted to survive.

If you walk through the neighbourhood, you will see allusions to its history through finely preserved architecture and heritage plaques. What visitors do not see is anything that explains what led to the area being designated Chinatown and what it means to the people who live, work and spend time there. Chinatown Stories will share the area's pre-Chinatown past, recent history and the untold experiences of members of the community through interviews.

What role has Chinatown played in their migration stories?

What does the area represent to them?

And what emotions does Chinatown evoke?

How do they feel about the rapid pace of change in this busy part of London?


Food has held a significant role in the neighbourhood’s history. Chinatown Stories will capture heritage dishes and recipes that reflect the stories of the area – creating a trove of tales and recipes that help us understand more about this special place.
Chinatown Stories combines history, personal stories and recipes to give the full flavour of what Chinatown means in London this decade.
All proceeds from Chinatown Stories will be donated to fund community projects that support the neighbourhood.

 

About the Book

  • 288 pages
  • Demy format, 216 x 138mm
  • 50 images

 

Freya Aitken-Turff has been living and breathing Chinatowns since 2015, when she became CEO of China Exchange, a charity in London’s Gerrard Street, where she leads a team to encourage people to visit Chinatown for more than just food and to explore how China influences their lives. She became a Churchill Fellow in 2017 with research focused on how Chinatowns around the world are responding to change. Watching London’s Chinatown change rapidly inspired the work and fuelled a passion for uncovering and sharing Chinatown’s intangible cultural heritage. Freya is a Mandarin speaker and Sinophile who loves nothing more than to learn about China (preferably over dinner).

Xiao Ma was brought up in Gansu Northwest Mainland China, an important stop on the Silk Road, the ancient network of trade routes connecting the East and West. As a former London-based journalist, Xiao had been writing about UK arts and culture for a Chinese audience before joining China Exchange where she enjoys sharing insights on Chinese culture, both old and new, in the heart of Chinatown.

It was in 2012 that Xiao first visited London’s Chinatown and found herself strolling through a fusion of familiar and unfamiliar cultural landmarks. What shapes the cultural identity of Chinatown? How is Chineseness perceived and taught by different generations of Chinese immigrants in the UK? Chinatown; whose Chinatown? What does it mean to be an immigrant in modern day Britain? Xiao has been fascinated by these questions and is often inspired by her British born Chinese husband and his ‘Third Culture Kid’ friends.

It looks like Freya Aitken-Turff and Xiao Ma have not made any updates yet. Check back soon!

These people are helping to fund Chinatown Stories.

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Qing Du
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Vishal Pattani
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Lauren Long
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Caroline Newton
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Xinhua Zhao
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Xianzhong Ma
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