Chinatown Stories

By Freya Aitken-Turff and Xiao Ma

The rich history of London’s most iconic cultural districts

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Will Chinatown survive COVID-19?

We both started working from home the day the UK Government made its first announcements about social distancing. The memory of leaving a deserted Chinatown has been haunting us for weeks.

For most of the family-run small businesses and independent restaurants operating in this costly London district, the margins are already tight. We don’t know how many of the current businesses will be able to return and we don’t know what kind of Chinatown will awaken once the restrictions are lifted. We know that businesses around the world are facing enormous challenges but Chinatown has had to deal not only with the spread of COVID-19 but also with the spread of xenophobia and anti-Asian racism since the start of 2020.

In fact, a dramatic drop in trade and an increasing number of hate crimes have been reported in Chinatowns worldwide since the outbreak began in China. In London, one third of the restaurants had to close down even before the UK lockdown began. There was a perception that Chinatown was somehow more dangerous than other places as the virus had first emerged in Wuhan. Well-known UK commentators pitched in – Jay Raynor, the food critic, celebrated the work of Four Seasons and news reporter John Simpson tweeted his way through a lone Chinatown dinner to encourage people to eat in the area. Behind the headlines, we ate in empty restaurants. We comforted volunteers who work with us after they were shouted at and spat on in the street, and heard stories from Chinatown friends whose children were being bullied at school.

The double impact of the COVID-19 crisis and the Sinophobia triggered by the virus is devastating.

When local communities change, their stories risk being lost. That’s the reason why we started Chinatown Stories - to capture and share these untold human experiences that have shaped London’s multicultural identity. This is more urgent than ever.

We hope that you are keeping healthy and safe during this extraordinary time. Chinatowns will need you as soon as the social distancing restrictions in your country change. And we need your support now. Share our pledge page with your friends, family, neighbours and colleagues and ask them to help us get this book out to the world.

Remember all proceeds from this book will be donated to fund community projects that support London Chinatown.

Will you help us?

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