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ENG 208: British/Irish Immigration Literature: A Student-Curated Display: Group 1

Group 1

Group 1's project is...Chinese Migrants in Ireland

Group 1's members include...Rachel Kwok, Nick Karpinski, Chris Terry, and Asa Perez.


Overview by Rachel Kwok

As one of the ethnic groups living in Ireland, the Chinese constitute 0.4% of the total population. This leads to a record of 19,447 residents as of the country’s 2016 census report (Central Statistics Office). Although these numbers are not reliable due to some members failing to respond to the census, this nevertheless demonstrates a growth in their population. This is especially seen between the years 1986 and 2006, which show an overall increase (Wang 1-2). 

The history of this group is rather obscure. At a first glance, it appears that they came during the mid-1990s when a high amount of immigration to Ireland had occurred. However, this group actually traces back to the 1950s from after which they migrated to Ireland in two waves. The first wave, which occurred between 1950 to 1990, originated from Hong Kong. This was mainly the result of two factors: (1) “the indigenous rice economy was undermined by rising urban labour costs and could not compete with cheap imported rice” (Wang 2); and (2) the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act was passed, restricting Chinese immigration to Britain (Wang 2). Of the total number of migrants in this wave, the majority owned businesses which specialized in food and catering services, such as restaurants and takeaway. The second wave, which began during the early 2000s and still continues up to present-day, originated from the People’s Republic of China (Lu & Wu 477). This group mainly consisted of students and Mandarin-speaking instructors and was the result of three events occurring in both Ireland and China. The first event was a lift in the Chinese laws regarding emigration, allowing more individuals to migrate from China to Ireland (Wang 3). The second was a reformation of the old visa system in Ireland, allowing non-EU migrants to obtain work permits and fill labor shortages which had resulted from the Celtic Tiger era. The third was the Irish government facilitating an ‘Asia strategy’ to “[encourage] the Irish higher-education sector to recruit students from China '' (Lu & Wu 477). Between these events, this led to an overall increase in the number of Chinese migrants in Ireland. 

Presently, the situation for the Chinese is rather tense as a result of the spread of COVID-19 throughout the world. Prior to this, this group did not receive much attention and were able to easily integrate themselves into Ireland. This was mainly due to the assistance they received from both governmental and non-governmental groups and buildings, such as hospitals and Citizens Information Centre (Ni). However, with the rising escalation of COVID-19, this began to change. In primary schools, children of either Chinese origins or families were pranked and discriminated against by their peers for having what they called ‘the China virus’ (Kelly). Meanwhile, in large cities like Dublin, members of this group “have spoken about being shunned on public transport, and businesses have reported a drop-in trade [as a result of]...epidemic” (Gash).  

Despite these circumstances, because of the obscurity surrounding this group, there still remains very few pieces of literature or media pertaining to them. Of the ones that are available, these mainly focus on either the laws regarding their immigration to Ireland or the relationship between them and the country and vice-versa. These include a collection of essays called The Irish and China: Encounters and Exchanges, which was edited by Jerusha McCormack and details the historical and cultural relationship between the Chinese and Ireland and vice-versa (McCormack). A short film titled “Yu Ming Is Ainm Dom” also focuses on this group, detailing the experiences of a “young Chinese man who learns Irish before moving to Ireland” (Ni). Aside from these works, there are also scholarly articles written about this group. These articles contribute to their history as well as give insight to the challenges they have faced in Ireland. From these contributions these works make, this is the reason why they have been recommended to anyone wanting to learn about the Chinese in Ireland.  

Works Cited

Article Reviews

Review by Nick Karpinski

Waller, P. J. “The Chinese.” History Today, vol. 35, no. 9, Sept. 1985, p. 8. EBSCOhost,

This 1985 article dives into Britain's perception of Chinese immigration, which was largely guided by “sentiment and morality.” In the early 20th Century, Chinese immigration was largely dominated by males. This sparked issues for British white women, according to the author, as they were concerned for “racial purity” in sexual relations. 

However, Chinese immigration was not always received negatively, as immigrants had a large contributing impact to artistic culture. Their metal and ivory work helped to inspire the “oriental vogue,” occurring in the late 19th Century. This caught the attention of prominent collectors. 

It’s important to mention industrialization as a large aspect in the Chinese immigration story. During this time, a certain fear arose from white people because China had the potential for large growth. As the author puts it, “China had a capacity for almost infinite development.” With over 400,000,000 people in China at the time, the British felt threatened. This contributed to the perception of Chinese immigrants. They went from being seen as an undeveloped society to being a potentially large industrialized threat.

In terms of Chinese working conditions and labor in Britain, they were largely “inferior.” Chinese people worked incredibly hard. This was recognized and exploited by the British. During this time, the British were cognizant of a Chinese military threat. However, this threat was distant in their minds, while exploitation and labor was clear and viable. 

Review by Nick Karpinski

 This piece of writing details the experiences of Chinese sojourners in the United Kingdom. They return to China due to personal and health needs. Their journey is meant to provide a larger commentary, one that articulates how marginalized communities often fall through the cracks. In this case, it negatively impacts the subjects’ health. Large negative impacts can demonstrate how one puts value on life, especially those of immigrants.

It’s important to first understand the effects of being a sojourner. Developed societies, such as Britain, have sought benefits from their labor. This is due certain economic slowdowns, aging populations, health-care burdens and many other aspects as well. While sojourners work incredibly hard during their productive and healthy periods of life, they are still burdened with hardships back home. These hardships largely include social welfare costs.

In other words, developed countries such as Britain, know that foreigners will be seeking work, as they have opportunities. So, they might take advantage of this desperation. This is problematic because opportunity may be disguised as exploitation.

However, many sojourners may not be exploited. It’s important to detail their experiences as well. Perhaps they are trying to get a college education in hopes for a better life. There are plenty of high-pressure struggles that come along with that. They have to maintain a heavy work schedule and study schedule while also taking time to come home due to personal events. Health issues do come up, in which case they are forced to travel home. The sojourner immigration story is one that is oftentimes overlooked, and should be further examined.    

Review by Chris Terry

Darcy Pan, Social Anthropologist at Stockholm University, explores the notions of legality within the migration regime in the Republic of Ireland in her chapter in Social Anthropology, titled Student visas, undocumented labour, and the boundaries of legality: Chinese migration and English as a foreign language education in the Republic of Ireland. She conducted her studies over the course of a full year spent in Ireland, which involved interviews from: students, government officials, representatives in the education sector, and several NGO (non-governmental organization) workers. The aim of this article is to portray how Ireland’s Chinese migrants with student visas navigate through an often illegitimate education sector with binding labor laws on foreign students. Pan states, “since late 2001, there had been a growing concern that some language schools teaching English to foreign nationals in Ireland were little more than fronts for them to come to Ireland to find work.” (Pan 275) This affects China heavily, as they’ve seen large increases in educational tourism starting back in the 1990s. With students on visas being placed on 20 hour work week restrictions, many students are opting out of education as a whole. Illegitimate ESL (English as a second language) schools sell records of consistent attendance for up to €2000. Pan however subverts the importance of legality in this article. Through her interviews she shows not only the difficulties of survival under these limited work schedules, but the ignorance behind the system as well. Within these student interviews, there is a total lack of moral conflict from the students regarding their work allotments, showing not that these migrants are bad people but that there are inherent flaws in this system. Being that these are widespread procedures, this article rethinks the notion of legality and forces the reader to consider the real benefits to these binding labor laws.

Review by Asa Perez

The authors of this article are trying to draw more attention to the fact that the Chinese migrants in Ireland are in special need for attention. The paper points out that subgroups of Chinese migrants in Ireland are divided according to social classification and self-categorization, which have distinct significances for subgroup members' integration and identity. The authors of this work give a detailed history of the group. The article begins by detailing the first wave of Chinese migrants to Ireland, starting in the 1950s. This article describes the reason for the Chinese moving to Ireland; whether it be for work or education, the authors point out each decade that migrants came up until the 1990s. The next focus of the article is on the second part, which describes a rise in China's economically and middle-class families sending their children over for education. The second wave of migrants had more numerical information providing a better understanding of the influx of migrants as well as Ireland ethnically. After this, the article sought to go into detail about the categorization of the Chinese in the nation. The first one being citizenship, which was a severe case for most of the migrants as China doesn't allow dual citizenship, causing some to lose access to their home. The article then talks about how socio-historical job positions have influenced work for migrants in Ireland. Many migrants came to the country with limited resources causing scarce labor jobs, thus creating a system of source that would repeat throughout history. The article then goes on to discuss the way that the migrants view themselves being Chinese in Ireland. The report states that the Chinese neither look at themselves as Chinese immigrants nor average citizens; instead, their view is something more unique. As a country that is 'new to the migration experience', Ireland has been working on an integration strategy that could ensure a positive migration experience and enhance social cohesiveness. This article can be looked at as a step forward into that direction as it brings details and personal experiences of a voice that has much too often been ignored in the past. 

Review by Asa Perez

This article focuses on migrants retaining their native language. The focus is on how migrant groups, the Chinese and the Polish, view the importance of maintaining their home language. On the one hand, you have the Polish who value their communication for family and social matters whereas the Chinese focus on the importance of their language for business.  The article goes more in-depth by first examining what heritage language is later summing it to be migrants' ancestral language. Then the article discusses the influx of migrants to Ireland, providing astonishing numbers as there was a 143% increase of non-Irish nationals between 2006 and 2011. After this, the report goes over the study that was conducted to understand the importance of migrants’ language in Ireland. The results of this study showed that many migrants viewed their language as a central part of their identity. The word that they speak is seen as who they are; it is their ethnic and central identity. In Ireland, there are weekend schools that help students to retain their native tongue. The issue with this is that these schools are prevalent for the Polish students, but there are none for the Chinese. This part of the article highlights the lack of resources there are for the Chinese in Ireland. Instances such as this cause many individuals to feel isolated and disconnected from the culture. The students desire to join the weekend schools but are unable to due to the lack of resources present for them. One personal account details a boy who felt that he was the only Chinese kid in Ireland due to there not being any school around him that would teach him Mandarin. Another significant difference between the Polish and Chinese was access to literacy. There was plenty of Polish literacy available to the Polish. While Chinese literacy is difficult to attain unless you are dealing with financial matters, with the rise of the importance of Mandarin in the workplace, Chinese will become a more prominent language to learn and access. This article highlights the disparities between the two ethnic groups and how the Chinese language is looked at as a tool in Ireland.