The magnificent Chinese Arch, standing proudly over Faulkner Street, proclaims the important place Chinatown has become in Manchester. The arch is painted in red and gold and adorned with dragons and phoenixes, colours and symbols of luck and prosperity. The arch, the first true Imperial Chinese arch erected in Europe, looks as though it might have stood for a hundred years. Yet the arch has been here merely since 1987 and Chinatown is still less than thirty years old.
Although the first Chinese restaurants arrived in the city shortly after World War Two, with the Ping Hong in 1948, the first real flurry of Oriental activity was in the early 1960's when several restaurants opened across the city centre. For as yet unexplored reasons these had all closed their doors by the later part of that decade.
Manchester's Chinatown, as a concentrated separate city centre quarter owes its present origins to the 1970s. Gradually in the old cotton warehouses around Nicholas Street, Faulkner Street and George Street, several restaurants began to open such as Charlie Chan's, 1973, the Woo Sang, 1976 and the Little Yang Sing, 1978.
The growth in restaurants in Manchester led to a corresponding growth in the services developed to serve them and their customers. This became more pronounced when the area became the focus for the Chinese community in the whole of the north of England on Sundays - the day most Chinese in take-aways and restaurants take off. This is when the area really comes alive as the community comes into the city centre to promenade and chat, visit Chinese medicine shops and health centres, visit Chinese financial and legal services, pop in and out of the shops and supermarkets and drop the children in at the Sunday schools. In this way Manchester Chinatown has become the Chinese village for the north of England. This role has been enhanced with creation of several old peoples homes in the city centre. Other landmark events include the opening of the Chinese Arts Centre in 1989, and the celebration, for more than a decade now, of the Chinese New Year complete with fireworks and dancing dragons.
Most of the first Chinese in Manchester were Hakkanese from the New Territories of Hong Kong. These tended to be rural people with a chief clan in each settlement - such as Tang or Lee or Man. In 1950's their land was being bought up by the Hong Kong government to cater for the rapid growth of the city. Clans had to substitute a leading position in an agricultural community with an inferior position in a factory with low wages. One way to avoid this was to emigrate to the UK. If their restaurants and take-aways were a success, profits could be reinvested or sent back to provide retirement homes or help out their families in Hong Kong. Some communities in Hong Kong were known as emigrant communities because they earned their income from the money sent back. As the community here developed, other immigrants arrived from Hong Kong Island and Kowloon often made up of the professional classes. Now there is a third grouping of the Chinese population in Manchester made up of the British Chinese born here.
In this way Manchester Chinatown has become the Chinese village for the north of England. This role has been enhanced with creation of several old peoples homes in the city centre.
Away from Manchester the Chinese have had a resident population in the UK for well over a hundred and fifty years. The first communities, the oldest Chinese communities in the West, grew in the port cities of Liverpool and London. They arrived on the ships of the British Empire, and set themselves up in the occupation they had undertaken on the high seas, the laundry trade. By the 1950's with the growth of home washing and chain laundries the community had moved into take-aways and restauranting at the same time as the British palate began to diversify. It is no coincidence that Manchester's Chinatown began to grow in significance as the port of Liverpool declined and business dried up in that city.
The significance of the Chinese community in Manchester's cultural life was underlined with the opening of the Chinese Arts Centre in 1989. However, the most obvious occasion in which Chinatown and the city join together in celebration is at Chinese New Year when thousands of spectators and performers come together to make up one huge party led by the biggest dancing dragon in Europe. This is one of those occasions which make you realise how much, modern Manchester has become its own rainbow nation. In February 2000 these celebrations will be extended over a whole week and will prove once more that Manchester's Chinatown is full of confidence and set to grow and grow.