Making it big in Britain, Chinese now top earners

A new study puts weekly earnings above that of Anglo-Saxons. Better education, work ethic, and family values all cited as reasons.

The gleaming silver Mercedes sports car parked in the heart of Chinatown appeared to support the findings of a new survey: Britain's Chinese are now the nation's top earners.

A century ago in the British capital's Docklands, Chinese crewmen from merchant ships were a familiar sight, and there have always been Chinese restaurants around town. But not until the 1960s did Londoners and people in other British cities begin to be fully aware of the thrusting Asian community in their midst.

Now Richard Berthoud of Essex University reports the average weekly earnings of Chinese men in Britain kat about $640, compared with $608 for whites. His study for the Institute of Social and Economic Research found only 9 percent of Chinese men were unemployed, against 15 percent of Anglo-Saxons.

There are an estimated 180,000 Chinese in Britain - 80,000 in London alone. Many arrived in the 1970s and 1980s.

Professor Berthoud notes: "They tended to have better educational backgrounds than immigrants who came from Pakistan and Bangladesh.... Quite a few were better educated than us Britons, and of course many had fled from poverty and hunger, and had the motivation to work hard and do well."

Success through sacrifice

One Chinese who has made his mark is Thomas Chan, a senior manager with a health trust. Mr. Chan arrived 20 years ago from Hong Kong - that bastion of freewheeling capitalism - where his parents had been farm workers. After studying management he was elected a local councilor in East London. He serves on a government race-relations panel.

Chan explains Chinese success in terms of hard work and family values. "The relative prosperity of many Chinese people masks the sacrifices they have made to achieve it," he says. "If they own a restaurant, they will work extremely hard ... and the whole family will help out."

Berthoud's research reveals that other migrants from Asia do significantly less well than their Chinese counterparts. At $560, the average weekly wage of Indians in Britain is lower than the Chinese average of about $640. Pakistanis and Bangladeshis average less than $395 a week.

'Pragmatism of Confucius'

Part of the reason for the disparity, Berthoud says, is that Chinese tend not to concentrate in one area and are largely self-employed. Bangladeshis by contrast have migrated in large numbers to one place, where employment opportunities are limited. Pakistanis and Bangladeshis who found jobs in Britain's textile factories suffered when the industry collapsed - ironically thanks to competition from Asia.

George Walden, a former education minister in Margaret Thatcher's government, thinks the reason for the prosperity of Britain's Chinese goes beyond their willingness to work hard.

"Attitudes to capitalism and a healthy entrepreneurial spirit," he says can be attributed to "the pragmatism of Confucius. "There is no inhibition against profitmaking, and the importance of the family and respect for elders have given Chinese people a focus for their spirit of enterprise."

As they do in the United States, Mr. Walden says, Chinese in Britain have deep respect for education, and this is reflected in their good performance in schools and universities.

"Instead of worrying about the prosperity of the Chinese among us, we should value their energies and abilities - and we ain't seen nothing yet."

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