Saving Chinatown, One Meal At A Time

Samuel Jarrett
MA Mag
Published in
4 min readFeb 27, 2020


On any given day London’s Chinatown is full to the brim, with locals, vendors and tourists going about their business. An area that welcomes everyone, from teenagers drinking bubble tea to big family dinners.

Chinatown’s independent shops and stalls have made it a driving force for London’s food and culture scene, with restaurants slowly changing the image of the Chinese takeaway. Dishes such as ‘sweet & sour chicken’ and ‘crispy spring rolls’ have been put aside, with westerners now favouring dishes like Biangbiang mian (broad hand stretched noodles) and xiao long bao (soup dumplings).

Despite its culinary importance and aesthetic appeal, in recent weeks the streets of Chinatown seem more like a ghost town as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Local businesses say they have seen a dramatic drop in their income as fears about the virus spread. Over the past few weeks, local Chinese Restaurants and stores have seen a decline in sales, with some losing up to 50% of revenue.

David Tang, Vice President of London Chinatown Chinese Association, spoke on the matter of the incline saying how the locals and tourists have become fearful. He told the Huffington Post that “Because of what they watch and hear they get scared. So they thought that by not coming to Chinatown might be able to avoid catching the virus.”

“At the moment we hear from the members that their business has been affected”. Tang goes on to express concern for business, worried that the lack of footfall will hit restaurants badly, causing a knock on effect to their income. “If they have no income, they will not be able to pay the rent or the rates”

According to the London Chinatown Chinese Association business are reporting 20% loss in trade, whilst other food outlets and public spaces are still busy.

The decline of business in Chinatown coincides with a rise in xenophobic attacks throughout the city. Despite only 13 reported case of the virus in the UK many Eastern and South East Asians have expressed fears of discrimination, with people moving away from them on public transport.

MiMi Aye, a Burmese food writer from London posted a photo from a journey on the London Underground, which showed people opting to stand rather than sit next to her.

“I got on the Victoria line at Highbury and Islingston and was on my way to Oxford Circus. Platform carriage as full,” she told the PA news agency.

“I noticed that no one had sat down either side of me and I thought, huh that’s weird. I decided to take photos of the empty seats around me.”

MiNi Ayes on the London Underground with empty seats next to her

She went on to say that fellow passengers looked very uncomfortable and wouldn’t catch her eye. “ I’m not going to say that it was definitely because of racism, because most of the time when stuff happens I never know for sure.”

With eight out of nine patients being discharged and a report stating they pose no public health risk, the death toll in the UK is still at zero. However, many East and South East Asians have expressed how they have been discriminated against.

Comedian Ken Cheng sums it up in a tweet: “less than 0.001% of Chinese people have coronavirus yet more than 99.999% have already experienced coronaracism”

As discriminatory misinformation around coronavirus grows, some of taking to social media with campaigns to halt the misjustice and mistreatment.

Alongside actor Daniel York, Senior Lecturer at City, University of London, Dr Diana Yeh has set up a campaign to encourage the public to eat at an East Asian restaurant this weekend. Calling for solidarity against ‘coronaracism’ the campaign asks for the public to “dine at your local East Asian eatery and share a photo on social media to show you #LoveChinaTown and #HateRacism”

“In the wake of the coronavirus, there has been a spike in racial attacks on Eat and Southeast Asians globally, and on those who seek to protect them,” said Yeh.

“In response, we are organising a nationwide campaign, #IWillEatWithYou, on leap year weekend to encourage people to eat East/SE Asian food and post pics on social media with the tags #IWillEatWithYou, #LoveChinaTown and #HateRacism.”