A political economy of the ethnic chinese catering industry
The present political climate in which the ideals of entrepreneurship and self-help are strongly encouraged has drawn attention to those ethnic minorities noted for their entrepreneurial activity. Since the Chinese appear to be an exemplary case in point, this thesis focusses upon the historical material conditions which have led to the formation of a Chinese 'business* community in Britain, both past and present As such, it rejects the theories of cultural determinism which characterise most studies of the Chinese. For rather than representing the endurance of cultural norms, the existence of the contemporary Chinese 'niche' of ethnically exclusive firms in the catering industry is due to the conjunction of a number of historical processes. The first is the imperialist expansion into China of Britain's capitalist empire during the nineteenth century which established a relationship of dependency upon the interests of British capital by colonial Chinese labour. The second is the post war development of the catering industry and its demand for cheap labour as administered by the British state together with the contemporaneous development of the agricultural economy of colonial Hong Kong. Far from representing a source of material benefit to all, the ethnic Chinese 'niche' in catering is highly exploitative and merely underlines the racial oppression of Chinese in Britain. Attempts to promote business interests within the ethnic community therefore serve merely to entrench the structures of oppression.