Image of Photograph of Dr George Chak Man Lee

British Chinese - the invisible community

The China Centre lecture on Wednesday 16 February 2022 was given by Dr George Chak Man Lee, former London Metropolitan Police Chief Inspector and first Chinese police officer in the UK, first Chinese Conservative Party Parliamentary Candidate (GE 2015), and Liberal Democrat Party Parliamentary Candidate (GE 2019).

Dr Lee’s lecture addressed the position of the Chinese community in Britain. Dr Lee described them as an ‘invisible community’, due to their under-representation in leading positions in boardrooms, media, government and academia. He used an array of statistics to demonstrate the contrast between the educational and business success of the Chinese community and the community’s low level of representation in leading socio-economic and government positions. He argued that a key factor in the educational and business success of the Chinese community is the distinctive characteristics of the Chinese family and kinship networks. However, the same factors may also help to explain the under-representation of Chinese people in leading positions, as they lead to relative isolation of Chinese people from the wider community. Dr Lee explored the role of racial prejudice, from the late nineteenth century through to the present day, in explaining the under-representation of Chinese people in leading positions. He examined also the vicious circle of under-representation leading to shortage of role models to motivate young Chinese people to aspire to leading socio-economic and government positions.

Questions addressed in the Q&A session included: the size of the Chinese community in Britain compared with other groups, notably South Asians; the role of the British Empire and the British Army in influencing the social position of different migrant groups within Britain; the role of language in influencing the role of the Chinese community in Britain; the influence of regional origin within China in determining the social position of migrants in Britain; and the influence of the British “public” school system upon the socio-economic success of different migrant communities.

Dr Lee was born in a Hong Kong shanty town pig shed, worked in a toy factory aged 5, came to UK aged 10 unable to speak any English where he lived and worked in his family’s take away shop in Portsmouth. He attended a local comprehensive school on a council estate where 90% of his peers entered the local dockyard as manual workers.

George was the first British Chinese to join the MoD and the UK police. He was selected for the fast track and won a staff college scholarship to study for his undergraduate degree on full pay at Trinity College, University of Cambridge where he founded ABACUS (a student association promoting racial integration). In the Met Police, he served in Vice, Drugs, Murder, Organised Crime, and Riot Squads; Instructor at Hendon Police College and Bramshill Staff College; seconded to MI6, Hong Kong, and China. He was promoted to Chief Inspector and founded the Black Police Association to tackle racism within the criminal justice system.

He left the Metropolitan Police in 1998 and entered the corporate world where he helped launch egg (first internet bank), Trainline.com, and VodafoneLive – the first mobile multi-media proposition that has changed the way we live our lives and ushered in the digital age. He was Senior Vice President of T-Mobile International, Managing Partner at Mercer and Oliver Wyman, Managing Director at Logica, Senior Partner at Wipro, and Head of Government Sector at Chaucer.

George was the first Chinese to stand as Conservative Parliamentary Candidate in 2010 and he stood as the LibDem Westminster North Parliamentary Candidate in the 2019 general election.

George obtained his Development Studies PhD from Trinity College, University of Cambridge in 2018 and authored two books: Police Corruption in Comparative Perspectives – Building trust in the police in India and China (Routledge 2019) and The Cause and Consequences of Chinese Organized Crime and the Triads, Chapter 9 – Organized Crime: Causes and Consequences, Robert M. Lombardo (Ed) (Nova 2019).

Dr Lee currently holds Non-Executive Director positions at WayLink Invest, Wailian, and 48 Group. He has sat on the board of many organisations that seeks to address social mobility and race relations.