Archive for December, 2023

The Chinese in Britain – the latest chapter

Posted on: December 13th, 2023 by mlpEditor

How do the recent influx of Chinese migrants from Hong Kong compare to previous ones in British history?

The Chinese in Britain are a simultaneously visible and invisible community. Historically rooted in the port cities of Liverpool and London – as witnessed by their once bustling Chinatowns – the Chinese diaspora in Britain has now spread to towns and cities throughout the UK.

Much Chinese immigration to Britain has stemmed from political upheaval in China in the last century. Compared to the diaspora in the US, the influence of Britain’s historic ties to Hong Kong has been apparent. Families are overwhelmingly from Guangdong, China’s southern region, and mainly Cantonese speaking.

The economic and social pressures that greeted many of these refugee families were often similar to those experienced by the Windrush generation. The pace of Chinese immigration to Britain picked up as Hong Kong’s handover to China in 1997 became imminent.

Another influence is the role British universities have played since the 1970s, in training successive generations of Chinese scientists. Bilateral exchanges have created valuable connections to a multi-ethnic country of continental proportions. Cultural and educational links formed with Britain have meant that Chinese migration, predominantly from Hong Kong, has been enriched by a small but growing settlement from other Chinese regions, together with inward investment.

In this recording of a Manchester Lit & Phil event with Newsnight Economics Editor Ben Chu, we seek to address questions such as what are the barriers to integration for this specific cohort of young British-born Chinese, sometimes tagged as “BBC Chinese”? How might their aspirations and world view be influenced by the experience of being torn from Hong Kong’s cosmopolitan 24/7 oriental hothouse atmosphere to a distant European alternate “motherland”? Could their imposed isolation and diminished status as refugees give rise to a growing nostalgia for Chinese culture? And might they be susceptible to blandishments from Beijing aimed at the Chinese Diaspora?

Guest writer Sam Abbott reflects on our event with Newsnight’s Ben Chu

Posted on: December 13th, 2023 by mlpEditor

On 30th November 2023, Manchester Lit & Phil’s The Chinese in Britain – the latest chapter, featuring Newsnight Economics Editor Ben Chu, brought a packed audience up to speed about an often-overlooked but hugely significant influx of migrants.

The event came just one day after significant cuts to the Newsnight programme had been announced. Quizzed on this, Chu expressed his wish for the BBC’s current affairs output to return to fact-based reporting, and to put less focus on the talking heads debating format which it has been leaning into recently.

Chu began his talk on Chinese migration by outlining the numbers — his specialty — and I sensed that the true scale surprised many in the room: over 120,000 Hong Kongers of a wide range of ages have settled in the UK under the British National (Overseas) visa route in the past two years, and estimates suggest 300,000 BN(O) holders could arrive over the next few years, according to think tank British Future.

Placing this into context, Chu discussed other, far smaller migrations of Chinese people to Britain since the 19th century. Keen to highlight shortcomings in the treatment of previous generations of Chinese migrants, he drew parallels between the compulsory repatriation of Chinese merchant seamen in the post-war periods of the 1920s and ’50s and the treatment of the Windrush generation. The plight of the Chinese seamen, however, seems almost forgotten today.

One of the key comparisons made by Chu, and perhaps an answer as to why the repatriated seamen have received such little recognition, is the comparison between earlier generations of politically-disengaged Chinese migrants and the politically active, educated and wealthy BN(O) cohort. This shift in the nature of Chinese migrants holds potentially wide-ranging consequences for the future politics and economy of Britain.

Amidst an audience of equally keen attendees, I unfortunately did not get the chance to ask Chu for his perspective on why this massive intake of migrants — already one of the largest ever — appears to have received relatively little media coverage and political airtime. For my part, I think many factors are at play. Amongst them, this particular group of migrants’ high education level and apparent low crime rate, along with their accompanying wealth and economic potential, make their arrival much more tolerable to the British people, many of whom are otherwise extremely tired and wary of mass immigration.

A poll carried out in February 2022 by Ipsos/British Future showed 73% support, and only 10% oppose the migration of Hong Kongers through the BN(O) scheme, while a YouGov poll from earlier this month found 41% consider immigration and asylum to be one of the top three issues facing the country. It has long been an important issue for a significant proportion of society and I find it intriguing that, in this context, there has been very little opposition to such a large wave of inward migration.

Apart from BN(O) migrants, Chu also touched on the sharp increase in the numbers of Chinese students attending British universities. He challenged the stereotypes and “fear-mongering” surrounding suspicions of ties between these students and the Chinese government, putting forward his experience interviewing a handful of Chinese students in Glasgow as indication that concerns are unfounded. To my mind though, anxieties about the intentions of certain individuals within the large community of Chinese students in British universities — at a time when many are worried about the threat of foreign interference not being given enough consideration by the government, media and security services — should not be dismissed too readily.

In short, The Chinese in Britain – the latest chapter brought great insight into an underreported phenomenon and prompted all in attendance to reflect on both the past treatment of Chinese migrants, as well as the impact that the recent influx could have on contemporary Britain.

Engineering enzymes to reduce plastic waste

Posted on: December 11th, 2023 by mlpEditor

Plastic waste is a global pollution crisis. Finding effective solutions to tackle PET plastic pollution is crucial for preserving our environment and creating a more sustainable future.

PET plastic, short for polyethylene terephthalate, is a commonly used material in bottles, containers and packaging. Unfortunately, PET plastic waste has become a significant environmental problem. When not properly recycled, PET can persist in the environment for many years, contributing to pollution in our oceans and ecosystems.

Current recycling methods for PET plastic face several challenges. The processes can be energy-intensive and costly. And the quality of recycled PET may not always be on par with virgin plastic, limiting its usability.

In 2016 scientists found an enzyme, a special type of protein, called IsPETase that can break down PET into its original building blocks. This discovery generated a lot of interest in using biological methods to recycle plastics.

But enzymes such as IsPETase are not immediately suitable to be used on a large scale, as they are not robust or efficient enough for industrial use. Whilst enzymes can be engineered to meet these industrial demands, the process is very challenging when working with plastic degrading enzymes.

In this recording of an online talk, Dr Elizabeth Bell describes the development of a high-throughput platform for engineering plastic degrading enzymes using a process called directed evolution. Directed evolution is a mimic of natural evolution but done on a laboratory scale. It focuses on tailoring the specific properties of an enzyme to meet our requirements.

Elizabeth and her team used this platform to create a new variant of IsPETase that can withstand high temperatures and is more effective at breaking down PET. The engineered enzyme can also selectively degrade the PET component of a multi-material plastic that is commonly used for food packaging.

This study demonstrates that laboratory evolution can be used as a powerful tool to engineer enzymes to effectively break down plastics. With further research and development, these engineered enzymes could play a crucial role in reducing plastic waste and promoting a more sustainable future.

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