Translating Beijing

Article

Translating Beijing will address two central questions: Who are the British migrants in Beijing? And, how do they 'do' migration?

Buildings in London.

About the project

Working at a micro scale, and through a visually led multi-method research strategy, including observation, interviews and photography, Translating Beijing will address two central questions: Who are the British migrants in Beijing? And, how do they 'do' migration? These questions responds to the Institute of Public Policy (IPP, 2006 Sriskandaraja & Drew) publication Brits Abroad, which points out that, 6 million British citizens, 10% of our population, live abroad forging new geographies of migration.

And yet we know little about them. More broadly this research responds to deeper theoretical questions in migration literature about how migrants manage routine settlement practices. Routine activities of migrant settlement are poorly explored in existing research. In a world on the move this is important missing knowledge to which this research will contribute by providing small-scale original empirical material with wider theoretical resonance. It builds on the insights of a previous and quite different case-study of British and SE Asian migrants in postcolonial Hong Kong (Knowles and Harper 2009).

Migrants live in translation. They make the unfamiliar comprehensible in the quiet intersections between bodies, space and material objects. Translation is about provisional ways of coming to terms with foreignness (Benjamin 1999), and in a world on the move, this lies at the centre of all types of migration. Britain operates in a churn of in and out migration and British migrants are a good example of the democratisation of migration – the increase in the number and type of people for who migration is a viable life strategy.

Beijing is the capital of the world's fastest growing economy and a place where new opportunities present themselves. Beijing is a migration opportunity magnet attracting 'skilled migrants' from all over the world including on-migration from Hong Kong. This is a difficult city for British migrants to interpret even when compared to other Chinese cities like Shanghai which is more open; consequently the 'work' of translation and routine settlement is uniquely visible to the researcher's lens.

For more information about this project, contact Professor Caroline Knowles.

Research

Young Londoners in Beijing (PDF download)

Young Chinese Migrants in London (PDF download)