was the first ever recorded ethnic Chinese person to set foot in what is now the United Kingdom, having visited over 300 years ago in 1685
The first recorded Chinese person in Britain was Shen Fu Tsong, a Jesuit scholar called who was present in the court of King James II in the 17th century. Shen was the first person to catalogue the Chinese collection in the Bodleian Library. The King was so taken with him he had his portrait painted and hung in his bed chamber. The portrait of Shen hangs in the Queen's collection. In the mid-18th to 19th century, the British aristocracy developed a passion for Chinoiserie, which affected not only furniture and ornaments, but fashion and society as well; upper-class gentlemen enjoyed dressing up in dragon and mandarin robes on festive occasions.
The first settlement of Chinese people in the United Kingdom dates from the early 19th century. Because many of the Chinese settlers were originally seamen, the first settlements started in the port cities of Liverpool, Cardiff and London. In London, the Limehouse area became the site of one of the first Chinatowns established in Britain and Europe. The East India Company, which was importing popular Chinese commodities such as tea, ceramics and silks, and bringing Asian sailors too, needed trustworthy intermediaries to arrange the sailors' care and lodgings while they were in London. A Chinese seaman known as John Anthony took on this lucrative role looking after Chinese sailors for the East India Shipping Company in the late 18th and early 19th century. By 1805, Anthony had amassed both the fortune and the influence to become the first Chinese man to be naturalised as a British citizen—an act so rare it actually required an Act of Parliament.
British shipping companies first started employing Chinese sailors during the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) to replace the British sailors who had been called up to the Royal Navy. They soon discovered that they worked for less, did not drink to excess, and were easier to command . Conditions aboard ship appalled Lee Cheong, for instance, when he visited his father's quarters: "The smell ... I remember the smell and the incredibly cramped conditions. I remember going down below, rows and rows of bunks, knapsacks and all sorts of junk stuffed in every nook and cranny ... lots and lots of people milling around. I couldn’t think of anything worse than those sorts of conditions." With the advent of steam in the 1860s, the recruitment of Chinese seamen increased on the trading routes from the Far East.
The first Chinese student to graduate from a British university was Wong Fun who received his MD in 1855 from Edinburgh, sponsored by the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society. He marked the beginning of a steady flow of students from China, encouraged by educational reformer Zhang Zhidong who believed Western learning was needed to reverse China's fortunes and help it to catch up with the rest of the world. Many Chinese graduates did indeed return to make a significant contribution to their country, but some stayed.