THE UK's first Member of Parliament of British-Chinese Heritage, Alan Mak – who represents Havant in Hampshire – talks about his time in Oxford, what makes the culture so important and why he's launching a special awards...

I spent one of the happiest years of my life in Oxford.

Studying post-graduate legal practice in 2005, I lived behind the station in a shared student house.

Lectures at the Saïd Business School, nights out at Park End (now ATIK), playing hockey against other universities, and the chance to meet people from around the world were my fondest memories.

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Oxford was always welcoming to me, a largely-state educated Yorkshireman of Chinese heritage coming to the City of Dreaming Spires for the first time.

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Today, Oxford is still home to a large British-Chinese community complemented by many more students with Chinese heritage from the UK and abroad.

This is unsurprising given British-Chinese pupils had the highest entry rate into higher education every year between 2006 and 2018 out of all BAME groups.

In 2018, two thirds of Chinese 18-year-olds went into higher education.

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The world-class education Oxford offers attracts a great number of them, strengthening the city and its global reputation for openness and diversity.

Oxford’s dynamic economy also makes it an attractive place to settle and bring up a family, often with parents and grandparents moving to the region too. Voluntary bodies like the Oxfordshire Chinese Community & Advice Centre based in Cowley now provide support for a growing diaspora.

Oxford is a place where British-Chinese people feel at home, reflecting the deep roots the community has established across our entire country.

We cannot let coronavirus change this.

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Chinese New Year celebrations at Blenheim Palace in 2018. Picture: Richard Cave

The outbreak is bringing out the very best in most people, from our heroic NHS staff at the JR Hospital and others working on the frontline to the communities across the city coming together to get through the lockdown.

But in others, it’s triggering the worst possible prejudices, with British-Chinese people often the target of hostility in other parts of the country.

We need to be clear: the 400,000-strong British-Chinese community, many born and bred in this country, have nothing to do with the outbreak of coronavirus in China, and no connection to Beijing’s handling of it.

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In fact, the British-Chinese have made Oxford – and our country as a whole – their home for decades, and have long contributed to our national life with diligence, patriotism and little fanfare.

Whilst first generation immigrants toiled away night and day in takeaways and laundries – as my family did – their British-born sons and daughters have flourished in an impressive range of fields unimaginable to their parents.

Today, the creativity, entrepreneurialism and energy of Chinese-heritage Britons can be seen everywhere.

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Students at Radley College celebrate oriental culture in a 2018 Chinese New Year show. Picture: Ed Nix

Away from the limelight, these unsung heroes are our teachers inspiring the next generation, our entrepreneurs creating new jobs, our NHS staff caring for the sick, our budding film makers looking for their big break, and our patriotic Armed Forces personnel keeping our country safe.

We must shine a light on their endeavours and successes, so that British-Chinese people are recognised for more than the clichéd image of quiet hard work.

Instead, we must change perceptions and present a more accurate picture of the British-Chinese community as it is today: a modern community of diverse talents whose contributions to our national life are varied and valued.

That's why I'm teaming up with businesses like Bicester Village to launch The Blossom Awards – a new initiative to celebrate the work of brilliant individuals from the British-Chinese community.

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As of this week, we’re inviting readers to nominate inspirational British-Chinese people from Oxford and beyond who have achieved outstanding success or made a difference to society.

It could be a friend, neighbour or colleague who deserves recognition.

I’m confident the awards will bring to light stories of determination, courage and accomplishment that inspire us all.

The awards have already gained the support of Wagamama's head Alan Yau OBE, entrepreneur and founder of the noodle bar chain and Michelin-starred restaurants Hakassan and Yauatcha.

Award winners will be invited to a black-tie ceremony in London in late October 2020, when lockdown rules have lifted.

Nominations are open now, but will close on Friday June 12.

All nominations can be submitted online at