In depth: ‘This is our new home and we’re trying so hard to fit in’

Yun Yun  Li and  Jieru Ge . Chinese students Yun Yun  Li  (white top / Lomg Hair ) and  Jieru Ge
Yun Yun Li and Jieru Ge . Chinese students Yun Yun Li (white top / Lomg Hair ) and Jieru Ge

A third-year journalism student who travelled from China to take a degree at Sheffield University writes about her impressions of the city – and what the country’s citizens have to offer people here.

Last year, my friends and I stood in Tudor Square, watching the live final of the Snooker Championship – China’s Ding Junhui versus the world number one, Mark Selby – on two big screens.

China Town.

China Town.

In China, snooker is one of the most popular sports, with many people playing it for fun in their free time, and this year’s competition, in which Selby was victorious again, was as well-received as ever.

We see it as a gentlemanly sport from an ancient nation.

In April and May each year, Chinese Central Television comes to Sheffield to broadcast the world-class matches alongside the BBC, while Ding Junhui practises in the city.

And apart from our distinguished Mr Junhui, there are a lot of other Chinese people living in the city.

We need time to get accustomed to a different rhythm of life

Many of them are ordinary students, who left their homes to chase their dreams here.

There are also businessmen, running small companies and making a living. We see Sheffield as our ‘second home’.

My friend Mavis is a third-year city planning student from Shanghai. She came to Sheffield in 2014, and on first impressions thought the city was a ‘town’, rather than the so-called ‘fourth largest city in the UK’, despite its Gothic-style Town Hall she admired so much.

One day, while walking on the bridge near the railway station, she fell in love with the city which stands on seven hills, deeply attracted to the distinctive skyline with traditional and modern houses lining the hills.

On weekdays, Mavis studies in the Arts Tower or the library. Then, at night, she enjoys the West Street life with her classmates. They have fun in the pubs, drinking beer and sharing views on different issues.

She even tried to promote Chinese culture by taking her friends to have a ‘crazy’ Chinese hotpot – a communal dining experience, in which diners sit around a table, dipping prepared meats, seafood, and vegetables into a pot of stock.

At weekends, she will look at the wildlife in the Peak District, and jokes that even climbers could say ‘Ni hao’ – ‘hello’ in Chinese – to her.

But as a fashionable Shanghai girl, sometimes she complains about the lack of choice of clothing in the city centre.

Meanwhile, Mr and Mrs Liu run a renowned Chinese restaurant on London Road, after moving here four years ago from Nottingham with their two children.

Because of the fierce competition, the Lius found trading difficult to begin with, with only a few diners a day. Their poor English skills also limited their chances to open up to the local market – but the hard-working couple didn’t give up.

Their restaurant has since become one of the most popular among Chinese people in Sheffield, attracting lots of local customers as well.

Mrs Liu admits that their predicament was tough to begin with, but they dealt with their difficulties thanks to good faith and professionalism, as well as support from others.

Their children have been given good care from a community nursery, both speak English fluently, and will enter primary school in September.

However, there remains a cultural clash affecting Chinese people living in the city centre.

There are often voices online claiming that international students – particularly those from China – are poised to ‘occupy’ the city as more student accommodation is built and planned.

Some complain that Chinese students tend to cross streets quickly, without paying heed to traffic lights or cars.

In China, most major cities are busy and packed – we need to ‘hurry up’ all the time.

The slower pace suddenly apparent in Sheffield makes it difficult for most of us to fit in.

I accept that it’s not a good habit. But we just need time to get accustomed to a different rhythm of life.

Last summer, the news of the remarkable £1 billion investment in Sheffield that will come from Sichuan Guodong Construction Group was of great interest to the UK’s Chinese community.

The company is one of the biggest firms in China’s south-western Sichuan province, and the funding package was the biggest Chinese cash injection in the north of England to date.

We were all guessing how the huge amount of money would be spent over the next 60 years.

To us, Sheffield is a small city with beautiful architecture, but there are very few cosmopolitan facilities, a flaw that has limited economic potential, making the place lack vitality.

We hope this money can have a positive effect on Sheffield, with modern hotels, offices and stores being built to attract further investment.

There is a story that the boss of Sichuan Guodong told Chinese media, that he first came to Sheffield for his daughter’s graduation ceremony.

He walked around this ‘small and peaceful’ city and thought it was so ‘lovely’, different from anywhere in China.

So several years later, he decided to invest in Sheffield.

I don’t know how much his emotions, and those of his daughter, influenced the decision.

However, I can say most Chinese people here – like Mavis, like the Lius, and myself – have a deep affection for Sheffield and hope it has a bright future.

‘We can seize opportunities at conference’

Sheffield has been urged to prepare ‘five or six ready-to-go investment opportunities’ by the time a Chinese conference is held in the city for the first time later this year.

More than 300 guests will attend the Horasis Global China Business Meeting when it comes to Sheffield on November 5 and 6.

The meeting is designed to help senior decision makers from China and other countries identify opportunities for economic development.

As well as the investment deal with Sichuan Guodong, more Chinese money is pouring into the city through schemes such as New Era Square, which comprises student flats, offices and shops.

Richard Wright, executive director of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, said: “It would be great if the region could have five or six ready-to-go investment opportunities some way down the drawing board so we can capture the moment.”