“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

John Anthony – The First Chinese Englishman

Posted: August 7th, 2009 | 4 Comments »

Michael Alphonsius Shen Fu-Tsung The Chinese Convert Sir Godfrey KnellerThis post was inspired by a debate over dinner with a couple of British-born Chinese friends from schooldays recently (that has ended up becoming a bit obsessive and involved vast amounts of emails flying between Islington and Shanghai) about the first Chinese people to ever come to Britain and then who was the first Chinese person to become a British citizen. After some back and forth and admitting that probably one or two Chinese lost to history may have come before the answer seems to be Shen Fu Tsong, a Jesuit convert from Nanking who came to England in 1686. Apparently King James II had his portrait painted and hung in his bed chamber. More importantly it seems Shen was the first person to catalogue the Chinese collection in the Bodleian Library, showing the librarian which way up to hold Chinese books as well as what they contained though who in England at the time could actually read the texts remains unclear.

John Anthony told the judge at the old BaileyHowever the first Chinese to become a British citizen it seems was a Chinese employee of the East India Company who called himself John Anthony and seems to have been in Britain in 1805. We know he was the first Chinese to become a UK citizen because it too took an Act of Parliament to allow it to happen. Apparently John Anthony became wealthy through the China trade and became a Christian which helped him be accepted we can assume. Part of Anthony’s job for the East India Company was apparently to ensure lodgings and food etc for Chinese arriving in England on Company ships – in this sense he is perhaps the father of Limehouse’s Chinatown. He became rich enough to buy a big house in Essex a a country residence and maintain a house in Shadwell in the East End as his town house. Sadly he died only a few months after gaining British citizenship.

If anyone knows of anyone who came prior to Shen Fu Tsong in 1686 I’d like to hear from you obviously.

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4 Comments on “John Anthony – The First Chinese Englishman”

  1. 1 Martin said at 7:02 pm on July 30th, 2010:

    Sorry to be pedantic, but there’s no such thing as a Jesuit ‘convert’. The Jesuits are a Catholic religious order, so Shen Fu Tsong had converted to Catholicism and then become a priest. He was allowed into England during the reign of James II because James was sympathetic to the Catholic cause at a time when Catholics were being persecuted. If he’d come before that he’d probably have been hanged, drawn and quartered. Incidentally, I’d be interested to know what the modern pinyin spelling of Shen Fu Tsong is and what the Chinese characters are, or is this spelling an approximation created at the time?

  2. 2 Paul French said at 9:20 pm on July 30th, 2010:

    meaning he was converted by Jesuits, rather than say Franciscans.

  3. 3 Cultural Imperialist said at 10:27 pm on October 29th, 2014:

    沈福宗 Shěn Fúzōng ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Shen_Fu-Tsung ) and John Anthony ( http://jostamon.blogspot.mx/2008/11/john-anthony-esquire.html ) are the main subjects of Part 1 of the BBC Radio series “Chinese in Britain”, now available to listen again on BBC Radio 4 Extra & online
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0079mby
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/chinese_in_britain1.shtml

  4. 4 De Quip said at 9:19 am on November 26th, 2019:

    Hello, Does anyone know anything about the Chun Yee Society established 1906 Limehouse


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