Long-distance call

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 November, 2008, 12:00am

When London-born Sarah Yeh set up DimSum (www.dimsum.co.uk) as a voice for Chinese people in Britain in 2001, little did she realise it would prove to be so effective so soon.

The website's launch coincided with media reports that a Chinese restaurant was the source of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. 'Suddenly it all blew up and we found ourselves in the middle of it,' recalls Yeh.

'DimSum became the first portal for all sectors of the Chinese community here: the older generation, second generation, men and women - everybody.

'Rumours about the source of the outbreak were reported as facts in the British media. One of them was the suggestion the disease had originated in a Chinese restaurant's bin.

'It was ridiculous but it harmed a lot of businesses - some restaurant owners reported a 40 per cent drop in trade at the time. It was racial scapegoating.'

Yeh and other furious Chinese Britons demanded the government apologise for the damage.

'It was a terrible thing to have happened but out of it came something positive. It brought together the Chinese community. So many people worked together and we got an official apology from [agriculture minister] Nick Brown. We also attracted support from other Asian communities in Britain.'

Yeh, 34, is proud of her involvement and the role DimSum played.

'It was a first for the Chinese community in England, which is small and quite dispersed. When I was young there was no established community here.'

Yeh describes herself as a 'BBC': British-born Chinese. Her mother is from Hong Kong and her Vietnamese-Chinese father hails from Ho Chi Minh City. Yeh studied in London and now lives in the capital's East End.

'I was expected to follow in my dad's footsteps and become a dentist. I shocked my family when I chose to study design and now I'm in advertising.

'I look Chinese but I wasn't brought up in the traditional Chinese way because my mum was adopted by an English couple,' she says.

In addition to providing a political and cultural platform, her website celebrates Chinese arts and entertainment.

'At university, I was involved in a culture and arts publication and when I researched Chinese culture in the UK, I realised there were no role models and not much representation in the arts,' she says.

'Chinese people are more visible in the arts now. People like [TV presenter] Gok Wan and [model] Alexa Chung are good role models.

'Also, Damon Albarn's opera Monkey: Journey to the West has helped put Chinese culture into the mainstream psyche.'

DimSum helped organise the first British-Chinese film festival in Britain, in 2003.

'We worked with the Scotland-China Association on that. It was great and the festival continues to evolve. At DimSum, we embrace different ideas and provide a platform for debate. It's not just for people in the UK. It's very inclusive.'