MRS B'' thought her luck was in when in 1980 she left her work as a nurse in China for a holiday in Britain and married a Chinese man there. It turned out to be a life of misery. Within the family and in society at large she was isolated by language and cultural barriers. She was made to eat separately from the rest of the family. Her in-laws treated her like a servant and told her she was subordinate because she came from China. She could never properly communicate with her husband. He spoke the Hakka dialect and English, she Cantonese and Mandarin. He also frequently beat her. While she had to look after her in-laws and the takeaway, her two daughters were separated from her - the first being sent back to China, the second being cared for by someone else. Eventually she ran away and was helped by the Wai Yin Women's Association in Manchester's Chinatown, who steered her through her divorce and found temporary refuge for her in a shelter for the homeless. She is now a voluntary worker for the association, which she considers her ''family'', and has brought her first daughter back from China. Mrs B's experiences as a Chinese woman living in Britain are all too common, according to research by Christine Chan Mei-sheung of the department of nursing, Chinese University, who lived in Britain for 11 years. Ms Chan describes British Chinese women as a silent minority who live isolated lives, often within unhappy marriages. Since the early 80s, after China became more open, an increasing number of women have gone to Britain from the mainland. This is because Chinese-British men, with their restaurant and takeaway businesses entailing long working hours and often life in a town where they are the only Chinese family, are considered no catch by Hong Kong women. Mainland women, in contrast, accept such marriages as a way of securing their British residency so they do not have to return to China. Ms Chan said: ''Most said they did not know the life would be so hard. They thought that as a business, catering was good, but did not realise their lives would be so isolated. ''They say: 'If I had known before I would not have married, I would not have come here. I would prefer to live on a farm in Guangdong.' '' Ms Chan has carried out a study of Chinese-British women in Manchester. She interviewed 30 with children under the age of five. She believes her findings are representative of the Chinese community in general as they are supported by an earlier telephone survey of 400 women in Manchester and interviews with 28 health visitors and 40 general practitioner doctors, as well as her work in an information centre in Manchester's Chinatown, which liaises with its London counterpart. While she concentrated on families of Hong Kong origin, she found that about 20 per cent of the women came from southern China, married to Hong Kong men, the vast majority of Hakka origin. In Britain as a whole, over 80 per cent of the men are of Hakka origin. Many had once come from Baoan County in Guangdong, later moving to the New Territories and from there to Britain. Women from southern China who married into Hakka families faced many problems because they did not understand the Hakka sub-culture, with its cohesive family ties and strong emphasis on the importance of the male, said Ms Chan. ''The women found it hard to accept the reality that they married into a family that was very different from their own. ''This is becoming more and more of a problem, as more British-Chinese men marry mainland women, who are usually more educated than them, and culturally very different,'' said Ms Chan. About three-quarters of the British-Chinese families are engaged in the catering trade, many moving jobs and homes frequently in search of a better life. ''That is a very hard life and their socio-economic status is low. Many women cannot understand the language. Their social isolation is severe,'' said Ms Chan. She believes the husbands to be severely isolated too, the majority turning to gambling and venting their frustrations on their families and wives. ''The wives do suffer a lot of emotional problems. They are not happy people.'' In her work as a nurse in Manchester's Chinatown she noticed many women suffering psychosomatic symptoms, such as skin problems. In her study, only 26 per cent of the women stated they had a happy family. Fifty per cent said life was ''just OK'' and 23 per cent said family life was not happy at all. Ms Chan reports that most marriages within the British-Chinese community were arranged. Forty per cent of the women had only known their husbands for between three and six months before marriage, the rest for less than a year. Frequently men would go to China for a short holiday to find a wife. The study revealed that within a marriage, it was nearly always the woman who was new to Britain rather than the man. Women stated that they came to Britain to join their husbands, while the men had gone as children to join their parents. The vast majority of women had to work in a restaurant or takeaway as the main assistant. ''Chinese women bear a heavy workload, being both full-time mothers and part-time catering workers.'' Some report that they had no energy to take their children to nursery school, unable to wake up in time after working long hours at night. Many lacked language skills and transport to enjoy mobility and independence. According to the study, the majority of Chinese mothers could not drive a car. They said that it was hard to rely upon their husbands to drive the children to school. Some husbands even refused to do so. The greatest wish among the women was to visit their families in Hong Kong and China, followed by watching their children grow up and be well-educated. But Ms Chan said that the women often found themselves distanced from their children. ''This is so sad because many parents sought a better life for their children. The children are caught between two cultures, and are socially deprived from being brought up within the catering trade. They spend their childhood upstairs, while their parents work.'' If the children did well academically they would want to leave the lifestyle they had been brought up in and seek a professional career. But many were dragged down by their background and did not do well, dropping out of further education because they knew they had a job waiting in the catering business. Few Hong Kong people understood the life of overseas Chinese, said Ms Chan. ''No matter if the migrants are professional or non-professional they still suffer some kind of social isolation. In the United Kingdom it is more difficult than in the United States or Canada for professionals to integrate into the whole society.'' She said that within minority communities, the women were particularly vulnerable, having the responsibility of caring for the family and relatives as well as working in the family business, but often not being able to speak English and being ignorant ofthe host society's services. ''The Chinese are undoubtedly one of the least understood of all Britain's immigrant minorities. Only a handful of scholars have studied this group,'' she said.