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A gift of a pagoda, the presence of a prominent citizen and the possibilities of hospitality

Chan, Wun Fung (2005) A gift of a pagoda, the presence of a prominent citizen and the possibilities of hospitality. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 23 (1). pp. 11-28. ISSN 0263-7758

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Abstract

To counter accusations that ethnic minorities in Britain are a problem, there is an emerging discourse that has begun to celebrate diversity as an asset, which contributes towards the nation's cultural and economic vitality. However, although this reevaluation of ethnic differences has proved to be a useful defence of the presence of ethnic minorities, the types of contributions and their significance have been left unexplored. In this paper I closely examine one such contribution, a Chinese pagoda, which was given to the City of Birmingham by an ethnic entrepreneur. By carefully analysing the views of the gift giver, planning documents, and public discourse on the pagoda, I argue that the different narratives -- which encompass the themes of representing an ethnic community, hospitality, and gift giving -- are discontinuous. In doing so, I illustrate some of the limits to Birmingham's hospitality and mark out a series of informal obligations of citizenship that are written into Birmingham's public space. I conclude by suggesting that if a gift of hospitality is to be given it is necessary to consider the other of the ethnic minority as an asset, citizenship, and presence.