The contents were collected by Brian McElney OBE, a British scholar of sinology who worked as a lawyer in Hong Kong. After retirement he tried to present his collection to other museums of Chinese art but eventually set this one up himself.
The first recorded Chinese is a family operating a Chinese laundry in 1909. Then came others; proprietors of Chinese restaurants, a well known bus-driver, tradesmen and lately students and academics at the University.
There are videoed interviews of their impressions of Britain and their lives here. It made a nice personal addition to the static objet d’art.
Can we learn anything by having people as exhibits in a museum? A museum is not the right environment but we certainly should see and listen to immigrants. They see things in our society to which we have become blind or inured. They point out to us how fortunate we are in some aspects of our culture; freedom of expression for instance. Alternatively they are appalled by our toleration of other things; the public display of inebriation at the weekends for one.