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St. David in the East: Welsh Communities in East and Southeast Asia in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

This collaborative project investigates histories of Welsh in Asia, highlighting global connections of Welsh culture and identity, and considering wider ramifications of Wales-Asia connections in the past and in the present.


Since the early twentieth-century, a series of St David’s Societies were set up in East and Southeast Asia, some of which still in existence today. Alongside other institutions, they attest to the rich and multifaceted experiences of Welsh in Asia within and beyond the context of the British empire.

While Welsh nationals in Asia are often remembered as British officials, missionaries, officers, and merchants, the establishment of St David’s Societies in Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai, and Rangoon, amongst other locations and organisations, indicates a collective, consistent, and conscious effort for recognition of a distinct identity.

Existing scholarship on the British Empire in Asia has mostly cantered on the English, Scottish and Irish cases. The Welsh remain underexamined beyond a few studies on South Asia. Using a decolonising approach and multi-language sources, this project foregrounds Wales and the Welsh in a global context and considers specific Asian contexts and actors.

Founding team

The project’s founding team is comprised of Wales-based historians of modern East and Southeast Asia: Dr Yi Li (Aberystwyth University – lead institution), Dr Helena F. S. Lopes (Cardiff University), and Dr Thomas Jansen (University of Wales Trinity Saint David). The initial case studies addressed included, among others, the histories of Welsh in Burma, of Welsh in World War Two and post-war Hong Kong, and the activities of Timothy Richard, a renown Welsh missionary in China.

The project was awarded funding of £5,000 from the Wales Innovation Network and Global Wales Small Grant Scheme in 2023. This funded research trips to Asia and to different UK archives and libraries and an international symposium held at Aberystwyth University in August 2023. The symposium attracted participants from different countries, from senior academics to early career researchers, and demonstrated a wide interest in and potential to develop the project further.

Project expansion

The team is currently planning the project’s expansion, including through additional funding applications and publication plans and by involving more academics based in Europe and in Asia in its activities, as well broadening the thematic scope to consider a wider range of different Wales-Asia connections.

Funded by Wales Innovation Network and Global Wales.

Principal Investigator

Picture of Helena Lopes

Dr Helena Lopes

Lecturer in Modern Asian History

+44 29225 12106