Saturday, 24 June 2017

Who Should We Let In? Anna Chen joins Ian Hislop's investigation of immigration hysteria in Britain

Anna Chen discusses Victorian-era Yellow Peril fears with Ian Hislop on Who Should We Let In? Thursday 22nd June, 9pm, BBC2

From the sublime to the ridiculous. There was I, having a high old time with Ian Hislop on Who Should We Let In?— the First Great Immigration Row, his grown-up investigation into the origins of immigration hysteria in Old Blighty, when – like a toxic photobomb – up pops a modern embodiment of racism. Yes indeed, poor Katie Hopkins (for it is she), has been projecting her demons with satanic ferocity only to have it dawn that the monster is actually herself.

I'd been talking to Ian about Victorian attitudes towards the Chinese, portrayed in the 1900s as "hordes of fanatical barbarians", and lurid reports of massacres that never happened in early versions of the Fake News which the Daily Mail does so well and so often. Never mind the mid-19th century Opium Wars waged by Britain, which was mass producing industrial tonnages of opium in Bengal and forcing it onto the Chinese population at the point of a gun. Having turned an expensive aristocratic vice into a cheap nationwide addiction, the Brits were able — along with the other European and Asian superpowers — to take advantage of an ailing, decrepit Ching dynasty and bite off great chunks of China. Hence Hong Kong, among other territories ceded to imperialist powers.

A vicious Yellow Peril mania fuelling fear, revulsion and paranoia saturated the Yellow Press. A tiny turn-of-the-century UK Chinese population of 400 was smeared with images of drugs and sex: a bleedin' obvious projection of the vast undifferentiated id belonging to the repressed Victorians. By 1905 Britain had scored its first immigration control in the form of the Aliens Act (aimed at Jews) and, when in 1906, on the promise of jobs, 32 Chinese migrants were allowed in to Liverpool, the press barons were not so much predicting a riot as pouring on the petrol to ensure that riots took place.

"British jobs for British workers," was the rallying cry, something I have heard in my own lifetime applied to UK Chinese not only from the right but also in the British outside left. Trade unionist and co-founder of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) James Sexton may be a hero of the Liverpool labour movement, but he rode this wave of hatred for all it was worth: it has been pointed out that "he won St Anne's ward in 1905 on an overtly anti-Chinese (and anti- Semitic) manifesto." Whether or not the left stick to socialist principles over free movement of labour as well as capital when Brexit presents such get-rich-quick pickings remains to be seen.

In 1906, still others scented blood. With a jaundiced eye on the main chance, American writer Claude Blake migrated to Britain and rang the dinner bell on the tiny group of would-be laundry and shop workers in a sensationalist series of articles, entirely oblivious to the hypocrisy of his own freedom to travel and displace hard-working journos in Ingerland. His most infamous article, "Chinese Vice in England: a view of terrible conditions at close range" in the Sunday Chronicle, described "dark, dirty, evil-smelling streets", "half-caste youngsters" and "sinister offspring". (Well, hell-ooo!) The Chinese were "far less fitted to form an integral part of a civilised white community." These stereotypes linger still — more easily detected in up-front "monsters" like Hopkins but also hanging around the left like a bad smell.

Alarmed by Blake's article, Liverpool City Council investigated, finding only that their Chinese community was in fact "the embodiment of public order". Facts? Facts? Who cares about facts?

Over a century on, nuthin' changes. Hopkins observes, "Two things sell newspapers, Maddy McCann and migration." "It feels so modern, so contemporary," she gushes over Blake's article. Under Ian's steely gaze and queasiness over her use of the word "cockroaches" to describe migrants, she slips and slithers and volunteers some bullshit that it was really migrants' endurance that led to the comparison. She says she admires Blake's language, both of them happy to describe migrant communities as "festering sores". Ian offers "an offence against humanity" as a more accurate definition but this hurtles right over her pink-rinse. Challenged on her "plague of feral humans" — "Are they all feral? Is it actually a 'plague'? Have you met any asylum seekers?" — her pitch and volume rise as she defends the indefensible, descending into Trumpelicious attacks on the PC meeja including Hislop; collectively responsible, she says, for the biglyness of her audience. She reminds me of Caliban, the dark mirror of the human soul, and seems to see herself as a Teller of Titanic Truths who would people "this isle with Calibans" while blaming others for her excesses.

Well done, Ian, for leading Hopkins to some sort of moment of self-enlightenment, even if it did emerge with the feeble glimmer of a 20-watt light bulb. Illuminating, all the same. Hopkin's self-aggrandising movie cliché, "I am the monster but you made me," denies intellectual responsibility or free will, putting her at the heart of a drama whose tragic consequences have nothing to do with commentators like her mangling the facts.

I've tried to be generous with Hopkins, aware that she has a severe epileptic condition that wipes out swathes of brain cells with every episode. However, making her illness an excuse would risk ascribing her malice to everyone sharing her disability rather than merely those sharing her poisonous ideology. But what do I know? Perhaps fear and paranoia around "other" really does come down to a brain disorder with synapses misfiring all over the place and, as ever, innocents caught in the crossfire.

As innocents always are.

Who Should We Let In is available to watch on iPlayer for 30 days from 22nd June 2017

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Roger Moore dies at 89: sweet guy on and off the set

Hours after the horrific murder of young people at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester targeted by nihilistic sadists, comes news that another one of our screen icons is dead, aged 89.

I met Roger Moore when I was in one of the Bond movies as a teenager. I was sharing the dressing room opposite his at Pinewood with Bunny twins and he'd have us over for tea — proper silver service with cakes and sarnies. He was a lovely, generous guy even if he wasn't my favourite Bond by a long chalk. A great raconteur and delightful company who everyone found easy to work with.

So many deaths today. Look after the kids, Roger. RIP all you innocents.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Somi de Souza's play Revolution in a Catsuit opens in Los Angeles: video interviews

Somi de Souza's play Revolution in a Catsuit has bite, depth and substance. Ignored in Britain where minority artists are rendered invisible, it finally won support in Los Angeles where it is running at the Bootleg Theater until the end of April.

Can't wait for the video of the show. In the meantime, here are some behind-the-scenes conversations.

Somi de Souza:

Michael Phillip Edwards (multiple award winning actor, writer and director of the play 'Runt') discusses directing 'Revolution in a Catsuit':

Kirk Wilson - Production Designer:

Thursday, 13 April 2017

First ever UK exhibition on the Great War’s Chinese Labour Corps: Durham University 7th April to 24th September.

I'm afraid I've missed the 7th April launch date for the Chinese Labour Corps Memorial Campaign exhibition but it runs until 24th September 2017. Nearly 100,000 Chinese men served on the European battlefields of World War I doing the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs, clearing mines and dead bodies, and transporting explosives for the allied effort and yet they remain unrecognised. Here's the score ...

Chinese Labour Corps Memorial Campaign — Remembering the 96,000 Chinese volunteers of the First World War

Major new exhibition seeks to right an historic wrong and increase public awareness of the contributions made by Chinese volunteers to the campaigns in France and Flanders.

“Smiling for the camera”. WJ Hawkings Collection, courtesy of John de Lucy.

• Durham University’s Oriental Museum stages UK’s first ever exhibition on the Great War’s Chinese Labour Corps.
• Draws on official and private collections - including diaries; rare photographs; trench art; medals; newspapers; ephemera; and original equipment.
• Recently rediscovered WJ Hawkings Photographic Collection on public display for first time.
• Exhibition challenges the traditional narrative of strained relationships between British Officers and their Chinese charges.

The Ensuring We Remember Campaign has had the pleasure of working with Durham University’s Oriental Museum for almost three years, supporting the museum to stage a major new exhibition, A Good Reputation Endures Forever: The Chinese Labour Corps on the Western Front, opening on 7th April. It explores the role of the thousands of Chinese who risked their lives alongside the British armed forces during the First World War.

During the First World War 96,000 Chinese men volunteered to work for Britain as part of the Chinese Labour Corps (CLC). Although officially non-combatant, the CLC served on the Western Front and was commanded by British army officers and NCOs. They undertook essential and often dangerous work behind the lines on the Western Front and many lost their lives, whilst others won awards for courage.

Exhibition Curator, Dr Craig Barclay, said: “The exhibition’s title - A Good Reputation Endures Forever - recalls one of the inscriptions to be found on the gravestones of the men of the CLC who now rest beneath Flanders Fields.”

“Although there has been a considerable rise in interest in the story of the CLC in China, there remains little awareness in the West of the contribution of China during World War I. Since 2010, a small number of academic publications have explored the lives of the men of the CLC. No exhibition devoted to the subject has ever been staged in Britain however and the members of the CLC have rightly been described as the 'forgotten of the forgotten'.”

Drawing on official and private collections - including diaries; rare photographs; trench art; medals; newspapers; ephemera; and original equipment - this exhibition seeks to right an historic wrong and increase public awareness of the contributions made by these Chinese volunteers to the campaigns in France and Flanders.

Steve Lau, Chair of the Ensuring We Remember Campaign, observed: “This is a truly historic exhibition, not only because it is the first such exhibition in the UK, but also because the numerous personal items of British Officers on display, in many ways, challenge the traditional narrative of strained relationships between British Officers and their Chinese charges.”

A large selection of the WJ Hawkings Photographic Collection, rediscovered in 2014 by his grandson, John De Lucy, will be publically displayed for the first time. Unlike the set piece propaganda photographs taken by official photographers, the WJ Hawkings Collection gives a unique insight into the day-to-day lives of the Chinese Labour Corps; many of the photographs are believed to be unique in the subject matter they cover, including the only known extant photographs of the burial of a member f the Chinese Labour Corps.

A Good Reputation Endures Forever opens to the public on Friday 7th April 2017 and runs until 24th September. For more details visit the museum website:

The Oriental Museum is open Monday - Friday, 10am - 5pm and Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays, 12pm - 5pm. Entry to the museum is £1.50 for adults, 75p for children (five-16) and Over 60s, and free for children under five and students.

Friday, 7 April 2017

President Trump turns on a dime and bombs Syria: deep state regains control

Obama era anti-war protesters  

Lemme see ... in the week when Steve Bannon is finally ousted from the National Security Council (NSC) with nary a murmer from Trump who suddenly does a dramatic reverse on Syria in the very moments when Chinese President Xi Jinping is at Mar-a-Lago ... Phew! All the behind-the-scenes action finally manifesting in the public sphere with the first direct U.S. airstrike on a Syrian airbase.

Let's unpack this with what little info we have. Assad is winning the civil war but, just at the moment the rebels and their backers want the US smashing them into regime change, he handily provides the event most likely to bring it on and uses the banned chemical weapon sarin on his citizens leaving some 80 dead and many more horribly injured. And only weeks after 30 Yemeni civilians including "beautiful babies" and an American Navy Seal were killed in allied airstrikes in concert with those noble defenders of democracy, Saudi Arabia, and closely following over a hundred killed in Mosul.

Out of 59 U.S. Tomahawk Cruise missiles aimed at the Syrian airforce in a "precision strike", 24 hit their target resulting in around seven deaths but with many more lined up if events escalate.

No evidence has been presented so far to justify this unholy rush to military conflict. Check out Trump's efforts to keep Syrian refugees out of the US (and ours to keep them out of the UK). What of the depleted uranium and cluster bombs used by the US and Brits which continue to do their damage in Iraq? Will the US allow the Syrian rebels to continue using chemical warfare? Guess who sold Syria the chemical components for sarin only last year? BRITAIN! Commiting, facilitating and using atrocities to further your political agenda is WRONG no matter who is doing it.

We are run by monsters who care nothing about the general population — not you, not me, not "beautiful babies" — only the retention of power.

Still, it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good. Reuters report that shares of Raytheon, the makers of the Tomahawk Cruise missile, soared 2.1 per cent immediately after the attack while you'll be relieved to know that US stock futures recovered from a drop after the airstrike on Syria.

This is doing the rounds on Twitter:

What was Trump's reverse-ferret REALLY about? Why is Tillerson now pivoting towards dislodging Assad when all Trump's election rhetoric expressly rejected that particular neo-liberal policy? Is this a diversion from his myriad domestic problems? Had Trump just seen the figures showing U.S. job growth screeching to a halt, and the unemployment rate up at 4.5 per cent signalling the end of the Trump reflation rally? Or has Deep State been digging into the murky oubliettes of Trump and his team, applied the thumbscrews and now produced something solid on him? 'Ey, wanna be impeached? Your businesses trashed? Or would you like us to present you as the best. Pres. Evah? Gotta sell your mate Putin down the river. Gotta let Bannon sink. But you are our President now.

What did they tell Xi at Mar-a-Lago? (Apart from, here's a nice bit of fugu fish that President Abe left for you the other week.) Don't interfere in our plans for Syria if you don't want an unpleasant trade war or worse? It must have been like the Godfather at the southern White House with Don Corleone letting everyone know who's boss, but we don't yet know if the actual Don is the Donald or Deep State, the US political and economic establishment. ('Dis is wha' happen when a guy don't do what a guy is told, capeesh?')

There are parallels with Iraq and look how well that turned out. Let's hope they don't turn Syria into radioactive rubble as well. Meanwhile, we continue to suck up to Saudi, Duterte, the Stans ...

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Lucy Chau Lai-Tuen poetry review: Ungrateful — A Paper Daughter

Review of Lucy Chau Lai-Tuen's poetry collection: glimpses of perpetual marginalisation

A moving, fairly disturbing, collection of poetry from Hong-Kong-born writer and actor Lucy Chau Lai-Tuen, Ungrateful — A Paper Daughter, takes you deep inside the experience of perpetual marginalisation. All the small everyday unthinking acts of callousness that grind you down are laid bare on paper. It begs the question: why do we do this to each other?

There's lot of pain in each of these short poems powered by a strong voice and a clarity of vision that blasts away extraneous matter to reveal the hard, white glittering diamond at the centre.

Each poem grants a glimpse of what it was like to be a Chinese adoptee in Britain in the 1960s onwards, taken on as a baby by a well-meaning but hopelessly out-of-their-depth white family. How must it have felt never having your inner workings seen or responded to with warmth, and an almost entire absence of the most basic human connection: love. A weaker character might have been driven debilitatingly mad but instead, Lucy uses it to fuel her art, to make us see and experience what this existence is like for the person at the heart of it. Together they roll up into a massive punch.

It's not an unrelenting wave of misery, more a series of vignettes, a shutter opening and closing, giving us snapshots of a unique life. In "China Is Not a Good Place to Be a Bird" she finds herself a murmuration of starlings when she longs to be free, "screeching across the air Like the Feral Cockatoos of Hong Kong".

Even in mid life Lucy is still finding out about tradition and habits that might have been second nature had she not been uprooted at birth. She asks, "Why Do Old Chinese People Hoard So Badly?" and sees fear of poverty or worse in:
" ... a jar of fermented baby mouse wine
Empty jars, a precious commodity
Washed out with care
Ready to receive Chinese herbs
For soup
Deer tails
Dried seahorse broth
Empty chocolate tins
Empty tubs ..."

all waiting to be filled with good things, a bit like the poet herself. Is she perpetually balanced on a fulcrum of unease, of displacement, in the moment before toppling into victory or chaos?

The writing is restrained, allowing us to feel the emotion. You don't need hyperbole when the events speak for themselves, the cumulative effect of a thousand cuts bleeding into a massive whole.

Do Chinese count? Lucy has counted and placed politics to the fore in "Chinese Numbers", a chilling page that takes us through cataclysmic events from the Dover 58, the Chinese migrant workers found dead in a lorry, to the estimated 400,000 Chinese killed by Japanese fascists in wartime experiments.

All those colonialist turn-of-the-20th-century yellow peril slanders are still with us, mutated, morphed into manifestations that are deemed acceptable, often hiding in plain sight. Lucy's poems provoke a deep engagement with the questions with which she's grappling. This marginalising dynamic is real and whipping away like a snake and too much of our energy is wasted trying to work around it. Every once in a while it snaps hold and injects its poison. If the author can wake us up to stare it in the eye and call it what it is, then she has done us all a favour.

Ungrateful — A Paper Daughter by Lucy Chau Lai Tuen is available on Amazon