Monday 21 July 2014

Windows to the past - China in Liverpool: South China Morning Post City Scope column


My City Scope column for the South China Morning Post magazine 20th July 2014.

City scope: Windows to the past
Anna Chen in Liverpool

Liverpool, home to the oldest Chinese community in Europe, is hosting the International Festival for Business (IFB) this summer. And if you thought Britain was a country that didn't "make" anything any more, the IFB's emphasis on hi-tech industries serves as a reminder of what the nation does so well: the manufacturing, advanced engineering, automotive and aerospace sectors are all thriving.

Having been booked to read poetry for the festival's China Day, I discovered the city has had a wash and a brush-up in the decade since I last visited. The first thing you notice on emerging from the swanky new curved roof of Lime Street Station is the acreage of glass and steel springing up alongside the old iconic architecture.

The building of the Tate Liverpool art gallery in 1988 spearheaded a revival of interest in the visual arts, but it's only now that the visitor can see it exploding from the town's every pore.

Opposite the Il Forno restaurant, in Duke Street, where I was due to give my talk on the Chinese diaspora and read poetry, a grim Georgian terrace has been magically transformed into "Opera for Chinatown", an art installation dedicated to early Chinese immigrants. Once a boarding house, it's now a key piece of history for the Chinese in Britain.

A palette of scarlet, black, yellow and ocean blue against red brickwork frames enlarged black and white photographs of bygone inhabitants gazing out from the windows at the modern world. Descendants of these subjects have been moved to tears on seeing a forgotten generation made visible.

Some of those early boarding-house residents were sailors who'd served in the British merchant navy during the second world war, but were secretly and forcibly repatriated to China after risking their lives for the Allied cause. Many left behind families who never learnt of their fate.

In The Curious Disappearance of Mr Foo, a remarkable play about this shameful episode, which premiered at the festival, Simon Wan and Tina Malone play lovers torn apart by the Clement Attlee government's betrayal.

Writers Moira Kenny and John Campbell based the dialogue on verbatim testimony from their Sound Agents oral history project to create a powerful and illuminating drama which, alongside their invaluable preservation of the story of Liverpool's Chinese population, places the city centre stage in the rich chronicle of the diaspora.

Sunday 20 July 2014

The Verse That Stings: Copper Comes A Cropper

Political satire in poetry still knocking around.

Ian Hislop throws down the gauntlet in The Verse That Stings, his BBC Rado 4 programme on a literary hero of mine, Alexander Pope. (Yes, we did read him in Hackney.)

The Private Eye editor and Armando Iannucci bemoan the lack of satirical poetry, so I'm getting mine in now.

Here's one from my collection, Reaching for my Gnu (pub Aaaargh! Press).

Copper Comes A Cropper

A little bit of sympathy at the back, there,
Puh-leaze. Let's be 'avin’ yew.
At the Leveson inquiry
The cruellest moment is when
Sir Paul Stephenson,
The poor put-upon former chief Bill,
Hobbles in on crutches and drops a pill,
Cutting such a pathetic sight
Under the assembled legal might.
So small for a tall man,
Bespectacled nerd,
Pinched lips, he can barely cope.
Only a thug like a lawyer
Would punch well-honed words
At a man on the ropes.

He says:
I may be public watchdog eyes and ears
but I wasn't there, never heard a thing,
Couldn't see, except for what the reptiles did to Lord Ian Blair,
Stripped bare in the glare of the Sun
And that wasn't going to happen to me.

A loose-lipped minority gossiped
In a distracting dialogue of disharmony,
Dysfunctional, too close for my liking,
But I couldn't do a thing, not a thing.

Ever so humbly, I suggest you are
Crediting me with a level of analysis I don't have,
I didn't give it any particular thought,
No conclusions can be wrought,
It was just something that happened,
Like the Sun coming up in the morning,
Shedding light on the scum we turned over.
I am not fawning but we don't investigate someone
We know socially and with whom we are friends.
Except when we did the police officers.
A big boy done it and ran away
And stopped us realising there was anything wrong
When he told us there was no new hack sore.
We adopted a defensive mindset instead of a challenging stance,
I can see that now.
It was a cursory glance,
Not wide, not deep,
We were asleep.
If only we had the wisdom of hindsight and weren't caught out
It would all be all right.

I'm not throwing my colleague out of the back of the sleigh and
I can't answer for him but
It would have been wiser presentationally
For him to have done it different.
However, he is away in Bahrain and you aren't getting him back in Old Blighty
Until the heat is off,
Until you call off the dogs,
Until the trail has chilled like the champagne we quaffed as we doffed.
Defending and not challenging,
That was the error of our ways.
We are brave and did not back off, guv,
Just because it was News International.

We were logical and needed the polaroids
'Cause the tapes and diaries in Glenn's black bags were not enough.
It was the Bahrain runaway who did not reopen the enquiry.
He failed, it is regrettable. That's tough.
Fear of taking on a powerful enterprise is not the case.
I did not put the frighteners on the Guardian editor,
Or spray him with Mace,
Or rough him up too much.
Politics over substance,
I merely turned up to understand.
But there was no meeting of minds,
My pulse did not race,
You could not get off your face with him
Unlike the real press, proper gents we could have a laugh with
Over drinksand a nice dinner.
Call it folly but Mr Wallis was generous with the Bolly
And Yates of the Yard was fond of his jollies.
I just did not get it and wasn't keeping tally,
The Met caught Chamy Media off Wallis by getting too pally
But we gave him Cressida Dick.

A lack of evidence beyond the lone rogue reporter
Meant rationed resources and an underfunded force
Would not be put on the job as a matter of course.
Please give us more dosh if you wish us to wield the cosh.
I was overworked with anti-terrorism,
The Olympics,
Not my decision,
A junior did it and is sunning himself in sandy climes.
I am an ill man, I need a week in a spa.
Can you recommend one?

And so they adjourn for another time.
But spare a thought for the thin blue line.
Poor Raisa, disappeared, turned to glue,
Currently starring in a pet-food can near you
To stop her singing like a canary,
Squealing like a pig at an inquiry.
Take the porkers she carried;
She knew Cameron's arse inside and out,
Blue heart and stout,
Fullsome about Coulson,
He put it about,
Withdrew when the thin blue sphincter tightened,
Purged the toad and found his load lightened.
Raisa rode bravely into the student throngs they harried,
Righting a wrong for the right,
Got the stomach for a fight when protesters say neigh
And you weigh as much as ten of them
With a bobby on your back.
Truncheoned before luncheon
Unfree by tea,
Scuppered before supper.
A hack for the hacks,
The sack for the lax
When they find out
Her hooves are all over this
and her head is in some mogul's bed.

Anna Chen March 2012

More facts emerge about Cameron, Rebekah Brooks and Raisa.

Thursday 10 July 2014

THIS AFFECTS YOU: EU & US feeding us to corporations with planned TTIP legislation

Video of Cameron handing us to the corporations like fatted cattle. Cannibalised by Morlocks.

Is everyone aware what the EU and US are planning to do?

No TTIP Day of Action Saturday 12th July 2014

More info on">Facebook

Behind closed doors, the EU and US are planning the biggest corporate power grab in a decade. Join us in central London on 12 July to say: hands off!

If agreed, the EU-US Trade Deal (TTIP) would grant corporations the power to sue governments, threatening to lock-in the privatisation of our schools and NHS. Rules that protect workers, the environment, food safety, digital rights and privacy would be undermined, with harmful industries like fracking encouraged.

But we can defeat this agreement. On Saturday 12 July, people in towns and cities across the UK and Ireland will be taking action together.

Take to the streets with us in central London on 12 July. Meet 12 noon outside the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) for a creative action with a few surprises.

Together we will raise our voices in the heart of Whitehall, transforming a space with art, theatre, workshops and music -- and kick-starting a new movement with the power to win.

See you on 12 July.
Twitter: #NoTTIP and #SayNo2TTIP


Part of the #NoTTIP day of action, supported by: 15MLondon,, An Taisce, ATTAC Ireland, Biofuelwatch, Campaign Against Climate Change, Centre for Global Education, Christian Ecology Link, Comhlámh Trade Justice Group, Community Food Growers Network, Corporate Watch, Disabled People Against Cuts, Environmental Pillar, European Greens in London, Frack Free Sussex, Frack Off London, Friends of the Earth, Fuel Poverty Action, Globalise Resistance, GMB, Green Party London, Green Party of England and Wales, GreenNet, IOPS, Jubilee Debt Campaign, Keep Our NHS Public, Left Unity, Lewisham People Before Profit, London Federation of Green Parties, Occupy London, Open Rights Group, OurNHS, People & Planet, People’s Assembly Against Austerity, Pirate Party UK, Platform, Presentation Justice Network, Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), Reclaim the Power, Red Pepper, Roj Women's Association, STOPAIDS, Student Stop Aids Campaign, SumOfUs, Tax-payers Against Poverty, Trocaire, UK Food Group, UK Uncut, Unison, University and College Union (UCU), War on Want, We Own It, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, World Development Movement, Young Friends of the Earth, Young Greens.

Wednesday 9 July 2014

Photo of me with my band years ago: The Snow Leopards

Just found this archive curiosity from years back, way before Apple OSX was twinkle in Steve Jobs's eye. A pic of me with my band, The Snow Leopards.

Sunday 6 July 2014

Is the media ready to accept East Asians as part of British diversity? by actress Lucy Sheen

Actress Lucy Sheen asks what many of us are wondering.

Is the media ready to accept East Asians as part of British diversity?

So after a hopeful start to last week with the launch of Act For Change campaign, the broad acceptance from ITV and the BBC that quotas for BAME artists and creatives are a good thing, to help ensure the diversity and variety that we experience in reality is reflected back in the media.

That was not what I was expecting to hear, very welcome, but then I’m a cynic. I’ve had over thirty years of watching , being actively involved when I was young enthusiastic and naively optimistic. When I say that I was involved, I was as ‘involved’ as those in power would allow a young East Asian to be involved. Back in the days when I would have been referred to as an Oriental. Yes folks, you read it right. ORIENTAL. Not that such language and terms are being used nowadays …

So when it comes to matters of equality and diversity, especially being an East Asian, where we are a minority within the minorities and still being treated appalling, is it any wonder after thirty years that I have evolved into the cynic that I am now.

Why would now be any different to all the those other initiatives, schemes and past “interventions?”

Well . . .

Since the dreadful Royal Shakespeare controversy back in 2012 with their casting of The Orphan of Zhao things have never quite been the same, in my opinion, within the BAME community. (Sidebar, oh how I wish we could find a better term to use when referring to ourselves. Maybe it’s the dyslexic in me but whenever I see BAME I some how always fleeting see the word BLAME. Anyway that’s a whole separate post on it’s own).

And this is the American production of The Orphan of Zhao. Exact same play produced by the American Conservatory Theater – RSC et el take note

The classical foot in the mouth from the cradle of The Bard was probably the best thing that could have occurred for the British East Asians. It drew together many people from across the cultural and ethnic spectrum which is the reality of Britain. Hell it drew in support from around the world! The Orphan of Zhao wasn’t just seen as an East Asian “problem” and an insult to only British East Asians.

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

It is a fault within our supposed multicultural, tolerant liberal society. Differing racial and ethnic groups came together and recognised that the British part of being East Asian, in fact Black or Asian was consistently being ignored and conveniently erased. If used, it was only when it was expedient for others to do so and always at our own expense. The British East Asian Artist group, in my personal opinion, has done more, been instrumental in more and has spoken out more, about the deplorable, lamentable and yes one could say ‘criminal’ state of affairs for British East Asian Artists. More movement, realistic engagement, instigation for change and equality has occurred in the short time since the BEAA (British East Asian Artists Group) was founded in 2012 then in all the previous years. Through the efforts and campaigning of the BEAA (British East Asian Artists Group) East Asians now find themselves at the table in vital and essential talks with the very institutions that have hitherto seemingly ignored British East Asians, such as the BBC (British Broadcasting Company) and Politicians. The BEAA actively supports both Act For Change and the TV Collective and has been instrumental in getting involved and achieving representation in talks with Ed Vaizey MP and the BBC.

The Arts Council of England published the findings of an independent report claiming that the arts and culture sector accounts for 0.4% of gross domestic product, with £5.9 billion worth of gross value added to the UK economy in 2011. London theatres enjoyed record ticket attendances and revenues in 2013, generating £97.5m of VAT receipts for the UK Treasury. Attendances for 2013 were up 4% on 2012 to 14,587,276 with gross sales rising by 11% year on year to £585.5m, according to the figures from the Society of London Theatre.

On stage in 2013 was an amazing year for British East Asian Artists:
The Arrest of Ai Weiwei at The Hamsptead Theatre in April. Chimerica in May at the Almeida Theatre then transferring to the Westend The Harold Pinter Theatre. Yellowface at The Park Theatre in May and then the Royal National Theatre at the Shed, The Fu Manchu Complex written by British East Asian actor, writer and activist Daniel York in September, The World of Extreme Happiness at The Royal National Theatre in The Shed in October and Golden Child at The New Diorama. It was an explosion of East Asian talent on stage and off. The productions found audiences. People bought tickets and put their bums on the seats. Audiences the mirrored the variety and diversity of the British population. People went to see shows about East Asians, with East Asian themes. And shock horror performed by British East Asian actors. Two things it can’t now be said there are no East Asian performers – or yes there are but then consistently only concentrating interest a small meagre handful of performers.

Secondly, no longer can it be said, “oh there isn’t an audience for such plays.”

Britain is a diverse and mixed country in terms of the people who now inhabit these shores.

In London, the 2011 Census, London’s population was 8.17 million, making it the most populous European city. More than 4 out of every ten Londoners (42 per cent) identify themselves as belonging to another group other than Caucasian. What everyone thinks about this state of affairs is an entirely different matter. Britain is not going to suddenly revert back to being a predominantly Caucasian country, sorry (well actually I am not) UKIP et all. The world has moved on, literally and so has its people from country to country, crossing continents and time zones.

So why hasn’t the British culture, our Theatre, Film and Television moved to reflect the diversity we see on our streets? I can’t believe that in the popular media I don’t regularly see characters the reflect me. I’m not talking about the odd Chinese waiter, tongue tied tourist, or the occasional Doctor or Surgeon or even overseas student.

When I turn on my TV, when I see another East Asian, it’s usually a characterisation from a very narrow perspective. Seldom do I see myself, or people who look like like me, portrayed in an accurate and realistic manner, let alone as being British. I have to make do with the heavily accented, menial and or illegal worker. Occasionally there’ll be a Doctor, a secretary or a nerdy student. Apparently there is no in between. As an East Asian more times than not, you’re isolated, socially separated by language, culture and ingrained biggatory.

As an overseas East Asian character you’re allowed to be intelligent, successful and financially well off, but you can also be ruthless, dodgy and somehow an inherently flawed human being. But on the upside you’ll be seen as authentic.

I’m standing right in front of you, as are many others, with not a “me no spleakie” accent, DVD seller or Machiavellian master of crime to be seen anywhere.

Is this continued white washing, an attempt to keep the British cultural landscape western and Caucasian? Is it an almost subliminal subconscious last stand? The last vestiges of institutional and structural racism? An attempt by the old guard in society to divide and rule and thereby some how keep the colonials in their place?

It’s not as if there aren’t the talented and trained East Asian artists out there. Where we fall down is the inability, or lack of willingness on the part of the British media to embrace East Asians. Unlike their colleagues of Black British and British Asian heritage who have been incorporated (to some degree) into the cultural landscape. Comedy shows and serials have been set around or based on their respective communities. Characters from specific ethnicities that draw the audience into an alternative view of British life.

The Fosters (1976-1977), Black Silk (1985), South of the Border (1988), Goodness Gracious Me (1988-2014), Desmond’s (1989-1994), Prime Suspect 2 (1992), The Kumars at nos. 42 (2001-2006), 55 Degrees North (2004–2005), Luther (2010-2013).

The East Asians have had Johnny Ho in the Chinese Detective (1981 – 1982) and that’s it.

It doesn’t happen often enough across the diverse spectrum of British society. The tragedy is why has this not progressed? The world continues to evolve but British popular media and drama apparently does not or will not? When will I be able to see The Lees from nos.8 or Penny Fields or what about Jean and Enid a black comedy set in an OAP home where the central character, Jean (imaginatively nick-named Chinese Jean by the nursing staff) forms an unlikely friendship with Enid new Staff nurse. If you’re interested in the latter then leave me a message and I’ll happily send over a synopsis or meet with you and talk.

I don’t want to be here in another thirty years still talking about the same issues.

As Anna Chen writer, political blogger, performance poet, stand up comedian and BEAA activist recently wrote: "For someone who’s pretty hard to miss, I’m surprisingly invisible. There’s a whole load of us feeling the same way, and we’re getting behind Act for Change."

Attitudes have to change, in the boardrooms, casting suites and commissioning offices.

Something has got to give, I hope that this is the beginning.

Read Lucy Sheen's full article here

Tuesday 1 July 2014

Chinese British comic Anna Chen says WTF with the stereotypes? Subversive stand-up comedy in the week of Act for Change.

British East Asian comedian Anna Chen on Asian stereotypes, terracotta warriors, and pets.

This week, hundreds of actors, artists and creatives attended the Act for Change conference at the Young Vic in London looking at the alarming lack of diversity in TV, film, the media and the arts.

Fed up with the continuing exclusion of Black Asian Mixed race Ethnic (BAME) actors, I'm reposting a video (above) of a couple of gigs I did a while back at The Lion's Den and Mirth Control, lampooning stupid Asian stereotypes.

London, my home city, is nearly 40 per cent BAME. A few years back there was 31 per cent BAME representation in the media industry, but that's plummeted to five per cent since Ofcom dropped their diversity guidance. I've touched on this before but still no response anywhere from Ofcom who, one might suspect, don't give a flying one.

For someone who's pretty hard to miss, I'm surprisingly invisible. There's a whole load of us feeling the same way, and we're getting behind Act for Change.

Kat, one of my fellow British East Asia Artists (BEAA) co-founders, who tweets as Little Miss Mandu, read out a powerful quote at the conference, illustrating brilliantly our predicament:
"You know, vampires have no reflection in a mirror? There's this idea that monsters have no reflection in a mirror. And what I've always thought isn't that monsters don't have reflections in a mirror. It's that, if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn't feel myself reflected at all … And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it." Junot Diaz

My show, the comically subversive Suzy Wrong — Human Cannon, was all about that. I performed it at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1994 and nothing's changed. Except maybe everything's going backwards.

You can't even rely on the left to do the right thing.

There's a dangerous side to minorities being kept invisible, like a pool of scapegoating ready to activate whenever governments get into trouble. The elephant in the room is that governments can and do divert social anger onto you when they screw up. Being kept in the role of a blank canvas, anyone can project their inner demons onto you.

And there are historical precedents for that.

(Video: two categories in Olympic weightlifting competition are the "snatch" and the "clean and jerk". True.)