Sunday 26 October 2014

Chinese in Britain this week: South China Morning Post and BBC Radio 4 Extra

Two lots of Chinese in Britain from me this week.

Today, my cover article for the South China Morning Post magazine — "Personal tales of a journey to a new land" — about the sweeping Ming Ai oral history project, backed by the Heritage Lottery Fund documenting, as many UK Chinese as possible 2012-2015. Drawn from stories being published online at the British Chinese Workforce Heritage website.

The second is Chinese In Britain, the repeat of the ten-part series I presented for BBC R4 in 2007, broadcast 14:15 daily from tomorrow on R4Extra. Produced by Mukti Jain Campion at Culture Wise.

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Anna Chen presents the series "Chinese In Britain" on BBC Radio 4: repeated October 2014 on R4 Extra

Anna Chen presents the groundbreaking ten-part series Chinese in Britain made for BBC Radio 4 broadcast in 2007, repeated from 27th October 2014 on R4 Extra. (Recorded 2006 and 2007)

Anna and the late Harry Dewar (Cheong) at the BBC launch of the ten-part series for Radio 4, Chinese In Britain

This seminal work on the Chinese diaspora was presented by Anna Chen and produced by Mukti Jain Campion of Culture Wise for BBC Radio 4.

The series Chinese In Britain brought into view many overlooked aspects of the cultural and social impact of the Chinese in Britain for the first time, including introducing BBC audiences to the first documented Chinese visitor to Britain: Jesuit priest Michael Shen Futsong who impressed King James II enough for the king to have his portrait painted and hung in his bedroom.

Its fascinating range of contributors ranged from the catering giant and philanthropist Wing Yip to the lesser known characters who have lived here and made their mark. Artists such as the late Pam So whose grandmother walked all the way across Europe from China; Yvonne Foley whose Chinese seafaring father was was one of hundreds forcibly repatriated to China after World War II having served Britain in the merchant navy and risked their lives; actors such as Jacqueline Chan, David Yip (The Chinese Detective) and the venerable Burt Kwouk; masterchef and Bafta film editor Dehta Hsiung, whose playwright father Shi I Hsiung had a massive hit on the West End Stage in the 1930s with Lady Precious Stream; Leslie and Connie Ho who were born into Limehouse Chinatown — actually two streets, Limehouse Causeway and Pennyfields.

We looked at the myth of Chinatown and how it was created, and the yellow peril fears that made a career for Brummie hack Sax Rohmer (Arthur Henry Ward) with his villainous creation, Dr Fu Manchu. While Fu Manchu was a fictional student at Edinburgh, the series provided a rare glimpse into the lives of the early Chinese medical students who actually did study there and who contributed to the British way of life, rather than the commonplace racist sensationalism preferred by dimmer media peeps with an eye on showbiz.

Other interviewees included the late Harry Dewar, Dr Diana Yeh, Professor Gregor Benton, Olga Adderton, Dr David Helliwell, Dr John Seed, Professor Michael Fisher, Graham Chan, Dr Ian Wotherspoon, Ying Chinnery, Lee Cheong, Rosa Fong, Grace Lau and Connie and Leslie Ho (above). Not forgetting the late Jessie Lim who wrote and came up with the idea for the series' creation. (Jessie was the mother of several key projects including the anthology of Chinese British writing, Another Province.)

And now, for the benefit of those who missed it first time around and fancy playing catch-up, it's back daily from Monday 27th October 2014 on BBC Radio 4 Extra at 00:15 and 14:15.

Making the series, Chinese In Britain.

Recording the history of Chinese in Britain, a ten-part 15 minute series for BBC Radio 4, for transmission at 3:45pm weekday afternoons over two weeks from Monday 30th April 2007.

Chinese In Britain was a landmark series in an impressive body of radio work produced by Mukti Jain Campion at Culture Wise. In January 2007, on the first day of the big storms, Mukti and Anna went to Liverpool to record more stories for the series.

Anna at the Chinese Seamen's memorial plaque, Pier Head, by a stormy Mersey.
Anna in Liverpool's Chinatown at the site of the old Arthur Holt/Blue Funnel offices in Nelson Street whose steamships brought Chinese to Britain from the late 19th century to the 1960s and 70s.

In Pitt Street where Anna's father used to live before World War II when the Lutwaffe flattened it.

Anna and Professor Michael Fisher at Shadwell Church near Limehouse in east London to see John Anthony's home ground. John Anthony was a Chinese seaman and then an agent looking after Chinese sailors for the East India Shipping Company in the late 18th, early 19th century. He was the first Chinese to be naturalised as a British citizen in 1805.

Burt Kwouk in Inn of the Sixth Happiness

The lovely Burt Kwouk and Anna. Burt has acted in many films including The Inn of the Sixth Happiness and The Pink Panther, where he played Inspector Clouseau's sidekick Kato. He can now be seen in the TV series, Last of the Summer Wine26th July 2006

Anna and actor David Yip at his home. The 1980s TV series, The Chinese Detective, turned David into a household name.
17th August 2006

Lunch with producer Mukti Jain Campion at David Yip's.

Actor David Yip at home.

With Yvonne Foley who deep dived into a forensic investigation on finding out what happened to her father. Like hundreds of other Chinese seamen, who worked on British merchant ships throughout the Second World War, Yvonne believes he was forcibly repatriated by his shipping company (in collusion with the British Government) as soon as the war was over. She also uncovered some material about Anna's own father who helped set up the Chinese Seaman's Union and Kungho Mutual Aid Association for Chinese living in Britain. 27th July 2006

The series introduced Jesuit Priest Michael Shen Futsong to BBC audiences as the first documented Chinese in Britain (thanks to Mukti's illuminating excavations). A favourite of King James II, his portrait hangs in the Queen's collection. He helped catalogue the Chinese books in the Bodleian collection while he was on his world tour of Europe in the late 17th century.


1) VIPs including the first documented Chinese in Britain, Jesuit priest Michel Shen Futsong who Dr David Helliwell describes at Oxford. Professor Michael Fisher talks about John Anthony, the first naturalised Chinese Briton around the turn of the 19th century.

2) Chinatown. The myth of Chinatown, Sax Rohmer, Fu Manchu and the Yellow Peril, and the reality of Limehouse with Connie and Leslie Ho who were born and raised in London's Chinese Limehouse community until the Blitz. Dr John Seed.

3) Ship to Shore. UK ports as centres of Chinese migration to the UK, the role played by Chinese in World War II, and their forced repatriation by the Atlee government after the war. Graham Chan, Yvonne Foley and Professor Gregor Benton.

4) Steam and Starch. Laundries: the iconic industry that gave so many Chinese in Britain a living until the advent of the domestic washing machine. Olga Adderton.

5) Educated in Britain. Students have studied here since the first Chinese medical students in Edinburgh. Dr Ian Wotherspoon.

6) Feet Unbound. The earliest Chinese women in Britain. The fascinating story of the women performers who walked from Hubei in China despite having bound feet. Grace Lau's mother was the wife of a diplomat and so arrived in more stylish fashion in the 1930s. Pamela So, Professor Gregor Benton, Grace Lau.

7) Mixed Blessings. Eurasians. With so few Chinese women in Britain, Chinese seamen often took on white wives, many of the Irish. Yvonne Foley is herself mixed Chinese and British. Her father was a Chinese seaman who was forcibly repatriated from their Liverpool home. Leslie and Connie Ho, who were born and raised in London's Limehouse, say they were better fed than their white counterparts because many white men drank. Lee Cheung of Limehouse welcomed the return of his father from voyage, laden with rare exotic presents such as Jaffa oranges. Actor David Yip was born in Liverpool whose Chinese seaman father was also absent for long parents. Mixed Chinese and black evacuees weren't welcome in Chester and had to walk home. Harry Cheong/Dewar was rejected by the army when he signed up for the Second World War until China joined the allied side.

8) Artistic pursuits. Shi I Hsiung was the first successful playwright and theatre director with his West End hit of the 1930s, Lady Precious Stream. Lauded by George Bernard Shaw, H G Wells and a raft of luminaries, he and his wife were the toast of the town. His son, the masterchef Dehta Hsiung, is interviewed, along with photographer Grace Lau and Dr Diana Yeh.

9) Screen Beginnings. David Yip, Burt Kwouk, Jacqueline Chan and Grace Lau talk about The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, starring Ingrid Bergman as Gladys Aylward, Robert Donat as the Mandarin and Curt Jurgens as General Lin and shot in Snowdonia. Made in 1958, it was a breakthrough for many of our best known Chinese actors, such as Tsai Chin.

10)  Takeway. With Wing Yip who started out as a waiter in Hull before founding his food empire.

Series music by Chi2. Intro voice David Tse.

“A fascinating story” - Chris Campling, The Times
“Each episode sounded effortless only because it had been crafted with such supreme care” - Gillian Reynolds, The Daily Telegraph

LISTEN AGAIN FROM SUNDAY NIGHT, QUARTER PAST MIDNIGHT: daily from Monday 27th October 2014 on BBC Radio 4 Extra at 00:15 and 14:15.

LAUNCH PARTY at BBC Broadcasting House.

Edit 2nd August 2022: Yvonne Foley's campaign succeeds in winning today's Home Office acknowledgment of the secret forced expulsion of the Chinese seamen who'd aided Britain during World War II and settled in Liverpool.

Sunday 19 October 2014

Anna on the BBC World Service Weekend programme, 18th October 2014

I was a guest on the BBC World Service Weekend programme on Saturday, talking about the news: the Middle East, The Catholic Synod, Ebola and sheds. This year is the tenth anniversary of the Morecambe Bay Chinese cocklepickers disaster so I read my poem, "I Am Rich and Your Are Poor: lines on dead Chinese workers and their rich benefactors".

Daniel Johnson (son of Paul and editor of Standpoint mag) was the other guest. It was presented by Paul Henley and producer by Michael Innes.

You have seven days to listen … and other Ringu tropes.

Monday 13 October 2014

Yellow Peril Orientalism past and present: awaiting Chris Frayling's new Chinaphobia book

This morning's hypnagogic state was interrupted by a call from Pat Edlin, who excitedly told me about a book by Chris Grayling about yellow peril fears and orientalism that he'd just heard discussed on the Today programme (BBC Radio 4).

I did wonder why a dodgy Tory minister would suddenly break the habit of a political lifetime and stick up for underdogs instead of sticking it to them. The thought of kindness and rationality emanating from John Humphrys and the laughably titled Justice Minister blew my noggin enough to have me reaching for Wiki.

Ah, Pat meant the other one. How unfortunate for academic Chris Frayling to so nearly share a name with the Slippery One: only one letter away on the keyboard for anyone with fat fingers.

I met Chris — the nice Chris — on BBC Radio 3's Night Waves in 2011 when I was talking about Anna May Wong and the dire representation of Chinese and east Asians in general in the media. I'm delighted to see him take on this subject and hopefully give it the Edward Said Orientalism treatment.

Here's a round-up of yellow peril episodes both historical and current that we've had to deal with.

From Anna May Wong having to die every time a white bloke fancied her, Sherlock's Blind Banker episode and propagandist hack Sax Rohmer's villainous Fu Manchu to the government blaming Chinese Brits for for its own failure to contain the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in 2001, we've encountered a slew of challenges, and even won a few of 'em.

I'm looking forward to reading Chris Frayling's new book, The Yellow Peril: Dr Fu Manchu and the Rise of Chinaphobia (Thames and Hudson), presumably covering similar ground as Philip Dodds' sympathetic Radio 4 programme, Overwhelming China, that Daniel York, my fellow Fu Fighter, and I were on a while back.

Let's hope we're hitting a critical mass and that all this yellow peril nonsense will come to a swift end.

And then the BBC sacked Jeremy Clarkson, and then I woke up.

Saturday 4 October 2014

Dislocating Asia review: groundbreaking cultural event showcasing East Asian British music, literature and poetry

Last night's Dislocating Asia event at The Forge in Camden was more than a whole heap of fun: it was significant in showcasing a variety of top East Asian talent without a hint of faux orientalism.

We were the cool kids (okay, we were the rebels smoking fags behind the bike sheds and sassing the dweebs from the back seats in the class), and all references to our East Asian heritage flowed from an organic part of who we are and our interests, without a panda or pander in sight — unless you count my poem, "Chi Chi's Glorious Swansong" (about the great panda star of London Zoo in the 1960s). It was one of the first events of its kind that I can recall where you didn't cringe with embarrassment at the insecurities of the third largest non-white ethnic minority on display: it was another marker in the British East Asian community at long last, finally growing up.

Dr Diana Yeh curated the evening around the publication of her book, The Happy Hsiungs: Performing China and the Struggle for Modernity.

Diana was first up with an illustrated talk about the Hsiungs that flew by. Extracts from the play, enacted by Jennifer Lim, Daniel York, Melody Brown and Amanda Maud, revealed a witty comedy of manners and a case of mistaken identity: most apt for a minority constantly being denied theirs. This was underlined by photographs of the original cast — all white actors in yellow face. Oh, how we laughed.

Shih-I Hsiung, now almost forgotten but about to be resurrected, was a barnstorming playwright whose hit West End play, Lady Precious Stream, made him and Mrs Hsiung (the first Chinese woman writer to publish a book in English) the toast of the town. George Bernard Shaw considered him to be the Chinese Shakespeare but advised him that Chinese-themed work would assure him of success. His great hit show, based on a Chinese classic, played the West End for 733 nights from 27th November 1934, going on to be performed internationally from Israel to Kenya, and was adapted for television in 1950.

He has been rediscovered in China, where diaspora pioneers such as Hsiung and Anna May Wong are seen as important cultural icons in the history of the new superpower.

Hsiung's son, the elderly masterchef Deh-ta Hsiung, attended with his wife Julia. The Forge is a great new venue with wonderful acoustics, like a mini-version of the Royal Festival Hall. Its 60-seat capacity was rammed for the show.

Melody, Amanda and Daniel took the stage in their other guise of the night: the three-piece acoustic band, Wondermare. Melody and Amanda's warm, delicately-nuanced harmonies convey a range of emotions from the menace of David Byrne's Psycho Killer to the gentle comedy of My Lovely Horse from Father Ted. Daniel departed from his mandolin to serve up a stonking slide guitar solo in Ode to Billie Joe. They called on Liz Chi Yen Liew and Charles Shaar Murray to accompany them for their final song, a stirring commemoration of the Morecambe Bay cockle-pickers who died ten years ago this month.

I did a thirty-minute poetry set, reading from my book, Reaching for my Gnu, and performed a few new ones including Margaret Thatcher Died At the Ritz and Eating Placenta: Lines on the Royal Birth, before Charles Shaar Murray joined me for Anna May Wong Must Die.

Composer Liz Chi Yen Liew, who has worked with a host of big names in music including Moby, proves a fierce violinist and pianist, sensitively complemented by Dennis Lee on flute and zither. Lee's delicacy on the zither means every plucked note resonates with depth that reaches right into your belly. My friend Paul Anderson was literally moved to tears and snuffled away quietly into his beer. It was his birthday so he was most likely contemplating the passage of time and similar existential matters — it was that sort of a night. Liz and Dennis brought the show to a rousing end, leaving DJ Zoe Baxter, whose Lucky Cat series resumes shortly on Resonance 104.4FM, to spin her hidden wonders of early East Asian recording — always a fascinating listen.

We all had such a great time that we're hoping to repeat it. Who knows? There may even be a Wondermarey Christmas on the way.

Thursday 2 October 2014

Tonight at The Forge: I'm reading poetry among a smorgasbord of East Asian talent

DISLOCATING ASIA 7pm tonight at The Forge in Camden.

It's finally arrived … 7pm TONIGHT, I'm performing at the spectacular Dislocating Asia talent fest in Camden. With Charles Shaar Murray, Diana Yeh, Daniel York, Jennifer Lim, Wondermare, Liz Chi Yen Liew (Chi2, Damon Albarn) and Lucky Cat Zoe Baxter.

I'll be doing a 25 minute poetry set accompanied by Charles Shaar Murray on guitar, who'll also be guesting with Wondermare.

Dislocating Asia
This event is part of Camden Migration Festival

WIN: A whole bundle of prizes from our Dislocating Asia contributors. To be in with a chance to take the following home, simply book your ticket now.
1) Signed copy of Diana Yeh's book The Happy Hsiungs: Performing China and the Struggle for Modernity
2) Signed copy of Anna Chen's poetry collection Reaching for My Gnu
3) Signed copy of Liz Liew's CD Snapshots
4) DJ Lucky Cut Zoe Baxter's exclusive mix CD with sleeve notes

The Forge
3-7 Delancey Street

020 7383 7808