Wednesday 9 August 2017

Credit Crunch Suicide: poem about the bankers' crash by Anna Chen

Ten years of austerity since the credit crunch crisis and we're even worse off while the rich doubled their wealth since 2008

It is ten years since the bankers' crash went full blown and what have we done? Austerity, Macjobs, disabled payments cuts, a spiteful bedroom tax costing more to administer than is collected, tax cuts for the better off, women losing seven years of state pension after a lifetime of inequality, students leaving university with crippling debt the size of a mortgage, social cleansing in London through unaffordable "affordable" property prices and demolition of their communities, life expectancy slammed into reverse in the North, hate crimes on the up, the lowest interest rates for 5,000 years, quantitive easing (QE) diluting the value of our money. And the culmination of all that injustice and greed: the Grenfell Tower fire.

The Tories and their media mouthpieces tried to persuade us that Labour caused the crisis even though UK economic growth stood at two or three per cent at the time of the 2010 general election; oh for that rate today. In 2010 the Tories were elected on a raft of lies and a narrative as dissembling as the £350 billion NHS Brexit pledge emblazoned across the Leave battle-bus. Mind you, Labour allowed the Tory narrative to set like concrete, allowing incoming Chancellor George Osborne to use the crash to impose austerity, which is basically the transfer of wealth from the poorest to the richest.

Once in power, Prime Minister David Cameron came on like a Tony Blair mini-me and had a war with Libya in 2011, further destabilising the world. Cameron promised a bonfire of regulations to "kill off the health and safety culture for good". He also gave us the EU referendum, not because there was any widespread demand for it, but in order to quell right-wing rebellion in his own Tory ranks. Some 52% of the vote — 37% of the total electorate, a quarter of the UK population — voted to "Take back control" and promptly handed us over to global warming oil guzzlers and chlorinated chicken merchants. And his actions may very well end up bankrupting the country should the Brexit trajectory be carried through.

Here's a poem I wrote about the crash in 2008. The shock for me is that we are re-entering the same territory with a mountain of debt and market manipulation.

Credit Crunch Suicide

I could have been a banker
Sitting on a ledge
High up on a skyscraper
Coz someone clipped my hedge

I could have been in business
In the city making bids
Take a shotgun to the wife and dogs
And then I’d do the kids

But I’m just a daily worker
About to lose my home
Savings all depleted
Can’t even get a loan

The bankers got their billions
The doggy got a bone
The millions got the wankers
Whose hearts are made of stone

I can cry into me drink
I can curse the gods above
I'd like to give that banker
A bleedin' great big shove

Watch him splat upon the pavement
A human pizza pie
Coz that's where I'll be living
Until the day I die.

by Anna Chen 29 Oct 2008

Wednesday 12 July 2017

Tinderbox plc: a poem for Grenfell Tower

A poem for Grenfell Tower by Anna Chen marking a month since the disaster

Today marks a whole month since the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea, yet the conflagration that killed at least 80 people seems ever present, still fresh in the mind and the heart. This is more than an accident, a natural tragedy — call it gross negligence, call it murder, someone had to make a buck. Only £2 per panel of cladding separated the chances of survival from inevitable death. Then there were the absent sprinklers, the single stairwell, the lack of adequate firefighting equipment, the destruction of regulations designed to keep us safe, and all the other corrupt, mendacious, money-grabbing decisions taken that led us to this point.

While the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea took £55 million a year in rent from the remnants of its social housing, only £38 million made it back to the property that yielded so much loot that the borough was able to amass £274 million to spend on council tax rebates for the better off and flashy opera events in Holland Park. The poorest paid for the amusement of the wealthy. Funny how there's always money for those who need it least.

Artists are engaging with events. Here is my attempt to make sense, reflect and refract. I hope my readers get something out of it.

Tinderbox plc

At the hot point
Of the turning world
A spark lit the flame
That caught the cladding
That burnt the facade
And threw a light
On the burned-out shell
Of the state of the State,
By Lucifer's light,
A glimpse of hell
Roiled and erupted.
Two pounds of flesh
Per shake of dice
No values known,
Just the cheapest price
In modern Britain plc.

A giant with his fiery sword
Sliced and smote from the flash at four,
He slashed the night to twenty-three,
Dividing the world, rich and poor.
He made his mark, he slashed the dark
On the bias to the roof and higher,
Earth to sky, sheer cliff of fire,
Sliced the tower to light and ash
On one side life, the other a fire of flesh,
A cash-fuelled slomo waiting-room of death,
Each poisoned breath counting down
Lives extinguished but not the flames
Blackening air with soot and cinders.
That is my neighbour, this is a mum,
There is the artist, those are children
Unto the last babe in turbulent dreams
Such horror wreaks and wrecks.
This is the state at the top of the heap,
What power sows, the weakest reap.

Another giant slashed and burned for years
And turned a world upon its head,
A bonfire of red tape set in motion
A cascade of events, invisible, minuscule,
Each piling onto each in spidery increments.
Action group Cassandras screamed murders in waiting,
Grievous bodily profit with intent.
Lift a rock and see what crawls,
So many in the frame, your head spins,
The shitlist lengthens with every trawl,
Cash is cruel, cash is king:
National Grid gas pipes, KCTMO, austerity,
Stay Put, politicians, the construction industry ...
Even Maggie Thatcher takes a bow
Her dishes are all cooked by now,
Her high rise cladding on simmer the year the miners struck,
No law now, just luck and the gift that keeps on giving,
She slashed and burned faster than the FR60
One-hour fire-hold rule she flamed,
Halted building, sold off social housing,
Health and safety not gone mad. Just gone.

Aberfan, Hillsborough, Grenfell Tower,
Who had the cash also had the power
To wrap Babel in plastic, for the view palled,
No thought for the living when the opera calls,
A class event, a bagatelle paid for with Grenfell rents,
Rip off the poorest, the system bent.
Gas pipes up the stairwell, smoke in the vents,
Alarms on the fritz, saved a few pence,
Water pressure failing, too little spent,
Retrofit sprinklers too high an expense
And on ignition, stay put was their best advice.
Two pounds of flesh per shake of dice
No values here, just the cheapest price.

The giant scrawled in smoke and flame
Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here
But the firefighters came in all the same
Through Bosch's vision, the scorching Hotpoint near,
Over bodies they clambered, up clogging stairs
Barely three feet wide, on a wing and a prayer
And an underfunded gulp of air.
The sullied air chokes but the horror is pure,
Breathe deep and inhale fury and fear,
Cyanide, asbestos and your neighbours.
Which is the most toxic?
Down in your lungs even now
The death clock ticks, reset

Time was the enemy.
Fire was the enemy.
Mammon was the enemy.
Kensington and Chelsea council was the enemy.
Kensington and Chelsea TMO was the enemy.
The industry was the enemy.
The government was the enemy.
They sprung a trap, a trap was sprung.

Yet still we lived. Watching from an outer circle,
We were resourceful in those hours.
In our heads, at least, perhaps a car could provide a landing.
Could a mountain of mattresses soften the fall?
For these were no princesses on the pea
But cheeky, boisterous boys and girls.
We wished a man could fly.
We wished for Superman, iced chunk of Thames in tow.
We wished a child could bounce,
That they weighed a quarter of an ounce.
We wished we could put gravity on hold
Stretch this moment til an escape was found,
Slow down damn time til they reached the ground.
A thousand people prayed a million wishes:
For a Star Trek transporter to beam them away,
A fakir's rope dropping as the gentle rain from heaven,
For wings to sprout, something miraculous to get them out.
A ladder! A tall ladder, a platform with a high pressure hose,
No, too fanciful when the giant slashes and fire stations close.

Did those knotted blankets lead someone to safety
Or a dead end?
"I had my whole life ahead of me," Gloria Trevisan told her mum.
And it was.
Six and a half minutes with Rania Ibrahim
Is to take a trip to a dark side,
Her voice rings out truth everlasting.
Walk with her, it's the least she deserves.
Walk with the Grenfell dead and soar with angels.
A bonfire of people followed the bonfire of regulations
As surely as night followed night followed darkest night of the soul
Cry cruellest murder, the tower can never be put right.

Over the main route into London from Heathrow,
Looms a burnt-out colossus:
A coked-up Tory wideboy in a cheap suit with a pocketful of loot;
We all learnt the meaning of metaphor that night
In Tinderbox plc.

by Anna Chen
12th July 2017

The author was born and raised in Hackney in east London and lived at Hackney Downs and the Gascoyne Estate.

Apologies for not being able to find the photographers who took the photographs on this page. Please let me know if you took the photographs and if I have your permission to use them with a credit (or if you'd like them taken down). By the same token, please feel free to publish my poem with a credit and link to this page. Thank you.

The Tower: Rewriting Grenfell. Measured, factual, humane response from Architects for Social Housing (ASH) to Andrew O’Hagan'S 60,000 word clickbait article in the London Review of Books defending the RBKC council.

EDIT: More poems are turning up. I'll link to some of them here.

Grenfell Tower, June, 2017: a poem by Ben Okri. ‘If you want to see how the poor die, come see Grenfell Tower.’ Video here

This video of "No Alarms" by Sana Uqba made me cry with its haunting rhythms and powerful imagery

The Merited Moral Remembrance Of The Wilfully Massacred Residents Of Grenfell Tower - Poem by Stanley Collymore

"Grenfell" by Olga Dermott-Bond

"Nowhere": a response to the housing crisis by poet Tony Walsh – audio

"A Hope for the Future" by Angi Holden

On the Liturgical Poetry website, "Grenfell"

"Grenfell Tower" by Lisa Rey

"Towering Shame" by Sarah McGurk

Video of "Grenfell Fell" by Rakin Cisse Niass

"Grenfell Tower" by Maxine Black

"Kensington and Chelsea" by David R Mellor

Video of "Grenfell Tower Fire" by The Truth Poet

"Family Trees (Grenfell Tower)" by Steve Rowland

"Of Grenfell Tower and other scandals": Why we must Whistleblow a wind of change, by John Pearce.

I think this one is from a firefighter or police at the scene: "The Grenfell Tower" by Thin Blue Line UK

"For Grenfell Tower" by Dave Rendle

Two poems at the Culture Matters page, one by Alan Morrison and one by Paul Dovey

Stunning video, "Ghosts of Grenfell", from Lowkey. Live dates

"14th June 2017", a beautiful poem from someone who was instrumental in filling the void left by local and national government, badly marred by territorial pissing in the final stanza. A conclusion about universal love and empathy rather than a demand for "I am not my brother's keeper" indifference might have been more apt because a denial of others' empathy in a cruel world is surely not the path to follow. We are all pieces of the continent of humankind — Picasso didn't have to be at Guernica in order to paint the horror. Would be vastly improved by losing the last six lines.

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 and Edwardian-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 and Edwardian 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

More information about the programme here

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

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

Friday 24 February 2017

Heathcote Williams' American Porn poetry collection: balancing passion and disgust on a razor's edge — review

Five stars for Heathcote Williams' American Porn poetry collection: balancing passion and disgust on a razor's edge

Seems like we are all stuck in a science-fiction writer's coma dream, so deeply weird have been events of the past year. The culmination was the installation by electoral college (as opposed to popular vote) of our Orange Overlord, Toddler Trump. Or is it Eric Cartman and his Asian Cartman counterpart, Kim Wrong-un?

How would Western culture respond?

Fast off the block was Heathcote Williams with his collection of poetry, American Porn. So far, only Williams, South Park's astonishingly good Series 20 with its toxic Memberberries, and gallows-humourist Frankie Boyle have delivered the satirical goods — with the US Saturday Night Live TV series scoring the odd home run with Alec Baldwin's chumping of Trump and Melissa McCarthy's epic savaging of Sean "Squealer" Spicer.

Heathcote is lighter on laughs but more intense on historical background, which anyone familiar with his stunning Royal Babylon will know. There's real substance in his writing, balancing passion and disgust on a razor's edge lest he stare into the abyss for too long. Like all great poets, he connects seemingly disparate events, building a fully three-dimensional picture of how we got here. This requires delving deeply into the alt-fact mire and fishing out shape and sense without puking — a heroic endeavour.

In the opening poem, The United States of Porn, Heathcote takes us from Ancient Rome to Amerigo Vespucci, pornographer to the mafia Medicis; from Chatsworth, California, which he nails as the "HQ of America's Pornocracy" industry, to the Nazis and tyrants who have always used sex to cement their power — modern America is little different.
"Goebbels believed pornography worked as an anaesthetic -
His enemies, ironically, could be softened by being stiffened "
Given the choice between food and orgasms, sex-mad lab rats will starve, and humans are diverted from existential threat.

His poem Happy Thanksgiving (as opposed to a Happy Ending) disdains the usual amnesiac festive platitudes for the horror of those first meetings between indigenous Native Americans and European immigrants. If only the natives had had the means to build a wall. "But this nation was created by Zombie cannibals". Williams then gives us gruesome vignettes of barbarism and treachery, not on the part of the natives, but of the pious, bible-bashing interlopers and their God-bovvering hypocrisy. "The Pilgrim Fathers belong not to history, But to a quasi-religious ideal," which is still running things, especially with the ascension of Trump.

In American Porn, Heathcote Williams maps out the background: all the roads leading to this sorry point. Trump is less cause than symptom: a fully-ripe buboe fully charged to explode all over the world.

American Porn by Heathcote Williams is available from Amazon

Thursday 23 February 2017

Copper Comes A Cropper: a poem featuring Cressida Dick

It's hard to believe that Cressida Dick, the woman at the head of the London Metropolitan Police operation that killed Jean Charles de Menezes, an innocent electrician, on the London tube in 2005 and terrified a whole lot of bystanders, is now running the police force.

Whatever happened to holding power to account? The shooting of Menezes must rank with Hillsborough as a marker of how low the elite and their servants regard the rest of us. Being thick, bungling and unimaginative can be just as deadly as deliberate malice.

Dick features in this poem which is about the unholy alliance between the police and the tabloid press, some of which was revealed in the Leveson investigation. Who can forget Sir Paul Stephenson's stunningly inept performance? If you have, here's a reminder.

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 drinks and 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, Monday 5th March 2012

Note: Raisa was the retired police horse loaned to Rebekah Brooks by the Met.

Copper Comes A Cropper was published in Anna Chen's poetry collection, Reaching For My Gnu, pub Aaaargh! Press.

Monday 20 February 2017

Poetry on One Day Without Us: Yellowface #1DayWithoutUs

In support of today's One Day Without Us day of action in the UK, I'm posting my poetry on the subject throughout the day.

With Charles Shaar Murray and Buffalo Bill Smith, St Ives festival 2009


I’m Yellowface
Gonna eat your soul
I’m Yellowface
I’m Yellowface
Gonna swallow you whole
I’m Yellowface
Make you scrabble like a mole in a hole
For every little part, any little role
Make you thank me for the things I stole
I’m Yellowface

Endless night no hope in sight
You're crazy for a chink of light
Keep you polite, out of the damn fight
Creature of the night
No sense of right
You know what else?
Youy’re lacking in height
No sight of your own might
Trite, no bite.

I’m Yellowface
Gonna keep you small
I’m Yellowface
I’m Yellowface
Don’t see you at all
I’m Yellowface
I’m the devil with a shovel
I’ll bury you good
Deep in the woods
Right where you stood
‘Cause you so slow and you knew I could
I’m Yellowface

Teeny little folk so cute, can I feed you?
I think I need an electron miscroscope to see you
Maybe a Hubble telescope to even get near you
Wanna hug you, wanna hold you, ain't never gonna fear you

I’m Yellowface
I don’t wanna see you
I’m Yellowface
I just wanna be you
Five minutes that’s all it takes
To empty you out, hey, them’s the breaks
Scoop you out hollow
Like a ricy husk
Chain you up, let you out at dusk
Or maybe a week, that’s enough
'Cause you’re so meek and I’m very tough
I’m Yellowface
Gonna eat your soul,
I’m Yellowface
Gonna swallow you whole
I’m the devil with a shovel
I’ll bury you good
Deep in the woods
Right where you stood
Coz you so slow and you knew I could
I’m Yellowface
I'm Yellowface

by Anna Chen, June 2009

READ MORE about the One Day Without Us day of action here

TWITTER: #1DayWithoutUs

Poetry on One Day Without Us: I Am Rich and You Are Poor #1DayWithoutUs

I Am Rich and You Are Poor: lines on dead Chinese workers and their rich benefactors by Anna Chen

In support of today's One Day Without Us day of action in the UK, I'm posting my poetry on the subject throughout the day.

I Am Rich and You Are Poor
Lines on dead Chinese workers and their rich benefactors

I am rich and you are poor
I travel, you seek a foreign shore
You have needs but I have more
Hey, let’s all give to charidee.

The world’s an oyster, a wondrous thing
Find the pearl, make an angel sing
To swinish herds it’s all just bling
Hey, let’s all give to charidee.

I’ve news for you, I’ll beg, implore,
You aren’t walking through that door
You figure what frontiers are for
Hey, let’s all give to charidee.

I am rich and you are skint
You slave for pennies, I made a mint
This world loves those who’re carved from flint
Hey, let’s all give to charidee.

I weep for you, I sympathise
Look, tears are welling in my eyes
You’re coming here to seek the prize
But tales of gold are pretty lies
You want to be where you’re despised?
You’ll be lucky if you’re serving fries.
Yes, me, well I have cash to buy
Whatever I want, I get to fly

Not hide in a truck, rolling in muck
Relying on luck to make a buck
Stuck in a rut with the doors all shut
Banging on gates and the ladder pulled up.

Sucked down in the sands
You ebb with the tides
White under the moon
You shine in the sea

I am rich and you are poor
Bottom of the barrel while I’m top drawer
I will help you stay where you are
Hey, let’s all give to charidee.

I am rich, you’re stony broke
I am special, you’re an anonymous bloke
We’ll only love, respect, honour, support, hold you, care for your loved ones, when you croak
Hey, let’s all give to charidee.

Anna Chen February 2009

READ MORE about the One Day Without Us day of action here

TWITTER: #1DayWithoutUs

Saturday 18 February 2017

Chinese British support UK One Day Without Us day of action

The cast of the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Snow In Midsummer in rehearsal holding One Day Without Us placards. From left to right: Katie Leung, Andrew Koji, Lucy Sheen, Wendy Kweh, Andrew Leung, Jonathan Ragget, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, Daniel York, director Justin Audibert, Richard Rees, Kevin Shen. At the front in the red jacket is Jaqueline Chan and (kneeling) Sarah Lam.

Chinese British support UK One Day Without Us National Day of Action in defence of migrant workers, Monday 20 February

Monday is Britain's turn to host a National Day of Action as part of an international protest in defence of migrant workers who have been used and abused for too long. Even now, they are being treated as a political football by this squalid government. We are declaring our support and solidarity with a vital strand of workers who have kept this country going.

If you stripped out our migrant workers, Britain would fall apart. One Day Without Us should give us a taster of what life would be like without immigrants.

There are 15,000 fewer teachers in further education than we had in 2009. Science teachers are in such short supply that they will have to be recruited from abroad. This year we're expected to experience an exodus of EU migrant workers from the UK. And we'll all have to work harder for longer because we won't have the replacement workers to pay for pensions.

As is the rest of the developed world, the UK is suffering a shrinking workforce as baby boomers start to retire. We simply don't have enough workers to replace them.

It is clearly bad for the UK to exclude the people who pick our veg, build our infrastructure, run our buses, cook and serve our food in the lovely Chinese and Indian restaurants and takeaways we use all the time, look after us in the NHS or in care homes, or study and teach in our universities. Did you know that there are tens of thousands of Chinese students paying fees to study in our higher education system right now? In total, more than 150,000 overseas students contribute more than £2.3 billion per year to the exchequer, £8 billion to the British economy.

It's particularly relevant to Chinese in Britain as restaurant workers have been targeted by the Border Patrol in fishing raids.

A banker, a worker and an immigrant walk into a bar. On a table there are ten pies. The banker eats nine of the pies and says to the worker: watch out for him. He's after your pie. That's what the government and the Brexit movement are saying. And the government and Brexit are joined by Lexit — leftists for Brexit who dangerously accommodate 'alternative facts' about migrants taking 'our' jobs.

Remember: it was the bankers who crashed the economy in 2008. And it was China who was able to take up some of the slack and give us time to get the system back on track. Unfortunately, instead of steadying the system in everyone's interest, the West bailed out the bankers with public money and set us on course for disaster yet again. US markets are all a-quiver as hugely over-priced stocks seem to defy the laws of physics — the next crash may be as bad as the 1920s. It's like playing pass-the-parcel with a live grenade and everyone's waiting for the music to stop.

In the meantime, the poorest paid the bill through George Osborne's vicious and thoroughly discredited austerity measures, targeting those least able to afford it. What was the point of a bedroom tax that cost as much to administer as it collected? What did the cruelty of PIP cuts achieve except to cause pain, misery and even death for the disabled? Which migrants stopped much needed housing being built?

The billionaire class would like us all at each others throats — it takes our attention away from "Sir" Philip Green's third mega-yacht or "Sir" Richard Branson's private Caribbean island and his publicly subsidised rail service. The top percentage quadrupled their wealth since 2000, and tripled it since the 2008 crash while general incomes haven't even made it back to pre-2008 levels — we are far from all in it together.

The usual suspects have been rounded up: the disabled, those on benefits, ethnic minorities, pensioners, women, and people who come here to work (remember: immigrants yield a net benefit to the nation's coffers). But none of them chose to stop building homes (and handily keep property prices elevated), or to slow investment in education, or to run the NHS into the ground for privatisers to pillage.

The EU referendum has boiled down to a bogus debate about immigration that is dependent on the lie that migrants take 'our' jobs. Employers, who do the actual employing and the paying, are rendered invisible. No-one criticises – say – Dyson for closing its UK factory and pursuing cheap labour in Malaysia. If any Lexiteer tells you it's the migrants' fault, they are – to put it mildly – misinformed. Or misinforming.

Brexit means getting Trump. We're being delivered out of the EU frying-pan and into the Trump fire by both the government and the Labour opposition. The NHS is on offer for predatory US business — how does this mean 'taking back control'? Labour and the rest of the left should be holding the line, rather than capitulating to the specious immigration debate that's been whipped up by the mainstream media.

On Monday, the Ensuring We Remember campaign, set up in memory of the more than 140,000 in the Chinese Labour Corps who served in the Allied forces in Europe in World War I doing the dirtiest, most dangerous jobs, will be tweeting support using the hashtag #1DayWithoutUs.

Anyone in London who would like to take part should get to Parliament Square at 12:30pm and join the FLAG MOB with your national flags in time for the 1pm linking of arms in symbolic solidarity with migrants.

Please join us across the country on Monday 20th February and stand by your fellow working-class human being. You have more in common with them than Farage, Boris Johnson or any of the purported (c)leftists who are failing to stand firm on basic principles and folding like origami. Which, like shampoo, pyjamas, paper, mathematics and science, has its origins in that there "Abroad".

A banker, a worker and an immigrant walk into a bar … TED Talk by Anna Chen

#1daywithoutus #1DWU

Snow in Midsummer at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford on Avon

What happens to a minority when the government needs a scapegoat: the 2001 Foot and Mouth Disease Outbreak

One Day Without Us — London

One Day Without Us

Migration Collective
Migration stories at
Upstairs at the Ritzy
Brixton Oval, SW2 1JG London, United Kingdom

Friday 27 January 2017

President Trump to personally handle UK trade deal despite his nightmare record in business: Theresa May rolls over

President Trump has told Theresa May that he will personally negotiate the trade deal with the UK. He has no commerce secretary yet.

Many of us are wondering what could possibly go wrong?

Estimates that the Trump chicken comes home to roost (in the Chinese year of the Fire Rooster, note) are set somewhere around the autumn. Trump can't possibly achieve the 3-4 per cent growth he's promised due to the unvavourable demographics. Baby boomers are retiring and not being replaced. US unemployment is low so wages will rise (a good thing), leading to inflation (bad if this is due to rising costs, not greater demand or consumption).

My understanding is that the underlying pattern is deflation after the stagflation period (inflation with stagnant growth). So the Fed will have to tighten monetary control by raising interest rates to control rising inflation after years of trying to kick start it, and the US will be at, or heading back to, negative rates by next year.

However, rather than lower rates stimulating growth and investment (it didn't work before, it created bubbles), expect an exodus of money from overpriced US stock markets which may trigger the inevitable crash everyone's been waiting for as they play pass the parcel with a live grenade.

Trump can only disappoint.

Wealth fleeing the stock markets will chase bonds for a fixed income — even if Treasury bond yields hit 2.5-3%, this will be higher than plummeting or negative interest rates by then. Then the yields drop as everyone dives back in and when these fail, it's down to cash and digital currencies.

Depending on who you listen to, gold will either soar to 10,000 bucks an ounce or it will drop to $700 as it's not a currency and you can't buy a loaf of bread with a flake of gold if things actually get that bad. There's a saying: "Buy gold for protection but hope it doesn't go up." 'Cause then you know something seriously ba-a-a-ad is happpening and the price of gold is probably the least of your problems by then.

In the meantime emerging markets (EM) such as Brazil, India and Asia in general — the one area of meaningful growth — will have been damaged by Trump's protectionist policies. The dollar will keep heading north as there will be fewer of them and global trade is carried out in dollars. This will make US manufacturing hellishly expensive for overseas buyers. So I think there will be disaster within Trump's first two or three years. He may even have the inevitable crash later this year.

And who will get the blame?

Round up the usual suspects: immigrants and China.

If things look particularly dire, central banks may return to the bankrupt policy of Quantitive Easing whereby the government floods the economy by buying its own debt bonds and keeps everything artificially buoyed up, creating asset bubbles. Capitalism allows the market's survival of the fittest rules to decide everything except when it comes to a crisis that hits the wealthy. Then the markets must be rigged — which is what QE and bailing out failing banks amounts to. Socialism for the rich, capitalism for everyone else.

I don't see how we can't be pulled into the US maelstrom especially if our post EU trade depends on the US. Britain has landed between Scylla and Charybdis, the whirlpool of an imploding EU and the crashing rocks of the Trump toddler on the protectionist smash-up. The best we can do is win a role as a vassal state of the US. Well done Cameron for triggering a global domino collapse with that unnecessary referendum which MPs voted for because they were assured IT WASN'T LEGALLY BINDING ...

Asia might pull something positive out of a hat, especially if China fills the gap left by a protectionist USA. But then the stubby-fingered one will most likely try to bomb them back to the stone age. You can see the boys gagging to play with the toys with a blockade of the South China Sea's Malacca Straits as the opener.

Maybe this is the one area where he gets to please his mates after all.

Bernie Sanders On Donald Trump's Filthy Rich Cabinet

How Trump Could Cause the Economic Meltdown

Wednesday 18 January 2017

Hedge fund theatre in Howard Barker yellowface protest: The Print Room 5pm Thursday 19th January

East Asians, theatre practitioners, academics and friends protest against Yellowface casting in Howard Barker play, In the Depths of Dead Love, at the Print Room 19th January

This Thursday (19th January) sees a peaceful protest of Chinese, East Asians, theatre practitioners, academics and friends at the Print Room in London where Howard Barker's play, In the Depths of Dead Love, will be performed by white actors in yellowface casting.

Despite being set in "ancient China", all the Chinese-named characters are played by white actors, rendering us invisible, dehumanised and vulnerable at a time when anti-Chinese feeling is being whipped up by forces who want war with China. In a world rapidly lurching to the right. Barker does the work of the state in denying us our value as human beings.

If this looks familiar, it is. We went through this before when the Royal Shakespeare Company cast The Orphan of Zhao with East Asian actors in only four minor roles out of 17, and none in the main parts. The campaign gave birth to the British East Asian Artists who fought this battle and will continue to challenge all attempts to erase us from our own society and the arts we should all be enjoying fairly and equally on a level playing field.

Blackface has rightly been consigned to the depths of dead prejudice, but East Asians are considered defenceless fair game.

The Print Room, a hedge-fund-financed theatre in Notting Hill (Iraq War co-ordinating bank J P Morgan's Bill Winters is the artistic director's husband who helped fund the theatre), denied that the play was about China, spouting pseudo-intellectual drivel about it only being a metaphor, and that it's actually an English play about English people; the not-so-sub-text being that no-one who looks like me can possibly be English even if born and raised here, absorbing the culture from birth and participating from first word, first picture, first dance, first song.

This disingenuous self-justification has generated widespread mockery.
"No offence was intended and none should be taken ... In the Depths of Dead Love is not a Chinese play and the characters are not Chinese. The production references a setting in Ancient China and the characters’ names are Chinese. These are literary allusions in Howard Barker’s fable and never intended to be taken literally. The allusions are intended to signify “not here, not now, not in any actual real ‘where’ ” and the production, set, costumes and dialogue follow this cue of ‘no place’." From the Print Room's statement

So now I am a mere metaphor: an unreal person from an unreal place. Window dressing for an unutterably dull and pompous exercise in bourgeois angst. His characters lead such drab and tedious lives that perhaps the only way they have to render themselves interesting to themselves, each other  and the audience is to get togged up in chinoiserie drag. This would be the only acceptable explanation but somehow we doubt it. Instead, the paucity of Barker's imagination has him reaching into strangers' lives and ripping the guts out of us.

Like lungfish caught in a rock pool when the tide goes out, Barker, his theatre company The Wrestling School and the Print Room have been washed up in some 1950s version of how British society functions, who is in and who gets excluded. In its more than six years existence, we find that only eight out of 130 actors working at the Print Room have been Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME). And yet, curiously, they tick the diversity box when it comes to Arts Council funding for their projects. As Clarissa Widya of Papergang Theatre observes, "They are a charity supposed 'to advance the arts for public benefit'. What does that say? Only willing to commit to diversity if someone else can pay for it?"

Howard Barker, our 'greatest living playwright' (according to some), made his reputation as a leftist, so his capitulation to reactionary racist practice is even more shocking. Greater self-love hath no man than this: that he throws what are commonly perceived as the weakest minorities under a bus for his career. If he has any character left I hope that in the wee small hours when there's only him and his conscience, he will think hard and deep about perpetuating yellowface practice and let us know what he's come up with.

There has been a flurry of activity and writing from people who care about our culture and our world, who see the arts as more than privileged rich whites raiding the ethnic dressing-up box for a bit of entertainment. From Facebook and Twitter to blogs and academics and the press, it's not only East Asians who are horrified by this backwards step.

I'll be compiling a chronology of this battle which some are calling The Orphan of Zhao II: This Time It's Personal.

To paraphrase Barker himself, "Howard, I have such a withering knowledge of your soul, its pitiful dimensions. It is smaller than an aspirin that fizzles in a glass. . ."

In the meantime, here's the first of several excellent pieces I'll be posting here, which Mr Barker would do well to read and digest.

Actor and writer Lucy Sheen writes:


In January, London UK Theatre goers and culture lovers will have the opportunity to see a theatre production done using Yellowface. In other words, audiences will see a play which is set in China, about Chinese people, performed by a cast of white actors – In The Depths Of Dead Love.
Copied from the Print Room’s website announcing their first production for 2017:
by Howard Barker
Print Room at the Coronet presents a rare opportunity to see the World Premiere of a new play by “England’s greatest living dramatist.” The Times
Set in ancient China, In the Depths of Dead Love tells of a poet exiled from the Imperial Court and the favour of the Emperor, who scrapes a living by renting his peculiar property – a bottomless well – to aspiring suicides. Among these is a married couple who exert an appalling influence over him.

A play set in Imperial China. By one of the most renowned British playwrights. Cause for celebration, or it should be until you take a look at the cast.
Jane Bertish – Mrs. Hu
William Chubb – Lord Ghang
James Clyde – Chin
Stella Gonet – Lady Hasi
Great cast, but from the character names, I may be going out on a limb here, and guessing that these are East Asian people and not Foreign devils. Not, one single British East Asian actor as been cast.

In other words, ladies and gentlemen of the 21st century, on a UK stage in 2017, audiences will be present with a production that will be performed using the hideous, insulting, disrespectful and yes, racist practice of Yellowface. At a time when we really need to be nurturing and respecting each other, amidst the continued protestations from the creative industry, on how they do really respect and understand that diversity is key and that the lack of BAMEs on stage is something that must be redressed. The Print Room will be giving us a production in Yellowface to kick off the new year.

To be clear Yellowface is not just about actors who decided to change their physical facial appearance to ‘look more East Asian’. Yellowface is about casting decisions, the propagation of racist East Asian stereotypes, caricatures and constant whitewashing of culture which leaves no place for East Asians to be involved with or participate in the telling or retelling of stories and history that directly relates to them. By casting white actors in East Asian roles it continues the underlying inference that East Asians are not “good enough” to be cast. That there are not enough East Asian actors and even if they were their proficiency and professional skill is not as great as that of their white counterparts. We all know (Or should do) that this is not true.

After The Orphan of Zhao casting debacle back in 2013, with media headlines of “East Asain actors seek RSC apology over Orphan of Zhao casting” one would have hoped, and I thought that we had moved on from this deplorable and unacceptable practice.

Sugar-Coated Bullets of The Bourgeoise by Anders Lustgarten with a cast of NINE East Asians, is positive proof that in this day and age there is absolutely no need for any Theatre company, any production to participate in the practice of Yellowface.

The recent theatrical productions of, The Arrest of Ai Weiwei, Chimerica, The World of Extreme Happiness, You for Me and P’YONGYANG you cannot in all good faith tell me that Britain only has a handful of British East Asian actors, because it is obvious it has more and the number is growing.

If it was a new play set in ancient Africa, about the Kush (Nubians) or at Al Kurru (Sudan) would we even be talking about the cast being white? Or a new work about Ashoka, would it even be under consideration, to cast the piece using only white actors? The answer is a resounding NO.

It is not about censorship, who can write what or who can perform what. But about how we, as modern human beings, who understand the nuances of being. Identity, race and acceptance, how important to all of us this concepts and constructs are. How powerful visual reference are. If we were operating on a completely level playing field then the colour of an actor would not matter one jot. We would be seeing non-specific casting across the board. No one would bat an eyelid if Queen Victoria was played by a South Asian and Albert by a Black actor.

But we are not there, far from it. It is perfectly acceptable for a white actor to portray characters that are white, non-white and ethnically specific, but if an actor of colour is cast to portray a role that is outside of their ethnic roots it causes, more often than not “negative debate.” Equality, hardly.

Yet when it comes to the East Asians, time and time again such cultural sensitivity and awareness is not just lacking, but completely absent.

The tragedy is the thinking that is involved surrounding works that are about other British ethnicities such as Black, African, Caribbean and South Asian; never, or seldom seems to be applied in any measure whatsoever, when it comes to works that involve East Asia or East Asian themes and characters. If as a society we can apply such thinking and progressive understanding to other British minorities, why can’t this equality of thought and action be extended to British East Asians?


Are British East Asians so invisible? Do we as human beings mean so little that we literally have no place, in British society, in its culture? We are expected to contribute to all other levels of society, yet we are denied access to participate culturally?

Our shared histories and sacrifices are of so little consequence because the colour of our skin and the shape of our eyes are different?

Do we mean so little that, the wider British society feels, we don’t even merit the same considerations that are afforded or fellow British Minority Ethnics?

That we are, somehow will be less offended by Yellowface than a Black person would be by Blackface? I have been told on more than one occasion that Yellowface is not the same as Blacking up or Blackface. Well, let me tell you as British East Asian, Yellowface is every bit as insulting, demeaning, disrespectful and racist.

For a one-stop archive of events click on PRINT ROOM IN THE DEPTHS OF DEAD LOVE PROTEST CHRONOLOGY

Lucy Sheen: The 2017 play that shows Yellowface lives on

Playwright Jingan Young, South China Morning Post: London storm turns spotlight on ‘whitewashing’ in film and theatre

Dr Amanda Rogers: Yellowface alive and well at the Print Room

Actor Erin Quill 16.01.17: In the Depths of British Theatrical Racism @the_printroom

Actor David Lee Jones, Nee Hao magazine 19.12.16: Why is it not acceptable to cast white actors to play Chinese characters on stage or on screen?

Actor Vera Chok 14.01.16: More thoughts on the Print Room

Brian Law on Facebook 18.01.17: So I went to see the play tonight ...

Howard Sherman, The Stage: Yellowface is wrong and the Print Room's explanation is meaningless

Lyn Gardner, the Guardian: Theatre is coming to terms with its diversity problem. Real progress is vital

Wealth brings power, the power to open a theatre in London's Notting Hill, the power to define human beings as worthy or not of inclusion, of defining whether or not we are English. Rich white women in need of a hobby get to do that to us because they are married to bankers, specifically, senior bankers in JP Morgan during the Iraq War era of wealth extraction and paying Tony Blair £2-3 million pa. These are our rulers in our post-truth new world.

Facebook: Protest Against Yellowface Casting at the Print Room

Director Andrew Keates: letter to the Print Room's artistic director ... It is no more acceptable today asking a Caucasian actor to play an East Asian role than asking another actor to play Othello by handing him a tin of boot polish. Simply put, it’s morally reprehensible.
I ask you as Artistic Director to consider meeting with the creative team of In The Depths Of Dead Love immediately and ask them to reconsider this disgusting and bigoted casting or that you pull the production from your programme until they are able to satisfy its casting requirements without detriment to East Asian actors in London.

Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out: There's going to be an anti-racism protest tomorrow over a fringe play in Notting Hill

The Stage 20.12.16: Equity adds voice to condemnation of Print Room ‘yellowface’ casting ... Equity general secretary Christine Payne also criticised the theatre's response of accusations against it, adding: "The Print Room’s statement is completely unacceptable on a number of levels, not least of which is the suggestion that an 'English' play must be completely white.”

What's On Stage 21.12.16: The Print Room apologises for 'any offence caused' in yellowface dispute (but only makes it worse)

The Stage 13.01.17: Print Room "artistic" director describes our protestations as a "social media attack" proving Mrs Hedge Fund couldn't give a flying one.

Grumpy Gay Critic 04.01.17: Yellowface and ‘In The Depths of Dead Love’. What Next? An Action Plan For Diverse Theatre Casting. The Print Room’s casting for In the Depths of Dead Love is a disgrace, and we’re certainly angry. But how can we move towards genuine change?

Cohan Chew at We Are Resonate 19.01.17: ‘Yellowface’ protest against the Print Room for casting white actors in Chinese roles to be held today

Alice Jones fast off the block in the Independent iNews 19.01.17: Howard Barker and the curious case of the Chinese play with the all-white cast “It is, in fact a very ‘English’ play and is derived from thoroughly English mores and simply references the mythic and the ancient. It has therefore been cast accordingly.” Ah, I see, English roles for English people because all English people are white. What a bone-headed thing to write in 2017, when the British theatre has a large pool of East Asian talent to draw on. Just look at the cast of the brilliant, 2013 smash-hit Chimerica. As Harry Potter actress Katie Leung put it “We are here. We exist.”

Evening Standard 19.01.17: Notting Hill theatre faces 'yellowface' protest for casting white actors in Chinese roles

Let's hope Print Room "artistic director" Anda Winters never joins the diplomatic corps. The Stage 19.01.17: Print Room turns on Equity in ‘yellowface’ casting row

Rage Offstage 18.01.17: The Yellowface is Bad Enough, now we have the whitewash

Two stars from Mersa Auda in The Up Coming 20.01.17: In the Depths of Dead Love at the Print Room at the Coronet ... Admittedly, there are some interesting concepts and a few moments that engage the audience, but there is no doubt that the most memorable and relevant aspect of the play is the controversy it caused rather than its content or delivery.

A compete non sequitur and strawman argument in The Daily Telegraph 20.01.17. Who has demanded that the play shouldn't exist? No-one.: Play at centre of 'yellowface' row is insubstantial, not inexcusable - In the Depths of Dead Love review

Sam Marlowe in The Times gives it two stars 20.01.17: The controversial Howard Barker play is far from worthless, but keeps its audience at a chilly distance Controversy over Howard Barker’s new play kicked off before this production even opened — so much so, that it almost gave a whole new meaning to Barker’s term for his own work, Theatre of Catastrophe. Broadcast on BBC radio in 2013, it’s set in ancient China; Gerrard McArthur’s stage premiere features an all-white cast. This has drawn furious condemnation and justifiably so: while the piece is broadly allegorical, it does lazily appropriate a vague Eastern exoticism as a means of denoting otherness. ...

Mark Lawson, however, earns his keep by insulating the elite from society. In his uncritical interview with "Britain's greatest living playwright" he fails to pursue interesting threads such as why is Howard Barker taking Iraq War JP Morgan money? Why does Barker express such contempt for messages when his own is clear — white domination excluding East Asians such as myself from our own English heritage is somehow artistically heroic. Guardian 20.01.17: Howard Barker: 'I have contempt for messages in plays. I'm not trying to influence anyone'

The Stage 20.01.17: Howard Barker defends Print Room casting from ‘yellowface’ criticisms “The ‘Chinese’ nature of the play is within the setting, which is entirely artificial, and the naming of the characters. It’s entirely European in its sensibilities. I’ve only very rarely ever set a play in my own culture – there’s always a distancing effect,” he said. And added: “You have to understand metaphors. The theatre isn’t a place for literalness. We have to accept that anyone from any place or culture can play any role,” he said in an interview in which he went on to claim he had “contempt” for plays that have messages. “Look, the reason I’m a writer is that I don’t involved myself in political and ideological issues. I’m the opposite of writers who enter the theatre to persuade people of their attitudes. It’s not what I do,” he said. In the interview, Barker also criticised Arts Council England, labelling it “preposterous” and something that belongs “in the Soviet era”. “It’s not really interested in art, it’s interested in sociological benefits,” he added....

Daniel York on finding himself in a Pete and Dud sketch in The Stage 20.01.17: The night I was spat at for protesting ‘yellowface’ ... One senior female theatre industry figure, wearing a rather impressive-looking fur coat, stormed across the street to berate the protestors as “racist”. The entire incident was captured on a camera phone though I must confess, even watching back now, I struggle to follow the thread of her somewhat surreal argument, but it appears to be something along the lines of “Equity has said it’s racist for Asian actors to play Asian roles”. I’m pretty sure Equity has said no such thing but does that mean we get the whole of Downton when they give in and make another series? ... Another couple stormed by and yelled a bunch of expletives at us. I went after them to enquire whether they wanted to have a conversation. The man screamed at me “You’re a c***!” with rather more vehemence than one should ever show a complete stranger. I asked him why I was a “c***”. “Because you’re a c***!” I asked him why again. “Because you’re a c*** because I say you’re a c***, because you’re a c*** because I say you’re a c***. You’re a c***!”. ...

Even the Daily Mail senses something is up 21.01.17: Humans star Gemma Chan joins 'yellowface' protest outside premiere of play where WHITE actors were cast in CHINESE roles

Some of the assumptions being made reveal unconscious prejudices that we are somehow incomplete Xeroxs of human beings and unable to engage fully and intelligently with the issues. Kate Maltby writes in the New Statesman that none of us have read or seen the play whereas I've read it, Daniel York has read it, Dr Amanda Rogers and a slew of others have read it and we've all been discussing it; plus Brian Law and a clutch of others saw it prior to and on press night. [I understand that Maltby has now corrected this claim.] I wouldn't go calling us a "model" protest, either. But we shouldn't let that detract from the article's revelation that, in best Charles Foster Kane tradition, Anda and Bill Winters starred their daughter in the "atrocious" The Tempest. Iraq War money and nepotism — poor kid. 20.01.17: The Print Room’s “Yellowface” scandal reveals deeper problems with British theatre


Donna Dickens makes an idiot-proof argument at UPROXX: Casting minorities as white characters is not a double standard. Here’s why.

The Daily Dot: 7 reasons why reverse racism doesn't exist

The Huffington Post: 4 ‘Reverse Racism’ Myths That Need To Stop