Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Chinese in UK tell their story

Anna Chen (left) with Yvonne Foley, whose research into her own family background led her to believe her father was one of Chinese seafarers forcibly repatriated after their wartime service on Britain's Atlantic convoys .

Now we can hear the story of Britain's Chinese on Radio 4, starting Monday next week.

YASMIN Alabhi Brown was writing a while back on the "silence" of Britain's Chinese community, of established citizens fearing for their own respectability after the Morecambe Bay tragedy, rich people ready to collude with the government in calling for stricter immigration control and deportations, and useless unelected "community leaders". Nothing unique there, then.
In fact, some Chinese people, though well-integrated into British society, were ready to speak out, and to organise, over the exploitation of migrant workers which led to the deaths in Morecambe Bay, the misrepresentation in the media, and expose the way immigration restrictions are precisely what strengthens the power of the exploiters and gangmasters, who should be controlled.

Jabez Lam, whom Alabhi-Brown quoted in her Independent article, was able to organise Chinese people on this, as he has on other issues, such as racist attacks, or the developers' threat to London's West End Chinatown. He also raised awareness among trade unions. But at the public meeting over the Morecambe tragedy I went to in St.Anne's Church, Soho, the notable absence were the usual white lefties (must admit I was pleased not to have to brush past the usual cordon of paper sellers).

Anna Chen wasn't altogether surprised. As press officer for the Socialist Alliance (as well as Stop the War Coalition) she was successful both in raising its media profile and hoisting its banner when Chinese people marched over their community being scapegoated for the foot and mouth outbreak. But she came into conflict with the control-freakery of the Socialist Workers Party, which seized and eventually strangled the Alliance.

"The SWP are fond of espousing anti-racist sentiments.
And yet, for example, a District Organiser can insist that because ‘all’ Chinese supposedly work in catering and are therefore atomised, we must all be petit bourgeois: the deadliest insult in the far-Left lexicon apart from ‘fascist’. When I questioned this at a meeting, Rees barked that ‘The Party’ doesn’t do any work with the Chinese because ‘it’s British workers who count, not Chinese’. We apparently experience no racism because ‘the axis of racism is black and white’. "
(This was presumably before the SWP met MAB and discovered Islamophobia).

Anyway, as proud of her roots (her dad organised Chinese seafarers into a union) as she is a feisty critical presence in the Left, Anna Chen is also a creative writer, dramatist and actress, and she is using her talent to take the authentic voices of Chinese people into the mainstream media and culture. In the past year she has been around talking to famous and not-so-famous Chinese people in Britain, revisiting the Liverpool streets where her Dad lived, and listening and learning about people's history. I'd say it has the makings of a TV series, but for now starting next week, we can hear it on the Radio. As Anna writes:

Dear All,

I'm presenting a new ten-part series exploring the early history of Chinese people in Britain, a groundbreaking labour of love that has been great fun to make over the past year.

You can listen to it on the BBC Radio website:
Chinese in Britain - BBC Radio 4,
3.45pm weekday afternoons from Monday April 30th 2007

I'll be looking at the lives of the Chinese who came to Britain before the sixties: as sailors, scholars, writers and artists, as well as laundrymen and cooks. It's told largely from the point of view of the Chinese themselves and their descendants, people who have made fascinating interviewees.
1. The First Chinese VIPs
2. The Creation of Chinatown: the myth and the reality
3. From Ship to Shore: experiences of Chinese seamen in Britain
4. Steam and Starch: life in a Chinese laundry
5. Educated in Britain : the history of Chinese students
6. Feet unbound: pioneering Chinese women in Britain
7. Mixed Blessings: growing up half Chinese
8. Artistic Pursuits: stepping out on Britain's cultural landscape
9. Screen Beginnings: the first British Chinese screen actors
10. Peking Duck and Chips: early Chinese restaurants

All programmes will also be available to listen again for a week after broadcast at
Apologies to all my friends who may have received this more than once.

Happy listening,

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