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"We are British. We are Liverpudlians. "
July 26, 2013 5:00 AM   Subscribe

""He just went out to the shop, and my mum was waiting for him to come home, and he never came," Linda Davis said of her father." -- During World War II tens of thousands of Chinese seamen served in the UK's merchant navy, many of whom had settled in Liverpool and some of which developed relationships with local women. Yet in 1945, as soon as the war was won, Liverpool police forces, on orders of the Home Office mounted razzias and deported the majority of the 20,000 Chinese men living in the city, leaving behind their wifes and children.

Much of this history has been deliberately forgotten and had to be pieced back by the children of those Chinese sailors, growing up without fathers. It is one reason why for Anna Chen in particular, Ken Loach's recent documentary of UK working class history, was so disappointing with its white washing:
Loach's airy dismissal on Radio 4 of his whitening of our history was simple: "That's how it was. That's the record of the time. That's what people thought, that was the moment of the time." You can't include stuff "to suit our present sensitivities".
When the truth is that the contributions of working class Chinese to the UK war effort were not just forgotten, but erased from official history, they themselves deported.
posted by MartinWisse (18 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've not seen Loach's effort yet but that is a bizarre thing for him to say; in terms of giants of the working class movement you can look back to the 19th century for William Cuffay, one of the most prominent leaders of the Chartists.
I've mentioned here before that I once translated an overview of the history of Chinese migration to Europe that included a section about the Liverpool community as it's Britain's oldest but even that glossed over this shameful incident IIRC.
posted by Abiezer at 5:57 AM on July 26, 2013


That Loach quote doesn't sound at all as if it's responding to the point being made. I suspect it's been plucked out of context.
posted by unSane at 5:59 AM on July 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


razzia = raid in case anyone is wondering.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 6:12 AM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here I was thinking a razzia might be a special kind of horse.
posted by bugmuncher at 6:16 AM on July 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


I keep thinking I've learned every horrifying thing about WWII and its aftermath.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:29 AM on July 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


Officialdom did not even know how many Chinese seamen were married to British women. Various figures were quoted. At one point in the Home Office papers the figure was given as 117. At another time the number was said to be 59. And yet another figure of 74 was given.

Of these 74 couples, in 22 cases either the men or/and their wives had said they would go to China. Sadly, we have no information on who these people were and whether they did go to China.
Fascinating. Were there British families living in Communist China from this?
posted by Ironmouth at 6:40 AM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


*spits*

The Orwell essay linked to in the Anna Chen piece is remarkable.
posted by lalochezia at 7:11 AM on July 26, 2013 [7 favorites]


Fascinating. Were there British families living in Communist China from this?

It is unknown, but unlikely. I think we are talking about "count them on your hand" kinds of numbers.

The Chinese seamen deported from Liverpool in 1946 were mostly dispatched to the then British colonies of Hong Kong and Singapore. Their working-class wives would generally have been too poor to follow them.

Yes, the plan was then to send those deported on to China. But China was in turmoil. There was a shortage of ships. And from 1946-49, Shanghai shipping magnates and mainland Chinese seamen were fleeing to Hong Kong. So there'd have been little reason for the Liverpool deported to head for Shanghai. I'd hazard that most of the deported wound up in Hong Kong and stayed there.
posted by Mister Bijou at 7:13 AM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fascinating. Were there British families living in Communist China from this?

Also, China was not the PRC until 1949. Perhaps the ROC, that would be my guess.
posted by clavdivs at 7:18 AM on July 26, 2013


I keep thinking I've learned every horrifying thing about WWII and its aftermath.

Recently on Fresh Air: Discussion with author of Savage Continent.
posted by odinsdream at 7:52 AM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Orwell essay linked to in the Anna Chen piece is remarkable.

Partly because only a couple of years later he undertook official propaganda broadcasts to India (which are also brilliant).
posted by hawthorne at 9:35 AM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Orwell essay linked to in the Anna Chen piece is remarkable.

Indeed.
posted by Artful Codger at 10:40 AM on July 26, 2013


I've mentioned here before that I once translated an overview of the history of Chinese migration to Europe that included a section about the Liverpool community as it's Britain's oldest but even that glossed over this shameful incident IIRC.

I've lived in the city my whole life, and my closest colleague is Liverpool-born Chinese of Chinatown origin. While we do indeed pride ourselves on having the oldest Chinese community in the UK, and a very long history of Chinese immigration, I'd never heard about this incident until reading this post.

At least, by settling them in Hong Kong, their families would have been entitled to Commonwealth passports and a later right of entry into the UK if they so desired it.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:44 AM on July 26, 2013


There is a memorial to the Chinese seamen--which mentions their deportation--on the Pier Head near the Merchant Navy memorial. The location is prominent enough that it should help raise awareness, at least among visitors. I do not know how often Liverpool people go to the area though.
posted by Thing at 3:44 PM on July 26, 2013


This is great, and needs to be said more:

Black people have lived in Britain at least from Roman times, and some historians claim that north Africans were here as much as 3,000 years ago. We know that Indian people were here as far back as Shakespeare's time. The first Chinese visitor we know of was the Jesuit priest Shen Foutsong, who communicated in Latin when he worked at Oxford's Bodleian Library in the 17th century. His portrait still hangs in the Queen's collection. People of colour have been part of the fabric of British society for centuries, but you won't find many in official histories – either from the right (look at Michael Gove's draft national curriculum) or, more shockingly, from the left.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:53 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Very nice post.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:53 PM on July 26, 2013


I had absolutely no idea. Thanks for the post, very interesting reading.
posted by goo at 4:25 AM on July 27, 2013


I'll never understand why humane has the word human in it.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:24 PM on July 28, 2013


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