28th March 2020

Message from the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding

As coronavirus goes global, the need to understand China better has become pressing. Of greatest concern is the worrying acceptance of flawed images of China and the Chinese people, which has led to abuse - racial bullying and even violent attacks - in Britain and elsewhere. We are now facing a new phase of the ’Yellow Peril’ scare where demonization of China is becoming a fact of everyday life. Sinophobia is becoming a part of mainstream discourse, especially in the US post 2016. It may well get worse due to economic factors and the government trying to avoid blame for the outbreak. American politicians repeatedly refer to the ‘Wuhan virus’ or the ‘China plague’, with President Trump leading the way, whilst media outlets have also stoked hostility, most notably the Wall Street Journal’s infamous ‘Sick Man of Asia’ editorial. This all may come to haunt us even after the virus has disappeared.

China’s response to the outbreak with the extensive quarantine of Wuhan and several other Chinese cities, has also called our understanding of China into question. It is not just about overt racism: ignorance, prejudice and stereotyping are rife. The fact is that, with efforts from above and below, China has been able to mobilise its people to meet a common objective, unlikely ever to be achieved in a Western society less insistent on collective obligations. The common perception is of China as a homogenous mass, with the people possessing little agency, acting more akin to automatons than humans. This has often gone hand in hand with the fears of being overwhelmed by China, which have contributed to dehumanising the Chinese and further clouding our understanding of China.

China is now sending medical supplies and personnel to assist other countries struck by the virus, including Britain. European states have expressed their gratitude - Serbia’s President, faced with the EU block on the export of medical supplies, was moved to declare that ‘only China can help us in this situation’. Even local Chinese communities are making efforts: a Chinese restaurant owner in Brighton promised to donate 500 masks to demonstrate that the Chinese are here to help as well as to counter the negative stereotypes of Chinese during the outbreak. Italy and Spain and many other countries are now adopting a response that is more akin to China’s than the US, and even the UK has now moved in that direction. Doctors from Wuhan claim that Europe has been making many of the same mistakes as the Wuhan government. Only by understanding and learning from both the successes and failings of China’s handling of the virus, can we be better prepared to tackle it.

As much as the blatant racism of President Trump and the WSJ is deplorable, it is also divisive and dangerous. International cooperation is desperately needed - cooperation on research to develop a vaccine; coordination to manage the damage to the world economy. The WHO has praised the effective measures taken by China, calling on the world to learn from the country’s enormous sacrifices made to stop the virus from spreading to the rest of the world. China itself is calling for joint efforts to minimise the spread of the virus, improve global health governance, and help developing countries.

Through their sacrifices, the Chinese nation and Chinese people have bought the world time to prepare for the inevitable arrival of the virus. This should not be squandered on cynical, politically motivated slurs aimed at accumulating cheap political capital or lost in ignorance of China. We do so now at our own peril. It is time to confront and dispel the common myths about China. By seeking unity at this time of need, the sacrifices of the Chinese people will not have been in vain.

SACU President - Michael Wood

Michael, who is Professor of Public History at the University of Manchester, is a historian and television documentary maker whose books and programmes on British history, on India and on China have been hugely popular with large audiences over many years.  We are thrilled to have so prominent a new President to work actively with us in promoting a better understanding of China.

Indeed, Michael will be hitting the ground running as we are pleased to announce his first two public talks for SACU as its President. In the Spring there will be one on his co-production for CCTV and BBC Du Fu: China’s Greatest Poet which he describes as ‘a road movie in the footsteps of Du Fu’ - the film has readings of the poetry by Sir Ian McKellen. In the Autumn he will be talking about his soon to be published book The Story of China.

Michael has had a full and varied career gathering an enormous amount of expertise and experience over forty years. As a historian broadcaster and film maker he has brought history alive for viewers and readers in Britain, the US and worldwide. He is the author of several highly praised and best-selling books on English history including number one best sellers In Search of the Dark Ages and Domesday, and also The Story of England. He has made 120 documentary films, among them In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great (to date seen in over 150 countries and territories) and The Story of India, which the Wall Street Journal described as ‘still the gold standard’ of documentary history making’. Michael’s Story of England series (BBC) was called by The Independent ‘the most innovative history series ever on TV’.  Of His recent Story of China (BBC 2), the state news agency in China, Xinhua, said it had "transcended the barriers of ethnicity and belief and brought something inexplicably powerful and touching to the TV audience”.

Michael’s interest in China began at school with AC Graham’s Poetry of the Late T’ang, was extended at Oxford where he shared a house with a Sinologist and continued with visits to China from the early eighties, first filming there in the late eighties. Since 2013 he has made a dozen visits making films, above all for the six-part Story of China which set out to give the general viewer an introduction to the grand sweep and creative riches of Chinese history. It has since been seen on PBS in America and in many other countries across the world. His feature articles on China and Chinese culture have appeared in The Guardian, Telegraph, Daily Mail and Radio Times. More recently in 2018 he made a series of films on Deng Xiaoping’s Opening Up and Reform 40 years ago, whose promo this year on the TenCent website had 100 million hits in 24 hours. He will continue his links with China with the forthcoming ‘China’s Greatest Poet', a coproduction for CCTV and BBC. His next book project, his first major book in nine years, is The Story of China, due for publication in September 2020.

Currently Professor of Public History at the University of Manchester, Michael has honorary degrees from many UK universities and  is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, the Royal Society of Arts and the Society of Antiquaries; He is a recipient of the Historical Association’s Medlicott Medal for ’outstanding services and current contributions to History’ and recently received the British Academy President’s Medal  for services to History and outreach. Michael continues to make films with his company Maya Vision with his partner the award-winning producer director Rebecca Dobbs.

About Us

The Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) was founded in 1965 to promote understanding and friendship between the British and Chinese people.

It is open to all who subscribe to these aims.

SACU’s mission is to promote understanding and advance the education of the UK public in all aspects of China and the Chinese people by:

  • providing facts and analysis about China – not uncritically but always from a firm base of friendship
  • helping the British people to understand the meaning of China – past and present
  • promoting friendship and mutual respect between the peoples of China and the UK

 SACU aims to promote understanding:

  • to help the UK flourish in a world increasingly influenced by China
  • to help overcome misplaced suspicion and increase understanding of China within the UK
  • to help members progress their China-related interests and so to help SACU thrive

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Who We Are

Michael Wood

As a historian broadcaster and film maker Michael has brought history alive for viewers and readers in Britain, the US and worldwide. He is the author of several highly praised and best-selling books on English history including number one best sellers In Search of the Dark Ages and Domesday, and also The Story of England. Michael’s interest in China began at school with AC Graham’s Poetry of the Late T’ang, was extended at Oxford where he shared a house with a Sinologist and continued with visits to China from the early eighties, first filming there in the late eighties.  Since 2013 he has made a dozen visits making films, above all for the six-part Story of China which set out to give the general viewer an introduction to the grand sweep and creative riches of Chinese history. Michael has been President of SACU since January 2020.

Zoe Reed
Zoe Reed has been SACU's Chair since 2009. She has a direct interest in building links and understanding with China as her father was Chinese - however she did not meet him until the 1990's when she traced him to his home town of Lanzhou, Gansu province. Her father came to UK under the sponsorship of Joseph Needham and hence Zoe's commitment to building SACU. Zoe is a Director in an NHS Foundation Trust which provides mental health services and is married with two grown up children. In 2016 Zoe wrote a book illuminating the history of British-Chinese relations, "A Bridge Between Hearts"
Corinne Attwood
Corinne Attwood first joined SACU in the mid-eighties. Corinne led her first tour of China in 1985 and has been leading tours regularly since then, as well as private visits. She joined the SACU Council in 2009 and has recently been appointed Secretary. Corinne started learning Chinese in 1984 at evening classes - she is still learning characters.
Yuan Gao
Yuan Gao joined SACU in the spring of 2016 and has been actively engaged in promoting SACU to young Chinese group in the UK and abroad. She is specially interested in bridging the culture and communication gaps between Chinese and British. She works full time as a quantitative analyst at Swiss Re.
Ros Wong
Membership and Events
Ros Wong (née Lawton) joined SACU in 1972 after graduating with a degree in Chinese Studies from the University of Leeds. In 1977 she joined the SACU delegation to China when she was Secretary of the Merseyside Branch of SACU. After a working life as a Librarian in public libraries, Ros has taken up an active retirement supporting SACU’s work. Ros became SACU’s Programme Co-ordinator after the 50th Anniversary symposium and joined SACU Council in 2016
Walter Fung
China Eye Editor
Walter Fung has been a member of SACU since 1983 and has served on Council since 2000. He has a degree in Chemistry and is a retired textile technologist. Since his retirement he has gone back to his roots and is interested in all aspects of Chinese history and culture. He is especially interested in the early Chinese community in the UK and overseas Chinese communities in general. He has travelled extensively and has been to China many times.
Frances Wood
Vice President
Frances Wood attended SACU meetings when still at school and then studied Chinese at Cambridge, joining the first SACU Youth Tour to China in 1971. She worked in the Chinese section of SOAS Library and eventually became Curator of the Chinese Collections in the British Library, retiring in 2013. She has travelled extensively in China and written many books, including The Blue Guide to China, The Silk Road, Did Marco Polo Go To China? The Lure of China, The Forbidden City, The Diamond Sutra, Betrayed Ally and Great Books of China amongst other things.
Jenny Clegg
Vice President
Jenny has been a member of SACU since the 1970s, serving on the Council of Management for a number of years. In the 1980s she was an education worker based in Manchester’s Chinatown before moving into higher education as a lecturer in Asia Pacific Studies. She has visited China many times: as a member of several SACU delegations, as a tour leader and as a researcher on China’s rural reforms. Jenny's particular academic interest has been in China's cooperative economy and since retiring she has continued to research and write about China and Chinese matters. She is a member of the International Committee for the Promotion of Chinese Industrial Cooperatives.
Rob Stallard
Vice President
Rob Stallard is a software developer and I.T. consultant. He met Joseph Needham while studying at Caius College, Cambridge. He joined SACU in 1988 after attending evening classes with Chinese tutor, and SACU member, David Wright. Rob has served on Council as Treasurer and as Secretary and is now a Vice President. Rob developed and maintained SACU's web site from 1995 to 2017.
Jane Hadley
Vice President
Jane has enjoyed a lifelong interest in China, its people and culture. She engages with the Chinese people in her local community and encourage the families and children to learn about, and be proud of, their Chinese heritage. She is often invited to give talks about China to local school children and community groups and is always pleased to share her interests with them. Jane has been a member of the SACU Council of Management for 24 years and served as Chair and Treasurer. She was appointed Vice President in 2008.
Andrew Hicks
Council Member
Andrew Hicks first became fascinated with China and its culture when a lecturer in Law at the University of Hong Kong during the seventies. Going on to lecture at the National University of Singapore and later settling in Thailand for some years, he lived in Asia and Chinese related communities for over twenty years. Now back in UK, being a Council member of SACU enables him to share his passion for all things Chinese. In 2015 Andrew wrote "A True friend to China".
Cai Chen
Council Member
Cai Chen is a PhD student on Contemporary Chinese history at the King’s College London. She joined SACU in the spring of 2016 and works on projects and market promotion for SACU. She is passionate to improve the mutual understanding and friendship between peoples from the UK and China.
Barnaby Powell
Council Member

Barnaby Powell has been involved in private sector development in the Chinese world for over 40 years, living in Asia for 20 of these. With Alex Mackinnon he has written China Calling, China Counting and 2018 – China goes Critical. He speaks to schools, universities and business groups on ‘The Meaning of China’ and the importance of understanding Chinese culture.