The Unsung Heroes — Reflections on Participating in the 2023 Armistice Day Ceremony (中英双语)

Weien Zong
Master of Global Media Industries, King’s College London
Bachelor of Communications, South China University of Technology
Freelance Media Person, Cultural Influencer, Chinese Cultural Event Planner

On November 11th, I had the chance to participate in the Armistice Day Ceremony organized by the Western Front Association at Cenotaph London. Despite several days of continuous rain, the weather turned sunny on this particular day, gradually dispelling the chill of early winter. Coming out from Charing Cross station, I felt a surge of people heading towards the monument commemorating the end of World War I. Crowded streets were adorned with individuals wearing poppies, symbolizing the remembrance of international fallen soldiers.

As a Chinese, I was a little out of place in the crowd. The occasional sideways glances seemed to inquire, “Why are there Chinese people participating in Armistice Day?” This was the reason why we, as a group of Chinese representatives, gathered here — to commemorate the 140,000 Chinese labourers who participated in this most brutal war in human history. Due to China’s weakened national strength, the impact of the ‘Chinese Exclusion Act’, and various stereotypes and prejudices against Chinese people, the contributions of the Chinese Labour Corps to World War I are seldom mentioned in mainstream British society. For a long time, discussions about World War I marginalized the Chinese Labour Corps, and few representatives were advocating for them. In recent years, thanks to the tireless efforts of a group of dedicated individuals who have been collecting information and organizing activities, the stories of the Chinese Labourers’ contributions to World War I have gradually come to light. Their contributions are gradually gaining recognition and appreciation in European society.

White Chrysanthemums Wreath for CLC
Photo by Iris Yau (SACU Trustee)

CLC mostly consisted of farmers from northern China and also included hundreds of students serving as translators. In 1916, facing a shortage of wartime labour, the British Cabinet approved the recruitment of Chinese labourers. This marked the beginning of a tumultuous journey for China seeking international status and for ordinary individuals trying to make a living in turbulent times. Each Chinese labourer toiling on the Western European battlefield carried the expectations of a family and a struggling nation. What deeply moved me was that their journey to the West was not driven by noble reasons, but rather by a practical desire for survival, prosperity, or a chance to see the world while bringing honour to their country.

The 1918 British military report stated, “Most labourers are proficient at their work, consistently demonstrating high efficiency in railway, ordnance factories, and tank workshops.” A French officer also remarked, “They can handle any job, be it as a merchant, shoemaker, blacksmith, or engineer; they are almost indispensable.” The Chinese labourers, known for their endurance and willingness to work, engaged in the dirty and Labourious tasks that even British and French soldiers were reluctant to undertake. Despite promises from the British and French governments that they would not be sent to the frontlines, many of these commitments were cast aside once the war erupted. According to recollections from Chinese labourers, there were instances where the trenches they dug were only 50 meters away from the German forces. Sometimes, after completing the trenches, British soldiers would enter the battlefield in combat with the Germans. In a battle in Picardy, France, in 1917, when the German forces broke through the British and French Allied lines, hundreds of Chinese Labourers working at the frontline were unable to retreat in time. Armed only with shovels and hoes, they had to confront the German forces. By the time the British and French Allied forces arrived for support, most Chinese labourers had already perished. Additionally, the contracts for Chinese labourers stipulated a mandatory 10-hour workday, seven days a week. In the British military’s Chinese labour units, leaving the camp to interact with locals was strictly prohibited.

After the war, the contributions of the Chinese labourers, who played a crucial role in helping the Allies win the war, did not receive the respect and recognition they deserved. Before the war’s end, the painting “The Temple of War,” commemorating World War I, was displayed in Paris. However, due to the United States’ entry into the war in 1917, the original depiction of the Chinese Labour Corps was replaced with Americans. The hardworking and enduring nature of the Chinese labourers contributed to the Western stereotype of the Chinese as diligent but was also seen as a means of resource acquisition.

CLC Representatives at the Cenotaph
Photo by Weien Zong (the Author)

A similar situation unfolded in post-World War II Britain. After the outbreak of the war, the British government needed a large number of merchant sailors to transport food and weapons, leading to the recruitment of 20,000 Chinese sailors in 1940. However, their wages were only half of what British sailors received. After the war, around 2,000 retired Chinese sailors remained in Liverpool. However, with severe post-war unemployment and inflation in Britain, Chinese and local sailors faced intense competition. Shipping companies, eager to rid themselves of Chinese workers, reduced wages and reclaimed war risk bonuses, making it difficult for them to survive. On October 19, 1945, the British Home Office decided to act, “forcibly repatriating unwanted Chinese sailors.” Some were even arrested while buying milk for their daughters on the street, without the chance to bid farewell to their families before being deported. These Chinese sailors, known for their diligence and affordability, were expelled after being exploited.

Wreaths for CLC at the Cenotaph in London
Photo by Iris Yau (SACU Trustee)

Diligence and affordability have perhaps been a double-edged label for underdeveloped countries and regions since the beginning of the 18th and 19th centuries, during the Age of Discovery and the Industrial Revolution. Countries that did not achieve capital accumulation through colonization could only engage in resource exchange with colonizers through labour-intensive industries. In a conversation with a British mobile phone retailer, he proudly mentioned his frequent trips to Shenzhen, China, to purchase phone components. He found factories there to process and assemble the components. He told me about the significantly lower cost of producing imitation Apple phones compared to the genuine ones, allowing him to make a substantial profit. However, shortly afterwards, he expressed a sense of “sympathy” for the exploited workers and criticized the harsh working conditions. Intrigued, I asked him, “Have you ever considered the fundamental reasons behind the cheap labour and poor working conditions in East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia?” He began analyzing the government, corporate exploitation of workers, and the work ethic of Asians. I couldn’t help but interject, “Have you never thought that it might be due to the original accumulation of capital obtained through colonization by Western capitalist countries? This drove progress in industrial and technological revolutions, leaving formerly colonized countries unable to compete in the post-colonial era, forcing them to rely on cheap labour and natural resources for development in the age of economic globalization. While you profit from the cheap labour and resources in China, seeking benefits, you then shift the blame to the government and corporations, claiming that the thinking pattern of hardworking Chinese people is rigid. Don’t you find this hypocritical?”

Chinese representatives for CLC
Photography by Gu Hongyan (Mother’s Love of Bridge)

Standing at the site of the memorial ceremony, I was deeply moved. On this day, I witnessed over fifty Chinese representatives organised by the Meridian Society laying wreaths in tribute to the Chinese Labour Corps. Proudly, they reclaimed their rightful recognition—even if covered in mud, they are still heroes, still “hidden dragons.” At some point, diligence became stigmatised, discriminated against, and even used as a weapon for political attacks. As Chinese, we might have, to some extent, felt displeasure with phrases like “you work very hard,” associating them with the stereotypical image of low-level labourers. Nobody prefers to be labelled in this way. However, it was this group of labourers who earned China its victorious position in World War I and gained a little confidence to refuse to sign the Treaty of Versailles in Paris, rejecting the transfer of German privileges in Shandong.

They achieved all this through their quality of enduring hardship. Today, more and more people are learning about the Chinese Labour Corps. Our memory and respect for them are the best comfort to their spirits, as well as a modest effort to advocate for fair media exposure and treatment for the Chinese community.

About the author
Weien Zong graduated from King’s College London with a background of 5 years of media and documentary education and work experience. She has extensive media experience, interning at Guangdong Radio and Television Station, NetEase Games, the United Nations Youth Leadership Development Program, and with independent documentary filmmakers. Currently, she is dedicated to creating original videos of Chinese traditional culture and medicine on major social media platforms such as Instagram, YouTube, Xiaohongshu, and Bilibili. Additionally, she organizes offline Chinese cultural events to promote traditional Chinese culture and wisdom.







11月11日,我有幸参与了由Western Front Association组织在Cenotaph London举行的Armistice Day Ceremony战停战纪念仪式。连续多日阴雨绵绵却在这天阳光明媚,初冬的寒意在暖阳之下逐渐消散。从Charling Cross出站后,便感受到一股涌向一战停战纪念碑的人流。人头攒动的街道上,人们胸前佩戴着象征国际纪念阵亡将士的罂粟花标志。作为一个中国人,我在人群中显得有些格格不入。周围时不时投来的斜视仿佛在疑惑: “一战停战纪念日为何有中国人在凑热闹?”



1918年的英军报告中指出:“大多数劳工都能熟练地工作,而且他们一直都在铁路、兵工厂和坦克车间高效率地工作。”一位法国军官也指出:“他们能胜任任何工作,商人、鞋匠、铁匠、工程师,几乎无所不能。” 华工以吃苦耐劳、任劳任怨而著称,在这场并非属于他们的战争中,他们从事着英法士兵都不愿意做的脏活累活。尽管出发前英法政府承诺他们不会到前线参战,但战争爆发后许多承诺都被抛诸脑后。根据中国劳工的回忆,有时他们挖的战壕距离德国人仅有50米,经常是挖好战壕后,英国士兵再进入战壕与德国人交战。1917年,在法国皮卡的一次战斗中,由于德军突破了英法联军防线,正在前线挖战壕的数百名中国劳工来不及撤退,只能靠手中的铁锹、锄头与德国人搏斗。等到英法联军赶来支援时,大部分中国劳工都已阵亡。此外,中国劳工的合同规定每日必须工作10小时,每周7天无休。在英国军队的华工中,甚至不允许踏出营地与当地人交往。




My first SACU event: Su Tong in conversation with Dr Frances Wood – by Dr Fang ZONG (English and Chinese versions)

Firstly, I thank Iris Yau丘靜雯, SACU Council member and the event organiser, for encouraging me to share my reflection on attending my first SACU event “Open-Air Cinema: Su Tong in conversation with Dr Frances Wood.”

I knew SACU (Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding) for a long time, through my line manager Bryan Sitch, Deputy Head of Collections of the Manchester Museum, University of Manchester. We jointly published a research article entitled “An Umbrella of the Chinese Labour Corps in the Manchester Museum Collection” in China Eye in 2018. As we have been working together to develop a permanent Lee Kai Hung Chinese Culture Gallery at our museum, Bryan recently advised me to join SACU to draw inspiration from SACU’s events. How to tell a good story of China is the mission of our Chinese Culture Gallery. Also, I learned that Michael Wood, Professor of Public History at the University of Manchester, is the current President of SACU. From his The Story of China both television series and book, I have been learning more about my own Chinese history, culture, and people from the eyes of a British historian.

Finally, I formally became a member of SACU on 4th July 2022, and I just regretted that I did not join SACU earlier. Meanwhile I was so glad that I joined SACU in time as I was able to join my first SACU event on 16th July 2022, and it was also an event which recalled my childhood wish, though very vague, to be a writer.

Su Tong in conversation with Dr Frances Wood

This cross-oceanic literary dialogue between the Chinese writer Su Tong 苏童and the British sinologist Dr Frances Wood吴芳思, was jointly held by the Chinese People’s Literature Publishing House and the British Chase Publishing House. Through a video link, these two famous cultural masters discussed the creation of literature, and the translation, introduction, and dissemination of contemporary Chinese literature in the UK.

It was a hybrid event online and onsite organised by Sinoist Books, China Exchange and SACU. I joined on Zoom and soon found out so many pages of audience on my computer screen. Later I learned that the People’s Literature Publishing House had simultaneously broadcast the event, which attracted nearly 30,000 domestic and foreign viewers to watch the live broadcast online in just one hour. On screen I saw a large live audience at the dialogue at China Exchange, Chinatown, London. I wish I could join in-person for my next SACU event.

Dr Frances Wood is a big name for a book worm and a museum professional now focusing on Chinese culture. Whenever I visit the British Library and appreciate its Chinese exhibitions, I am thinking of the driving force and wisdom “behind the scenes”.

Su Tong is one of China’s most acclaimed writers. I learned about Su Tong through watching the films Raise the Red Lantern by director Zhang Yimou, and Rice, both adapted from his books. This SACU event provided me with an opportunity to virtually “see” Su Tong, a successful writer who a very young Chinese girl once had a dream to be.

Book cover of Open Air Cinema: Reminiscences and Micro-Essays from the author of ‘Raise the Red Lantern’

During the dialogue, Frances expressed her appreciation for Su Tong’s works. From the perspective of British scholars and readers, she asked Su Tong many questions about his works. Su Tong specifically talked about the English version of Open-Air Cinema just published in the UK, because this is the first time that his collection of essays has been translated into English and published overseas. I have not read this book yet, though simply through the title I remembered my childhood experience of enjoying many open-air films in China. In my imagination each essay is like a slide show reflecting fragments of his memory about changes in China.

Also, Su Tong spent much time talking about his long novel Shadow of the Hunter, an English edition of which was published in May 2020. Its translator James Trapp, and editor David Lammie, were also present at the event. This urged me to know more about this novel, and so I searched its Chinese version and was astonished to see its book cover design with the distinctive yellow Winter Jasmine drawing and elegant inscriptions for the book title in Chinese Seal Calligraphy. I thought they are so much like the artworks of my Chinese tutor, Professor Chen Lyusheng. He is a senior art critic, curator, painter, calligrapher, photographer, collector, and a former Deputy Director of the National Museum of China. He is currently the Director of the Centre for Arts and Sciences, and Museums, of the University of Science and Technology of China, and a guest professor in art and museum study for many universities, including Nanjing Art Institute, Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, the City University of Macau, and Taiwan Normal University. He also has close relationships with cultural institutions in the UK.

Professor Chen Lyusheng in front of his painting “Winter Jasmine”

I checked with Prof. Lyusheng about this book cover, and he admitted that it was his artwork which had been commissioned by the book publisher, Writer’s Press. He admires SACU’s mission and what we do and would like to collaborate with SACU. Later I attended SACU’s China Connections/Chinese Heritage Working Group meeting on 23rd July 2022, and recommended him to the Working Group for future SACU events such as comparisons of museums and arts between UK and China etc. SACU Working Group members were very interested in him and what he would bring to SACU. I would very much like to make the link between him and SACU, and to help to coordinate potential related events, to make my contribution to SACU as a new but dedicated member.

SACU dinner in Manchester August 2022

Shortly after my first SACU event, I was invited to a dinner meeting with some SACU members in Manchester Chinatown where I met Iris Yau (Council Member), Walter Fung (China Eye Editor), Cilla Hollman (Manchester Branch contact), Jenny Clegg (Vice President), Hanxin Yang (President of Xinhua Chinese Association) and Kevan Nelson (Unison Northwest Regional Secretary). Iris gave me a copy of her exhibition document Opium, Silk and the Missionaries in China, Jenny kindly gave some China-related books to us, and Walter brought me several copies of China Eye magazine. All these will be beneficial to my work for the Chinese Culture Gallery. From these SACU members I learned more about SACU, its history, mission, and future.  I was so moved by their long-term passion and dedication to carry out SACU’s mission.

My first SACU event was a good kick start for my future journey with SACU and opened my eyes to a wider vision to promote understanding between the peoples of China and the UK.

Again, thanks to Iris Yau for organising this wonderful event and encouraging me to write down my personal experiences of it. Also, thanks to all other SACU members who helped to make this event so successful. Thanks SACU.

by Dr Fang ZONG, August 2022

Dr Fang ZONG is currently a Curatorial Research Assistant for the Lee Kai Huang Chinese Culture Gallery at the Manchester Museum, University of Manchester, working on Chinese collection research and gallery content development, and establishing / maintaining relationships with local Chinese communities and museums in China. She graduated from Karolinska Institute, Sweden, with a PhD degree in Medical Sciences, previously worked as researcher in Biomed and Public Health in China, Sweden, and University of Manchester. She has been learning museum practice, Chinese history and culture for many years.

我的第一次SACU活动 “露天电影:与苏童对话”


首先,感谢 英中了解协会 (SACU) 理事、这次活动的组织者 丘静雯(Iris Yau),鼓励我分享我第一次参加 SACU 活动 “露天电影院:与苏童对话”的感想。

通过我的直属领导、曼彻斯特大学曼彻斯特博物馆典藏部副主任Bryan Sitch,我很早就知道了英中了解协会 (SACU)。 在2018年,中国眼 China Eye发表了我们题为 “曼彻斯特博物馆中国劳工旅的伞” 的研究文章。我们正在努力工作, 要在曼彻斯特博物馆内建立一个永久性的李启鸿中华文化馆,Bryan最近建议我加入 SACU,从 SACU 的活动中汲取灵感。如何讲好中国故事是我们中华文化馆的使命。另外,我了解到曼彻斯特大学公共历史学教授Michael Wood是 SACU 的现任会长。从他的《中国故事》电视纪录片和书籍中,我从一位英国历史学家的视角更多地了解了我们中华民族的历史、文化和人民。

终于,我在 2022 年 7 月 4 日正式成为 SACU 的一员,我只是后悔没有早点加入 SACU。同时我很高兴我及时地加入了SACU,因为这让我能够在2022年7月16日参加我的第一次SACU活动,这也唤醒了我模糊的记忆,童年曾有过的愿望,成为一名作家。

Su Tong in conversation with Dr Frances Wood

此次中国作家苏童 (Su Tong) 与英国汉学家吴芳思博士 (Dr Frances Wood) 的跨洋文学对话活动,由中国人民文学出版社和英国查思出版社联合举办的。两位文化名家通过视频连线,就文学创作、中国当代文学在英国的翻译、推介和传播等话题展开讨论。

这是一场由 SACU 组织的线上和线下同步进行的活动。我加入了 Zoom 线上活动,很快就在我的电脑屏幕上看到了如此多的观众页面。后来得知,本场活动的同步直播在短短一小时就吸引了近3万名国内外观众在线观看。通过电脑屏幕,我也看到了在伦敦中国城的中国站活动现场,大量的到场观众聆听对话并参与互动。我希望我能到现场参加我的下一次 SACU 活动。

对于一个专注于中国文化的 “书虫” 和博物馆人,Dr Frances Wood 是个响当当的名字。每当我参观大英图书馆,欣赏它的有关中国的展览时,我都在想这些精美呈现的“幕后”英雄的智慧和推动力。

苏童是中国最著名的作家之一。我看过由他的书改编的电影《大红灯笼高高挂》和《米》。这次 SACU 活动让我有机会 “看到” 苏童,一位成功的作家,一个中国小女孩曾经梦想成为的人物。

Book cover of Open Air Cinema: Reminiscences and Micro-Essays from the author of ‘Raise the Red Lantern’


此外,苏童还花了不少时间谈论了他的长篇小说《黄雀记》,该小说的英文版已于2020年5月出版,其译者 James Trapp和编辑 David Lammie也到了活动现场。这促使我对这本小说想要有更多的了解,于是我搜索了它的中文版,惊讶地发现中文版的封面设计,其独特的迎春绘画和优雅的中国篆书书名, 似曾相识, 很像我的中国师长陈履生教授的作品。陈履生先生是中国资深艺术评论家、策展人、画家、书法家、摄影师和收藏家,曾任中国国家博物馆副馆长。他现任中国科学技术大学艺术与科学研究中心主任和博物馆馆长,是南京艺术学院、上海美术学院、澳门城市大学、台湾师范大学等多所高校艺术与博物馆研究的客座教授。他还与英国的文化机构有着密切的联系。

Professor Chen Lyusheng in front of his painting “Winter Jasmine”

我向陈履生教授求证这事, 他说这是他的作品,是受作家出版社委托特为苏童的《黄雀记》创作的。他很钦佩 SACU 的使命以及我们所做的工作,并愿意与 SACU 合作。后来我参加了2022年7月23日SACU的中国联系/中国遗产工作小组会议,并向工作小组推荐了陈先生, 比如参加SACU将来的活动。SACU工作小组成员对他非常感兴趣,想了解他会给SACU 带来什么。我非常愿意为SACU 和他建立联系,并帮助协调可能的相关活动,作为一个新成员为SACU做出贡献。

SACU dinner in Manchester August 2022

在我参加我的第一次 SACU 活动后不久,我受邀在曼彻斯特中国城与一些 SACU 成员晚餐聚会,在那里我见到了 Iris Yau 丘静雯(理事会成员)、Walter Fung(China Eye 编辑)、Cilla Hollman(曼彻斯特分部秘书)、Jenny Clegg(副会长)、杨汉新(新华联谊会会长)、Kevan Nelson(Unison 西北地区书记)。 Iris 给了我一份她策展的 “鸦片、丝绸和传教任务” 展览相关资料,Jenny 好心地给了我们一些与中国有关的书籍,Walter 给我带来了《中国眼》杂志。这些都会对我中华文化馆的工作大有裨益。从他们这些 SACU 资深成员中,我进一步了解 了英中了解协会 (SACU)、她的历史、使命和前景。他们对 SACU 使命的长期热情和奉献精神让我深受感动。


再次感谢 Iris Yau 丘静雯组织了这次精彩的活动,并鼓励我记录下我的个人感受。此外,感谢所有让这次活动如此成功的 SACU 成员。感谢 英中了解协会 (SACU)。

宗芳博士, 八月2022

“Railways and Reunions” and SACU AGM 2 October 2021 Report

SACU’s AGM 2021 took place on Saturday 2nd October at the Wesley Conference Hotel, Euston Street, London. A new Council of 12 members was appointed and the meeting voted unanimously to convert SACU into a Charitable Incorporated Institution. Thanks to members who attended this ‘blended’ meeting either in-person or by Zoom.

Railways and Reunions” took place as SACU’s public event before the AGM on Saturday 2nd October 2021. Consul General Zheng Xiyuan of the Manchester Chinese Consulate proposed this joint event to mark the 110th Anniversary of the Chinese Revolution. We brought together family members of Dr Sun Yat-sen and Sir James Cantlie who played a critical role in helping Dr Sun escape imprisonment by the Qing legation in London in 1896.

This was SACU’s first in-person event since 2019, presented as a ‘blended’ event with people attending both in the room and by Zoom, held in the morning because of the time difference and to accommodate the availability of Sun Yat-sen’s family in China. Several members of the Manchester Consulate and SACU Council collaborated to organise this highly successful event. The expert technical help provided by the Consulate was invaluable in linking attendees in the room and on Zoom with Madam Alexandra Sun in Guangdong, her son Justin Sun in Beijing, and Sir Hugh Cantlie, son of Kenneth Cantlie, with his son Charlie Cantlie in Oxford, and facilitated by SACU Vice President Dr Frances Wood.

We started with a video film made by the Manchester Consulate at the York Railway Museum which set the scene for our event. The museum houses a KF Class No.7 steam locomotive designed by Kenneth Cantlie and donated to the museum where it was restored and has been exhibited since 1983. Kenneth Cantlie was an expert railway engineer and the son of Dr James Cantlie who had taught the young Sun Yat-sen when he trained as a doctor in Hong Kong. Dr Sun recognised the worsening situation in China and proposed reforms to the Qing government in the early twentieth century but when they refused, Dr Sun started to think of revolution as the only way forward.

We then met Madam Alexandra Sun, granddaughter of Dr Sun, who showed us around the Sun family mansion, now a museum, in Zhongshan, Guangdong, built in 1892 when Dr Sun was still a student. Dr Sun Yat-sen became the provisional first President of the Republic in 1912 and later became Supervisor of Chinese railways. Kenneth Cantlie worked in China in 1930s, designing steam engines especially suited to the difficult terrain and available type of coal. So, the friendship between these two families has continued through the generations, and it was an honour for us to meet these distinguished guests.

To Change the face of China”: SACU President Professor Michael Wood talked about the early development of the railways in China, at first built by foreign powers and not welcomed by the Chinese government. Guo Songtao was the first Chinese ambassador abroad, arriving in Britain in 1877. He realised China needed to understand foreign affairs and develop a proper foreign policy whilst establishing prosperity at home and railways were crucial to this. He had talks with the railway engineer Rowland Stevenson who drew up plans for the future of the Chinese railways. Guo recognised that China’s technology needed to be reformed along with a wider openness to ideas of modernity. Gradually, railways were laid, 9,000 km by 1911 by foreign concessions and the first railway by the Chinese in 1909 from Beijing to Inner Mongolia was engineered by Zhan Tianyou, now regarded as the father of China’s railways.

Prof Michael Wood referred to his films on Deng Xiaoping’s reforms and opening up, when Deng called for modernisation of Chinese technology. Michael’s films included one on developing the railways and he described the high-speed train journey of his film crew from Beijing to Guangzhou, travelling over 1,500 miles in 8 hours. He commented that, although the surge in high-speed railways has slowed in the last two years it is likely to pick up again. China’s railways are an amazing achievement, now the second biggest and most up to date in the world – and what would Zhan Tianyou make of this progress?

Consul General Zhen Xiyuan made concluding remarks from Manchester, noting that the friendship between the Sun and Cantlie families was not just friendship between two families but symbolised the friendship between the UK and China.

China at High Speed”: At 6.00pm we streamed a lively and colourful film from the China National Tourist Office which concentrated on individual experiences to show how the network of high-speed trains across China is helping development.

1921film screening: SACU was a partner with Friends of Socialist China and other organisations to screen this critically acclaimed film about the formation of the Communist Party of China in Shanghai one hundred years ago.

The video recording of “Railways and Reunions” is available on SACU’s YouTube channel here

SACU ChinaChat – Xinjiang: Sharing our knowledge, Saturday 24 July 2021

This SACU ChinaChat was for members only, designed to allow discussion of the various aspects of the controversy. Excerpts from two contrasting videos – one by Martin Jacques and one by Rachel Harris, an academic and leading campaigner for the Uighurs – were shown and two SACU members, John Baruch and Keith Lamb, who have some local experiences, followed up by sharing their views. Some particular friends of SACU were also invited to join the session to help us with our considerations.

Dr Jenny Clegg
, SACU Vice President, chaired the discussion, which was not recorded. Jenny wrote, “Questions about the treatment of the Uighur people by the Chinese government have seized hold of politicians and the mainstream media with declarations of genocide. Repeated reports of human rights abuses have been a challenge to many of us in SACU as we face questions from family, friends, and at public meetings.” There will be a follow up article in the Autumn 2021 issue of China Eye.

SACU/Peking University Essay/Art Competition 2020-2021 Awards Ceremony, Saturday 26 June

SACU members joined with students from both the UK and China for this year’s Awards Ceremony of the Essay/Art Competition, organised jointly by SACU and Peking University.

The SACU/ Peking University Essay Competition began in 2015 as part of SACU’s 50th Anniversary celebrations. Now in its 5th year, the aim of the competition is to help young people learn about the development of friendship and understanding between the UK and China and to consider how this might be further promoted. The submissions can be an essay or an artistic form, which could involve for example photography, other visual art, or choreographed dance.

The awards are sponsored by Peking University with three prizes of £100 / £50 /£25 in each of two categories.

This year the theme of the competition was ‘How can we achieve a better understanding of China?’

Zoë Reed, Chair SACU, and Dr Wang Fang co-hosted the ceremony. The judging panel was chaired by Dr. Frances Wood, renowned author on China and former head of the British Library Chinese Collections and SACU Vice President. Frances announced the winners of the 12 prizes, and gave the panel’s views on each of the winning entries, commenting that this year’s entries were all of a particularly high standard. Frances had enjoyed reading the essays and was impressed with the maturity and insight of the students’ work. Professor Sun Hua, Director of the China Center for Edgar Snow Studies, Peking University, joined from Beijing and made an address as competition sponsor. Professor Sun Hua is an expert in historical figures who have contributed to building friendship between the peoples of China and the West.


See SACU’s YouTube video of the Awards Ceremony here

See Report by Peking University 北京大学 here

SACU is grateful for the support and sponsorship of Peking University for the Essay Competition.

‘China in the World’ talks – SACU Speakers Bureau

SACU can also offer talks to schools under the title of ‘China in the World’. Members of our Speakers Bureau are all established writers and speakers on China with many years’ experience of living and working in the Chinese world. It is hoped that these talks on China will enhance the younger generation’s understanding of China. Please email for more information:

A Moral Question, A Moral Duty: SACU ChinaChat with Iris Yau, Friday 25 June 2021

SACU ChinaChat meeting for members:  “A Moral Question, A Moral Duty” – Behind the scenes with SACU member Iris Yau, Curator of the recent exhibition “Opium, Silk and the Missionaries in China” held May – June at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS.

The Exhibition: “Opium, Silk and the Missionaries in China” retold one of the largely forgotten histories of the relationship between Britain and China in the 19th Century. It drew on several collections, using artefacts to explore the history of the Opium Wars. Botanical arts and tools, historical artefacts about silk, missionary work and intercultural shared experiences in China recorded by British Missionaries throughout this period were all used in this fascinating exhibition:

SACU member Iris Yau, Fellow Royal Society of Arts (RSA), Higher Education Academy UK (Advance HE), and Curator, gave an informal online talk on this exhibition to SACU members. We heard about the behind the scenes work involved in assembling the exhibition with artefacts contributed by several partners. The discussion that followed Iris’s talk focused on the Opium Wars and their legacy in both China and the UK. Members commented on how little is known or taught about these wars in schools here. Iris’s question being, Do we have a moral duty to re-examine this inglorious episode in British history?

SACU members visit the exhibition with Iris Yau, 14 June 2021

See a video tour by exhibition curator Iris Yau of ‘Opium, Silk and the Missionaries in China’, at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS here

SACU ChinaChat: The Early Years of SACU with Graham Perry

SACU ChinaChat Series – “Your Stories with China”
“The Early Years of SACU” with Graham Perry in conversation with SACU Archivist Linxi Li, Sunday 29 November

This was a truly memorable event in many ways. It was the first online link-up between Li Linxi in Beijing and our speaker, Graham Perry and other participants in the UK. It was also a trip down ‘memory lane’, as Graham, an early member of SACU and former Vice Chairman, delved into the origins and formation of SACU in 1965.

Responding to questions from Linxi, Graham described how he himself came to be involved in China since his teens through his father, Jack, who founded the 48 Group and frequently visited China in the pioneering days of opening business with China in the 1950s and 1960s. Graham explained how SACU was founded out of the split within the former Friendship Society with China caused by pro-Soviet and pro-China factions within that society. When SACU was established by such outstanding figures as Dr Joseph Needham, Professor Joan Robinson and Derek and Hongying Brian, Graham became involved from the outset.  The name of SACU – whether ‘friendship’ or ‘understanding’ – was hotly debated from the start, but ‘understanding’ was agreed upon as the most ‘diplomatic’ term. Not surprisingly, especially at this time of heated politics in the run-up to the Cultural Revolution, a great variety of people, were attracted to and joined SACU with their different views and ideals about China’s trajectory. SACU established an office in Camden Town in London and many meetings in the nearby Conway Hall were packed, especially by young people.

Graham mentioned the many organisers of SACU during this early period, not least the contribution of Felix Greene and his family. On the Chinese side, SACU was welcomed by the Friendship Society in Beijing and long-time foreign residents in China, who received and met SACU’s delegations and tour groups. In spite of a five -year gap in these visits during the height of the Cultural Revolution, friendly contact was maintained through the Chinese Embassy in London and business channels such as the 48 Group.

After Graham’s talk, other ‘old SACU friends’ reminisced on their memories of SACU and learning about China in those years. Jenny Clegg (Vice President) placed this formative period of SACU within the international context of the time: the Sino-Soviet split, the Vietnam War, the world-wide protest movement against the war, the burgeoning Civil Rights movement in the US and the resurging movement for women’s emancipation, in which China seemed to be providing a great model.

In conclusion, Graham raised the question of how we in SACU could see China today, and he suggested that the best approach is to try to understand China from China’s perspective. That would be a healthy alternative to the view from ‘our perspective’ as represented in our media and popular discourse.

Visit Graham Perry on China:

The link to the video recording of this online event will be made available to members by email newsletter.

This was the first of “Your Stories with China” SACU ChinaChat series in which SACU Archivist Linxi Li will interview members about their own experiences of China and SACU.

If any members would like to share their story of China, please contact our archivist Linxi Li:

SACU ChinaChat: discussing the Opium Wars

SACU’s first Virtual ChinaChat, Thursday 25 June 2020, 6.00-7.30pm by Zoom.

Dr Jenny Clegg led the discussion on the Opium Wars based on the American historian, Stephen Platt’s Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China’s Golden Age (2018). With the first salvos of the first Opium War in 1839, Britain opened China to a ‘Century of Humiliation’ where the once mighty Qing dynasty faced internal rebellion and rapacious imperial powers.  Platt sets out both the British and the Chinese sides as events moved inexorably to war. This potent turning point in China’s history ‘stands for everything that today’s China seeks to put behind it’, giving Platt’s narrative ‘important implications for today’s uncertain and ever-changing world.’  While happening nearly a century and a half ago, the topic of Platt’s book has a contemporary resonance in light of recent political developments.

Jenny shared her thoughts and impressions of Platt’s book, followed by a short presentation by Walter Fung, China Eye Editor. There followed a stimulating discussion on this defining moment in Anglo-Chinese history which has repercussions to this day. Our British, Chinese and British Born Chinese members shared wide-ranging views and experiences in an informal and relaxed setting.

Over the course of the debate, a wide range of topics and perspectives were present.  These included the politicisation of the history of the Opium Wars and the Century of Humiliation by both sides as well as the controversies over the nature of the imperial policies in the wake of the Opium War and the role they played in China’s long term reform and opening up.  This comes at a time where Britain’s imperial history has come under renewed scrutiny as a result of the toppling of statues of major figures from this period.  It is this aspect, alongside the parallels between the language of the imperial agents of yesteryear and the China hawks of today that has underlined the continued relevance of Pratt’s book.

Upon reflection of the topic in light of recent events, it is necessary to re-evaluate the Opium Wars as part of the wider debate regarding the controversies of Britain’s imperial history.  This has been particularly notable in Gladstone, one of the rare dissenting voices at the time, who called the conflict “a most infamous and atrocious war, more calculated in its progress to cover this country in permanent disgrace”.  As we face a changing era in the relations between Britain and China, Gladstone’s words now have a particular significance to today’s listeners.

A recording was made and the link has been made available to SACU members though the members’ newsletter.

This SACU ChinaChat was a great success, enabling members to take part from all over the country and as far away as Xian, even though it was 2.00am there! Any future SACU ChinaChats will take account of the time difference between the UK and China.

Tom Harper, SACU Council Member, 29 June 2020

SACU members are invited to suggest further topics for SACU China Chats, email

This online article was updated 29 June 2020.


The Opium War Museum in China’s Guangdong province “focuses on the Opium trade, its suppression by the official Lin Zexu, and the two Opium Wars (1839–1842 and 1856–1860, respectively)”:

We are grateful to the SACU ChinaChat participant who gave this web link to the meeting. 

SACU/Peking University Essay/Multimedia Awards Ceremony Wednesday 17 June 2020

SACU and Peking University’s joint UK/China Friendship and Understanding Essay Competition 2020 has taken place and the winners were announced online in a Zoom ceremony on Wednesday 17 June 2020. Zoe Reed, SACU Chair, hosted the Awards Ceremony which this year was moved online because of the current pandemic crisis. The entrants joined the event from as far away as Shanghai.

Zoe Reed, SACU Chair


There were 27 entrants from 7 schools who submitted entries on this year’s theme of ‘Overcoming the Cultural Gap between China and the West’. The schools taking part were Marlborough College; King’s College School (Wimbledon); Highgate School (London); Charterhouse School; Cheltenham Ladies’ College; The King’s School, Canterbury; and Oundle School.


Dr Frances Wood, SACU Vice-President, expert and renowned author on China, and former Head of the British Library Chinese Collections, was chair of the Judging Panel. She announced the winners and discussed their essays, saying she was “massively impressed” with the very high standard of the entries. She found all the essays to be fascinating and very thoughtful; students had really engaged with the problem and offered very good examples of how cultural differences can be overcome. She also thanked the students’ teachers for their huge contribution to their students’ learning and understanding of Chinese language and culture.

Dr Frances Wood

The winners were:

16 years & over category:

1st        Eliot Haywood, Highgate School

2nd       Amelia Green, Marlborough College

3rd        Selina Shi, Charterhouse School


Up to 15 years category:

1st        Wendy Lian, The King’s School, Canterbury

2nd       Tyan Lee, Oundle School

3rd      Lily Pfaffenzeller, Cheltenham Ladies College


Multimedia Award:

Annabel Cohen, The King’s School, Canterbury


Highly Commended Entries:

Daniel Culham, King’s College School

Louis Dessalles, Marlborough College

Dr Fang Wang coordinated the Essay Competition and explained the awards to the winners. There were money prizes (1st £100, 2nd £50 and 3rd £25 in each category for the essays and £50 for the multimedia category) and prize certificates for all winners. All participants are also offered one year’s complimentary student membership of SACU, including the quarterly magazine China Eye, monthly eNewsletters and access to all SACU events.

Professor Sun Hua offered his “heartfelt congratulations” to the entrants. As Director of the China Center for Edgar Snow Studies, Peking University, he has hosted commemorative and academic events for college and high school students in conjunction with foreign universities and institutions and has worked hard to encourage young people to get involved in people-to-people exchanges. He outlined the progress of the SACU/Peking University Essay competition which began as part of the marking of SACU’s 50th Anniversary in 2015 to continue the mission started by Professor Joseph Needham who founded SACU, with others, in 1965. That first competition was held in Oundle School, Joseph Needham’s former school. The second competition in 2018 saw increased participation with Oundle School and St George’s in Harpenden, the former school of George Hogg, who worked in the co-operative movement in North West China during World War II. This year’s competition was the largest yet with seven schools taking part and the introduction of a multimedia category. Professor Sun Hua was pleased that some winners of previous competitions have since enrolled at Oxford University, LSE or SOAS to study Chinese history or culture and looks forward to welcoming some of this year’s entrants to study at Peking University!

Professor Sun Hua in Beijing

Rounding off the Awards Ceremony, SACU’s President, film maker and historian Michael Wood, Professor of Public History at the University of Manchester and creator of the BBC TV’s ‘The Story of China’ series of films, congratulated all the students for their essays which showed such understanding at such a young age and urged them not to “lose that passion” but to “keep that intense affection and understanding that you have for Chinese civilisation and cultivate it. It is really important now that we understand each other better in east and west and we build bridges…”

Michael Wood, SACU President


SACU thanks Peking University for generously sponsoring this event, the schools for their commitment during this demanding school year, the Essay Competition Judging Panel for their hard work and most of all, thanks to all the students who took part – congratulations to them all.


What a stimulating and uplifting occasion it was!


Ros Wong
20 June 2020



Please find the news on the homepage of Peking University (in Chinese):




SACU/Peking University Essay Competition Launched at Oundle School, Wednesday 29th January 2020

We launched this year’s Essay Competition at Oundle School on Wednesday 29th January at the invitation of Ms Shuling Russo-Lai, Head of Chinese, and we thank the school for their hospitality. SACU has close links with Oundle School because our founder Joseph Needham attended the school and SACU’s Archives are stored here.


Interested students gave up their lunchtime to come along to SACU’s presentation in the Modern Languages Building. Zoe Reed, SACU Chair, talked about Joseph Needham’s wartime support of China’s scientists and how he sponsored a young K.C. Sun to study textile engineering in the UK. K.C. Sun became Zoe’s father and Zoe knew Joseph Needham all her life.


SACU member and Essay Competition Co-ordinator Wang Fang followed by telling us about how the China Center for Edgar Snow Studies came to be established in Peking University, named to honour Edgar Snow who was one of the first western journalists to report about the progress of the Communist Party of China in his book Red Star over China in 1937. Professor Sun Hua, Director of the China Center for Edgar Snow Studies, was going to join us for the launch but unfortunately was unable to attend.


Zoe then introduced the theme of this year’s Essay Competition: “Overcoming the cultural gap between China and the West”. The aim is to help young people learn about the development of friendship and understanding between the UK and China, and to consider how this might be further promoted.



Students are encouraged to consider any aspect of differences between China and the West and suggest how building understanding and friendship might help close the cultural gap. The historical development of China seems very different to that of the UK and other European countries, and relations have often been strained. But the growth of modern China has arguably brought countries closer together especially through trade and tourism. Chinese goods are found all over the world but increasingly the USA in particular seeks to impose trade barriers at the same time as welcoming growing numbers of Chinese students and visitors.


What can history teach us about moving forward in a spirit of friendship and understanding? How can we bridge the cultural gap that can be seen in attitudes to work and leisure, relations with authority, arts, sport and social life and so on?


The competition seeks responses from wide ranging perspectives, looking for considered views, grounded analysis and imaginative responses.


Whilst continuing to welcome written submissions in essay form we also wish to encourage more visual responses by still art or video: this could involve photography, other visual art, or choreographed dance. We suggest essays should be a maximum of 2,000 words and videos no longer that 5 minutes.



Entries will be considered in two age groups: 16 years and above; Under 16s. The closing date for submissions for judging will be the end of May 2020.



There is still time for SACU members to be involved. If you have a connection with a school in your area you can introduce the Essay Competition to the school this term. Each school will run its own internal process in order to select up to 3 entries (in each category) to the general competition. There will be an awards event in London in late June hosted by SACU. Prizes of £100 first prize, £50 second prize and £25 third prize in each category, generously donated by Peking University, will be presented by Professor Sun Hua. The judging panel, chaired by Dr Frances Wood, SACU Vice President, will give their views on the entries. All entrants will also be offered a one-year complimentary student membership of SACU.



Wang Fang as Essay Competition Co-ordinator will be happy to talk through the entry process with any SACU members interested in becoming a school link and she can make school visits to introduce the competition.

Please make contact by email:


Ros Wong
SACU Membership Secretary
31 January 2020