Already Seen: A Deja Vu in History

Yi Xing
Renmin University of China, Master of Journalism, Class of 2014
China Daily Reporter in London

Find out more about SACU’s archive here:

I learned about the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding from Dr Linxi Li before I came to the United Kingdom in the summer of 2022. I was in Beijing applying for my visa, and I called Linxi who had lived in the UK for six years to meet in order to find out some information about the country where I would be working for the next few years.

We decided to stroll around Jingshan Park with two friends, and while we climbed the small mountain, Linxi told me that while she was in the UK, she helped SACU to digitize its historical archives, including many old photos and records of SACU members visiting China in the 1970s to 1980s. How did the British back then view socialist China? These archives may tell a good story, I thought, so I told Linxi that when the database is made public I also want to take a look.

Time flies, and now it has been a year since I landed in London. Because of busy reporting work, I forgot about SACU but I met Keith Bennett in an interview and we became good friends. When I attended Keith’s birthday party in September, Iris Yau, who was at the same table with me, mentioned SACU when she introduced herself and sent me the latest issues of the China Eye magazine. In the magazine, I saw the name of Linxi, who is the archivist for SACU, and all that she told me on top of the Mountain Jingshan last summer came back to me. I couldn’t help but exclaim to Iris that this is such a small world, where people with the same interests will always meet each other.

Linxi then assisted me in browsing the SACU archives that are put online and sent me one academic paper she wrote based on some of the archives, How Intellectual Elites Get Involved in News Production: The Correction Practice on China-related Coverage by the Press Group of Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding, which was published in September in one of the most authoritative journals of journalism and communication research in China. Her paper examines the various ways in which SACU members corrected biased coverage of China in the mainstream media in the UK and the United States in the 1960s.

The study mentions that Joseph Needham founded the SACU to work on the dissemination of information about all aspects of Chinese social life and thought without preconceived prejudices, dogmatic views, or ideological constraints. SACU and the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries established an exchange and cooperation program.

Since 1970, SACU started to organize China Tours, which brought hundreds of social elites and professionals to China over the next decades, and their personal experiences in China have become the exclusive materials to refute the inaccurate reports from the media. Because with up-to-date and first-hand sources, even if they could not completely convince the author, the information would make the debate more meaningful.

After reading the research paper, I felt that all history is contemporary history, and that there are striking similarities between the media’s coverage of China 60 years ago and now. Many of the British and US media are reporting China with the same bias as in the old days. In the conclusion of her paper, Linxin also writes, “Historically, British intellectual elites have effectively intervened in news generation on China issues, pushing the British public’s perceptions of China from negative stereotypes to objectivity and even friendly understanding, and this is urgently needed in today’s international communication as well”.

Comparing the situation now and 60 years ago, I found the relations between China and the UK are still tense in the political discourse, but the development of the aviation industry has made international travel easier, and the internet has lowered the threshold of communication. It would be nice if people learned a little more from history: Our enemies are not each other, but our own pride and prejudice.


邢奕 中国人民大学2014届硕士毕业生,现中国日报驻伦敦记者


一转眼,自我抵英已经一年多。因为琐碎的工作,我也忘了英中了解协会的事情,但因采访结识了Keith Bennett先生。九月初,我参加Keith 的生日聚会,与我同桌的丘靜雯在介绍自己时提到了英中了解协会,并发给我最近一期的《中国眼》电子杂志,在目录中我看到作为英中了解协会档案管理员的李琳熙,我不禁对丘靜雯感叹道这是一个小世界,兜兜转转,志同道合的人总会相遇。





Aspects of Chinese Democracy and Progress

First published in China Eye (79) Autumn 2023 pages 5-7

3 OCTOBER 2023 | Walter Fung

Democracy; Definition

The Western media is constantly using the word democracy and dividing the nations of the world into two categories, democratic and authoritarian (non-democratic by the Western perception). My Concise Oxford Dictionary defines democracy as ‘having government by all the people, direct or representative; form of society ignoring hereditary, class distinctions and tolerating minority views’.

A definition from the internet says,’ A system of government by the whole population of the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives. Note the word ‘typically not exclusively. Elections, voting, with multiple candidates and election campaigns are central to the Western system.

John Keane in his book, The Life and Death of Democracy, Simon & Schuster, 2009, states his belief that history is a key for understanding democracy at the present time. His perspective implies that democracy does not have just one and only distinctive form, one model, that can be brought as a ‘gift’ to peoples which have different attitudes and history.  He also strongly questions the old assumption that democracy is a universal norm that reflect Western values.

Western politicians seem to believe that all nations should adopt the Western system. They state that nations engaged with China ‘so they (China) would become more like us, but it is not happening.’ Recently an American politician sought alliances with other countries, to ensure that China, which does not share our values, retains only its proper place in the world. Do these not imply attitudes of elitism and supremacy?  Can there be a single system applicable to all nations, cultures, history and state of development? Do people still believe in Francis Fukuyama’s ‘End of History’, liberal democracy being the ultimate form of government?’

During the Coronation of King Charles III and in the service for the victims of the murders in Nottingham, faith leaders including, Anglican, Catholic, Jewish, Islam, Hindu and Sikh were all included. In the past, many of these religions fought each other to the death. Now, most respect each other, treat each other as equals and accept their differences.

A Hindu friend once told me. ‘All religions teach goodness; they are different paths to the same goal’ Can there not be different paths to good and effective government? Hopefully, the time will come when nations will accept and respect their differences. Instead of a ‘clash’ of civilisations, there will be a ‘cooperation’ of civilisations to achieve harmony throughout the world. The rise of China is a reality which has to be accepted.

Chinese Democracy; how does it work?

In China the Communist Party (CPC) is the ruling party. It has about 98 million members and all sectors of society are represented. About 52% have degrees, 34% are workers or farmers, 12% are managers, 16% are professionals, 25% are 35 years old or younger, 8% are from ethnic minorities and 29% are female. (Approximate figures based on a report in Beijing Review 12/5/22) Jiang Zemin, in his ‘Three Represents’ motion in 2002, allowed businessmen and entrepreneurs into the CPC; everybody is represented.

China claims to have what is termed ‘Whole Process Democracy’ which works. It involves consultative meetings and direct elections at village level. Information articles on the internet, white papers and consultations at every level of social and political life, inform citizens of proposed government policy. In addition, the Chinese government uses extensive public opinion surveys directly via the internet on all major policy decisions and other issues. There are very many consultations and discussions to achieve a consensus.

A major institution in China is the Chinese Peoples’ Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). As the name implies, the CPPCC is a consultative and advisory body in which every sector of the Chinese nation has a chance to discuss policy and proposed government action. Member are drawn from all 56 ethnic groups and representatives of all parts of society. An important feature of the CPCC is that eight political parties other than the Communist Party of China (CPC) also participate. These other parties cooperate with the CPC. There are delegates from Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and overseas Chinese.

Each year the CPPCC meet at the same time as the National Peoples’ Congress (NPC), China’s Parliament. The two meetings are referred to as ‘The Two Sessions’. The NPC is invariably described by Western media as the ‘rubber stamp’. How disrespectful!

The Chinese Government work with ‘Five-Year Plans’. It publishes the details of what it intends to do beforehand and each year at the meeting of the ‘Two sessions,’ progress is evaluated in public reports and speeches by senior government officials. They include the First Secretary of the CPC and the Premier. People are informed of what has, or has not, been achieved and what is to be done in the coming period. Is this not a form of accountable government?

The Chinese system allows effective long-term planning, continuity and therefore a better chance that projects will be completed. China believes that systems of government have to evolve individually in each country, without foreign interference, and its nature depends on that country’s culture and history.

Achievements. Success a measure of legitimacy?

Some people cannot appreciate the size of China’s population. At 1.44 billion, it is about 4.2 times the size of the US and 20 times that of the UK. It is a highly diverse country with 56 ethnic groups and vast differences in wealth, education and culture. There are difficulties not experienced in smaller, less diverse countries.

In 1949, China was in a state of complete ruin after the Japanese invasion and occupation. Twenty million had been killed and one hundred million -a quarter of the population – were refugees in their own country; literacy was around 20%, expectation of life about 35 years, infant mortality was 195/1000. Poverty was almost universal. Many people were undernourished and starving and much had to be done quickly.

By 2022, extreme poverty had been eliminated and there are now 400 million middle class Chinese. This figure is growing daily. As many as 850 million people have been pulled out of poverty and this has entailed creating jobs and housing for tens of millions of people every year for decades. Health care. social services and infrastructures also had to be provided. Now, literacy over 97%, infant mortality 5.7 per 1000 and expectation of life, about 78 years are similar to those in the US. In education, China has established schools for all children and also universities, some of which are now approaching world class.

The West appears to use Human Rights as a political weapon, but the ultimate human right is freedom from poverty and the ability to buy food, shelter and clothing. Without these other freedoms are meaningless. Asian aspects of human rights emphasise the collective group and responsibilities rather than rights of the individual.

Economic reform did not really start until Deng Xiaoping’s reforms of 1978. The national GDP at that time was tiny- about $218 billion (at that time UK $335 billion) compared to what it is today, now about $18 trillion (83 times greater). Now China has the largest economy in terms of Purchasing Parity (PPP) and second only to the US in absolute terms.

China issues more patents than any other country; the published information is available to anyone. It is a world leader in some aspects of science and technology and artificial intelligence. China now has a manned space station orbiting the earth and a rover on the planet Mars. Eric Li in his TED talk, suggests the CPC earns its legitimacy by competence. The TED talk, ‘A Tale of Two Political Systems’ is highly recommended. It is clear, concise and is easily accessible on YouTube.

The Western nations are worried about the ‘threat’ of China. But China does not have a history of aggression. It has not fought a war since 1949, The 1979 Vietnam war lasted only two weeks. No land was captured. It was a ‘punitive war,’ and in response to Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia.

Does the government have the backing of the people?

Pre-pandemic, 140 million Chinese tourists travelled abroad and they all went home and hundreds of thousands of Chinese students are studying in Western countries (over 120,000 in the UK) and none seek political asylum.

The Harvard Gazette (via internet 14/6/23) reports that the Ash Center in the US, found in the 2016 survey (the latest) that 95.5% of the Chinese respondents were satisfied with their government. In addition, the Edelman Trust Barometer consistently find that over 80% of Chinese trust their government. Edelman is a US organisation. The Ipsos surveys (Paris) over the past few years have found that about 90% of Chinese think China is on the right track. Also, Dalia Research (Berlin) has shown that 73% of Chinese believe their country is a democracy. Some analysts have described it as a ‘consultative meritocracy’.

The Future

The Chinese system is not perfect but continues to improve. China is still a developing country both economically and politically and is still only in the early stages of socialism. Although 400 million Chinese are middle class there is still a long way to go to eliminate differences in people’s income and inequalities between different regions of China.

The emphasis is now on high value goods, innovation and a commitment to scientific and technological advancement. Infrastructure is being built such as the 40,000 km of high-speed railway. China is already the largest trading nation in the world and this will increase with Belt and Road programmes in which about 70% of the countries of the world are involved.  Regarding Climate Change, China’s carbon emissions are scheduled to peak by 2030 (some analysts believe this may be achieved five years early) and carbon neutrality is planned by 2060. Even now, China is a world leader in green energy production with more wind turbines, solar panels and new energy vehicles than any other country. Long term plans are for China to achieve ‘common prosperity,’ be an all-round prosperous country by 2035, and be a beautiful country and a world leader in all aspects by 2049- the 100th Anniversary of the Peoples Republic of China.

Below are ten photographs; the first six were taken in 1983.on my first visit. The subsequent four were taken on visits about 25 years later showing the incredible progress made during this fairly short period of time.

Chinese Intangible Culture Heritage in the UK

First published in China Eye (77) Spring 2023 pages 20-23

3 OCTOBER 2023 | Walter Fung

In 2001, UNESCO made a comprehensive survey to agree on a definition for intangible cultural heritage (ICH). By 2003, a draft stated that intangible cultural heritage is a practice, representation, expression, knowelge or skill. These include nonphysical intellectual wealth such as folklore, customs, beliefs, traditions, knowledge and language. Officials and scholars were concerned that ICH practices and knowledge could be lost to future generations if efforts were not made for their preservation. Historic buildings, monuments and artifacts are considered tangible cultural property. China itself in 2006 and again in 2017, identified 42 items of intangible culture which included aspects of cooking, storytelling, silk tapestry, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the Spring Festival, etc.

The extent to which migrants practise and preserve their homeland ICH in the land in which they settle is a subject for study and research; referred to as ‘travelling ICH’. This short article deals with Chinese ICH in the UK. In a multicultural society such as the UK, knowledge and appreciation of each ethnic groups’ culture and traditions should lead to more tolerance and understanding of each other’s differences.

The Chinese community in the UK is over 400,000 strong, but compared to other ethnic groups, relatively little is known about it. Chinese generally prefer to keep their heads down and tend not integrate with the host community as much as some other ethnic groups. Analysts have referred to the Chinese community as the ‘invisible minority’ or ‘silent minority’. In addition to the resident Chinese there are about 120,000 Chinese undergraduate students and many more post-graduate students and university staff. However, Chinese have a ‘Chineseness’ which is retained not only by new arrivals, but also to varying extents by their children and even grandchildren.

In the UK, Chinese cooking is perhaps the most visible Chinese ICH, but there is also activity in Chinese art, brush painting, calligraphy, lantern making, paper cutting, paper folding, Chinese opera and dance, literature and poetry, tai qi, martial arts, Chinese music and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which includes acupuncture, cupping, moxibustion, herb remedies, massage etc.

Some of the customs and beliefs are carried out only by the Chinese communities themselves and are probably not well known to the host community such as honouring the ancestors at Qing Ming, and respect for authority and for older people. Chinese literature written only in Chinese would not be well-known by those who do not read Chinese.

The Chinese community in the UK is not homogeneous. Individuals may have come from mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao, Malaysia, Singapore and many other places such as Mauritius and the West Indies, but they all share Chinese Culture. They may be British born or born abroad, but when they came here, they may have been children, young adults, middle aged or elderly. All of these factors will affect their knowledge, adherence and attitude to Chinese ICH although, interactions with the host community will tend to dilute some of this.

China has 55 recognised ethnic groups as well the mainstream Han, e.g., Tibetans, Mongolian, etc. In addition, there are Hakka Chinese, who are mainstream Han but have their own traditions. These ethnic groups have their own distinct beliefs, customs, language or dialect and style of cooking. The UK is home to a large number of Hakka Chinese, but people of the ethnic groups are not here in any number. In addition to the Cantonese and Hakka dialects there are significant Hokkien and Teochew (Chaozhou) dialect speakers in the UK. A sub-dialect of Cantonese is Toisanese which is spoken by Chinese from the See Yep area in southern Guangdong province.

The first Chinese settlers in the UK were mainly Cantonese from Guangdong province. They began to arrive in the late 19th and early 20th century. Chinese from other parts of mainland China began to arrive shortly after Deng Xiaoping’s reforms of the late 1970s. However, the Cantonese, which includes those from Hong Kong, still probably make up the largest group of Chinese in the UK. Mainland Chinese generally speak Mandarin, which is the national language of China. The Cantonese and Hong Kong Chinese of course speak the Cantonese dialect

Chinese people are self-reliant and the community tends keeps to itself. In the mid-1980s, the British government was concerned that, many Chinese were not claiming benefits to which they were entitled such as unemployment or sick pay. This is beginning to change somewhat as people of Chinese descent are integrating more and standing as councillors and even as members of parliament

Some traditional Chinese customs are likely to be followed more closely by Chinese from Hong Kong, and places other than the mainland itself, where the Cultural Revolution had a negative effect on traditional culture. Old ideas, culture, customs and habits were prohibited. Reverence for ancestors was curbed but has been revived and Qing Ming is now a National Holiday in China.

In my opinion, one of the most apparent ICH is the Chinese character itself. Chinese are renown for being law abiding, hardworking, respectful of older people and parents, their strong commitment to family, following Chinese traditions and value for education. Chinese children have the highest success rates in UK schools. These attributes have their basis in Daoism, Buddhism, traditional beliefs and especially Confucianism which stresses education, good behaviour, harmony and moderation in all things. The Chinese religions seem to merge, there is no conflict between them. Early Christian missionaries to China were surprised to see people of all religions living happily together.

Fig 1. Chinese brush painting; Summer landscape (Brian Morgan)

Especially amongst the older members of the community there is a strong identity of being Chinese. Chinese will feel more comfortable using a Chinese accountant or lawyer rather than a British one, although communication will play a part. However, these factors are likely to be diluted with second and succeeding generations – or if a British marriage partner is taken. Many Chinese, especially the older generations have a strong attachment to their home village. They never forget their roots. They want to retain their Chinese identity and some succeeding generation regard themselves, as Chinese even though they may be unable to speak Chinese, some may not even look Chinese!

Evidence of ICH in the UK is Chinese schools, and community centres teaching the Chinese language, both Cantonese and Mandarin, Chinese brush painting, music, calligraphy, tai chi, qi gong, kung fu, Chinese dances -including those dances of ethnic minorities – and traditional Chinese handicrafts such as lantern making, paper cutting and paper folding. Community centres include the Wah Sing, Pagoda and Wirral Community centres on Merseyside. There are similar establishments in many of the larger centres of Chinese population such as the Birmingham Chinese Community Centre, the Manchester Chinese Centre and Wai Yin Women’s Association in Manchester. London, in which about a third of ethnic Chinese live, has a fair number of Chinese community centres in Camden, Islington, Barnet, and Lewisham to name just a few.

Chinese cooking is now well-established in the UK and many non-Chinese know how to prepare different schools of Chinese food such as Cantonese, Beijing, Sichuan, Hunan, Hakka etc, each having its own flavours, ingredients and other characteristics.

The most important festival for Chinese people all over the world is Chinese New Year, In China, it is known as the Spring Festival. Chinese New Year is now a major event in many of the cities of the UK, especially, London, Liverpool and Manchester where the local authorities close off streets for the celebrations. (Fig 2)

Fig 2. Chinese New Year in Liverpool with Chinese lanterns and a Dragon parade. 

The Dragon Boat racing festival held on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Lunar Year is becoming increasingly popular in the UK and amongst the host poulation The Mid-autumn Festival involving Moon Cakes is also becoming increasing well-known. It is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month. Other Chinese festivals such as Qing Ming and, Chong Yang are not as well-known amongst non-Chinese.  (Fig 3)

Fig 3. Dragon Boat Racing at Salford Quays

For centuries, generations of Chinese families lived, as one historian put it, ‘on the brink of disaster’. The vast majority of people were farmers and fishermen. Factors such as the weather, floods, drought and famine were beyond their control. For a large population, food shortage was a constant problem and indeed a sacred duty of the Emperor of China was to pray annually for a good harvest.

Many lived in poverty throughout their lives and so luck and wealth symbols were constantly displayed in the hope that their circumstances would change. Within the last 180 years, major civil disorders and foreign invaders made matters worse. Consequently, celebrating certain festivals and the belief in luck played an important part in peoples’ lives.

Expectation of life was very low, less than 40 years even as late as 1949 and hence the worship of a god of longevity and for the character for longevity to be displayed in prominent places, such as on, or over doorways and on greeting cards.

Fig 4. Greeting cards; on left the character for long life (寿), written in many different styles. On right, the Three Gods, Luck, Wealth and Long Life. (, , 寿) (fu, lu, shou)

Superstition was rife in old China giving rise to rituals and elaborate practises. Although today, superstition is considerably reduced and discouraged or even prohibited in mainland China, some rituals continue and are can be regarded as intangible culture. The three gods of luck, wealth and long life are conspicuous everywhere; look out for them in Chinese restaurants, on greetings card, calendars, posters and on doorways.

The character for luck is on red packets, which are used to present gifts of money at New Year, birthdays or other celebrations.

Fig 5. Red packets showing the character for luck (left) and with the wedding ‘double happiness symbol (right).

Although the lives of people in mainland China have been significantly improved. extreme poverty has been eliminated and there is no food shortage, some traditions and customs are still adhered to. They are probably carried out more in the UK and overseas Chinese communities than in the Chinese mainland itself and can be regarded as ‘traveling Chinese intangible culture’.

The Chinese equivalent for ‘Happy New Year’ is ‘Gung He Fat Choy’ in Cantonese or ‘Gong Xi Fa Cai’ in Mandarin. This can be translated as ‘Congratulations, may you make money’.

Fig 6. An auspicious shop name

Much can be learnt from the names of Chinese businesses such as restaurants and take-away food shops. This shop sign, ‘Wing Lee’, in Cantonese, means ‘forever profitable’. It probably is not the name of the shop owner. Many laundry businesses in Liverpool and elsewhere had the name Lee incorporated. Some authors believe the Lee clansmen dominated the laundry business, but I suspect that the word Lee was put in because it is a homonym for profit. A Chinese supermarket in Manchester is named.’ Woo Sang’ in Cantonese (和 生), which can be translated as ‘the birth of harmony’ In China, the character for harmony (和), is on every high-speed train. Another Manchester supermarket is called ‘永 發’ (Wing Fat in Cantonese), meaning ‘forever producing (wealth).

Fig 7. A Chinese ‘harmony’ high-speed train in Nanjing

Numbers also have a significance; eight, ba in Chinese, sounds like fa, meaning generate (wealth) and is highly valued by Chinese as part of a phone number, car number plate, house number etc. On the other hand, the number four is to be avoided; it is a homonym for ‘death’. Some symbols or figures of fish, clouds, tortoises or bats for example have a special meaning to Chinese people, but probably not to Westerners. The dragon is probably the best-known Chinese figure followed by the phoenix.

Traditional Chinese will follow certain procedures at the major events in a person’s life: birth, marriage and death. These were extremely elaborate in old China but some are still observed as much as possible and as much as modern living in the UK allows. To celebrate a birth, red eggs may will be offered to family and friends. Certain rituals may be followed and there may be a ceremony at 100 days after the birth. Traditional Chinese weddings may be conducted with the bride wearing traditional red Chinese costumes and there may be a ‘tea ceremony’ where the newlyweds pay respect to their parents and other senior family members. The newlyweds serve tea and the recipients give a red packet in return to the couple.

Some families will want a traditional Chinese funeral which involves certain rituals many based on Buddhist beliefs.  Location of the grave was extremely important in old China but in the UK, there are limited options. By tradition, the human body must be kept intact, even in death, and so cremation is not popular amongst Chinese.

Amongst other traditional practices at the Spring Festival, families will clean the house, but definitely not on New Year’s Day itself – good luck may be swept away! Reunion family dinners will be held and children will be given red packets of money. Couplets written on red paper or fabric, wishing good fortune, good health or prosperity will be hung on walls and around doors.

In the larger centres of Chinese people such as Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and London, there are Chinese organisations which provide community services but also foster and encourage Chinese customs and heritage. In Liverpool there are neighbourhood associations; See Yep (Four Counties), Hoi Yin, Tap Mun and there is the Chinese Freemasons. At the Chinese New Year, they generally organise a dragon parade, lion dances and other celebrations. Chinese New Year is a good time to demonstrate Chinese culture such as tai qi, calligraphy etc to the local host communities.

In Liverpool the See Yep and the Freemasons organise visits to the Liverpool Chinese cemeteries at Qing Ming and Chong Yang, to pay respects to dead relations and ancestors. Chinese groups in other centres with significant Chinese populations also organise similar cemetery visits. In addition, there are a number of clan associations in the UK who maintain the tombs of family members. As well as placing flowers on the graves, some families will also ‘offer’ fruit and food, usually roast pork, to the ancestors. Paper money may be burnt as tribute and joss sticks lit.

Fig 8.Liverpool See Yep Association about to visit the Chinese cemeteries.

Certain concepts underpin Chinese thought. Prominent are the duality of yin and yang, chi (qi) and feng shui. These concepts have no equivalents in Western science or culture.  Yin and yang are equal and opposite forces, which are present everywhere and in every situation. In living beings Yin is female and yang is male. Hot is yang and cold is yin. Yin is passive, yang is active. One cannot exist without the other; without cold, hot has not meaning. They are not static, but constantly changing. They are direct opposites but they must always be in balance for harmony.

The concept even applies to food; bananas, beans and oranges are yin (cold), beef, chicken and walnuts are yang (hot). My father used to refer to foods as ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ (‘lieng’ in his dialect of Cantonese), and in preparation of meals, kept them in balance, and consequently our family had a good diet. An excess of one type of food can upset the balance in the body resulting in illness or discomfort. Well-being can be restored by eating the appropriate food or taking appropriate herbs to restore the balance.

Fig 9. A ‘bagua’ octagon with the yin yang symbol of balance in the centre. Each contains a seed of the other. The trigrams are used in divination. An unbroken line represents heaven, a broken line, the earth. (Reference; The Yi Jing)

Chi can be described as the flow of life’s energy or cosmic energy. It must flow unimpeded and in the appropriate quantity for a given situation. It is everywhere, on the land and sea, within plants, the human body and indeed in that of all living beings.

In Chinese medicine, chi is believed to flow via meridians in the human body. If the flow is impeded or is not appropriate to the prevailing environment, the person feels ill. The task of the medical practitioner is to relieve any blockage and restore the flow of chi. This can be done by a variety of techniques in Chinese traditional medicine such as aquapuncture, massage, ‘cupping’, administering herbal preparations etc.

Early Chinese philosophers believed in the universal connection between man and nature resulting in the concept of yin and yang. In addition to this, was the concept of the five elements, sometimes referred to as phases: earth, wood, metal, fire and water. These are ‘headings’ and do not necessarily refer to the material itself. Wood for example is associated with trees and plant, paper and the colour green. Fire represents, candles, lamps and lights, man-made materials and the colour red. All the various body parts are associated with one of these elements, e.g., the eyes with wood, the tongue with fire, the mouth with the earth etc.

All living beings and materials contain these elements which must be present in the correct quantity and must be in balance with each other. It is notable that other human cultures have a similar concept, e.g., Hindu.

Feng shui, which translates as ‘wind and water’. has been called Chinese geomancy and is a concept in the search for harmony. Yin and yang, chi and the five elements are amongst the factors determining feng shui. There are a number of schools of the practise of feng shui. Most use a feng shui compass, other schools use more advanced and specialised considerations such as the position of the stars and constellations.

Fig 10. A feng shui compass

Feng shui influences the environment and surroundings, a persons’ health, temperament, outlook on life, success in life, happiness and in fact everything associated with his or her existence.  Believers in feng shui will consult a feng shui practitioner when deciding on a location for a building. If the feng shui is not right, those persons living or working in the building could feel unhappy, suffer frequent illness and their work will be below par. Needless to say, the company or business is not expected to prosper.

Feng shui has become a popular ‘fad’ in the US, UK and other parts of the Western world, especially since the 1970s. Some attribute this to the interest in Chinese culture following the resumption of US-China relations after President Nixon’s visit to China. Others associate it with the ‘new age’ concepts which arose at about this time. Private companies such as Shell. Esso and eminent individuals such as Donald Trump, Tony Blair and David Beckham have been known to consult feng shui practitioners when deciding on a location, design and other factors for their buildings. Roger Davis, head of Barclays UK banking, in The Sunday Times of 22/5/05, was said to be having his new office feng shui’d as was his office in Hong Kong.

Feng shui is also to be considered when positioning doors, windows and even furniture inside the house, especially the bedroom. Much has been written about feng shui in the garden, selection of plants, position of pathways etc. There are guidelines for feng shui in the office for the business to prosper. Popular feng shui can involve the position of mirrors, water fountains, wind chimes etc, which can enhance good energy or deflect negative energy depending on the positioning of items or circumstances.

A whole industry has grown up around feng shui. Practitioners, consultants and experts make a good living from their knowledge. Commercial enterprises manufacture artifact and objects claimed to influence feng shui, such as indoor fountains, waterfalls and wind chimes. There are even feng shui magazines which provide the latest beliefs and interpretations of feng shui in the modern world.

Intangible Chinese culture in the UK is active and widespread and is kept alive by certain organisations and individuals and especially by courses in Chinese Studies at several UK universities, including Cardiff, Leeds, Oxford, Cambridge, London, Manchester and St Andrews. The Confucius Institutes hold courses and talks on Chinese culture and instruction in activities such as tai qi, calligraphy as well as classes in both Cantonese and Mandarin. Chinese opera societies, including Beijing, Kunju and Cantonese styles, exist in London, Liverpool and other places.

In Liverpool the Chinese Youth Orchestra based at the Pagoda of a Hundred Harmonies has a national and an international following. The orchestra performed at the Shanghai World Exhibition in 2010. The Centre for Contemporary Chinese Art in Manchester provides opportunity for Chinese artists to develop and exhibit their creations.

Fig 11. The Liverpool Pagoda Chinese Youth Orchestra (Courtesy of Zi Lan Liao)

In London, the British Chinese Heritage Centre managed by the Ming-Ai (London) Institute, organise projects and courses that preserve and exhibit Chinese culture. Courses include language classes, painting, calligraphy and cooking. Cultural talks are offered on topics such as Chinese classical literature and philosophy. School visits and teacher training and online workshops are available. Their website includes digital exhibitions, cultural information and recordings of interviews and oral histories of British Chinese people from various age-groups, backgrounds and occupations.

In addition to the ‘official’ organisations, there are informal personal networks of Chinese poets, playwriters, authors, artists, musicians etc. All are contributing to the propagation and preservation of Chinese culture and heritage in the UK.

Chinese people seek harmony and balance in all things. Intangible Chinese Culture is contributing to diversity in the UK and has enriched and benefitted British life. Chinese cooking is now an integral part of the British diet. Chinese New Year celebrations are well attended in the large cities. Many enjoy, Chinese recreational activities including brush painting, mah jong and the game go. People in Britain have experienced health benefits from tai qi and qi gong exercises and TCM, especially acupuncture, which is used as a remedy for certain ailments and as an anaesthetic. Although some people are sceptical of TCM, the comment has been made that many do believe in it, especially those who have been cured by it!’.

Some Further Reading

Ball Pamela The Essence of Tao. Eagle Editions, Royston 2004

Flower Kathy, Culture Smart, China, Kuperard London 2010.

Hoyland Kate, Food Culture, China Now No 149, Summer 1994, p14-15

Gao Dr Duo, Chinese Medicine, Thunder’s Mouth Press, New York, 1997.

Hale Gill, The Complete Guide to Feng Shui, Hermes House, Anness Publishing, London 1999

Lee Siow Mong, Spectrum of Chinese Culture, Pelanduk Publications, Selangor, Malaysia 1987.

Leeming Margaret and Man-hui May Huang, Chinese Regional Cookery, Rider London 1983

Liao Yuqun, Traditional Chinese Medicine, China International Press 2008

Lim SK, Origins of Chinese Opera Asiapac, Singapore 2010

Liu Junru, Chinese Food, China Intercontinental Press, Beijing 2010

Palmer Martin, Yin and Yang, Piatkus, London 1997

Qian Minjie, Intangible Culture-Passing on the Tradition, Foreign Languages Press Beijing 2007

Sterckx Roel, Chinese Thought, Penguin Random House, 2019

Too Lillian, Personalised Feng Shui Tips, Konsep Books, Kuala Lumper 1998

Wei Liming, Chinese Festivals; traditions, customs and rituals, Cambridge University Press 2016.

Within the four seas we are all one family.

四海之内皆兄弟 –  sìhǎi zhī nèi jiē xiōngdì

Within the four seas we are all one family.

22 SEPTEMBER 2023 | Chris Nash

This year is the 80th celebration of the Flying Tigers. A major ceremony has just been held in California involving surviving members of the legendary squad of airman. Strictly speaking this a celebration of China-American friendship, but a few British aviators were involved and anyway it’s an amazing but much forgotten story from World War 2.

We have to go back to 1941 and 1942. The imperialist Japanese armies had overrun much of south-east Asia and were fighting against heroic Chinese resistance to take control of China and her resources. This was about the time Joseph Needham came to China to offer help from the British government. The situation was desperate. The Chinese were fighting like tigers in Yunnan province and areas of South-west China. The Japanese launched attacks from the south hoping to drive through and join up a northern and southern army. If China had fallen the Japanese would have been able to deploy her vast resources for their armies.

This is where the Flying Tigers came in. It was vital that Japan did not take control of the skies over south-west China. It was vital that supplies could be kept flowing in to Lee the Chinese armies fighting. A retired American army captain called Claire L Chennault recruited mainly American volunteer pilots to carry out these two missions. To add to the problems, the Flying Tigers were not given top of the range aircraft by the American government, but older models that lacked the most advanced technology. However these courageous pilots more than made up for these disadvantages with their sheer determination. They managed to shoot down many more Japanese planes than they themselves lost. They kept the airways safe so that military and medical supplies could be flown into China. Importantly they pinned down Japanese air forces in south-west China so that they could not be deployed elsewhere to push for a total Japanese victory. And above all else Chinese resistance survived and Chinese forces, particularly those led by Mao Zedong, began to liberate areas of China from Japanese control.

The sacrifice and dedication of the Flying Tigers has never been forgotten in China. The granddaughter of Chennault who founded the Flying Tigers said Chennault’s dream was that the squadron ‘would always be remembered on both sides of the Pacific as the symbol of two great peoples working towards a common goal in peace and war”. Long Fenggao, a villager from Yangtang helped to save the life of a US pilot shot down by the Japanese. He later said, ‘ All my family died in the Japanese bombings. I’m honoured that I helped to save that injured American pilot even though I never knew his name. I regard their families as my family.’

Despite everything that tries to divide us, the example of the Flying Tigers reminds us that the bonds of common humanity are stronger. On this 80th commemoration of their incredible achievements. SACU joins its voice to those around the world calling for understanding instead of division and asking us to truly honour the memory of the Flying Tigers by working towards lasting peace and co-operation.

Commemorating the Flying Tigers

4 SEPTEMBER 2023 | Chris Nash

This year is the 80th celebration of the Flying Tigers. A major ceremony has just been held in California involving surviving members of the legendary squad of airman. Strictly speaking this a celebration of China-American friendship, but a few British aviators were involved and anyway it’s an amazing but much forgotten story from World War 2.

We have to go back to 1941 and 1942. The imperialist Japanese armies had overrun much of south-east Asia and were fighting against heroic Chinese resistance to take control of China and her resources. This was about the time Joseph Needham came to China to offer help from the British government. The situation was desperate. The Chinese were fighting like tigers in Yunnan province and areas of South-west China. The Japanese launched attacks from the south hoping to drive through and join up a northern and southern army. If China had fallen the Japanese would have been able to deploy her vast resources for their armies.

This is where the Flying Tigers came in. It was vital that Japan did not take control of the skies over south-west China. It was vital that supplies could be kept flowing in to Lee the Chinese armies fighting. A retired American army captain called Claire L Chennault recruited mainly American volunteer pilots to carry out these two missions. To add to the problems, the Flying Tigers were not given top of the range aircraft by the American government, but older models that lacked the most advanced technology. However these courageous pilots more than made up for these disadvantages with their sheer determination. They managed to shoot down many more Japanese planes than they themselves lost. They kept the airways safe so that military and medical supplies could be flown into China. Importantly they pinned down Japanese air forces in south-west China so that they could not be deployed elsewhere to push for a total Japanese victory. And above all else Chinese resistance survived and Chinese forces, particularly those led by Mao Zedong, began to liberate areas of China from Japanese control.

The sacrifice and dedication of the Flying Tigers has never been forgotten in China. The granddaughter of Chennault who founded the Flying Tigers said Chennault’s dream was that the squadron ‘would always be remembered on both sides of the Pacific as the symbol of two great peoples working towards a common goal in peace and war”. Long Fenggao, a villager from Yangtang helped to save the life of a US pilot shot down by the Japanese. He later said, ‘ All my family died in the Japanese bombings. I’m honoured that I helped to save that injured American pilot even though I never knew his name. I regard their families as my family.’

Despite everything that tries to divide us, the example of the Flying Tigers reminds us that the bonds of common humanity are stronger. On this 80th commemoration of their incredible achievements. SACU joins its voice to those around the world calling for understanding instead of division and asking us to truly honour the memory of the Flying Tigers by working towards lasting peace and co-operation.

A Review of ‘China’s Hidden Century’

13 JULY 2023 | Chris Nash

Throughout the summer and until October 8th there is an exhibition at The British Museum entitled ‘China’s Hidden Century’. It covers the period of the nineteenth century, which parallels the Victorian period in British history. And just as in Britain, this was a time of great turbulence and change. The challenge confronting this exhibition is how do you tell the story of social change through objects, the ‘things’ that museums inevitably have in their collection.

The exhibition starts with life at the late Qing court and glass cases of spectacular costumes worn by court officials and even by Empress Dowager Cixi who in effect ruled China from 1861 to 1908. Cixi is a controversial figure who even today divides opinion. To some Cixi is a negative presence, blamed for the failure of China to modernise. Supporters of this side of the argument point to evidence such as the way in which Cixi crushed the Hundred Days Reform initiative, an attempt led by Emperor Guangxu, to change the very way in which China was governed towards a more constitutional organisation. To others, Cixi is a brave woman doing her best in an impossible situation to balance competing, destructive forces and preserve the Qing vision of China. On this side of the argument, we have facts such as Cixi’s decision to support the 1900 Boxer Rebellion in its uprising against the Western powers then greedily and mercilessly trying to turn China into a colony, torn up and distributed amongst themselves.

My problem with this part of the exhibition is that it doesn’t really help us to understand the challenges that were influencing Cixi’s decision-making. Some in China still refer to this period as the ‘century of humiliation’ and in my opinion, the exhibition fails to witness the destructive ferocity with which Britain, France, Germany and Russia in their own ways tried to dismember China. One of the most notorious incidents from a Chinese perspective was the looting and pillaging of Beijing including the Summer Palace, the Yíhéyuán. Two cultural fragments stolen from the palace presumably by British soldiers, are presented in the exhibition. We have to ask, why haven’t they been returned to China?

But there was another side to this story of humiliation, a story of Chinese resistance. We know that China was at an enormous military disadvantage compared to the weapon power that had been developed in the centuries of warfare and imperial aggression in the West. This is represented in the exhibition by medieval-looking armour and equipment used by some parts of the Chinese military at the time. But this fails to tell the whole story. The fact is that at this time China was attempting to modernise, starting with developing the modern military technology needed to protect herself. In 1865 an arsenal was built in Nanjing by General Li Hongzang, who made sure that it produced artillery according to the latest scientific principles. In 1884 and 1885 there was a largely forgotten war in the west in which French armies attacked Chinese territory in northern Vietnam and Yunnan province. The reason it’s forgotten is that the Chinese successfully defended the borderlands and inflicted a number of defeats on the French army. France was at that time the second most powerful colonial power in the world, after Britain. In March 1885 a Chinese victory in the Battle of Zhenan Pass led to a crisis in France called The Tonkin Affair and the fall of the French government of the day. I saw elements of this history myself in a museum in Jianshui. Yet none of this can be found in the British Museum version of the ‘hidden century’.

A section of the exhibition is concerned with Arts and Culture, which I know will be of interest to many SACU members. There is a fascinating story to be told here of the cultural impact of tensions between the traditional and the modern, between the 5000-year inheritance of Chinese expression and the increase in encounters with literary and other aesthetic ideas from the wider world. There are interesting examples of the beginnings of western influenced print media in Shanghai from the 1850s where, as would happen later with film, Chinese writers and publishers quickly adapted the lithographic medium to match the interests and needs of a Chinese audience. The exhibition does a good job of supporting the cultural contributions of women artists in the Qing era, for example, the talented painter Cao Zhenqiu, who was described as an ‘amateur, despite all of her splendid accomplishments, simply on the basis of her gender. However, I don’t think the exhibition gives us enough of a sense of the emerging Chinese modernism. From this period there is the story of the poet Huang Zunxian, who combined the ability to write in the Chinese classical style with a fascination with cosmopolitan content. Although he used traditional poetic forms as a literary method for making the complex changes of the period more understandable to both himself and his readers, Huang dismissed the typical content of earlier poetry as ‘empty talk’ and wrote instead about events from his travels, including America and Britain. In “Moved by Events” (“Gan shi”), a poem written to describe the court of Queen Victoria in England, where he was assistant to the Chinese ambassador to England he writes:

古今事變奇到此    The changes from past to present— they are so very strange indeed!

彼己不知寧毋恥    If we remain ignorant about them and us— would not it be a shame? Lines which could very well have been the subtitle to a deeper version of this whole exhibition.

This exhibition also tries to portray the everyday life of ordinary Chinese people at this time. This section opens with a dramatic glass case enclosing the rainwear of the working classes, all made from natural fibres. Ironically from our 21st-century ecological crisis, we should see value in such sustainable garments, but it painfully illustrates the fact that life in Qing China was the same backbreaking struggle as centuries of labouring ancestors. In my mind, the exhibition does not develop this theme enough. The rest of the exhibits in this section memorialise the material culture of an emerging middle class. Important as this is, it doesn’t do justice to events concerning the labouring and agricultural poor that would soon become the forces that set away Qing rule as China became a republic in 1912. I refer you to the relevant section of Michael Wood’s excellent ‘The Story of China’ to understand this period. According to sources he has found there were 285 peasant uprisings in 1910 as the economic and social fabric of Qing feudalism collapsed. Then he recounts the events of the 1910 Changsha Rising, which began when a young family, mother, father and two children, took their own lives in utter despair at inescapable poverty and starvation. Michael points out that the uprising and its brutal suppression by Qing forces were witnessed by 16-year-old Mao Zedong, who retold stories of the events in a famous 1936 interview with the American journalist, Edgar Snow. A year later, in October 1911 in the city of Hankow, all of these social and cultural pressures and tensions erupted in the Xinhai Revolution and the declaration of the new Republic of China on 1 January 1912. I would like to see these stories witnessed in the exhibition.

‘China’s Hidden Century’ represents the revolutionary spirit of the times in a different way. It chooses to focus on the incredible life of the poet and educator Qiu Jin. I’d urge all of you to follow the story of this remarkable woman. She called herself ‘鉴湖女侠; pinyin: Jiànhú Nǚxiá; or in English, ‘Woman Knight of Mirror Lake’. She could fight, ride horses and drink alcohol as well as any man. She left her husband and wrote a book of stories encouraging women to escape from family oppression. She co-edited a women’s journal called ‘China Women’s News’ (Zhongguo nü bao), which was so revolutionary it was shut down by the authorities. In 1907 she became the Principal of a school in the city of Datong, which under cover of being a sports college, prepared students for the revolutionary struggle. Her life had a tragic, heroic ending which I will leave you to find out for yourselves. Instead, I’ll choose to end on the ringing defiance of her poem, ‘Reflections’ :

  1. Lithograph publication from Shanghai

  1. Portrait photograph of Qiu Jin

  1. Court robe reputed to have been part of Dowager Empress Cixi’s

Launch of SACU Digital Archive!

SACU is delighted to announce the launch (22 January 2023) of our incredible Digital Archive featuring over 8,500 photos, SACU documents and copies of our widely respected magazines, dating from 1965.

The archive is open exclusively to members although photos can be used with permission. The best way to experience the archive  is to become a member of SACU if you haven’t already!

SACU Digital archive is now live at

SACU/Peking University 6th Essay/Art Competition 2021-2022 Awards Ceremony, Saturday 29 October 2022

SACU and Peking University’s Edgar Snow Research Center jointly hosted this year’s Awards Ceremony online for the SACU/Peking University 6th Essay/Art Competition 2021-2022 on Saturday 29 October 2022.

This year’s theme was “Our shared environment and responsibilities: what do you see as the most positive way forward?” Schools in both the UK and China took part.

Zoë Reed, SACU Chair, introduced the ceremony and Professor Sun Hua, Director of the Edgar Snow Research Center of Peking University, gave an address as competition sponsor. Dr Frances Wood, SACU Vice President and chair of the judging panel, gave her thoughts on the entries and announced the winners. Dr Wood expressed her amazement at the high standard and content of the essays and said she had learnt an enormous amount in reading through the students’ work. Dr Fang Wang presented the certificates to the winners.

See Report by Peking University here (opens in new window)

The awards are sponsored by Peking University with three prizes of £100 / £50 / £25 in each of the two categories of ’Under 16 years’ and ’16 years and over’.

Congratulations to all the prize winners!

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

The Awards Ceremony was followed by an online conversation between Professor Kerry Brown, Director of the Lau China Institute, King’s College London, and Dr Jenny Clegg, SACU Vice President.

Professor Kerry Brown in conversation with Dr Jenny Clegg

‘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:

SACU AGM Day 24 September 2022 a Great Success

SACU’s AGM Day, held on Saturday 24th September 2022, was a great success. It was a hybrid event, both in person at the Wesley Conference Hotel, Euston Street, London, and online. SACU is very grateful to CGTN Europe for providing all the technical equipment and work free of charge as partners to make the hybrid day of events happen.


Formal business for members only took place in the morning, then members who attended in person stayed for lunch.


The afternoon session was open to the public, “SACU Bridge Builders and Heart in Two Homes.”

Afternoon events at SACU AGM Day 24 September 2022

SACU Bridge Builders

SACU was invited to be part of the CGTN Programme to mark the 50th anniversary of high-level diplomatic relations between the UK and China. Their Programme includes the Bridge Builders Series – these are people improving relations between China and the UK. SACU members Michael Wood OBE, SACU President, Dr Frances Wood, SACU Vice-President [no relation] and Zoë Reed, Chair, have featured.


For our AGM afternoon session, CGTN introduced their celebration Bridge Builders series with their film featuring the wonderful Guo Family: influencers whose wisdom reaches around the world. This was followed by a lively in-person discussion with Yi and Amanda Guo and their son Toto.

The Guo family

See: Bridge Builders SACU x CGTN Europe trailer on SACU’s YouTube Channel (opens in new window)


Heart in Two Homes

The final afternoon section was a conversation between Mary Ginsberg, SACU member and Chinese art expert, and artists Qu Leilei and Caroline Deane. A selection of their work was on display in the meeting hall and Leilei and Caroline explained some of the features of their contents and styles.

Left to right: Qu Leilei, Iris Yau (SACU Council), Mary Ginsberg (SACU) Caroline Deane and Zoë Reed (SACU Chair)


Some of Qu Leilei’s artwork was on display

Progress Report for Manchester Museum’s Lee Kai Hung Chinese Culture Gallery

Manchester Museum, part of The University of Manchester, has been undergoing its hello future development including a new Lee Kai Hung Chinese Culture Gallery, and will reopen to visitors on 18 February 2023. It seems like a very long time ago that this exciting new project was first announced but we are pleased to report that the Lee Kai Hung Chinese Culture Gallery has entered the busiest stage of its development schedule leading up to its reopening. 

Visual Artwork showing the Lee Kai Hung Chinese Culture Gallery, by Imagemakers Design & Consultancy Ltd. ©Manchester Museum, University of Manchester

The gallery will highlight personal stories of migration, friendships and collaboration to inspire empathy and build understanding. Developed in partnership with the University of Manchester’s Manchester China Institute, it will draw on historical and contemporary links between the UK and China. Showcasing rarely and never-displayed collections from cultural partners across the city, visitors will making meaningful connections through personal stories and objects. We are pleased to be working with designers, Imagemakers, who have considerable experience of working on high profile exhibition projects in China. 

The earlier phase of research was supported by a Fellowship generously supported by the Headley Trust with Art Fund. This uncovered several human-interest stories behind some of the objects in the collections. Empathy, the ability to stand in the shoes of another person or see life through the eyes of someone else, is crucial if we are to achieve the gallery’s aim of building better understanding between different cultures. 

The ‘Movement and Migration’ section in the displays celebrates some of these lived experiences. For example, Manchester missionary, Alfred Bosshardt (1897-1993) was a prisoner of a Communist army in the early stages of the Long March in China during the mid-1930s. Despite the difficult circumstances, Alfred and the Chinese general Xiao Ke respected one another, and Alfred was released after 18 months. Fifty years later he was living quietly in retirement in Manchester when Xiao Ke contacted him. They corresponded and exchanged gifts. If these two men divided by ideology, nationality and religion could regard one another as friends, doesn’t that send a very powerful message to us today in this time of rising geopolitical tensions?

Milu deer in the new Chinese Culture Gallery. Photograph by Michael Pollard, ©Manchester Museum, University of Manchester

The ‘Our Shared Environment’ section in the displays explores China’s biodiversity and environmental themes. There are several thousand plant specimens from China and illustrations from the Museum’s Herbarium. China is rightly celebrated as the ‘Mother of Gardens’ and many garden plants often assumed to be traditional British varieties originated in China, including peonies. We also highlight the dramatic transformation of China’s Loess Plateau, a region the size of the Netherlands, from desert to green oasis, as a result of landscaping the valleys to control water run-off and changing farming practise. This has also reduced the amount of silt entering major rivers and helped to reduce flooding.  We also showcase China’s ‘Sponge Cities’ initiative which is designed to absorb and slowly release rainwater in major cities such as Wuhan. In 2018, a delegation from Manchester visited Wuhan to learn from the Chinese experience and since then a small trial ‘Sponge Cities’ project has been launched at West Gorton in Manchester and the results are very promising.

In ‘Caring and Healing’ we look at shared interest in healthy ageing in the UK and China. Chinese communities and newcomers to the city bring with them research expertise and philosophies of healthcare that complement western medicine, benefiting all the city’s communities. As a city of active ageing Manchester can also learn from Chinese approach to longevity. Chinese cultural traditions are influenced by the Confucian value of harmony in family and society and the ideal of respect for the elderly. This is interwoven in society through Traditional Chinese Medicine and emphasizes gentle, regular, daily movement to improve mood and physical well-being.  

The ‘Identity and Belonging’ section explores the contribution of Chinese communities to the rich ethnic and cultural diversity of the city of Manchester. We celebrate heart-warming stories such as the help given to Chinese newcomers to Manchester by Rosie and Doug Sadler. It is easy to forget how big a challenge it is moving to a busy city in a foreign country. Rosie and Douglas offered a warm welcome and help settling in. The couple had worked as missionaries with Chinese communities in Malaysia. Years later, they started helping Chinese people in the city. They found them accommodation and furniture, ran English classes, and organised excursions. Chinese people showed their appreciation for the Sadler’s kindness by bringing them gifts, some of which we will show in the new displays. 

The gallery also grapples with difficult and sometimes traumatic subjects, offering insights and perspectives through objects and storytelling. For example, it includes the story of a Chinese waiter who gave his botany collection to Manchester Museum. He was sadly the victim of anti-social behaviour, driven by racism, when he set up a takeaway in Rochdale during the 1980s. 

We also highlight the complexities of relationships. The gallery highlights the family history of American researcher Polly Shih Brandmeyer. Her great, great grandmother, Adela came from London and married a Chinese student Qian. She went to join her husband in Chengdu where Qian had a post in local government. The couple had four daughters. When Adela died, the two youngest were adopted by Captain Cornell Plant, the man who pioneered steamships on the Upper Yangtze. After the Captain and Mrs Plant passed away en route to Britain, the little girls were brought up by a missionary in China, not knowing their family story. Polly has very generously allowed the museum to share it.

A life-size acupuncture model in the new Chinese Culture Gallery. Photograph by Michael Pollard, ©Manchester Museum, University of Manchester

The museum has recently taken delivery of a beautiful Milu deer taxidermy specimen, which complements the museum’s zoology collections from China, and a life-size acupuncture model from a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) practise in Didsbury, Manchester. We are also very excited to have the support of John Rylands Library which has a very important Chinese collection. We will display a scroll depicting the emperor Kangxi’s birthday procession through the streets of Beijing in the early 18th century (Qing dynasty) from their collection. We have also completed a study of Manchester’s Old Town Hall collection of diplomatic gifts from visiting dignitaries from all over the world, including China. We were delighted to discover a football signed by young Chinese players who visited the Northwest when their careers were just beginning. Several of them are now established professional players in the big leagues in China.

The work of modern artists also features heavily in the new gallery. We have commissioned Dr Yan Wang Preston from University of Huddersfield to take photographs of members of the Chinese communities in Manchester. This will enable us to bring the stories we tell in the gallery very much up to date, reflecting people’s lived experiences in the city. This builds on last year’s very successful Touching from a Distance project involving artists Daisy Chen and Jan Bautista who produced complementary artworks celebrating the emergence from lockdown of Manchester and our Chinese twin city Wuhan. We will also show an imaginative bamboo installation by artist Gordon Cheung alongside bamboo loan objects, including a baby walker, a heater, a gift box and a travel case from the Chen Lyusheng Museum cluster in China. 

We have collaborated with Chinese communities in Manchester throughout the development of the gallery and have had wonderful support from Manchester Chinese Association and Chinese students at the University of Manchester. We are now starting to plan an ambitious and impressive programme of public events for after the opening. 

We very much hope that SACU members will visit the museum and see the Lee Kai Hung Chinese Culture Gallery when it reopens just after the Chinese Lantern Festival in February 2023.

Authors: Bryan Sitch, Deputy Head of Collections and Lead Curator of the Lee Kai Hung Chinese Culture Gallery, and Dr Fang Zong, Lee Kai Hung Chinese Culture Gallery Project Assistant, Manchester Museum, University of Manchester. 

November 2022