From Old London to New Milton Keynes: Chinese Identities in Britain

On Saturday 20thJuly 2019, following our morning AGM, we held an afternoon event jointly with our partner The Meridian Society, in St Columba’s Church in Knightsbridge. Our event included talks and a film, timed to coincide with the Lao She symposium held earlier this year in Beijing to commemorate the 120thanniversary of the birth of novelist and playwright Lao She. He was one of 20thcentury China’s most significant literary figures who came to London in 1924 to teach Chinese at the School of Oriental Studies (now SOAS). Out of the four years he lived here, came his novel Mr. Ma and Son: Two Chinese in London (Er Ma, 1929), based on his own experiences of London Chinese life.


Lao She (1899-1966)


Dr Amy Matthewson: Loitering through London with Lao She

SACU member Dr Amy Matthewson told us about her exciting new project which she proposes to develop in conjunction with the Museum of London Docklands. This project is to develop an app which visitors could use as they walk round Limehouse and Bloomsbury, areas familiar to Lao She, when he lived in London in 1920s, and mentioned by him in his novel Mr. Ma and Son. The app will include items from the museum’s permanent collection to evoke the London that Lao She knew. It will also enable visitors to engage with the broader issues and experiences of the Chinese community in London at that time of anti-Chinese sentiment and fear of the ‘Yellow Peril’.


Dr Frances Wood: A Blue Plaque for the Silent Traveller

SACU Vice President Dr Frances Wood told us about Chiang Yee who came to London in 1934 to escape from the difficulties of serving as an official in the warlord era in China. He left his family behind, intending to study at LSE. With the Japanese invasion, he found himself unable to return to China and struggled to survive until he found his voice in a long series of books, beginning with The Silent Traveller in Lakeland. His 15 year stay in Oxford was commemorated in June this year with the unveiling of a Blue Plaque.


Title page of The Silent Traveller in Edinburgh by Chiang Yee


Nicola Clayton: Silk Gauze Audio

SACU member and audiobook producer Nicola Clayton introduced her new audiobook imprint, Silk Gauze Audio which is focused on English translations of modern Chinese fiction. Nicola is combining her knowledge of China with her experience as a producer to help English speakers discover and have access to China through fiction. By coincidence this month the website features Lao She.


Michael Ho: From HK to MK (film, 2017)

Michael’s father Gabriel Ho came from Hong Kong to Britain over 50 years ago to train as a dentist in Liverpool, where he met Michael’s mother. He settled and practiced in Milton Keynes which was then a new town, planned by ambitious and idealistic developers. Gabriel was happy to settle in a new town where everyone was an outsider in the early days. Michael explores how his father feels about the city now and Gabriel’s identity as Chinese and British. The short film prompted questions and discussion about perceptions and identity. We were delighted that Michael could refer some questions about his father to him because Gabriel was in the audience!

You can view Michael Ho’s film on BFI Player: