" Madam Miaow Says

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Chopsticks At Dawn on BBC Radio 4 Extra, Thursday 2nd Juy

My programme, Chopsticks At Dawn, about chinoiserie clichés in music, is on tomorrow BBC Radio 4 Extra & iPlayer.

It's on four times: 6:30; 13:30; 20:30 and again the next morning at 01:30, so no excuses.

First broadcast 2010 on BBC Radio 4.

Produced by Chris Eldon-Lee and Mukti Jain Campion for Culture Wise.
With musicologist Dr Jonathan Walker

Chinese decorative arts are revered in the West. From Willow pattern dinner plates to the Brighton Pavilion, their designs are regarded as beautiful and sophisticated. But for the past two centuries European composers and musicians have had no qualms about mercilessly parodying what they thought of as 'Chinese tunes'.

As a girl growing up in Hackney, the opening orientalised-flute strains of the 1970s pop record Kung Fu Fighting by Carl Douglas were enough to send future comedian Anna Chen running for cover.

The same cliches haunt Turning Japanese by The Vapours, Hong Kong Garden by Siouxsie And The Banshees and David Bowie's China Girl. They have all followed a pattern set by Claude Debussy, Malcolm Arnold, Albert Ketelbey and Lancashire Linnet George Formby, who were equally guilty of taking Chinese musical motifs and mangling them - or simply making them up!

How did this mocking abuse of a handful of venerable Far Eastern notes begin?

Musicologist Dr Jonathan Walker accompanies Anna on a historical mission, picking out examples on the piano and explaining why and how our western ears hear certain note configurations as "oriental" - from Chopsticks to Chopin.

They explore the pentatonic scale that chartacterises so much Chinese music, delve into the story of the Opium Wars which triggered a deep British disrespect of Chinese musical culture and unveil the earliest dubious examples of Chinoiserie in Western Music.

And we hear from a new generation of British born Chinese musicians who are putting right the discordant wrongs of the past 200 years.

Chopsticks At Dawn
Producer: Chris Eldon Lee
A Culture Wise production for BBC Radio 4.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Austerity, economics and a sense of proportion ...

... instead we get lies, damned lies and government spin. A simple placard tells us what the forces of ehvul and their media wing don't want us to know.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Thousands of Chinese seamen forcibly repatriated after WWII deserve justice

Peter Foo writes in his Change.org petition, addressed to Home Office Minister Theresa May, seeking justice for men who risked their lives for this country and Allied interests in World War Two:

We are seeking an acknowledgement and apology from the Home Office for the 1946 Forced Repatriation of thousands of Chinese Seamen based in Liverpool on behalf of their families, wives, children and grandchildren.

On behalf of all of the children, I have started this petition because my father disappeared in 1946 and this event has had a bad reflection on my life.

It is reasonably well known and well documented that thousands of Chinese seamen made up the numbers to crew the British merchant ships during the Second World War, the majority manning cargo ships on the renowned North Atlantic run. They all played a part in the allied forces victory.

It was brought to light and made available to the general public in 2002 that in July 1946 the police under the supervision of UK government agents indiscriminately rounded up thousands of these Chinese seamen and forcibly deported them from the UK to the Far East.

Due to civil conflict between the Communists and the Republicans the coastal areas of main land China being inaccessible the majority of these seamen were not repatriated but were put ashore in foreign countries thousands of miles from their homes.

The families of these seamen were totally ignorant of these events thinking that the men were killed at sea or they had been deserted and left abandoned with no form of income.

A number of the Liverpool Chinese seamen forcibly deported over a period of two days, were married to Liverpool women or were in relationships with British women and were fathers to young children.

These ‘children’ are now in their late sixties - early seventies and have realised that their lives have been affected by the emotional upset of finding out that their fathers who had disappeared had probably been forcibly repatriated. Some of the women affected have found out in the last three years that they had been adopted and this has caused much upset to them and their children and grandchildren.

On the 18th October 1945 representatives of the British government along with the Chief Constable of Liverpool, Herbert Winstanley and the Liverpool Immigration Inspector, Ted Holmes attended a meeting chaired by a Home Office civil servant, Carew Robinson representing the Ministry of War Transport to organise the expulsion of 2000 ‘undesirable’ Chinese seamen. A decision was made that the women who were in relationships with Chinese seamen were prostitutes.

The consequence of this historic illegal deportation created a detrimental effect on the lives of innocent British citizens and has arguably had tragic and psychological life changing implications including financial difficulties and cannot be measured in any shape or form.

Peter Foo

Please sign

Friday, 29 May 2015

BBC gladiatorial combat and poverty porn in Britain's Hardest Grafter

Beyond satire! The BBC has commissioned Britain's Hardest Grafter, a "game" series described as "Benefits Street meets The Hunger Games" which pitches the poorest among us — the unemployed and the low-paid — against each other for a cash prize. They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is an early model for this latest hate-fuelled poverty porn but they should actually be shooting (metaphorically, anyway) the inhumane nobs at the once-great BBC who are making this garbage.

In one fell swoop, BBC controller Kim Shillinglaw flushes any remaining dignity enjoyed by her employer down the waste-pipe.

Few members of a civilised society would derive pleasure from the suffering of the weak unless they were either only an inch away from falling through the gaps themselves and harbouring a lot of fear, or else they were themselves doing well off the backs of such inequality. As the master of ceremonies (played by Gig Young) says of his revolting audience in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, "They just want misery to make them feel better."

In case we need reminding, it is the government's job to run an economy that provides proper jobs, housing and health for Her Majesty's subjects (for we are still denied the grown-up status of citizens). It is neither moral nor ethical to have their propaganda wing sow even more hatred for Brits laid low by the failings of their own government.

Emboldened by the Tory victory in the general election, all sorts of creeps are crawling out from under their stones and revealing themselves. Not that it should have come as much of a surprise to see Prince Harry, the druggy, womanising second-born to Prince Charles and the sainted Diana, (he who threatened to have his inferiors beheaded when he was at school), demanding that the lost generation of youth on whom the government has given up be compelled to do "national service"; fight and be killed in his granny's army.

The wealthy heaved a sigh of relief when the Tories won. No mansion tax, no extra homes built or protection for hard-working, rent-paying tenants. Instead, Foxtons, the rich persons' estate agency, saw an immediate jump in their stock value of 14 per cent while the buy-to-let sector rolls on like a big tax-sucking juggernaut. Especially ripe for picking under the proposed new Right To Buy rules, is the last remaining sector of semi-public affordable housing now fated to end up in the hands of private landlords via Housing Association residents who've lived there for three years or more.

And yet it is still the poor who have to pick up the bill for bankers' profligacy. To people using food banks as a result of institutional misfeasance, cruelty (hello, IDS), and a bad case of couldn't-give-a-fuck-itis, our rulers are asking, "Do you want relish on that?"

BBC output stormed to the right under Chris "Lord" Patton's reign as chair of the BBC Trust, and the odious former Director-General Mark Thompson. Barely a day passes without the glorification of the armed forces in drama and documentary, or the promotion of demagogues like Nigel Farage and shrink-the-state tycoons such as vulture capitalist Jon Moulton given airtime way beyond that accorded to left-of-centre progressives such as the Greens. Now that we have a Culture Minister in John Whittingdale who is virulently opposed to the entire raison d'être of the TV license that allows the BBC to produce quality without commercial pressure, we can wave bye-bye to the glory days of a benign public service (up to a point!).

I hear that there's more blue-sky thinking at the Beeb concerning an exciting new witch-burning series. A cross between Judge Judy (for it must always be a woman who is seen to do the patriarchy's dirty work and, as they couldn't find Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins, they're getting Katie Hopkins to front it), Jeremy Kyle and It's A Knockout (the hilarious ducking-stool section of the show), with a star of ISIL regularly on the panel.

Watch this kids — THIS is your future ...

Here's a petition to sign.

Monday, 27 April 2015

General election 2015: "It pumps me up!!!" not a lot


I KNEW David Cameron would try the Obama "anger translator" trick and screw it up. His speech today launching his small business manifesto (sic!) in London was made even more hideously embarrassing by not actually hiring in the translator. Perhaps it's an English flaw, confusing mere rich-kid petulance with the fiery passion he'd dearly love to exude but can't. And, one mo' thang, Dave, it's "you've got another THINK coming," not "another thing" (which is what I heard mumbled on Radio 4's World At One programme just now). Perhaps Dave should be given the opportunity to spend more time with his book after 7th May.

Team Cameron are making much of Dave's claim that he has plenty of other things to do with his life and that being Prime Minister doesn't mean as much to him as it does to the other party leaders in the general election. Smell the BS, taste those sour grapes and pucker up. Surely the role of PM is supposed to be the greatest honour this nation can offer short of tea and crumpets with Her Maj.

Ed is much more likeable, especially as the right's relentless Bullingdon bully-boy tactics have won him the sympathy vote with the nation's young women and given rise to the phenomenon of the Milifan. This is almost as bizarre to me as when mighty efforts were made to transform Margaret Thatcher into a sex symbol in the 1980s and overnight she was turned into Marilyn Monroe ... at least in the eyes of old colonels, Little Ingerland and Alan Clark (who perved about her ankles). I felt like the little boy who saw that not only did the King have no clothes, he was wrinkly and ponked of formaldehyde as well.

Same thing happened with Tony Blair. Was I the only person on the planet who saw a bland posh-git Nigelesque twit whose only stand-out character trait was acquired when he achieved war criminal status over Iraq?

It didn't bother me that Ed was caught inelegantly chowing down on a messy bacon sandwich, not a fraction as much as that Labour "immigration controls" mug (and I don't mean Ed Balls). Re housing — which is surely part of the Labour USP — he's tinkering at the edges, bringing in a mansion tax that catches accidentally asset-rich but income-poor Londoners; bashing the Buy To Let sector, which is a nice juicy target for skint governments, instead of tackling the root cause — NOT ENOUGH HOUSES BEING BUILT FOR THE PAST DECADES. Try that one, Ed, along with increasing decent social housing stock ... and watch those pesky BTL landlords wither away as fast as their savings in the age of deflation.

While Austerity Bastard and Austerity Lite battle it out, we almost missed the super-rich doubling their wealth in the last ten years, thanks to the main parties politely pretending it didn't happen like a fart at that tea with the Queen I was talking about.

It took the Labour Party more than a year to decide that the bedroom tax was a travesty and even longer to challenge the Tory narrative about the deficit, which has now set like concrete and for which you'd now need the equivalent of a political pneumatic drill to break through the lies accreted during the past five years. This election should have been a walk-over after the cruelty, theft and vandalism of the Tory/LibDem Coalition. Ed should heed Aditya Chakrabortty's warning highlighting parallels between Labour and Greece's Pasok party.

Who voted for the Royal Mail firesale? For tuition fees trebled, for tax breaks for the rich, the poor and disabled hounded to suicide? The explosion in food bank use? The whole IDS DWP nightmare?

On the other hand, look at the overlaps of ghastliness with the last Labour government. Who can forget the Private Finance Initiative, loving up to non-doms like Lakshmi Mittal (yes, Ed is doing something now), the near-complete collapse of house-building? Who was it who brought in tuition fees in the first place? How many in the Labour camp have financial interests in privatising the NHS (hi, Alan Milburn and Cherie Blair!). How many Labour peers voted for the NHS Privatisation Bill ... and then it turns out they have financial interests? Former Home Secretary Dr John Reed a director of G4S, Jack Straw selling himself ...

Ach! They're all awful. Having personally witnessed how the far left is just another ruling class in waiting, I'll probably vote Labour just to get rid of the Tories. It pumps me up not a lot!

Monday, 13 April 2015

Britain's "liberal" media and UK Chinese: from London Chinatown to the general election

The Guardian has always been sloppy about China matters, but its publishing stable now appears to have given up any pretence of writing about UK Chinese issues informatively.

"It was a genuine community built by the emigrants from Hong Kong who, having been bombed out of Limehouse in the East End in the 1940s, made this patch of London, with its cheap commercial rents, their own," writes Daniel Boffey in the Observer about Soho's Chinatown

Er ... I don't think so. I know we all look the same to the "liberal" media but it was Cantonese and Shanghainese sailors and their families living mainly in the two streets of Pennyfields and Limehouse Causeway, not Hong Kong migrants, who were bombed out during the war: a large number were rehoused in Poplar.

My father was an early Chinese occupant in Soho's Chinatown from 1947 when it was mostly Indian and Jewish. It wasn't until the 1950s — but really the '60s — that waves of Hong Kong migrants got the takeaway industry going after the domestic washing machine rendered laundries largely obsolete. They bought up the fish 'n' chip shops that were going under and started serving their own food.

You wouldn't find many HKers in that early Soho mix. A few Kuomintang diplomats finding new ways to make a living and former Cantonese and Shanghai sailors, but hardly anyone from HK.

In the ten-part series Chinese in Britain, which I presented on BBC Radio 4 in 2007 (repeated last year), we looked at the history of UK Chinatowns including Limehouse and Soho, but the pattern of not allowing ethnic minorities to tell their own story persists in some organs which continue to get it wrong.

At best, invisibility is thrust on us; at worst, the Chinese are still defined as villains. From the yellow-peril Fu Manchu books by Sax Rohmer to the BBC's Sherlock reboot, where even innocent Chinese passers by in Soho Chinatown were portrayed as sinister and "other", the Chinese are dehumanised and excluded. Yet none of the liberal media paused for breath between BAFTAs and plaudits to question why, well into the 21st century, the publicly-funded British Broadcasting Corporation was breathing life back into what should be moribund racist tropes.

In Channel 4's recent  debate concerning the role of the ethnic vote in the imminent general election, chaired by Krishnan Guru-Murthy, only one single solitary east Asian face could be seen in the audience — placed on the corner in the seat nearest to Krishnan where he stood more chance of being picked up by the cameras, presumably after someone panicked on the night at the oversight. None on the platform. Yet Chinese are Britain's third largest Black and Asian minority ethnic minorities (BAME) after South Asians and African Caribbeans.

In a piece for the South China Morning Post magazine last October, I outlined how the ethnic vote could swing results in the marginal seats, with the Chinese key to the outcome in 36 seats including Barnet in May. Still, here are the Chinese being excluded yet again.

So when the Chinese are next accused of being the authors of their own exclusion ... think on.

My article on the Ming Ai Chinese in Britain project for the South China Morning Post magazine.

Pic from Red Scarf