The forced repatriation of Chinese seaman from post-war Liverpool: my column for the South China Morning Post

Photo: Pak Hung Chan

In 2007 I made a ten-part series for BBC Radio 4 called Chinese In Britain. Along with my wonderful producer Mukti Jain Campion at Culture Wise, we covered hitherto largely unknown issues and events such as the forced repatriation by the Atlee government of Chinese seamen who’d risked their lives keeping Britain’s merchant navy running in World War II.

Here’s an extract from Episode 3 — Ship to Shore:

Last year, Moira Kenny at Soundagents helped organise a commemorative plaque on the site of the Blue Funnel offices in Liverpool. My South China Morning Post column on the subject:

“Keep my funnels tall and blue and look after my China men”. So reads the quote from Victorian magnate Alfred Holt on the newly erected plaque outside the former Blue Funnel shipping office (now the New Capital Chinese restaurant) on Nelson Street, in Liverpool’s Chinatown. 

It has taken more than 60 years but at last the thousands of Chinese mariners who worked for the company are being remembered. The plaque’s blue denotes a historical marker and Holt’s “China men” wrote their own chapter in Britain’s seafaring tradition – only to be shamefully cast away in the aftermath of its “finest hour”. 

For too long their experience constituted an episode the British authorities seemed to want to forget. Thousands of men sailed from Shanghai and Canton to Britain in the years following the Blue Funnel Line’s establishment, in 1866. For decades it was Britain’s main trading conduit with China – and by the second world war, some 15,000 to 20,000 Chinese sailors had made Liverpool their home. …


Also, read Don Flynn at Migrants’ Rights

Madam Miaow says … visit Anna Chen’s website here:


Anna’s food blog here:

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