So you think you know
Anna Chen’s essays, theatre and broadcast about China over more than 20 years. Its history, the Chinese diaspora and the West’s bid to keep them in place.
Early warnings from British writer and broadcaster Anna Chen on China’s history and its relationship with the West. From the Terracotta Warriors, Opium Wars and the Taiping Rebellion to trade, the diaspora and the Yellow Peril of western Empire ambitions. 2001 to the present.
China’s inventions added to the world’s knowledge, its arts and culture to its beauty. The first Chinese who migrated to the West mined for gold in the Sierra Nevada, built America’s transcontinental railroad and helped dig the Panama Canal. For their pains they were vilified and eventually targeted by exclusion laws. Today, we’ve come full circle as China is once again in the West’s crosshairs. This selection of articles and broadcast programmes attempt to tell their story without the imperialist spin and to chart how we arrived at this point.
America’s 21st century war on China
SHAKEDOWN: America’s 21st century war on China. An epic timeline and collection of Anna Chen’s writing and broadcast strung on a narrative throughline. Twenty five years of political and cultural issues about China, its history and the diaspora while observing America building its “strategic competition” casus belli label into Opium Wars 2 and World War 3.
China Panic! – It’s official. 2008 isn’t just the Year of the Rat and the Beijing Olympics. It’s also China Panic Year. The sleeping dragon awakens, so everyone’s trying to shoot it down before it wipes the gunk out of its eyes. The British media keep pressing the ‘filth and pestilence’ button with SARS, Foot and Mouth and Asian Flu. America gets poisoned toothpaste and a pet food scare. 2008 isn’t just the Year of the Rat and the Beijing Olympics. It’s also China Panic Year. Anna Chen’s first column for New Internationalist 11 March 2008
China, Britain and the Nunzilla Conundrum, BBC Radio 4, 18 March 2010: On the eve of its global take-off in tech, Anna Chen marks China’s transformation from world factory making our tat to manufacturing powerhouse embarking on its new international role as technology leader.
“I searched in vain for items as audaciously pointless as the giftware designed in Britain, made in China and consumed in the West. … Chinese manufacturers are honing their skills with the giftware trade. My beautiful Mac laptop and half my cosmetics (with their posh French labels) are now made in China.”
Written and presented by Anna Chen. Producer Sally Heaven (BBC 2010)
Working for the Clampdown: Niall Ferguson’s testosterone theory of history. Review of the Channel 4 series, Civilization: Is the West History? Western academics are busy giving America & its allies intellectual rationalisation for carving-up US rivals, Europe and China. There’s more money to be made from a splintered Europe and China than leaving them in peace. (10 March 2011)
Is China a responsible stakeholder? Chatham House report review – The Chatham House-run International Affairs website asks if China can be trusted as a “responsible stakeholder” in world politics. The Red Dawn school of politics suggests that China is only pretending to be peaceful and that she’ll reveal her full gory glory in true Fu Manchu fashion once all her plans and capabilities are in place. I saw Team America. I know how this one plays out. (21 May 2011)
The Triumph and Turmoil of Niall Ferguson’s obsession with China – Channel 4 review: “Could China’s rise repeat the same disastrous trajectory of Germany a hundred years ago? It’s something to ponder the next time you order a Chinese takeaway.” So says Niall Ferguson even as the US moves forces out of the Middle East, where they’ve done such a fine job, and into the Pacific. (13 March 2012)
What’s Donald Trump’s trade war with China REALLY about? History repeats itself: Trump’s fantasy trade deficit was an excuse for carving up China in a rerun of the Opium Wars as he kicked off the US war on China in earnest in a bid to outdo Obama’s Pivot to Asia. The trade deficit turned out to be a trade surplus in America’s favour. (13 November 2018)
Happy New Year: Will Donald Trump’s tiny hand press the Big Red Button in 2019? It’s fascinating to watch the United States of America write itself a new narrative. Not the one where it dominated the post-World War II liberal global order and made itself the wealthiest economy on the planet by a long chalk, but a victim narrative in which poor little America is bullied and ripped off by China, formerly one of the poorest countries in the world but which now happens to be looming in America’s rear-view mirror. (24 December 2018)
Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the Chinese economy continues. Donald Trump’s attempted hostile takeover of China’s economy continues apace. The Chinese walked into an ambush when they presented their latest round of changes last week thinking they were still negotiating. Kicked off by Reuters’ “exclusive” briefing by “three U.S. government sources and three private sector sources”, the media then fell in with Trump and trade representative Lighthizer’s narrative that the Chinese “reneged”on a deal that was already sewn up. (11 May 2019)
China: scapegoat and diversion from what ails western capitalism. We all know the United States of America was built on an ancient Native American burial ground, courtesy of European immigrants. Another original sin was slavery; kidnapping men, women and children from Africa for the brute workforce that built so much of America’s wealth. Then there’s the 1 per cent ripping off the American people for decades, failing to invest in infrastructure, education, housing, healthcare while the richest 26 individuals took as much as the bottom half of humanity. (5 October 2019)
Let’s blame China: an infantile disorder when Covid comes knocking. How the White House turned “China bought us time” into “China lied, people died” and put the world at risk. (23 June 2020)
The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters from the West’s Own Id: No Cold War on China. The people who brought us AUSTERITY, then sold us BREXIT on the promise of a trade deal with China beyond the dreams of avarice, are the same Empire Crusaders who now want a war with it. China is the newly rich kid who’s strayed onto mafia turf and is about to be rolled. Full text of Anna Chen’s online speech at the No Cold War on China meeting, 13th January 2021
Sinophobia: How racism has its roots in politics. In an effort to “contain” China’s rise, the US is using every dirty trick it can muster to retain its status as sole hegemon, promoting hate at macro and micro levels. Full text of speech at the online event hosted by The Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) 6th April 2021
The Roots of the Clash between the United States and China: Virtual Vigil for the Victims of the Atlanta Shootings. After a year of increasing anti-Asian violence encouraged by unscrupulous politicians and media, we took another lurch to the dark side when eight people were killed in the Atlanta shootings (16th March 2021), six of them Asian women. Elsewhere, Asian people are being regularly maimed and murdered. Full text of Anna’s talk. Organised by the Goldsmiths Anti-Imperialist Society — Sunday 2nd May 2021
Opium Wars 2 and the propaganda war on China: No Cold War launch. Discussing the build-up in hostility towards China in the context of the Opium Wars of the 19th century and the propaganda war leading us there once again. At the start of the first Opium War in 1839, China was the most technologically advanced country in the world. It had already invented hydraulics, gunpowder in the 9th century, ships’ rudders, the stirrup, paper, moveable type printing and much more. Video and text of Anna Chen’s speech, 16 June 2021
Open letter of complaint to Channel 4 Dispatches “Covid Leak”, 2 September 2021: Channel 4 squanders its reputation as a serious investigative news channel by regurgitating overwrought partisan claims about lab-leak theories which have been regularly debunked by virologists who are excluded from the programme. Politicising Covid-19 for partisan US agenda deflected from government mishandling and cost lives. 2 September 2021
A Permanent Reservoir of Scapegoats: how racism drives the geopolitics of China’s rise. America has become a supernova, both imploding and exploding at the same time, leaving a fragmented shell of its former self. Unfortunately, it seems intent on dragging us all to hell with it. Video and text of Anna Chen’s speech, 6 October 2021
The West’s propaganda modus operandi: a short 21st century timeline of the race to World War III. When China explored the world in the 15th century and reached as far as East Africa, they traded a bit and brought back a giraffe.
When Europeans landed in the Americas in 1492, they killed and enslaved its native peoples, stole their treasures and gave them smallpox blankets in an early form of biological warfare.
In North America, 100 million native Americans were killed, Black Africans were put through slavery, Jim Crow and imprisonment. The USA was literally built on an ancient Indian burial ground, because that’s what they’d turned it into.
And that’s pretty much been the template ever since. Video and text of Anna Chen’s speech, No Cold War event, 25 May 2022
We’ll always have Beijing: from hero to villain – In the half-century since Bruce Lee’s early death in July 1973, the image of Chinese in western culture and business has come full circle with an added twist of spite. Is whitewashed Doctor Strange about to morph into Dr Strangelove or be eclipsed by Fu Manchu redux? Asia Times 24 August 2023
The Guardian on China and spying – Despite lurid claims by the Guardian about China and spying, no charges have been brought against the accused parliamentary researcher since his arrest and release in March. All that’s left is smear and innuendo where balanced coverage might have yielded the additional light aspired to in the headline. Comment at the Guardian editorial 13 September 2023
Zoo time at Operation Circe: How the Wolf Warrior was invented – It had long been one big Yo Mama case for the prosecution, with no defence permitted for the country that hadn’t had a war in over 40 years. China didn’t buckle even when the far-right Usual Suspects immediately accused it of creating the virus in the lab. Nor did China return the insults, instead turning the cheek to every barb. Having endured several years of non-stop verbals, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lijian Zhao finally dared to talk out of turn and posted THAT tweet, raising the Wuhan Military Games as a possible point of infection. Primed, locked and loaded, the western media exploded in an entirely uncoordinated wave of outrage as one. In one short pithy Tweet, China was transformed from placid scapegoat into Wolf Warrior for defending itself on this one occasion. Asia Times 5 September 2023
America blames China for its opioid epidemic: The United States of Amnesia is at it again. Blasting China with a whole new round of sanctions and indictments, Attorney General Merrick Garland’s claim on Tuesday, that China is responsible for the fentanyl crisis, diverts from the opioid epidemic caused by American companies Johnson & Johnson and others, “profiting from a flood of addictive painkillers that devastated communities”. 5 October 2023
Has the US had its chips? Chip tech under fire: US chip tech once more faces government friendly fire, courtesy of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo’s rant about cutting off China from AI technology. Severance in the same way you might close a stable post equine scarper: is it the door or the horse that’s bolted? Welcome to late stage capitalism where making a buck is no longer the name of the game. Trashing your competitor is the aim.
Heroes and villains of 2023: Xi Jinping or Boris Johnson? Most of the public by now recognise Boris Johnson’s role as all the Horsemen of the Apocalypse rolled into one overfed scary clown. Instead of delivering the yummy trade deals with China as promised, Johnson nailed us to the USS Titanic and torpedoed our global lifeboat. Now we send war fleets to China’s coast instead of cargo ships. 31 December 2023
The Covfefe Papers: A 500-page timeline on Covid-19 and its history, published online in episodes. To come
Anna May Wong: Hollywood’s first Chinese superstar
A Celestial Star in Piccadilly, BBC Radio 4 (2009): Anna Chen wrote and presented the profile of Hollywood’s first Chinese screen legend, Anna May Wong, introducing new audiences to the most famous Chinese woman of the 1920s and 30s in the West. Broadcast on BBC Radio 4 January 2009
The Good Earth film review: When caucasian actor Paul Muni was cast as the male lead in MGM’s 1937 blockbuster movie, The Good Earth, set in China and based on Pearl S Buck’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, there was no way the Chinese movie star stood a chance of playing his wife, O-lan. 30 December 2008
Anna May Wong Must Die! A cultural response to the underlying dynamic of the West’s continuing imperial ambitions. To be serialised …
China’s history without the imperialist spin
The Opium War by Julia Lovell: book review. Smoke and mirrors. Western academia prepares for a 21st century carve-up of China and absolves the narco-capitalists’ guilt by blaming the victim, revealing a moral vacuum at the centre of the imploding West. (17 May 2012)
The Opium Wars: The Steampunk Opium Wars, written and narrated by Anna Chen, debuted in 2012 at the Royal National Maritime Museum in Greenwich to mark the opening of the new Traders Gallery. The surprise was how few in the audience had even heard of the Opium Wars, with some assuming the wars’ purpose was to stop China trading the narcotic, not ram it down their throats.
What the show made clear was that Britain’s East India Company used industrial methods to mass-produce cheap opium in Bengal which the British army then forced at gunpoint on the weakened nation, turning what had been an aristocratic vice into a nationwide addiction. (2012)
The Taiping Rebellion: What the British Museum’s Hidden Century exhibition doesn’t tell you about the Taiping Rebellion. It’s leader, Hong Xiuquan, can be seen as China’s first communist whose efforts to transform a decaying society into a “Heavenly Kingdom” were an influence on Mao Zedong. (May 2023)
The Chinese Diaspora
The Chinese in Britain, BBC: Anna Chen presented the groundbreaking series on BBC Radio 4 in 2007. From the 17th century Jesuit priest Shen Futsong to students, medics and seamen, it’s been a rich, unsung cross-fertilisation of cultures. (2007)
The Chinese in Britain, South China Morning Post: personal tales of a journey to a new land. Today, 400,000 ethnic Chinese call Britain home. But their 325-year history of labour contributions to the UK, from being 17th-century seamen to establishing London’s now-famous Soho Chinatown, have often gone undocumented and unnoticed.
South China Morning Post magazine 25 October 2014
The Chinese in Britain: a brief history. Historical overview by Anna Chen.
Europe’s forgotten army, South China Morning Post: Anna Chen remembers the Chinese Labour Corps who served in the European theatre of war on the side of the allies in World War I. South China Morning Post magazine 30 August 2014
Foot and Mouth Disease 2001: How attempts were made to scapegoat the UK Chinese for Prime Minister Tony Blair’s disastrous handling of the Foot and Mouth disease outbreak only months after George W Bush designated China a “strategic competitor”.
How the Press was done, 2001: The three key press campaigns ran by Anna Chen in 2001 included the first ever UK Chinese protest when they were scapegoated for the government’s failure to deal with the Foot and Mouth outbreak that started in 2000.
A Permanent Reservoir of Scapegoats: How racism drives the geopolitics of China’s rise (2 November 2021)
How the Covid pandemic was weaponised: Natural disaster, man-made calamity. Covid pandemic timeline, commentary and research as it happened.
YELLOWFACE: Dehumanisation starts by being rendered invisible and turned into a blank canvas onto which constructed images are projected, supplying a permanent reservoir of scapegoats. A raft of exclusions despite Britain’s record of colonisation embed yellow peril stereotypes deep into the collective unconscious. Examples and article at this page.
Coolie: the story of the Chinese who built the transcontinental railroads of north America. To be serialised …
China in western culture
Chinese are defined at subliminal levels under the central controlling idea of western imperialism. Yes, it’s still there, they just made it invisible. And that’s why it’s so effective.
ARTS REVIEWS Contents Page: Books, films, TV, theatre, exhibitions and events
Sherlock, Episode 2: The Blind Banker – BBC1, 1 August 2010: An embarrassment of riches when it comes to pressing home the stereotypes for the 21st century.
55 Days at Peking – film review, 3 February 2008: Set in 1900, 55 Days purports to tell the story of the Boxer Rebellion, when indigenous Chinese made a last effort to get the rapacious foreign powers out of their own country. Eleven imperialist nations occupied major chunks of China with 13 out of 18 Chinese provinces under foreign control.
Chopsticks At Dawn: orientalism in western music – BBC Radio 4, 7 June 2010. The genesis of that irritating cartoon music cliché.
Poetry: Published since 14, a selection of Anna’s poetry from the personal to the political.
On the radio: Anna wrote and presented programmes for BBC Radio 3 & 4. She had her own series on Resonance FM — Madam Miaow’s Culture Lounge — and has also appeared on the World Service, Monocle and BBC TV.
About Anna Chen: London-born writer, performer, poet and broadcaster