Liverpool’s Lost Chinese Sailors, and the Families Left Behind in the UK (AMWF History)

Liverpool, England, is home to one of those shameful, forgotten chapters in history — when the UK suddenly deported Chinese sailors, who had bravely served during World War II, devastating they families they left behind.

In the early 1940s, the British Merchant Navy recruited some 20,000 Chinese sailors to assist in the war efforts. And of them, an estimated 300 had relationships with British women (either through marriage or cohabitation). As the SCMP reported:

Many of the women who set up home with Chinese mari­ners and started families did not formally marry, either because, like Grace, they were under 21 years old and couldn’t get parental consent or because, in the 1940s, when women married foreign nationals they surrendered their British citizenship and assumed the nationality of their husbands.

Married or not, they earned a reputation in ultra-conservative post-war England as being “loose women” and, in another archive, Charles Foley found that government officials dismissed those married to or cohabiting with a Chinese partner as “the prostitute class”.

“I was very angry when I read that,” Foley says. “They obviously hadn’t met my mother.”

While Britain had initially welcomed the Chinese sailors, things changed after they had a strike to fight for higher wages in 1942, as reported by the BBC:

These men were in demand and so they won, but were considered to be “troublemakers” from then on, according to shipping firm Alfred Holt’s documents at the Ocean Archive.

After the war, British authorities moved swiftly to force the Chinese sailors out of the country. The BBC noted that a UK Home Office document from October 1945 cast the sailors as “an undesirable element in Liverpool” due to an alleged “1,000 convictions for opium smoking” in recent years. However, as per the BBC:

…Belchem says that was an unfair analysis. “There were one or two with criminal records, but the government used this minority to stigmatise the whole Chinese population.”

“If you look at the way most people see it, they would be absolutely model migrants. They were respectful, well-behaved, believed in education, weren’t violent, looked after their wives, looked after their children.”

Adds the website Half and Half:

This statement by the Home Office directly conflicts with report after report, letter after letter from the Liverpool and Birkenhead Chief Constables. Going back to the early years of the century they repeatedly praise the law-abiding nature of the Chinese.

Nevertheless, the reality didn’t matter to Britain. The country also didn’t care about the loved ones left behind, either as the BBC reported:

…during a series of police swoops on the Liverpool dock area, deportation orders were served on the Chinese sailors.

“He just went out to the shop, and my mum was waiting for him to come home, and he never came,” Linda Davis said of her father.

And as the SCMP noted:

Officials argued that no Chinese seaman married to a British-born woman had been forcibly repatriated – the legal situation was complicated and the government did not want to appear to be splitting up families – but Charles Foley has seen evidence that this was not true. At least one married man, with three children, was “rounded up” and deported.

And for the unmarried fathers who were sent home, some did not have time to say goodbye.

It’s heartbreaking to imagine what these families had to go through. Some of the children of Liverpool’s lost Chinese sailors have spent much of their lives searching for their fathers — see the BBC story Looking for my Shanghai father.

To learn about the whole dark episode, you can also visit the website Half and Half, where you can also help the families by contacting them with any information about these lost Chinese.

Additionally, an article originally written by China Daily and reprinted by the Telegraph includes two stories from Chinese ripped away from their lives in the UK.

What do you think about Liverpool’s lost Chinese sailors?

12 Replies to “Liverpool’s Lost Chinese Sailors, and the Families Left Behind in the UK (AMWF History)”

  1. I’m a British person and so can speak about this from a British point of view. It was disgusting the way the Chinese seamen were treated after serving our country during the second World War but there are reasons why they were deported and the English women who had relationships and children with the Chinese seamen are to blame for the sense of loss their children felt after their Chinese fathers were forcibly removed. At the end of the war Britain like most of Europe was economically and structurally devastated (bombing raids left many British people without homes) by the war. Buildings were in short supply so alot of pre fabricated housing was built to meet the demand but the buildings the Chinese seamen lived in were needed for local men who were returning from the war. Local men would have also needed their jobs back so many women and migrant workers who filled the void when these men were fighting in the war had to return to their old lives after the war ended. Britain could not afford to pay migrant workers as well as British workers as there was not enough money. Also some of the Chinese men were communists so Britain being a non communist country could not allow them to stay. Alot of it had to do with politics and money. The Chinese seamen should have always been paid the same as their British counterparts but racism was rife back then and British people as well as many other other countries could be racist to any non whites. Even a British person having a relationship with a German person was unthinkable back then due to the war. This is why I say that the English women were very naive and thoughtless to have relationships with the Chinese seamen (or any other non white person at that time) as its wasn’t fair on the men or the children they had together to subject them to the racism of that time (there are many videos on YouTube of mixed race people who were children in the 20th century speaking about growing up with alot of racism) and the unfair separation when the seamen were sent home meant children grew up without their real father and had a lifetime of wondering where he was and grew up torn between two cultures. As a woman I could not put a child through that and I’ve been told by older generations that it was unthinkable to date someone who was not of your race as your family would disown you which is no different to what happened in other countries. As I say I’m not condoning what happened but to put into perspective other countries treated chinese workers far worse than the Chinese seamen such as Russia’s treatment of Chinese workers in the first world War where many were killed due to the very harsh conditions. Life in those times could be very harsh especially in the World Wars so people automatically would look after their own and also it was a different mindset about race and discrimination and this needs to be taken into account.

    1. I think that you are extremely inappropriate to blame the English girlfriends and wives for the British government’s decision to deport Chinese seamen after the end of WWII. Saying that these women should have known better is a particularly obnoxious form of victim blaming. There will always be people who find and act on their human connections despite the bigotry of society at large. What you are really doing is defending bigotry. Why would you choose to do that?

      Certainly there are numerous reasons that can be cited to argue that the continued presence of these men from China after the war was inconvenient. Are you proposing that we just overlook how very convenient the presence of the Chinese seamen was for the government during the war? Their presence was actively solicited and welcomed by the government then, and they were quite happy to employ them and ask them to risk their lives, all at approximately half the salary of British men. The British government should have offered these men expedited citizenship. If they had chosen to, they could have made it possible for these men to continue in Great Britain as productive citizens, should they have wished to. None of the problems you describe were insurmountable. The real problem was that a prejudiced government was more than happy to dispose of these people who once served such a vital purpose once they were no longer needed. The government choose an easy, dehumanized and cruel solution and simply sent them packing. For whatever reason, you are choosing to attempt to rationalize the bigotry of the British government. And pointing out that other governments have behaved as badly, or worse, does not justify what happened.

      And one of your worst generalizations was to blame some of the Chinese men for their own fate because they were communists. Communism has always been an acceptable form of political theory in Great Britain, and there were many distinguished native citizens who adhered to the philosophy. To my knowledge, Great Britain never sank to the depths of the U.S., with the McCarthy purges.

      1. Thanks for that, Susan. I thought it was rather shocking that instead of praising the women for their ability to look beyond race and find love with Chinese men, “Experienced Backpacker” chose to blame the women for going against the prevailing bigotry of the time.

        1. I am afraid that I was so agitated that my writing wasn’t very coherent. My apologies for that. I suspect that “Experienced Backpacker” felt the need to defend her country on a site written by a U.S. citizen, and frequented by U.S. citizens, among others. She started her comments by observing that the deportation of the Chinese seamen from Great Britain after the war was disgusting, and I wish she had left it at that. What we in the United States often don’t understand is that conditions in Great Britain after WWII were very difficult. There were many economic hardships, and it took decades for the country to substantially recover just from the bombing. I think that that was the gist of what “Experienced Backpacker” was trying to convey. Unfortunately, there is a fine line between explaining the historical context of the situation and justifying bigotry, and, just to mix my metaphors, EB ended up plunging down that slippery slop, IMO.

    2. Susan wrote:

      What you are really doing is defending bigotry.

      I would agree. I would also add that, while I welcome different opinions, I will not allow people to rationalize bigotry in the comments of this site.

    3. “The Chinese seamen should have always been paid the same as their British counterparts but racism was rife back then and British people as well as many other other countries could be racist to any non whites.”

      It is worse now…after BREXIT the white Brits treat white Poles and Hungarians like dirt, let alone the non-white population.

    4. Experienced Backpacker…nothing has changed since the 1970s as far as racism of the English are concerned…all these entitled want is a one way street…Brits love to work in places like Saudi Arabia on their fat salaries and benefits but do not want to give the same benefits to foreigners. In fact, a significant proportion of the English scums who backed Brexit lived abroad…and you also fit the bill. Sending a German spouse of an English person back home? Wait after Brexit is completed…it will worse than after World War II. Why wont moslem countries do anything about anti-moslem white English expats in their country? Simple. They are obsessed with keeping their women down…so much that they are willing to tolerate and promote white supremacy. The moslems will put up with any garbage from Trump, May others as long as they can keep their women down.

  2. Why are we talking about what happened 70 years ago when they are still deporting foreign spouses of UK citizens? It is only going to get worse with BREXIT.

    In the US the goal of the Trump ilk is to get the Supreme Court to overturn the Loving decision. Then they can start deporting foreigners married to US citizens, especially nonwhite foreigners married to white Americans.

  3. Many values that many western countries trying to propaganda are just ridiculous in my eyes.the history revealed the hypocrisy of western countries.With the right movement of western countries i believe these who govern their countries really need to calm down and think about what to do next.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.