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?

Guest Post: Nothing Can Prepare You for Living with Chinese Relatives

Becky writes, “there is nothing within a traditional British upbringing that can prepare you for living with Chinese relatives.” If you’ve ever lived with Chinese family, this post is for you.

Do you have a story about Chinese family or something else you’d like to share on Speaking of China? Check out the submit a post page to learn more about how to have your writing published here.
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slothloveWhen Disney taught me about happily ever after, they forgot to add in some additional clauses about cross-cultural relationships. In particular the challenges that accompany a AMWF (Asian Man, White Female relationship). Thus when I fell in love last summer to the sweetest, gentlest man I’d ever met, I never realised that the happy ever after I’d always longed for had inadvertently sent me on a cultural collision course. In fact, despite being in my mid-20’s, I assumed, as my good friends Cinderella and Pocahontas had once taught me, that love could, and would, solve everything.

As I’m rudely awoken on the other side of the planet a year or so later by my boyfriend’s mobile, I can’t help thinking I may have been a little naive. I pretend to be asleep despite knowing exactly what will happen next. Sure enough, within minutes the doorbell, which his mum has erected in his room, starts ringing. From this point I know that my cuddle time is very shortly to expire. As if on cue, I hear shouting in Mandarin coming progressively closer and, before I have time to move, his mum barges into the room and begins tidying around us.

It’s hours before I’d planned to get up. It’s Saturday. I want to cry.

I’d never planned to be in this position, but after my partner’s student visa had expired and following eight-months struggling with the many nuances of long-distance relationships, we’d decided that enough was enough and so, despite protests from my friends that I was crazy, I packed my bags and headed to live with my boyfriend, and his Chinese parents.

A month into the experience and I can say categorically that there is nothing within a traditional British upbringing that can prepare you for living with Chinese relatives.

In the UK, we are taught to strive for independence, in China children are taught to be deferent to their elders. In the UK we value personal space, in China the concept doesn’t really exist. In the UK we are reminded that it’s the taking part that counts, in China people are reminded that success (which is largely measured by the size of your bank balance) is what matters.

None of these things are right or wrong but the gulf between the two can, at times, seem unbridgeable.

Perhaps the hardest thing for a westerner trying to make AMWF’s work is that you have to completely redefine your concept of space. The fact that you are a grown adult and have been making your own life decisions for many years ultimately means very little. For example, you will be asked many times a day about your food; what you’ve had, when you had it and would you like anymore?

This is nothing more than an expression of love, and to be treated with such hospitality is something you’d be unlikely to find back at home. Nonetheless, when the first question you’re asked each morning is what are you having for breakfast, it can get a little grinding.

For all the times I want to scream (and there are many), there’s the time I get to spend with my best friend. The truth is that however hard it gets, being without the person you love would be far worse.

For those considering moving to the East to be with their loved one, you must be aware that the step you are trying to make is a huge one. You will feel nagged, claustrophobic and completely alien. If that sounds daunting, then it’s meant to. But if your partner is prepared to make you part of his family, and you’re prepared to sacrifice so much in moving to be with him, then it sounds like your awkwardly packaged happy ending might be something worth fighting for.

penanghillBecky is a self-confessed golf addict blogging about the world’s best, quirkiest and most obscure golf courses at The Nomadic Golfer.
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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

Guest Post: Kiss and Tell from China and the UK

What’s the difference between dating in China and the UK? Here’s one personal take on that question from Miriam, including the story of how she met her Chinese husband.

Do you have your own “kiss and tell” story you’d like to share here on Speaking of China? Check out the submit a post page to learn more about what we’re looking for.
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The author with her husband and his family.
The author with her husband and his family.

I came to China at the age of 26 and already knew about more divorces than I could count on both hands and feet (including my parents), as well as many more single women my age than married (or happily partnered) ones. I’d also had enough experience with men to know I wasn’t impressed with the dating and marriage culture in the UK.

One evening in the UK I was out having a drink with two female colleagues after work. While I was at the bar, an attractive guy in his late 20s/early 30s came up to me.

“I just got promoted today and I’d love to buy you a drink to celebrate.”

I was flattered by this and looked back at my colleagues to make sure they didn’t mind me being waylaid. The two girls looked back and me with smiles on their faces and motioned for me to keep talking to him.

“Thanks, a gin and tonic would be great.”

We got talking and I found myself thinking: why would this guy not have a girlfriend already? To find out whether he was single or not I casually asked: “So where’s your girlfriend tonight?”

“Oh, she’s at home having a night in with the girls.”

What!?!? And this wasn’t the only time.

For several months a man used to come into my work in the UK just to talk to me. They didn’t seem like especially romantically driven exchanges – he would just ask me how I was and talk about other neutral topics. However, finding myself bored of being single, I took the plunge and asked him out. If he had a girlfriend he would decline and we would go back to regular, friendly chit-chat. I was pleased when he accepted my invitation for coffee, but still had a little doubt in my mind. I decided to act on these doubts and ask directly whether he was seeing anyone else.

“So, do you have a girlfriend?”

“Yes, I have two actually. One’s 25 and the other’s 32.”

I repeat: what?!?!?

He proceeded to talk to me about how much difficulty he had deciding on which girl he should be with, but felt no rush to make a decision about it right away. I was tired of this attitude towards dating, which seemed to be getting more and more common.

The author's husband proposing to her
The author’s husband proposing to her

Before coming to China, I was open to the idea that it might be for the long-term, as my job prospects would be better in China. On researching Chinese culture before I came to China, I was pleased to read about the emphasis on marriage and also pleased about the less liberal attitude towards sex. In saying this, I’m not suggesting that I thought it would be “easy” to get married in China, or that there would be any fewer relationship difficulties than I might have had in the UK. However, just knowing that marriage was valued and that both men and women were strongly encouraged to seek marriage at my age gave me a sense of security and confidence that I hadn’t had before.

I met my husband on a dating website. His profile told me he was 34 and “looking for marriage”. He messaged me first saying something about his surprise seeing a British woman on an Asian dating website and we exchanged a few emails after that. From his emails he was clearly talkative, charming and open-minded (willing to talk about anything from Astrology to books on popular science). And yes, he had excellent English (a very understandable barrier to AM/WF relationships as mentioned on Jocelyn’s blog in different posts). Just over a year after we met he proposed to me on a beach in Qingdao and the following year we got registered as married.

My family in the UK are all delighted for me and I’ve been told numerous times about what an excellent choice of husband I’ve made! My in-laws in China were also incredibly supportive of our relationship from the start and my mother-in-law especially treats me like I’m her flesh and blood daughter. Although we’ve gone through our rough patches, my husband’s complete commitment to the values of marriage and family have made it so much easier to resolve any conflicts or misunderstandings as soon as they occur. We’re both committed to making our future a happy and fulfilling one, even though we both know that a happy marriage takes work. I’m also delighted that my husband is now planning our approaching wedding party in China with as much zeal and enthusiasm as his bride!

partyP.S.: This comparison is just from my experience of living and dating in the UK and China. I do know many happily married British couples from my generation…just not as many as you might expect. Please don’t be offended if you’re a British woman who isn’t the least bit interested in getting married, or a British man who would like nothing more than to walk down the aisle, or a Chinese man who has ‘two girlfriends’ and isn’t looking for a wife!

P.P.S.: If you’ve had similar experiences dating in the West then you may be interested in the book Date-onomics: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game by Jon Birger. Although the book is written about dating in America, many of the points apply to the UK as well.

Miriam is a British woman married to a wonderful Chinese man. Her interests are reading, thinking and writing and she works as a teacher in an international school in China.
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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

Double Happiness: From a UK Half-Marathon to a Romantic Dalian Proposal

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Sarah and her husband.

You never know where love’s going to find you — and where it might take you. Sarah (a native of Birmingham, England and the woman behind Diaries of a Yangxifu) had just finished the Half-Marathon in Birmingham, all sweaty and exhausted, when lo and behold, she discovered an incredibly handsome Chinese man right beside her. A man who would propose to her less than a year later in his hometown of Dalian, China. 

Have an unusual love story or thrilling guest post you’d love to see published on Speaking of China? Learn how you can do it (just Sarah did) at the submit a post page.

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I never felt quite the same after that year of teaching English in Nanjing in 2010. When I returned to the UK, I found I had a little thing for Chinese men, who reminded me of my year in China and shared my love of 饮茶 (drinking tea) and 烤鱼 (roasted fish). However after about two years, I had got back in to the swing of things back home and was really enjoying living in a multicultural city with a big Chinatown and occasional trips to KTV.

I had been training for the Half Marathon for over four months, including a three-week holiday in China where I managed to sneak in a few runs on the banks of the Pearl River in Guangzhou and along Victoria Harbour in HK. I was feeling incredibly proud of myself when I had completed the 13.1 mile run and felt on top of the world as I walked from the finish line to my home 10 minutes away. Still, I was a bit achey and was trying to decide whether to take a little rest or just get home and have a nice shower. I saw a free bit of wall in the square and decided to take a little rest.

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I soon noticed the handsome Chinese man sitting on the wall next to me and was deciding how to make conversation, a habit of mine since returning from China. Then he turned to me and congratulated me on finishing the run. (Let’s hope it was the medal round my neck rather than the bright red face and disgusting hair that gave me away!)

We got to chatting for a while, exchanged snacks (they put some strange things in race finish bags) and chatted about sport. I had not met such a sporty Chinese person before, or one with freckles. Some time into the conversation I asked whether he was Chinese, and he replied, “Yes, but don’t be scared.” (I’m not sure what kind of experience he’d had of British people!). I answered (in Chinese) that I wasn’t afraid and actually I could speak a little Chinese myself, much to his surprise!

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We spent the rest of that day together, and I think it was the best day of my life. I had not only met not only the most handsome man I’ve ever known. I also met the man who 10 months later proposed to me “movie-style” at the top of Dalian’s sightseeing tower observation deck, right in his hometown where we had moved a couple of months before. I feel so lucky to have met a man with such integrity and intelligence, someone who always strives to be better — just like me.

That day, sitting on a wall in the Birmingham city centre, marks the start of my greatest adventure: of marriage, of a new family, of living a taste of real Chinese life.

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Sarah is currently studying Mandarin Chinese in Guilin, China, where she lives with her husband, and documents the challenges and the joys of her adventure at Diaries of a Yangxifu.

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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts and love stories! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.