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July 16, 2013



A few years back a Deputy Mayor of Wuhan told an old colleague that he’d heard that Labour were always the ‘anti-Chinese’ party. I’m not sure if this was a long term consequence of those deportations that somehow made it down through the years.

My guess would be either
a) hangover from the communist days: non-communist socialists were always the worst. Stalin got on much better with Roosevelt than he did with Stafford Cripps. Not to mention that the last time we went to war with China it was under a Labour government.
b) consequence of 1984 and the Anglo-Chinese agreement making the Tories look good, hence Labour look bad by comparison.

Dan Hardie

There's a tangential reference in one of Simon Jenkins's essays (perhaps in his book 'Against the Grain'*) to the destruction of London's original Chinatown, in Limehouse, by Herbert Morrison at the LCC- the same Herbert Morrison who was the single most powerful figure in the Attlee Government bar Ernie Bevin and Attlee himself. I've never seen any other references on this, but I should look when I have the chance.

Another largely-forgotten episode is that in the First World War, the small immigrant communities in a lot of British ports (especially, IIRC, Cardiff, Sunderland, Bristol and Belfast, though there were others) grew significantly. A lot of Chinese, Somali, West Indian and Lascar (ie Indian) seamen and their families were made their homes there. In late 1918 and early 1919, there was a series of ferocious attacks on these communities, sometimes by mobs and sometimes by the police, and within a few months most of the non-whites were out.

Sunderland (I think: certainly one of the North-Eastern ports) was a partial exception- several hundred local Somalis resisted the mob attacks with weapons of their own, and the police seem not to have joined in the attacks on them. There has been a Somali community there ever since.

*I know, for an Establishment Tory like Jenkins to use a title like that is beyond ridiculous.


There's also Attlee taking the UK into the Korean War against China. This tends to overshadow the fact that we recognised the PRC while the US was insisting that Taiwan was China.

Dan Hardie

First of all, I think there's a strong case for arguing that the UK did the right thing in fighting in the Korean war.

The North Koreans really were making an unjustified attack upon the South. And despicable as the South Korean military dictators were, in 1950 and for the next three decades, things really would have been worse for the Koreans if they had all been unified under the enlightened rule of the Kim family.

Attlee expressed this pretty well at the time, saying in one speech 'There are those who say that Syngman Rhee's government was not a good government. I agree. But if a man is not a good man, that still doesn't mean that you can murder him.'

And a more basic point is that Attlee didn't take 'the UK into the Korean War against China'. Attlee took the UK into the Korean war against the illegal North Korean invasion, when China was not a combatant. China only entered the war some months later.

It's true that China went into the war largely because of MacArthur's massive provocations (and Truman's failure to restrain him until after the Chinese had crossed the Yalu). But it's also true that Attlee acted as one of the main voices of sanity when MacArthur began talking about using nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula (and, again, Truman initially did little to rein him in).

john b

Dan H: agree with all the above, but I'm not sure what it's in aid of. I can't remember the last time I saw anyone claim that the UK did the wrong thing by fighting in Korea, and nobody's done so here.

Dan Hardie

John, maybe you're right, but I did rather read Jamie's comment as saying that Attlee taking the UK into the Korean war was somehow similar to the pretty disgusting treatment of the Chinese seamen. And it is just flat out wrong to talk, as Jamie did, about 'Attlee taking the UK into the Korean War against China'. That never happened, as I noted above.

Dan Hardie

My bad- John is right. On re-reading the thread, I can see Jamie's comment was about explaining why Labour is seen as the anti-Chinese party, not about comparing the UK's role in the Korean war with the deportation of the Chinese seamen. Sorry, Jamie, that was dumb of me.

Marc Mulholland

William Tenn's fine scifi satire, 'The Liberation of Earth', was written as a response to the Korean War. Given the brutality on both sides, its point is well taken, as is Tenn's conclusion since that the US was right to intervene in Korea.

Richard J

Given the brutality on both sides, its point is well taken, as is Tenn's conclusion since that the US was right to intervene in Korea.

As per some Twitter discussion today, Brothers At War seems, so far, to be a very good addition to the Korean War literature - scrupulous in taking account of the view of all sides, especially the Koreans and Chinese, who tend to be strangely underwritten in most accounts I've previously read.


Does it have much on the fighting in the 1960s? All that guerrilla warfare and crossborder infiltration? It'd be fascinating to know why one divided country with an unpopular and ineffective dictator ruling the southern half ended up collapsing and going communist in the face of an insurgency, but the other one didn't.

Richard J

Precisely the bit I've just got to, ajay, as it happens. And it's only about two thirds in, so looks like plenty of good stuff on it.

sf reader

Somewhat tangential, but it has always been interesting to me that reportedly the PRC gov't favors Republican administrations, but that the Chinese immigrant community in the US is rather monolithic in its support of the Democrats. Certainly here in San Francisco, and given the social conservatism of the Chinese American community on many issues, it is notable that they've built a formidable political machine that is firmly entrenched in the Democratic party. From my experiences on local political issues, this is refreshingly due to a very clear understanding of how discrimination functions in the context of access to US gov't support and programs at all levels (fed, state, local).


Curiously enough, it used to be that the Chinese in the UK were the only BME community to largely vote Conservative (66% according to a survey in 1992). I remember back in '97 being surprised by an accountant in Manchester Chinatown saying how very impressed he was by Tony Blair, though I have no idea whether that lasted.

And yes, I wasn't saying that we shouldn't have intervened, just that it might have influenced opinion in China about Labour.


Curiously enough, it used to be that the Chinese in the UK were the only BME community to largely vote Conservative

I think this depends a bit on whether you survey East African Asians as a separate community or not.

Chris Williams

Local govt outcomes from Leicester (c.10-20% of east African Asian origin who are reasonably concentrated in the city geographically: just one Conservative on the city council) would imply that this is relative.


Richard: thanks, I'll take a look.

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