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Chinese Whispers (2000)


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Chinese fireworks herald a celebration at Liverpool's new Chinese Arch to mark the millennium. Various members of Liverpool's Chinese community reminisce about their lives and origins.

19-year-old Anna Chan's parents came over from Hong Kong in the 1970s, and graduated from running a chippie to a Chinese newsagent and a restaurant. 18-year-old Alexandra Lau's parents (a Singapore Chinese father and a Liverpudlian mother) met in Holland in 1978, and moved to Liverpool in 1983.

52-year-old Graham Chan is the son of a seaman, who came over from Canton in the late 1930s, meeting his mother in Liverpool. He reminisces about the heart of the old Chinese community, gathered around Pitt Street and Cleveland Square.

73-year-old Graham Cheong offers more detailed memories of Cleveland Square, including descriptions of some of the businesses there, with the family grocery store near Spinks the butcher, the Chinese tearooms and the Freemasons Hall.

54-year-old Tony Chin is also a seaman's son, his father having come over during the war while working for the Blue Funnel line. 63-year-old Norman Fung's grandfather ran a laundry business in the early 1900s.

Chin recalls his earliest memories of Chinatown, stimulated by 1940s pictures of his father, taken in the Shanghai Restaurant in Nelson Street and published in the Anglo-Chinese art magazine Brushstrokes.

19-year-old Frances Lee's parents emigrated from Hong Kong in the 1960s, and ran the New Capital restaurant in Nelson Street. 52-year-old Ozzie Yue's grandfather came over in the early 1900s, and ran a laundry in Lodge Lane.

Chin remembers the Blue Funnel company rounding up the local Chinese men to form crews and keeping them contained in two houses, the Shanghai and Cantonese segregated. They were very overcrowded, with constant clothes-washing, but also kept clean and tidy.

Assorted male voices discuss the humble nature of the Chinese community, and how it's not considered 'Chinese' to boast. Assorted female voices talk about the relative strictness of their upbringing, and how most (though not all) are expected to marry a Chinese to maintain tradition.

The exhibition of Bert Hardy photographs of Chinese seamen is regarded as an important moment in the presentation of Liverpool's Chinese history, but there should be a permanent museum, alongside a commemorative plaque or memorial in Cleveland Square. As the Chinese community looks forward to the future, it's important that it doesn't forget its past.