China in Britain #1: Film workshop, May 10th

China in Britain #1. Film
Thursday May 10th 2012, 10.00 am – 6.00 pm

UPDATE: An important message from the organisers: because of our support for UCU Strike Action on May 10th, the venue has been transferred from the University of Westminster to The Brunei Gallery, School of Oriental and African Studies, Thornhaugh St., Russell Square, London WC1H OXG:

You are invited to the first in a series of colloquia organised as part of China in Britain: Myths and Realities, an AHRC-funded research network project to investigate changing conceptions of China and Chineseness in Britain, and based at Westminster. The colloquia will connect up the important yet disparate work being done by cultural historians, literary critics, curators, archivists, contemporary artists, film makers and Sino-British organisations. In bringing these specialists together, the project aims to provide a high profile platform for the discursive elaboration of the changing terms of engagement between British and Chinese people and to widen the terms of debate from diaspora studies and simplistic reductions around identity to an inter-disciplinary network of research practice relevant to contemporary debate.

Participants include: Ross Forman (University of Warwick); Felicia Chan (University of Manchester) and Andy Willis (University of Salford); Jo Ho (filmmaker). The day will end with Guo Xiaolu introducing a screening of her film She, A Chinese, followed by a Q and A.

The Chinese presence in British cinema dates from James Williamson’s 1900 ‘documentary’ film, Attack on a China Mission, a recreation of that year’s ‘Boxer rebellion’ in which nationalist militants attempted to expel Christian missionaries and other foreigners from China. It was actually filmed in Brighton and Williamson had never visited China. A ‘yellow-face’ tradition followed, most popularly the Fu Manchu movies stretching through to the 1970s craze for kung fu – not until the early 1980s did Asian-British filmmakers finally make some inroads into the British film industry. In 1986 the first truly Chinese-British feature, Ping Pong (1986), reached the screen. Directed by the British-born director Po-Chi Leong, who had directed several features in Hong Kong, the film was set in London’s Chinatown, with a largely unknown cast – except for David Yip, best known as TV’s The Chinese Detective (BBC, 1981-82). Though critically lauded, however, the film failed to find the success it deserved, and neither it nor Mike Newell’s Soursweet (1988) adapted from Timothy Mo’s novel and scripted by Ian McEwan, has so far heralded the arrival of a healthy British-Chinese cinema. While China, Taiwan and Hong Kong-based directors like Zhang Yimou, Ang Lee and Wong Kar-Wai achieved arthouse and now mainstream success in Britain, other British-Chinese features such as BBC Film Peggy Su! (dir. Frances-Anne Solomon, 1998), failed to receive a proper release, despite favourable reviews. More recently Guo Xiaolu’s award winning film, She, A Chinese (2009), a British film in terms of its financing and much of its location, also failed to achieve due recognition from the film trade press and distributors. However a new generation of British-born or British-based Chinese are at the vanguard of positive change, amongst them University of Westminster alumna, Jo Ho, who created the hit BBC television show, Spirit Warriors (the first British series to star a predominantly East Asian cast) and who is now working on several feature films, and award winning director, Belfast born Lab Ky Mo.

RSVP – Places are free but strictly limited so it is essential to register with the project’s Principal Investigator, Anne Witchard, at:


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