A PROJECT to capture the hidden histories of Liverpool’s Chinese community has been awarded a £49,400 Heritage Lottery Fund grant.
Liverpool-based artists and oral historians The Sound Agents will create a digital archive of oral histories with the help of volunteers and interns from both the Chinese community and the John Moores University’s Art & Design Academy.
It will include memories of Blue Funnel Line workers and the now grown children who took the role of extras in the 1958 Ingrid Bergman film The Inn of the Sixth Happiness as well as stories of the forced repatriation of Chinese seamen who fought for Britain during World War II.
The archive will also be used to create a theatrical performance at the Unity Theatre.
Project offficer Moira Kenny said: “This is a unique project dealing with exceptionally sensitive histories to create a legacy in the form of an archive for people to research and pass down to younger generations.
“The children whose fathers were repatriated cannot be compensated for their loss, but by creating a permanent contemporary archive and performance it will no longer be a taboo issue, and their experiences can start to be understood by the wider community.”
The Chinatown Project aims to create opportunities for members of Liverpool’s Chinese community to take part and learn oral history skills, especially Anglo-Chinese Liverpudlians who have lived between two cultures and sometimes felt marginalised.
Volunteers will receive training from the Oral History Society and on-the-job training from The Sound Agents.
There will also be heritage taster days with the Museum of Liverpool and Helena Smart, archivist at Liverpool Central Library.
Though much reduced today, Liverpool’s Chinatown was the first in Europe.
A small Chinese community was established in the early 1800s but grew much larger after the Blue Funnel shipping line, the main link between Britain and China, was founded in the city in 1865.
During World War II, 15,000 to 20,000 Chinese seamen were based in Liverpool, and many settled in the city, married local women and had children.
After the war the Government took action to repatriate large numbers of men, and families lost husbands and fathers, often without ever finding out what had happened to them.
One man discovered just 10 years ago that the father he thought had deserted his family when he was a child had in fact suffered forced repatriation.
However, there were happy times for these children too, including being extras in the 1958 film The Inn of Sixth Happiness, which was filmed in North Wales.
Tiffany Hunt, Heritage Lottery Fund’s new chair of the North West Committee, said: “We are delighted to support this project as these people’s lives are inextricably woven into Liverpool’s rich history.
“Creating the digital archive will provide such a valuable resource for anyone wanting to explore their past.
“The Chinese community is bursting with stories and pictures that give us clues about what life was like and how that has shaped the Liverpool, in particular Chinatown, that we see today.”
Sound Agents is an artist led not-for-profit arts organisation founded by John J Campbell, Moira Kenny and Dr Angie Thew in 2010.