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Tuesday 8th June 2010
CHOPSTICKS AT DAWN,13:30 BBC R4 Tuesday 8th June 2010. Anna's radio programme about orientalism in Western music. What makes certain configurations of notes in Western music sound Chinese? With Dr Jonathan Walker. LISTEN AGAIN FOR SEVEN DAYS ON BBC IPLAYER. Repeated Saturday 12th June at 15:30. Pick Of The Day: RadioTimes, Observer, Sunday Telegraph, Time Out, Mail On Sunday. Also daily choice in the Times, Telegraph and Independent, Tuesday 8th. More here.

I didn't win the Orwell Prize blog award 2010 but had a great time at the event last night (Wednesday 19th May), including a swanky dinner afterwards. Richard Horton, one of the judges, said of Madam Miaow Says: "Every post is entertaining and informative. From the impact of the X-Factor on Chinese diplomacy to the inner voice of Tony Blair as he looks in the shaving mirror every morning, and what must that be like. This is a blog that doesn't do the obvious. It doesn't do big news or big issues. It follows the writer's own agenda, it goes outside the commentariat, and we thought it was all the better for that." More here


Wednesday 24th March 2010
ANNA'S BLOG NOMINATED IN THE ORWELL AWARDS 2010. Madam Miaow Says has made the longlist for the prestigious Orwell Awards out of an impressive field. "They are awarded to the book, the journalism and the blogposts which are judged to have best achieved George Orwell’s aim to ‘make political writing into an art’." More here


Saturday 20th March 2010
MONDAY 3RD MAY: ANNA MAY WONG MUST DIE! Anna will be reading the new opening for her show plus her short stories at the St Ives Literature Festival, St Ives Arts Club, 6.30pm, Sunday 2nd May 2010.


Friday 19th March 2010
China, Britain and the Nunzilla Conundrum wins Pick of the Day and Week status in several publications.
BBC RADIO 4 – 11.00-11.30am
Friday 19 March 2010
PICK OF THE DAY Guardian Guide, The Daily Telegraph and Radio Times
PICK OF THE WEEK Sunday Telegraph who calls it " ... refreshingly original ..."
Also spotted in the Observer and Time Out.
As recommended by the Diocese of Liverpool
"Writer and comedian Anna Chen on what Chinese workers make of the weird toys they manufacture for Britain. Nunzilla, the fire-breathing Nun, Mummified Mike (he's an elastic band holder) and those dashboard figures of Jesus and Mary, for instance. She follows one such novelty from drawing board to gift shop, wrapping it in the views of the people in a South China factory who make it, tying it with a ribbon of her wit." The Daily Telegraph
Presented by Anna Chen
Produced by Sally Heaven
You can listen for seven days after broadcast here
More on the programme here


Monday 7th September 2009
Anna Chen reads from her novel-in-progress, Coolie, her story about the Chinese workers on the transcontinental railroad who went on strike in the 1860s. She appears with Charles Shaar Murray who will be reading from The Hellhound Sample.
Venue: The Salthouse Gallery, St Ives
Date: Wednesday 23rd September 2009
Time: 6:30pm
Details to be confirmed


Saturday 5th September 2009
Two more dates for September. I'm playing the St Ives Arts Festival with Anna May Wong Must Die! at the Arts Club, and a reading of Coolie at the Salthouse Gallery.

SUNDAY 20TH SEPTEMBER 2009 Anna performs Anna May Wong Must Die! at the St Ives Arts Cub, Westcotts Quay, St Ives, Cornwall, TR26, 7pm
Venue: St Ives Arts Club, Westcotts Quay
Time: 7pm
Tickets: £6 from the Guildhall festival box-office
Info: 01736 797122

WEDNESDAY 23RD SEPTEMBER 2009 Anna reads extracts from her novel-in-progress, Coolie: Bitter Strength, about the Chinese workers building the American transcontinental railroad who went on strike in 1865.

It's a double bill with journalist and author Charles Shaar Murray who will be reading from his novel, The Hellhound Sample, a spooky tale of blues and rock music about to be published by Headpress.

TUESDAY 22ND SEPTEMBER 2009 Charles Shaar Murray will be giving another talk in his series: Everything I Know About Rock 'n' Roll. Number three in the series is Woodstock: Forty Years Later and the Whole Hippy Thing.
Venue: St Ives Arts Club, Westcotts Quay
Time: 7pm
Tickets: £6 from the Guildhall festival box-office
Info: 01736 797122


Friday 8th May 2009
I finally got to preview my multimedia presentation, Anna May Wong Must Die!, a personal journey through the life and crimes of Anna May Wong, at the Salthouse Gallery on Friday 8th May 2009 as part of the St Ives Literary Festival.

Developing my radio programme, Celestial Star of Piccadilly, which was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in January, this hour-long show gives me the chance to expand on my observations and include material which had to be left out due to time constraints.

It had poetry, music, sex and technical glitches galore. There was no cable to link up my Mac to the projector or the big speakers, so Alban saved the day by transferring the entire file onto his PC and I controlled it from there. Dramatic sounds, transitions and fonts were lost, and I was plunged into a crepuscular gloom in the absence of lighting, but it was a laid-back affair and a great time was had by all.

Next outing is an extract at the Roxy Bar & Screen in South London, Tuesday 26th May, introduced by film historian Jasper Sharp. This is a themed night with a screening of Piccadilly (1929) which Anna May Wong made in Britain, re-released by BFI in 2005 with a new musical score to mark the centenary of her birth. Shanghai sounds from Resonance FM Lucky Cat DJ, Zoe Baxter.


Tuesday 10th February 2009
Madam Miaow, AKA Anna Chen, takes over the Lucky Cat hour on London radio station Resonance FM at 9pm tonight Tuesday 10th February, bringing cultural and political chat into your home. Not that my usual sophistimicated readers require my witteration to refundicate their erudition on home turf. Would I even think that?

I’ll be talking about a range of topics from Anna May Wong — including material I didn’t have time to cover in my recent Radio 4 profile of the Hollywood legend — to the 5th anniversary of the Morecambe Bay disaster when 23 Chinese cocklepickers died in icy waters off the north east coast of England.

What happened to the surviving families? How does the status of the unauthorised workers contribute to their vulnerability, and what can the government do to ensure there are no more tragedies like Morecambe Bay waiting to happen? How does the slogan, “British Jobs For British Workers” impact on these migrant workers?

My guests are Jasper Sharp — east Asian film expert — and Merlene Emerson who has helped raise funds for the victims' families and campaigns on migrants rights in the UK.

You can join in by phoning in: 0207 407 1210

Resonance 104.4 fm is the world’s first radio art station, established by London Musicians’ Collective. It provides a radical alternative to the universal formulae of mainstream broadcasting and does it brilliantly.

You can listen live to Resonance over the Internet worldwide in two formats: Real Audio and MP3 (at high quality for broadband and low quality for dial-up). Either click on the MP3 or Real Audio links on the website frontpage or click on the listen page for more information.

Thanks to Zoe Baxter who normally hosts Lucky Cat


Tuesday 13th January 2009
Anna May Wong: A Celestial Star in Piccadilly
Anna Chen writes and presents a half-hour profile of Hollywood's first Chinese movie star for BBC Radio 4. Broadcast 11:30, Tuesday 13th January 2009. Chosen as Pick of the Week by BBC R4, Guardian Guide, The Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday.


Wednesday 2nd July 2008
Opening night St Ives Comedy Club
(For more pix click on images)

Rod Bullimore, Anna, Charles Shaar Murray

Rod Bullimore, Anna, Matt Price

Tonight's opening of St Ives's first ever comedy club at the Western Hotel got off to a lively and shambolic start with comics versus hecklers. Talk about clash of cultures! The comics fought back and regained ground but the body count was high.

Anna Chen found some of her best lines stomped on by one table of pissed punters, although her "From flapping lab to flapping gob" line about Basic Instinct star Sharon Stone and her statement that the Chinese earthquake was karma over Tibet, went down a storm (so to speak!). Demitris Deech smiled his way wickedly through some killer put-downs but it was former boxer and headliner Matt Price whose controlled explosions rocked the house. Passionate and ever so slightly charged with the threat of violence, he gave a masterclass in how to deal with a troublesome audience.

Rod Bullimore was the gentle poet and wit who steered us through the rocks and a great time was had by all. Now that's my kind of dangerous sport!

Thanks to Alan Gillam and Steve McIntosh for inviting me.

GIG NEWS: Anna's been booked to perform at the Comedy Club during the St Ives Festval. Wednesday 10th September


Sunday 29th June 2008
BBC Radio 4 Reith Lectures: Chinese Vistas and the Body Beautiful

Hmm, I was going to video me performing the following poem and stick it up on YouTube but after Tuesday morning you won't be able to check what I'm on about. So until I get around to it, I'm posting the poem here.

This year's Reith Lectures on BBC Radio 4 were given by Prof Jonathan Spence on the subject of Chinese Vistas and the producers had asked me to attend the three UK recordings (one of them was in New York and they weren't springing for a trip, boo!). The idea was that I ask questions as one of the named guests. Just so happens that the first two coincided with my lovely St Ives trip leaving the last one: China and the Body Beautiful, dealing largely with the Olympics.

It was an opportunity for Chinese to participate in public life, in the culture, so I went along. And the result is as you see below. I did get to speak right at the end of the programme.

I was excited
I’d been invited
To The Cultural Media Event of the year,
The annual Reith Lectures.
Not just to consume and admire
But to speak and aspire.
A BBC for the BBC,
The British Broadcasting Corporation
Had invited me
A British Born Chinese
To pose a question at the Reith and
Have it considered by great minds across the ether.
To participate like I was one of Them, “In the fold”,
A sui generis in the mold
Of a new rising force in the country
To talk about a new rising force in the world,
This year’s topic: China.
I’m a BBC for the BBC
New on the block, unfathomed, free,
Off the peg, ready-made,
Waiting all my life for the day
I would be called.
No longer the barbarian at the gates
The burglar in the hall
The Eastern invader
The Mongol Hordes
I was at Lords Cricket Ground
Hallelujah! I was lost and now I’m found.

I was excited
A troth was plighted.
We were recording the show on the hallowed estate
Of the MCC for a national debate
For the flagship BBC radio channel
Lords Cricket Ground, knackers
Under wrap in flannel
White male wet dream anachronism
Balls polished
The crack of willow
Against leather
Thwack! Eee-er, eee-er
The whack and squeal of balls polished again
And again.
And again.
Nuthin’ strange there, then
That’s just white men
And their normal ways.

I was excited
I was delighted
Before kick-off
The swanky reception
Nibbling at canapes
Perfecting my conception
Of tonight’s subject: China and the Body Beautiful, sport, the Olympics.
I’m cutting flab, tightening syntax.
Drinking sensibly
Coz red wine
Can dull the mind, make you whine and slur
And forget what spurred
You on in the first place,
Can make you forget your words,
And we all know you cannot drink and drive
Your words home.
I worked hard at them,
Every last moment
Chiselling my mini-masterpiece
A polemical miniature
In a nutshell
Educating and entertaining
Just the way the Man said it.
Institutional bores can shove it
I know Lord Reith, father of the BBC,
Would love it.
So I craft my infotainment gem
Making it short enough
To survive the edit
And to my credit I was
Shorter by a country mile
Than some of the waffling and pontification
And plain love of their own voice of authority
We would be hearing that night.

I was excited
A wrong was righted.
I am walked into the room
And put in my place,
No longer faceless in the crowd
But up front and proud
In the first row.
There it is,
A sheet of A4 with my name in big black second-coming font
Reserving my seat.
I’m on heat at the sight
I’ll be up all night remembering this.
Too cool to take a photo like a tourist
I take a snapshot with my mind
And store it in my inner iPhoto album
Titled – “Victories I have won”.
Only two photos so far.
This one and the fistfight when I was six.
I will be called to speak
By the chairperson who has read my gist
I am told she has me on her list.
I will be called by the legendary “Sue Lawley, Sue Lawley”
BBC Radio 4 stalwart, arbiter and queenpin.
I look around and check what fine company I am keeping.
Director generals and chairmen abound
I am the only Chinese Chosen One around,
Expected to speak
For the fraternity
An entire race depends on me.
I wonder who will win.

I was excited
My goal was sighted
My name’s on the chair
Who says the system’s not fair?
I plant my behind on my name
Like I am sitting on my own face
Kissing my own butt
Better mine than someone else’s
But I don’t mind, the establishment’s kind
If you are ultimately a Truth seeker.
Sue Lawley starts the show,
Introduces the speaker
On the subject of China and the Body Beautiful, sport, the Olympic games.
My eyes are alight, my thoughts aflame.
“Professor Jonathan Spence
Of Yale”.
My admiration is immense
I have his books, he makes a lot of sense,
Knowing what’s right, defending the poor,
Twenty minutes later
He ends with me longing for more.
Yay! (applause)
Sue throws it open to the floor
And picks her first questioner.
It’s Sir Sumthin’-Or-Other
A god on Mount Olympus
Or high-up in the Olympics committee
Same thing this evening
And he talks and he talks
I don’t understand
Even though English is my first language

Sue calls the next and the next til they all merge into
One red-faced, pink-eyed chubby well-fed bundle of done-thinking, done-feeling,
My head is spinning, my senses reeling.
“Blah, blah, blah
Human rights
Blah, blah, blah,
They hate the disabled, you know”
(Coz in Britain we’re supportive of our weak and our old)
“Blah, blah, blah
Whine, whine, whine,
Moan, moan, moan
Tibet or not Tibet
That is the question.”
If that is the question, the answer is surely not to bet
The farm on feudal theocracy.
Hey, that’s what you said.
Now you’re telling me China ain’t parta the civilised world?
Somewhere a Union Jack’s unfurled.

Coz this is the country of Magna Carta
No longer.
The authorities here are growing stronger.
The Meaning of Life is 42
42 days detention without charge
42 days of your life writ large
42 days without a home
42 days because politicians lost their back bone.
Rendition to a torture zone
Your wife and your kids don’t know where you’ve gone
Guilty until proved innocent
Where sucking your teeth while black is an arrestable offence
A copper scrutinising every email you ever sent
Gotta fuck for food, steal for rent
Freedom of speech? What a cheek!
Satan could sue the bible for libel
Get a million pound payoff and a House of Lords title.
DNA records, CCTVs,
Media frenzied heeby-jeebies,
Asbo-land, tapping phones,
Booming business, crippling loans
For school fees in the land of the free
Hey, why you picking on the Chinese
It’s not us starting World War Three
You’ll free this land?
Iran, Iraq, I scrammed.

I was benighted
The night was blighted.
The Professor talked about Chinese physique
Once thin and attenuated, deflated and weak,
Now growing in stature, reaching its peak,
In pride, in power.
No wonder you’re all sour.
The only monster here has eyes of green
Ain’t that the saddest thing you’ve ever seen?
It’s late in the hour,
Still Sue Lawley calls the faithful of
The Rational Front
One by one
They lecture us on human rights
When we’re giving up ours without a fight.
What happened to the Body Beautiful, to sport,
What happened to tonight’s topic, in short?
Yikes! What’s happening to the time?
They had their turn now I want mine.
The ticking clock counts down
Time dessicates and runs through my fingers
Only five minutes to go and every contributor lingers.
Everyone speaking sounds white and posh
Braying and wittering and talking tosh.
One Chinese woman sneaks in from the floor
And lands a killer punch on one of the bores.
Good for you, sister.
Oh god, we all look the same.
A producer gesticulates, “Sue, you missed her.
That’s not the one. She’s over here,”
He’s pointing at me.
But Sue doesn’t seem to see.

I thought I was set-up
Now I’m being ignored
No chance for a comeback on my question
No time to explore
No opportunity for illumination, expansion,
Gotta make every second count
Breathe in deep
Feel the tension mount.
Pray my soul to keep calm,
Stick to the truth you won’t come to no harm
I. Stick. Up. My. Hand.
The only guest to have to do it.
A humiliation, I knew it,
But it was a dirty job and someone had to do it.

Sue doesn’t announce me
That’s OK
I still remember my own name
And I do it for her
Deep breath
“Thank you Professor Spence.
I am tall, robust,
And not at all attenuated. Sadly.”
A ripple of laughter
“And my feet are size seven. Unbound.”
Louder laughter, I love that sound,
The wake awakes.
“I’m a BBC ...”
And Sue who has already explained eloquently
What a BBC is, dives in and asks me to explain
In case someone mistakes me for British Broadcasting Corporation.
“British Born Chinese,” I assure
Although I could equally have said more,
I could have said “I presented a series on Radio 4, Sue.
On the history of the Chinese in Britain so I’m a bit like you,
A BBC and a BBC”
But I don’t. Coz that way madness lies.
“Sorry, Sue. Enough about me.
Ahem. I couldn’t help noticing
The Chinese smurfs who guarded the Olympic flame
Were tall, healthy, handsome, hot ...”
Sue interjects again,
“This is entirely subjective.”
Yes, Sue. It’s subjective coz it’s my question.
“Ahem, tall, healthy, handsome, hot,
Reeking stamina,
Pounding out the miles on foot
While, the bobbies on bicycles ... were not.
Due to a genetics rather than diet and confidence.
I also noticed ...”
Sue interrupts a third time, the bum’s rush,
“Hurry up, please, we’re running out of time.”
Well, whose fault is that, Sue?
I’ll give you a clue
I think it’s you and where you put me in the queue.
I smile. Deep breath. I have worth.
“I also noticed the hostility towards the Olympic smurfs
Bore no relation to what we saw on camera.
Is this reaction part of a wider fear,
Of the Chinese becoming physically stronger as a metaphor for economic strength?”
A ripple, a murmering and a stirring at length
Brains ticking, souls whirring,
Hearts thumping, me purring
As my arrow finds its target.
We have communication.
The professor smiles and has his say
But it’s all too late in the day.
Sue draws the night to a close.

Thwack! Eee-er, eee-er.
Whack and squeal
That was the sound of
Women have balls, they’re just higher,
Ethnics have wit, we’re just drier.
Sue’s so snippy, I mustn’t look chippy,
I wanna fight back coz I’m not a damned hippy.
An ectoplasmic wraith of my hand snakes out
And grabs the Fragrant One by her swan-like throat
“Take your goddammed claw off my balls, you goddamed creepy-crawley,
Sue Lawley,” I think to myself.
Hear that laughter, Sue?
They heard something new
And an earlier inclusion might have allowed
An outcome more in line with Lord Reith’s intentions,
To inform, entertain and explain.
Instead of retreading the same old lack of invention.
Boring, worn, turgid,
A political agenda
Turning every Chinese into a China defender.
Instead of sticking me at the end a the show.
I offer you something new.
But Sue, you never write, you never call,
You don’t see me at all.
A BBC for the BBC
Wreath Lecture


Wednesday 25th June 2008
Terracotta Worriers: First Emperor exhibition

For more pix click on image

I was so looking forward to being Flavour Of The Month at home in Old Blighty for a moment or three, what with the excitement of the Beijing Olympics in August. But due to certain events at the roof of the world, any profile I might have enjoyed has been relegated to somewhere between Empress Ming The Merciless and the Evil Daughter of Fu Manchu. Here I am, plonked in the middle of a three-minute hate where someone’s lost the stopwatch. Less Anna the Honey and more Atilla the Hun.

Still, that’s showbiz. On with the show ...

I caught the first and biggest of the UK China-themed events, the Terracotta Warriors at the British Museum, which drew to a close in April (Stop the presses!) having played to packed audiences. Which is understandable, because an hour after you’ve seen it, you want to go round again.

This being the adoptive home of the Elgin Marbles, the looted treasures of the pyramids, and assorted plunder from around the globe, it never was going to be a simple task for the curators. Unable to make up their minds whether the First Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi was the heroic uniter of the seven warring kingdoms or one of the biggest baddies the ancient world had ever seen, the narrative of the display resembled a wolf caught in a trap, chewing off its own foot with the madness of its own contradictions.

But I enjoyed it. It was a good-looking beast, lit and designed by artists in the world famous Reading Room where Marx, Lenin and Orwell once studied and changed the world, though only Gandhi rated a biopic.

As an added bonus we sat in the Great Court cafe, afterwards, watching dusk fall, with an intrepid mouse foraging food off the floor around us. A magic moment.

The First Emperor, who united China in 221BC, loved war. He said the only way to make everyone else enjoy his hobby was to make peacetime so horrible that they welcomed a bit of rape, pillage and bloodshed just for the relief.

But his namesake of 2,500 years ago, the Yellow Emperor, also known as Huangdi, loved life. He was the Sting of his day, a practitioner of tantric sex, feeding off female energy, believing it would help grant him longevity. How sad that women never loomed as large in the First Emperor’s sex-life as they did in the Yellow Emperor’s. Women figured not at all in his after-life fantasy world according to the artefacts on show. There were soldiers, acrobats, musicians, civil servants and stable boys, but not a single female in sight.

Chinese women — invisible even in ancient China.

Here's a teatowel for the ladies.


Monday 9th June 2008

Seven Songs For Summer: I've been tagged.

Since the demise of Top of the Pops I've found it hard to keep up with what's new in the fabby world of mainstream Pop 'n' Rock. The only non-speech radio stations I listen to are BBC Radio 3 and XFM and anything else I stumble across when channel-surfing in the car. The last big thing in the music world for me was Nirvana, so don't look to me to score high on the ultra-up-to-the-minute hipness-meter. Up-to-the-decade, more like. Just.

However, I do have my own taste and being tagged by Ned Raggett gives me the opportunity to focus and lay out exactly what is floating my aural boat this summer.

Ned writes:

Simon Reynolds roped me into this online meme:

“List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to.”

Looking to my trusty iPod Nano, what have I been listening to? What sends me into a transcendent state of bliss that helps me cope with the mutt-eat-mutt devil-take-the-hindmost Rosa Luxemburg nightmare of barbarism Out There?

1) The Beatles, "I Am The Walrus" — Specifically, the version on the recent Love album. This entire album is a cultural treasure. When it was released a couple of years ago it gave me such a frisson. Forget your time-travelling Tardis, this was like hearing The Beatles for the first time. Legendary producer George Martin, effectively the fifth Beatle, gave them their distinct sound in the studio. His son, Giles, under George's guidance and with the blessing of the remaining band members and widows, has gone one further, taking original recordings and applying the best new technology to add welly and bandwidth to the listening experience. Not only that, he's played around with the mixes, exchanging bass lines and melody, defamiliarising the songs so they sound brand new yet still timeless. Why "I Am The Walrus"? Great poetic liberties and a hypnotic music track that transport you to somewhere else in yourself.

2) Infected Mushroom, "Merlin (remix)" — From the Cyberdog4 Psi-fi System. In fact, anything from this album is psytrance-gold. I love having this fed into my ear via my iPod when I'm travelling in London. I'm not on the bus or the tube: I'm performing impossible balletic gymnastics on wires and ice-skates for a whole glorious hour. Uh, in my head, anyway (watch out for the twitching feet - a sure giveaway that imagination is happening). Great heart-racing stuff that centres you and keeps the demons at bay. BTW, check out their Cyberdog shop in Camden Market. I yam Tank Gurl!!!!

3) Eminem, "Fack" — Hilarity from MM. Wonder why the record company didn't even spring for a performance video. Hey, did he say "asshole"? All together, now, "Shove a gerbil in your ass through a tube". Kids, don't try this at home.

4) William Shatner, "Common People" — Only a genius could improve on Pulp's original and the sublime Jarvis Cocker. What a great song: "Watching roaches climb the wall, if you phoned your dad he could stop it all". Totally nails a lot of the Left in the UK as well as the usual phonies slumming in other people's misery. Drama, truth and class conflict all in one perky package. Surrealism courtesy of Captain Kirk.

5) Ministry, "Jesus Built My Hotrod" — Heavy metal technobilly satire on American consumerism. Funny, exciting, in yer face fun. And don't miss their New World Order featuring Bush senior. Excellent live version here.

6) Nine Inch Nails, "Heresy" or watch live in Stockholm — Ned turned me on to NIN for which I owe him thanks. "God is dead and no-one cares", the cry of the bright teenager tapping into my eternal inner misery-guts. But in such a pleasurable way. And check out "Closer": "I want to fuck you like an animal, I want to feel you from the inside ... " Yup, Trent telling it like it is. The gifted Mr Reznor also wrote "Hurt", memorably recorded by Johnny Cash shortly before he died of a broken heart within five months of the death of his wife, June Carter Cash.

7) Iannis Xenakis, "Tetras". I've been listening to lots of classical music this year, inspired by Babeuf, and it's difficult to choose a fave. From Beethoven's passionately intense sonatas to Bartok's string quartets, which is the best? Certain parties close to me refer to my current playlist as "classical torture music", but then blues-attuned ears would, wouldn't they? I've loved the Russian composers since I was little, Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade making a major impression on me when I saw it performed by the Kirov Ballet Company in Moscow as a schoolgirl. And Stravinsky's Rite of Spring was always in the home collection along with the easier Tchaikovsky. Recently I discovered Scriabin's Preparation for the Final Mystery and I'm beginning to explore the Austrian/American Schoenberg. What really set me off on this journey was an amazing series of talks by Simon Shaw-Miller at the Tate St Ives Gallery (pic below) in September 2006, culminating in a concert of Ligeti and Sibelius by the Kreutzer Quartet. Something normally considered elitist was democratised and made accessible by these wonderful teachers. I'm indebted to them.

My tagees are:

Harpy Marx
A Very Public Sociologist
LJ Rich Geek Chic
The Look
Culture Sluts
Splintered Sunrise


Thursday 29th May 2008

Buddhist convert Sharon Stone gets reincarnated as a moron as she declares that the Chinese earthquake which killed at least 68,000 people was "Karma" for not being "nice". So tens of thousands of innocent human beings died as some sort of punishment over Tibet? If this is what passes for cosmic justice in Sharon's worldview, she can stuff it.

Same goes for all the luvvies whose chief concern is their own spiritual wellbeing while not giving a toss for the 95 per cent of the Tibetan population who were slaves and serfs, owned body and soul by the political elite, including the Dalai Lama's own mother, who, touchingly, the sweet boy still reveres.

I'm reminded of the 1980s Buddhists who used to chant for Porsches and insist that the starving in Africa must have done something in a previous life to deserve their present fate . "Even the kids, the babies?" I used to ask. "Yes, especially the babies as they have more to learn."

There've been quite a few of these comments about "karma" popping up in the blogosphere from Dolly sympathisers. Nice! I hope the Dalai does himself a favour and distances himself from the barbarism on display from his disciples.

BTW, I wonder if it's karma that's led to Sharon being dropped by Dior and China banning her films. There are more things in heaven and earth ...


Sunday 25th May 2008
Anna reads poetry at the St Ives Arts Club

A little bit of political satire, laydees an' gennelmen, as I read "Under Deep Cover of the PTA" at the St Ives Arts Club Cafe Frug night during the May Literature Festival. More pix here


Monday 19th May 2008

Picture: L to R Bob Devereux, Rod Bullimore, Anna Chen, Kelvin Bowers at the Salthouse Gallery reading Sunday 11th May 2008

Home from St Ives at last with end-of-holiday blues. Still haven't unpacked due to to an overwhelming urge to get my holiday pix and videos sorted.

Here's the first video of the batch. It's of me reading some poetry in Norway Square at the first of the lunchtime open readings in Norways Square as part of Bob Devereux's literature festival: "Daddy Freud", "Poe" and "To Adonis At His Toilet".


Monday 19th May 2008
China begins three days of mourning a week after it's worst natural tragedy since the last major earthquake thirty years ago. Following the debacle in Burma where the authorities, usually so quick to crack down on dissent, are criminally slow to react to the estimated 100,000 deaths from the cyclone, the Chinese rescue effort has been admirably rapid and efficient. It also compares favourably with the way the US government dealt with Hurricane Katrina and lost New Orleans, so the attacks on the rescue operation from some quarters are grossly unfair.

However, while some structures withstood the massive 7.9 shocks, schools bore the brunt with thousands of children caught in the collapse. As one mother says, "It wasn't the earthquake that killed our children, it was the buildings."

Deepest sympathy.


Saturday 17th May 2008

Picture: The first documented Chinese in Britain, Shen Fu Tsong, a Jesuit convert who translated the Chinese books at the Bodleian Library in the 17th Century and whose portrait hung in the bedchamber of King James II

The first of the two omnibus repeats of my series, Chinese In Britain, went out last night on Radio 4 at 9pm. It was originally a ten-part series broadcast April/May 2007 and has now been edited into two hour-long episodes.

Next one is Friday 23rd May at 9pm.

You can listen for seven days at: BBC Online

A fascinating story” - Chris Campling, The Times
Each episode sounded effortless only because it had been crafted with such supreme care” - Gillian Reynolds, The Daily Telegraph


Saturday 10th May 2008

Who'd have thought a dozen oysters and half a bottle of cava could have such devastating consequences? Either that or the clotted cream, the sun or the pasties (the Cornish kind you eat, not the ones you twirl, silly!).

Since Wednesday's molluscular treat this writer has been tethered to the, ahem, "facilities" by the state of her guts (shades of Chuck Palahniuk). As I'm only 20 paces from the beach that's not too much of a tragedy except that the incoming banks of cloud carried on a brisk Atlantic wind make it not as attractive a proposition as it was a few days ago when I was slapping on the factor 30 suncream. Let's look on the bright side, though. Nuthin' like a gastric upset or a tapeworm to trim the tum and mark a welcome return to one's summer sillhouette.

"I grow old, I grow old. I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled." Or at least wrapped up in thermals and my padded waterproof faux berber jacket with hood. I'd look like something that fell off the back of the Countryside Alliance if it weren't for the fact that I don't exactly fit the profile. Fooled by the sun earlier in the week, I took a trepidatious paddle in the sea up to my knees and beat a hasty retreat, not because filmmaker Nick Broomfield was chasing me with a camera, but because my feet immediately grew numb with cold.

Only mad dogs and Englishmen swim in the early summer sea. You have to wait til September for the sea to heat up enough in these heah parts for any sane person to fully immerse. Unless you are an energy-frazzling toddler or a surfer. By the way, isn't it amazing how a black rubber wetsuit can turn the average fat-slob Brit into a god, sleeked down and held in in all the right places? (And bulging where needed.)

Today is the start of Bob Devereux's Literary festival, beginning at 12.30 with daily open readings in Norway Square and various other events at the Arts Club (Cafe Frug nights), the Mariners Gallery, and Bob's own wonderful Salthouse Gallery. I'm reading from The Chop House on Sunday with my mate Rod Bullimore who's reading from his Unfinished Novels — memories of dead teachers, and generally larking about for the duration.

More info on the festival here

More on St Ives courtesy of Steve McIntosh here

Just to keep you going until I get home and upload pix and videos, here's a link to one I made last year of local musician Steve Jones performing Coconut Skins by Damien Rice.

Wish you were here ...


Wednesday 7th May 2008
Anna Chen reads from her autobiography, The Chop House, 8pm this Sunday 11th May at the Salthouse Gallery, St Ives, as part of the St Ives Literature Festival.

"Right now I'm trying to finish The Chop House, an autobiography about my upbringing by Chinese communists in Hackney from the Swinging Sixties, when I had Beatlemania screaming in one ear and Red Guards in the other, to life as an early punk when I hung out with various cultural reprobates and had my first catsuit made by Vivienne Westwood. My excuse for being in St Ives is that it gives me the opportunity to buckle up, knuckle down and get the damn book writ. But there's the beach, the Arts Club, the night life, my mates (old and new) and, of course, the literary festival ... "

More info here:

and here:


Monday 21st April 2008

"My dad's bigger than your dad and he's gonna do you, sunshine!"
"Yo mama so fugly, we gonna kill the lot of you."
"Yo Dalai so feudal he gotta suck Amurkin dick fo dollahs!"
"Yo side so oppressive we gotta give special dispensation for violence. Om!"

So what are we to make of the current tsunami of lunacy rolling around the world? It's crashing on my beach and I don't like it one little bit.

The end of the dream of China being a genuine socialist state was tragic. The last great hope. Elsewhere, political dregs that identify as socialist fight like rats in a sack. We've given up on the ingenuity of the human mind and retreated into mysticism while the social and cultural superstructure collapses into the base like the melting tiers of a soggy wedding cake. (Or, to quote replicant Roy Batty at the end of Blade Runner, "Like tiers in reign".) Prophets and demigods and their MiniMees supplant Marx and Darwin. We're expected to be in thrall to the deities' earthly representatives, uncritically swallow their lip-service to Peace and be very, very respectful indeed ... or get bashed up or worse for our irreverent offences.

Having been raised on one personality cult, I've been pretty effectively immunised against all others. Full credit to Mao for leading the communists to victory against all odds in 1949. But if the sight of weeping 'n' wailing Red Guards in Tien An Men Square while the Great Helmsman beamed down from the Emperors' old heavenly throne set alarm bells ringing, the Book of Revelations written by his doctor, describing all his earthly excess in putrid detail, made you want to call in the emergency services.

That was faith dressed up in politics. We now have the real thing; The Return of Religion: This Time It's Personal. One of the most powerful and pernicious myths of our time, welcome to the cult of the Dalai Lama. He ticks all the boxes that spiritually impoverished westerners could ever desire (and there's me thinking desire was a no-no). He's an earth-bound deity. A god king. Kind and wise granter of redemption - unless you're a Tibetan serf. Coz it's all illusion, see?

But question the old fraud and suddenly you are met with some very un-Buddhist howls of protest and a plethora of "How dare you?"s. Don't they know it's the revolutionary's duty to give a kicking to a myth when they see one?

The search for the ideal benevolent father figure is a universal. Coca-Cola knew this when they created the modern image of Santa Claus. Add to that the muscle wielded when the other kids knock over your sandcastle or teecher won't acknowledge your true worth, and the result is intoxicating.

Do I want to believe? You betcha! In a disintegrating world, I crave certainties as avidly as the next sistah. I, too, seek comfort. The reassurance that, somewhere out there, lies a sea of love in which I can immerse myself and wash away all pain. Perhaps it's the siren call to my innate hunger for spiritual parenting that makes me kick up when I see the seductive powers of the image. I happen to like my capacity for original thought, and anything that threatens to turn my brain into jelly can expect a rough ride.

As a schoolgirl I was relieved not to have been kept in China for my education during the Cultural Revolution, as my gobby character flaws would have made kneeling on broken glass an inevitability. But I saw enough of it to recognise the Red Guard types: bellowing bullies tasting power for the first time, high on self-righteousness and confident of a strong daddy behind them. Lacking in imagination themselves, they whacked anyone who didn't conform to their tramline minds. They scared me sumfink rotten.

Many of these Red Guards are now middle-aged depressives: self-loathing, guilt-ridden, unemployable or suicidal. That's a post-party hangover to beat all hangovers.

What can we do but piss up against these fences?

So, in the Mean Time, I'll continue to batter my head against these walls even if it means signing them with splattered blood and brain matter. Don't worry — you can hose it down afterwards and obliterate all memory.

I am the lone dog pacing your purlieus; the barbarian at the gate. I am the carapace-free lungfish trapped where the sea has drained, gulping down the poisoned air and staring at the stars.

If you're one also, I'll shake you by the hand. If not, I'll probably want to shake you by the throat.

"Religion is the new social evil" Joseph Rowntree Foundation report (pdf)


Friday 4th April 2008
Torchwood: Wahey! My cock's on fire!


So. This was it. The final episode of the second season of Torchwood, execrable spin-off of the hysterical Dr Who, reinvented and revitalised by Russell T Grant, the world's most desperate Joss Whedon wannabe. The first two seasons of Dr Who, long before it jumped the shark by involving Catherine Tate, indubitably had their faults. A full list may possibly follow.

However, when you pull back and look at the big picture, the achievement was more than respectable: a successful update and relaunch of a franchise which had been essentially dormant for many years and in serious decline for many years before that. Dr Who was where Grant flashed his chops. Torchwood is where his reach exceeds his grasp.

In the beginning there was Angel, divine spin-off of the exquisite Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The title character, a superhuman given to long coats and long silences where Captain Jack is merely given to long coats, is played by the tall, handsome and brooding David Boreanaz. Captain Jack Harkness is played by John Barrowman, who is merely tall and handsome.

In one storyline, Angel, the vampire who can never die, is captured by his son, Connor, who's been driven bitter, twisted and a bit mad through torture by monsters in a strange dimension far away. Connor erroneously blames his father for abandoning him to his fate when in fact he has never stopped thinking about him. Connor buries his immortal dad at sea in a lead box so his torture will be eternal.

In tonight's Torchwood season finale, Captain Jack Harkness, the temporal agent who can never die, is captured by his brother, Gray, who's been driven bitter, twisted and a bit mad through torture by monsters on a strange planet far away. Gray erroneously blames his brother for abandoning him to his fate when in fact he has never stopped thinking about him. Gray buries his immortal brother underneath Cardiff AD 27 so his torture will be eternal.

Guess whose punishment is the most excruciating.

So. We continued to play the usual Torchwood game of spot-the-nick. I got the climactic scene of Fight Club where the buildings are exploding around the protagonists. My friend got Tasha Yar's prerecorded posthumous speech sprung on her surviving colleagues in the episode "Skin of Evil" from season one of Star Trek: The Next Generation, when Toshiko dies and springs a prerecorded posthumous speech on her surviving colleagues. The poignancy was detectable.

Spike the bleached-blond vampire — magnetically and irresistibly played by the god in human form that is James Marsters — dies heroically in a magical conflagration at the end of the Buffy series finale, and is revived as an insensate ghost in Angel. Owen, the twitching ferretty Spike manque — soggily and resistibly played by the hole in the air that is Burn Gorman — dies earlier in season two of Torchwood and is revived as an insensate being and now dies again (did I say heroically?) in a nuclear catastrophe, tastefully bleached out to an oblivion whiter than Spike's Billy Idol barnet.

Functioning as the moral centre of the programme, the competent but winsome Gwen almost promises to leave on account of she can't stand it any more. We feel her pain.

And Joss's hits just keep on coming. The (Cardiff) Power Walk — smash cuts — helicopter shots of an ominous nocturnal metropolis. Team Harkness with porn-star good looks. Hey, check it out, it's just like LA with cheese on toast!

And of course - how could we forget? I mean, like, HOW? — James Marsters!!!!!!! Spike Himself!!!!!!!!! (As something called "Captain John".) Yet another morally ambiguous, sexually charismatic bad boy turned good guy with an almost perfect posh-punk English accent. And a bad 1980s jacket that fell out of an Adam Ant video threatened to upstage His Gorgeousness.

And the high emotion! If you milked a cow like this, the Animal Liberation Front would be camped in your yard and PETA would be on your tail. Why o why, ten whole minutes after the A-story has ended and Gray the evil brother has been vanquished, are they all still ladling on the sentiment? It's a fifty-minute telly show, ferfuxache! This kind of aggressive begging for BAFTAs would get you moved on by the cops if you tried it in the street. I haven't seen so much snot and grizzling since Respect imploded. [For readers sufficiently fortunate not to be au fait with the ins and outs of the cat's arse that is the British Left, the Respect split was a tragic tale of epic proportions. Two bald men, not just fighting over a comb, but over a comb that had no teeth.]

So. As Ann Robinson would demand, who is the Captain Jack Sparrow and who is the Captain Jack Harkness? If I may quote myself rather than simply repeat myself: there is STILL only one Captain Jack and Keef Richards is his dad.

So. There.


Saturday 22nd March 2008
Tibet or not Tibet: Shangri-La la land

Just got back to find this powerful post at the Socialist Unity website on the subject of Tibet. It's an admirable contribution to the debate in a worrying climate of knee-jerk attacks on China from the West.

China has many faults, of which we're all aware, and is not the socialist paradise many once hoped for. But neither is Tibet the last repository of spiritual transcendence on Earth as presented in the media. So what's motivating the current focus on China as the Big Bad? As opposed to any of America's client states? (Saudi Arabia and Israel heave into view, to name but two.) The green-eyed monster takes on the Sleeping Dragon now that it's waking up. The Chinese are the US's biggest creditors, so I guess US fury is understandable. And it's a useful diversion from their own criminal actions in the world. Similarly with the British establishment's demonisation of the Chinese that goes way beyond legitimate and thoughtful criticism, and could just possibly be motivated by old territorial ambitions.

I may not have a deep knowledge of Tibet but I catch on eventually.

Some have asked, "Madam Miaow, does lil ol' Britain really have evil designs on the Kingdom at the Roof of the World?"

To them I say, remember British Empire, grasshopper? Encroachments from India into the Himalayas and Afghanistan? The East India Trade Company? Opium Wars? Do fish fuck in water? You betcha! The Brits have been sniffing around Tibet since it began secretly mapping it in 1865 (see Wikipedia). In the 1904 invasion, British troops under Colonel Francis Younghusband occupied Lhasa and machine-gunned a load of locals, finally imposing a trade agreement and sticking it to their Tsarist Russian rivals. How's that for spiritual? There's been a lot of destabilising going on behind the scenes, especially in the cold-war lead-up to the events of 1950. The CIA funded a Tibetan guerilla war against China, backing the Dalai Lama, until at least 1969 (or 1972, depending on source). Officially, that's when it ended, but who knows what they're up to now?

A few years ago I was asked to attend a parliamentary meeting set up by some of the political elite in support of the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. My first utterance was, "Baby, have you got the wrong vampire!" [Ref: Jewish vampire played by Alfie Bass when confronted with a crucifix in Polanski's Dance of the Vampires.] I had to explain why I was not enamoured of Dolly Llama and his Shangri-La nostalgia for feudalism.

Unfortunately, after a promising start when whole sections of Tibetan society welcomed them as liberators, China behaved with the same degree of sensitivity as the British in Ireland. China raised literacy levels massively, lifted life expectancy from 35 to 67 [according to the Chinese authorities in 2003. Unescap says 59 in 1990 - see note below], redistributed the land once held by the tiny ruling elite, and ended feudal ownership of serfs. But torturing nuns, no matter how much you disagree with them, is unlikely to win you friends. I do wonder, though, if this behind-the-scenes, ahem, "interest" from old imperialist forces is helping keep China in a constant state of alarm?

While I'm on the subject, is everyone aware of Dolly's background? That his mother, Dekyi Tsering, was one of the biggest owners of serfs prior to the 1950s? His own website describes him as being born into "a farming family". Yes, farming like the Duke of Cornwall is a "farmer". Yet all 18 families working at Shexing village were serfs owned by Dolly's Mum, and worked on her manor. How convenient that in 1935 the new Dalai Lama was located in the ruling class! I wouldn't buy a used prayer-wheel from His Slipperiness.

Dolly comes from a long line of loan sharks, issuing usurous loans right up until 1950 for 20 to 30 percent interest pa. And who is aware that the DL along with the rest of the monastic and aristoctratic ruling class had the power of life and death over the population and that his predecessors used it? Punishments meted out by the courts and prisons (privately owned by estate owners and monasteries) included amputation, eyes gouged out and flaying. Had Dolly come out and condemned these feudal practices, relinquished his privileges, and worked towards a fair society instead of one where the five percent made up of officials, nobles and upper clergy owned absolutely everything, and the 95 percent of the population who were serfs and hereditary slaves didn't even own their own bodies, I might have been sympathetic. As it is, I'm not impressed with this Trojan Horse for imperialism.

Some place First Contact as the "invasion" of 1950. Yet, in the 7th century it was Tibet which invaded China. Even now Tibetan nationalists are making ugly noises about "historic Tibet", referring to territories lying outside its borders. According to Wikipedia, it was the Qing emperors who established the Dalai Lama as spritual and political head of Tibet. There have been alliances and even a royal marriage in the 7th C, so I reckon China has a better claim than the UK has over some of its regions.

BTW, I've had Cornish nationalists crawling all over my YouTube vids of Cornwall, so perhaps I should take to lobbying for their independence. And the Welsh. And the Scots. And the Irish. (Whoops! Done that already.)

That "invasion": in 1950 there was a power struggle going on between the Tibetans themselves; one of the aims was to expel the imperialist forces supporting the pro-separatist Regent Dagzha. The Brits had effectively tried to annexe Tibet using their proxies in 1949. One infamous letter of 1949 signed by Dagzha and the 14th Dalai Lama asks the US, Britain, Nepal and India for combat training, a US loan and World War II weaponry. And the Living Buddha Geda, who was lobbying for the Chinese government, was poisoned by Robert Webster Ford, an American telegraph station director at Qamdo, in August 1950. Is it any wonder that the government sent in the troops?

Han Chinese make up 6.1 percent of the population. That's about the same proportion as non-whites in Britain, one difference being the Han are perceived as dominating the jobs market and business. How far down the BNP anti-immigration road arguing cultural genocide do we want to go? Is the Disneyfication of Tibet the answer? I can see Mickey Mouse and Dolly bringing a little bit of Hollywood to the Himalayas. Should we protect the cute traditions of burying babies in the corner foundations of the monasteries to bring luck? Or owning human beings? None of which you will find in the Dolly hagiographies.

China needs to deal with what rampant capitalism is doing to all its people. To present this as Chinese "communism" oppressing a rebellious religious minority is to miss the point and distort the picture. Just who are the Tibetans who are rebelling by attacking the Han Chinese and Hui Muslims, anyhow? Descendents of the serfs? The clergy class? They may have legitimate grievances in that they feel they are being treated as third class citizens and fear they'll end up the same way as native Americans and Australian aborigines. Cutting the pursestrings by granting some faked-up "independence" where they'd be dependent on UN handouts and subservient to their new western political masters is probably not the answer.

Finally, in case you hadn't noticed, it's not China which is the biggest threat to world peace. I think the US and UK are at the head of that queue. Iraq, Iran, Venezuela, Palestine, Syria, China: these are all within their sights (sorry if I missed any). Fans of Dolly should think about boycotting themselves over the chaos wreaked by the US and the UK and their friends in giving us World War, the sequel. "This time it's personal."

Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth by Michael Parenti. "Whatever wrongs and new oppressions introduced by the Chinese after 1959, they did abolish slavery and the Tibetan serfdom system of unpaid labor. They eliminated the many crushing taxes, started work projects, and greatly reduced unemployment and beggary. They established secular schools, thereby breaking the educational monopoly of the monasteries. And they constructed running water and electrical systems in Lhasa."
Andy Newman at Socialist Unity on Tibet
Liam Macuaid on Tibet
CIA in Tibet, "a covert attempt to arm the Tibetans" and annexe the country.
More CIA activities in Tibet
Times report of Tibet riots
YouTube: peaceful Tibetan protesters
Eyewitness account of rioting by Shenzhen woman shopworker in Lhasa
What does China Think? Stephen Marks at Pambazuka News

UN - "Mortality and Life Expectancy: After the Democratic Reform in Tibet, mortality declined by a large margin. The decrease in the mortality rate has slowed down since 1970. The mortality rate had fallen from 28 per 1,000 in the 1950s to 6.60 per 1,000 in 2000. The model of age-specific death rates is in the stage of transferring from the traditional "U-shaped" model to the modern "J-shaped" model. The death rates for males were higher than those for females. There was a wide gap between urban and rural people in the death rates. Mortality at all ages in Tibet was much higher than the national average. The death rates in each age groups in rural areas were higher than those in urban areas. The infant mortality rate was very high in Tibet with a great difference between the sexes. But the infant mortality rate had fallen from 430 per 1,000 in 1951, 91.8 per 1,000 in 1990 to 35.3 per 1,000 by the year 2000. In 1990, life expectancy in Tibet has reached 59.64 years, 57.64 for male and 61.57 for female."


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