Missing Voices from the British Chinese Community

Research and Curation Group Blog Series Number 3:

The third in our blog series from members of the Research and Curation Group features the research and selection of items by Christopher De Coulon Berthoud.  Christopher was interested in looking at the content of Special Collections and Archives to see not just what could be found in the collection, but what was missing. 

 

I noted the exhibition’s mention of the Chinese chip shop owner, but the absence of any interviews or depictions of them, although the website for the original exhibition does address this issue. Reflecting on a wider absence of the British Chinese community’s voice in British culture, I chose a selection of British newspaper cartoons spanning a 60-year period.

In the 1930s Chinese restaurants were a rarity in Britain, and located mainly in London. The Good Food Guide 1955 listed only single examples of Chinese eating-places in Brighton, Liverpool and Manchester. A decade later as many as thirty-one per cent of British people who ate out had visited Chinese restaurants.

All of the cartoons selected caricatured Chinese people as restaurant owners or waiters, and it is interesting to note that while the stereotypes employed remain quite similar, the sense of racial animus becomes more marked over time as the size of the immigrant population increased. A Joseph Lee cartoon from 1936 published in the Evening News titled “Honourable diner eatee up chop-sticks” (Ref: JL0644) suggests the butt of the joke is the British diner unused to an unfamiliar cuisine. Later, an example from 1992 demonstrates no such finesse while employing a crude racist stereotype of dog-eating Chinese people. (Tom Johnston cartoon published in The Sun newspaper, 11th November 1992 Ref No 38714).

The cartoons illustrate what would become commonplace in the depiction of Chinese diaspora as a community, often problematically ‘other’ from British culture, using the restaurant as shorthand for a whole group.

The selection gives us an opportunity to note the role of the cartoonist as someone who both reflects, but also moulds and guides public opinion.

Christopher de Coulon Berthoud

 

Click on the links to see images of the cartoons in the British Cartoon Archive catalogue. 

 Nay, lad. No hard feelings about pud championship… [London, 1970][Stan McMurtry], Ref No: 17686]

A response to the ‘Great Yorkshire Pudding Contest,’ which took place in Leeds in 1970 and was won by Mr. Tin Sung Chan, a chef from a local Chinese restaurant, over a field of British contestants.

Although a generous reading of the cartoon suggests that the council member’s depiction as bad losers makes them the object of ridicule, it remains an illustration of the catch-22 situation facing immigrant communities. The stylized racial caricature presents the immigrant simultaneously as someone incapable of assimilation while also being penalised for doing so too successfully.

Colour washed image of the interior of a Chinese restaurant in which a male customer is sitting next to a female customer and flicking an object using his chopsticks so that it hits the head of the Chinese waiter who is walking away from him

Flicking bamboo shoots at the waiters is a damn childish way of retaliating for the Hong Kong riots. [London, 1967] Ronald Carl Giles, Ref No: CG/1/1/2/700

Flicking bamboo shoots at the waiters is a damn childish way of retaliating for the Hong Kong riots. [London, 1967] – [Ronald Carl Giles, Ref No: CG/1/1/2/700] 

and

As a protest against China’s record in Darfur I shall not be using the chopsticks [London, 2008] – [Matt (Pritchett; Matthew), Ref No: 90084] 

This pair of cartoons, created four decades apart but remarkably similar in content, illustrate a refusal to recognize migrant groups as really British. The identification of a diaspora population with the perceived political faults of China weaponizes the trope of divided loyalty, a recurring theme in xenophobic discourse.

 

Worse news, Prime Minister… they’ve just eaten Chris Patten! [London, 1992] – [Tom Johnston, Ref No 38714]

Perhaps the most crudely racist of all these cartoons comes from 1992 in the lead up to the transfer of Hong Kong’s sovereignty to China. This cartoon unashamedly draws on one of the oldest racist clichés weaponized against Chinese people in a cartoon commenting on an accusation by an Australian diplomat that the British Governor’s missing dog had been eaten.

Nautical Playbills and The Sea Around Us

Research and Curation Group Blog Series Number 2:

Elizabeth Grimshaw writes the second in our blog series from members of the Research and Curation Group. Elizabeth tells us about her selection of items for the Reflections on the Great British Fish & Chips exhibition, which included some playbills from our theatre collections, and a book by Rachel Carson. 

I had the pleasure of digitizing Dickens playbills while completing my Master of Arts in Victorian literature at the University of Kent, and was so pleased to work with the Research & Curation group to revisit some of these incredible archival resources.

This fantastic 19th century playbill should call to mind two very different songs: the classic anthem Rule Britannia, and the Beatles hit For the Benefit of Mr. Kite.

Historic document, a playbill, for a performance of The Waterman in 1829

Playbill – Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. For the Benefit of Mr Braham. “The Waterman”
Reference: POS/LDN DRU/0599532

In 1829, Britannia indisputably ruled the waves. Not only across an Empire through the might of the Royal Navy, but also here her cultural capital takes centre stage. The Waterman is an opera based on the annual race on the Thames that began in 1721, providing entertainment and sport for the ever growing London population. After this play was performed, vocalists in naval uniform, aboard a realistic Man of War, sang nautical tunes, blending fiction and reality at the height of England’s global powers. Invoking the mythical sea king Neptune for this feast aligns with the divine power of the Crown that would change drastically in the years to come. Britannia used to rule from shore to shore, with the sun never setting on the empire. Rule, Britannia! has been sung since 1740, but today should be modified to include and celebrate former colonies in its patriotic performances. The Beatles drew inspiration from a similarly busy playbill to write the lyrics for their hit 1967 song, taking these types of 19th-century entertainments into the 20th century.

Black and White plate from Rachel Carson's book The Sea Around Us

Plate illustration Part 3: Man and the Sea About Him, in Rachel Carson “The Sea Around Us”
Classmark: GC 21

I wanted to end with Rachel Carson’s landmark 1951 environmental text, The Sea Around Us. Her work emphasizes not one country’s mastery over the ocean, but places humanity within an ecosystem we all must support and share. Environmental degradation endangers all living creatures, from the depths of the sea, to the ever changing landscape of tidal pools, to the communities who are reliant on these shoals for survival. This classic work is a timely reminder of how precious the planet is that we all share. The sea supports us, connects us, and sustains us, but can only do so if we care for it. We can take Carson’s text as a guide to connecting with others and protecting the vulnerable, especially as the climate crisis escalates.

Elizabeth Grimshaw, University of Buckingham 

Great British Fish and Chips

Special Collections & Archives are delighted to be hosting a new exhibition in our Templeman Library Gallery – Great British Fish and Chips, which will run from 22nd June to September 2022.  

Colour illustration of a plate of fish and chips with condiments labelled with their place of origin, such as cod from the Faroe Islands, vinegar from the United States and lemon from Spain or Turkey

Copyright: Olivier Kugler and Andrew Humphreys

 

The exhibition, originally commissioned by Counterpoints Arts, explores how the history of Britain’s favourite dish is rooted in migration, movement and global trade. Reportage artist Olivier Kugler, and writer Andrew Humphreys, reveal everyday stories of migration through illustrating the lives and experiences of fish and chip shop owners across Kent.  

To complement the exhibition we are looking for people to join us in exploring our Special Collections & Archives in relation to the themes of migration and movement 

This project offers a unique opportunity for participants to join a Research and Curation Group to learn more about archive practice and gain skills and experience in researching and working with archive collections, while sharing perspectives and experiences in a safe and supportive environment.  

The group is open to members of the public across Kent as well as students and staff at the University of Kent. We especially would like to encourage people with lived experience of migration to join the group and explore the archives. Weekly sessions will include tours of the collections, with practical sessions of different aspects of researching and working with archives.  

Group members will co-curate a display of original items from the archive collections that will be displayed alongside the existing exhibition boards. They will research and write captions to describe their chosen items, develop blog posts and social media content about their experiences in the archives, and lead tours of the displayed archives.  

Places are free but numbers are limited so please get in touch to secure your place. Please note that to join the group you need to be able to take part in all three weekly sessions, taking place on Wednesday 8th June (10am-1pm), Wednesday 15th June (10am-4pm), and Wednesday 22nd June (10am-4pm).    

For more information about the project or to request to join the group please contact Beth Astridge or Karen Brayshaw in Special Collections & Archives: specialcollections@kent.ac.uk  

This project has been funded by the University of Kent Migration and Movement Research and Engagement Award Fund 2022.   

The original exhibition The Great British Fish and Chips was commissioned by Counterpoints Arts in partnership with Turner Contemporary and Canterbury Cathedral and was displayed in locations around Kent from June to November 2021. 

A little of what you fancy..!

To celebrate the inaugural #musichallvarietyday on Saturday 16th May, 2020, we thought we’d tell you a bit about one of our magnificent theatre collections, the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection!

In June 2018 Special Collections & Archives were lucky enough to receive the personal music hall memorabilia collection of Max Tyler.

Who was Max Tyler?

Max was the historian and archivist of the British Music Hall Society. A retired bank manager, Max looked after the society’s theatrical memorabilia and was an expert in the field, particularly in the subject of seaside entertainment and obscure music hall tunes!

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Photographs of Max Tyler. Left and right images courtesy of Alison Young, middle image from the Max Tyler Music Hall collection.

Max was often invited to speak at events all across the UK and frequently wrote articles for publications such as The Call Boy and The Stage, and was the editor of the journal Music Hall Studies. According to the Music Hall Studies website, it was Max’s belief that “if there were no other source relating to British social history for a long period around the turn of the nineteenth century, a study of music hall song would provide everything researchers were seeking”.

Max had been in talks with us for many years about his personal collection of music hall memorabilia and research, with him ultimately bequeathing it to the University. Sadly, Max passed away on 5th January 2018 after being in poor health for some time. In his obituary in The Call Boy, Roy Hudd said of Max, “Max Tyler, an old fashioned gentleman and an old fashioned gentle man”.

After his death we worked closely with the British Music Hall Society to transfer the collection to our archive.

Music Hall? What’s that!?

Music hall was an incredibly popular form of entertainment from the mid-19th through to the early 20th century. Originating in bars and public houses, it was a heady mixture of popular songs, comedy and variety entertainment.

Oxford Music Hall, 1875

From around 1850 specialist music halls began springing up all across the country as the genre became more and more popular. The patrons would smoke, eat and drink whilst enjoying the humorous (and often cheeky) performances from that night’s entertainers. These entertainers were the celebrities of the day, with the most successful ones, such as Marie Lloyd, performing both nationally and internationally. The songs they sang were often a comment on the working class social issues of the time, such as money troubles, overcrowded living, unfaithful or nagging spouses, and sometimes even true love!

As the 20th century progressed and World War loomed, music hall popularity dwindled. Then came radio, cinema, and later, television, firmly putting an end to its ubiquitous popularity.

The collection

The Max Tyler Music Hall Collection is chock-full of music hall material, spanning from the late 19th century through to the early 21st century. It includes original and copies of Music Hall song sheets, sheet music and scripts for musical comedies, music hall programmes, playbills, 20th century music hall and vaudeville magazines and periodicals, music hall audio recordings on cassette, CD, shellac discs, and reel-to-reel tapes, published books on music hall, and music hall performers, Max’s research notes, and even Max’s very own stage blazer and hat!

Max’s striped blazer and straw boater hat, from the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection.

We couldn’t possibly fit information about everything in the collection in to one blog post, so for today’s post we will focus on a couple of the larger elements of the collection.

Songsheets

There are at least 1500 songsheets in the Max Tyler collection. With elaborately illustrated covers, and whimsical titles such as “I wasn’t so drunk as all that” and “La-Didily-Idily-Umti-Umti-Ay!” these songsheets are an incredible glimpse in to the working classes of the day (albeit a satirised, playful one!) Performers such as T.E. Dunville, Vesta Tilley, Marie Lloyd and Gus Elen, amongst many others, are represented, as well as prolific composers such as Joseph Tabrar, Arthur Lloyd and George Le Brunn.

Just a few of the 1500+ songsheets in the collection.

Programmes

The collection boasts beautifully illustrated late 19th and early 20th century programmes from variety theatres of the day, through to bold and photographic programmes of the later 20th century. It includes examples from provincial towns as well as the larger cities. This part of the collection is incredibly complimentary to our other theatre collections, which you can find out more about on our website!

A selection of the earlier programmes available in the collection.

Research Notes

Max was a diligent organiser and avid researcher of music hall, the benefits of which can be seen in his collection. He would always go the extra mile when researching on behalf of the society or members of the public and seemed to have a knack for knowing where to look for the most elusive of details. There are over a hundred files in the collection, on topics from individual performers, composers and historic events, through to animals and trains; it if it was a theme in music hall then Max was bound to have researched it in some way!

Examples of the research files in Max’s collection.

Book collection

There are just under 550 books in Max’s collection. Again, the topics of these books vary from the specific to the peripheral when it comes to music hall. There are titles written by or about music hall performers, encyclopaedias and compendiums of music hall songs, stars and theatres, through to historical and literary texts.

Books in the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection

We are currently working on organising and cataloguing the collection. Material which has been catalogued can be found here if you’re looking for archival material, or here if you’re looking for items from Max’s book collection.

If you are interested in researching or simply viewing any material from this stunning collection, please do get in touch with us via specialcollections@kent.ac.uk.

A brief history of alchemy; or, My Alchemical Romance

First performed in 1610 by the King’s Men, the acting company to which Shakespeare belonged, Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist is a satire centred around three con artists who use subterfuge, guile and wit to relieve targets of their belongings. Jonson makes no attempt to conceal his low opinion of alchemy and its practitioners, with the titular alchemist an obvious fraud and this makes it a useful springboard into thinking about alchemy in its historical context. The Templeman Special Collections and Archives holds a copy of Jonson’s First Folio from 1616 in its pre-1700 collection which contains the play and so in order to demonstrate how the Maddison collection could be useful for study and research beyond the history of science, we are going to use The Alchemist as a framing device for this week’s blog post.

Title page from 'The Alchemist' by Ben Jonson in Jonson's First Folio of 1616.

Jo says we are not allowed to have favourites because it makes the other books sad. The Jonson Folio (Q C 616 Jon) is Philip’s favourite. Don’t tell Jo. Or the other books.

‘Alchemy is a pretty kind of game, / Somewhat like tricks o’ the cards, to cheat a man / With charming.’ (2.3.180-182, The Alchemist)

To the uninitiated, alchemy can seem a vague art form that seems to cover a range of random topics. Whilst researching for this post we read about people trying to turn base metals into gold or silver, about some trying to create a source of eternal life and others searching for ways to raise the dead. Alchemy has spanned a large number of fields in its history from supernatural and spiritualism to medicine and early chemistry but what many fail to realise is that alchemy was in fact an early science intent on answering many of the same questions we strive to answer today. It was only in the 1700s that a strong distinction between ‘alchemy’ and ‘chemistry’ was established; prior to this time that the study of both subjects was much more fluid.

A pictorial diagram of the four base elements in a cross. Each element is represented by a creature. Clockwise from top: fire (ignis) is an angel; earth (terra) by a bear; water (aqua) by a dragon-looking creature; air (aer) is a long-necked bird.

The dragon-demon-sea monster thing is our spirit animal.

 

Alchemy has a long history, dating back to  antiquity and it is possible to track its early modern evolution through the Maddison Collection in the form of dedicated volumes, notes and annotations, and handwritten recipes.The roots of Western alchemy are founded in the classical idea of the basic elements – fire, water, wind and earth – and it is primarily this Eurocentric alchemy which is covered in the Maddison Collection. Variant forms of alchemy have been practiced across the globe, particularly in the Middle East, China, and India. It is the various cultural and religious influences which make each strain of alchemy unique.

A taoist philosopher, alchemist, medical writer and poet, Ko Hung was the originator of first aid in traditional Chinese medicine.

A taoist philosopher, alchemist, medical writer and poet, Ko Hung was the originator of first aid in traditional Chinese medicine.

These aforementioned roots of alchemy are derived from the classical world and continued to evolve through the ages in Western Society by adopting and discarding knowledge from various influences. However, the core of alchemy always reflected its origins through its continued use of classical mythology as a communicative device. In multiple volumes within the collection the reader is able to see various illustrations utilised to express a concept or recipe in relation to alchemy, but to those unversed in identifying these alchemical signs these illustrations appear to be merely depictions of ancient myths and folklore.

Colour illustration of a peacock in the vase of Hermes

This peacock is serving all kinds of fabulous perfection.

‘Nature doth first beget the imperfect, then/ Proceeds she to the perfect.’ (2.3.158-9, The Alchemist)

There were alchemists working across Europe through the medieval period into the early modern. The collection’s earliest works on alchemy come from Agrippa, a German polymath, legal scholar, physician and theologian,who was an important alchemist in the early sixteenth century. He is an interesting man to study, as during his career he turned away from the occult and focused much more his theological work, rejecting magic in his later life.

Just look at all those instruments! Agrippa’s getting the band back together.

Just look at all those instruments! Agrippa’s getting the band back together.

 

Paracelsus is another influential figure in alchemical circles, also well represented. A respected physician, alchemist and astrologer during the German renaissance, Paracelsus is known as the father of toxicology, as well as being one of the first medical professors to use chemical and minerals in medicine. John Dee, Robert Boyle and Elias Ashmole were also important names in the history of alchemy and all of these alchemists have works related to them within the Maddison collection.

 

Guess who’s back, back, back. Back again, Boyle’s back! Tell a friend.

Guess who’s back, back, back. Back again, Boyle’s back! Tell a friend.

 

It is unsurprising that Boyle engaged in alchemy alongside his more conventional scientific research. Many regarded alchemists as great experimentalists, who engaged in complicated experiments, which they then documented and amended. Cleopatra the Alchemist was a Greek Egyptian alchemist from the 3rd century whom focused on practical alchemy and is considered to be the inventor of the Alembic, an early tool for analytical chemistry. She along with other alchemists such as Mary the Jewess focused on a school of alchemy which utilised complex apparatus for distillation and sublimation, important techniques still in use in the chemistry lab today. Cleopatra the Alchemist’s biggest claim to fame is as one of only four female alchemists who were supposedly able to produce the Philosopher’s Stone.

This was one method of distillation being utilised in 1653, which looks very similar to a modern day distillation technique! On a large drum sit 2 identical vessels, and in between them is a ventilation shaft allowing smoke to escape. The two vessels on the drum are connected by long thin spouts to two conical flasks,designed to receive the run off liquor.

This was one method of distillation being utilised in 1653, which looks very similar to a modern day distillation technique! On a large drum sit 2 identical vessels, and in between them is a ventilation shaft allowing smoke to escape. The two vessels on the drum are connected by long thin spouts to two conical flasks,designed to receive the run off liquor.

‘I am the lord of the philosopher’s stone.’ (4.1.156, The Alchemist)

Twenty-first century readers may be more aware of alchemy than they realise. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone placed alchemy front and centre in contemporary culture. Other references in popular culture include manga and anime Fullmetal Alchemist and fantasy video games, World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy, amongst countless more. F. Sherwood Taylor points out the misconception of alchemists as ‘magicians or wizards’ that is common to these modern representations, writing that ‘as far as we know the alchemists sought to accomplish their work by discovering and utilizing the laws of nature […] never […] by “magical processes”’ (p.1, The Alchemists: Founders of Modern Chemistry, F. Sherwood Taylor). The Philosopher’s Stone was one of the primary goals of alchemy. Supposedly the catalyst needed to turn base metals such as mercury, tin or iron into the noble metals, gold and silver, it was also theorised to cure illnesses and extend lifespan. Alchemists disagreed on just about every aspect of the stone; from what it symbolised to how it was created. What all alchemists did agree upon was that the Philosopher’s Stone was a tangible possibility and someone had managed to make and use it in the past. During our research we discovered a series of images related to transmutation that may be related to the Philosopher’s Stone. You can see those, with added captions, as part of the Adventures series here

Image of A New Light of Alchymie book

J K Rowling’s Half Blood Prince anyone?

‘If all you boast of your great art be true; / Sure, willing poverty lives most in you.’

(1-2, Epigrams VI, “To Alchemists”, Jonson)

The fortunes of alchemy and its practitioners waxed and waned through the centuries. Renaissance alchemist and thinker, John Dee is a prime example. A key adviser to Elizabeth I, after James I succeeded the throne Dee was accused of being a ‘Conjurer, or Caller, or Invocator of Divels, or damned Spirites’ and died impoverished.

John Dee books in the Maddison Collection

Maddison Collection and it’s not Boyle! What a shock!

Most other alchemists did not suffer quite so dramatic a reversal of fortunes, but the legality of alchemy was dubious and throughout history it was often concealed in coded language or symbolic imagery. Renaissance legal scholar, Sir Edward Coke, wrote on its illegal status in The Third Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England (1644), citing the 1404 Act Against Multiplication, which forbade ‘multiplication […] That is, to change other metals into very Gold or Silver’ (Institutes, p.74). Robert Boyle campaigned to overturn this law and it was repealed in 1689.

As the eighteenth century wore on and the scientific method took hold, alchemy became increasingly discredited and chemists, wanting to distance themselves from alchemists, succeeded in separating the disciplines.The decline of alchemy in Europe was in conjunction with the rise of modern science, which placed a high significance on quantitative experimentation and which regarded the “ancient wisdom” so highly prized in alchemy as redundant and useless.

Starting with gold? I thought we were trying to make it! This is alchemy for the 1%.

Starting with gold? I thought we were trying to make it! This is alchemy for the 1%.

Did alchemy work? Mostly not, but it was the forerunner to modern chemistry. Advancements in technology have now made some alchemical feats possible. For instance, it is now possible to turn lead into gold. It takes a chemist who knows what he is doing and a lot of time, energy and money, but changing lead to gold has been done. The method of doing so is nothing like what is recommended in the various alchemy books within the collection but the once scoffed at dream is now a possibility.

The Alchemist may treat its subject matter as a joke and its practitioners as charlatans but the tangible contribution of alchemy to scientific knowledge should not be undersold. As  Sherwood Taylor notes, ‘the hopeless pursuit of the practical transmutation of metals was responsible for almost the whole of the development of chemical technique before the middle of the seventeenth century, and further led to the discovery of many important materials.’ (x, F. Sherwood Taylor) They may not have attained everlasting life or succeeded in transmuting lead to gold, but the alchemists did pave the way for their successors to develop modern scientific theory.

Tune in for the next blog post where we will be investigating the man behind the Maddison collection, R. E. W. Maddison!

 

Further reading

On Alchemy

John Read, Prelude to Chemistry (London: G. Bell and Sons Ltd., 1939) [Maddison 23B1]

J. S. Thompson, The Lure and Romance of Alchemy (London: George G. Harrap & Company Ltd., 1932) [Maddison 24A14]

Sherwood Taylor,The Alchemists: Founders of Modern Chemistry (London: William Heinemann Ltd, 1951) [Maddison 24A7]

Arthur Edward Waite, The Secret Tradition of Alchemy (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1926) [Maddison 24B20]

On John Dee

Charlotte Fell Smith, John Dee (1527-1608) (London: Constable, 1909) [Maddison 13C8]

Peter J. French, John Dee: The World of an Elizabethan Magus (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972) [Maddison 13C7]

Past exhibition at the Royal College of Physicians, 2016: ‘Scholar, Courtier, Magician: the lost library of John Dee’

On The Alchemist

Ben Jonson, The workes of Beniamin Jonson (London: W. Stansby, 1616) [Q C 616.JON]

Previously in Philip and Janee’s blog posts:

The honourable Robert Boyle; or, reaching Boyle-ing point? 

Introduction; or, how do you solve a problem like the Maddison Collection?