Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Merlene Toh Emerson’

Commemorating the Chinese Labour Corps

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 13th September, 2016

chinese-labour-corps-1As Britons this year have been remembering the fallen of the Battle of the Somme 100 years ago, scant mention has been made of the largest group of foreign labourers who helped dig the trenches, unload ships and trains and make roads: the Chinese Labour Corps. About 96,000 predominantly rural workers from China volunteered to help the British in the war effort, enduring a grueling journey by ship from Shanghai, then six days in a sealed train across Canada before another ocean voyage, eventually reaching England and being transferred to France. Once in the war zone they worked ten hours a day, seven days a week, with only a three day annual holiday entitlement, and they were looked down on as “coolies” by many of the fighting men. But their loyalty and bravery were exemplary and many who survived stayed on until 1920, to carry out the distressing task of digging up human remains and reburying them under the neat rows of headstones in war cemeteries. across Flanders. Those cemeteries have become places of pilgrimage and remembrance, especially in this centenary year, and in Britain there are 40,000 memorials of one kind or another to the fallen of the First World War. Yet there is no memorial as yet to the Chinese Labour Corps, even though an estimated 20,000 perished. That includes over 500 who died when a German submarine sank the French ship Athos, bringing labourers to the battlegrounds, after which China declared war on Germany in August 1917. However, a project, spearheaded by Steve Lau, Chairman of the Ensuring We Remember Campaign, is now underway to ensure that the members of the Chinese Labour Corps get just recognition with a memorial to be erected somewhere in London. Last night I attended a fundraising dinner in Chinatown, along with Merlene Toh Emerson of Chinese Liberal Democrats and a number of other politicians, including DCLG Minister Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth and London Assembly member Shaun Bailey. Further details and an opportunity to donate can be found at

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Chinese Liberal Democrats

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 8th December, 2010

Last night I attended the AGM of Chinese Liberal Democrats in Camden Town Hall, hosted by Hampstead Councillor Linda Chung. The group has been active in fund-raising, as well as organising excellent events at LibDem Conferences, but it is also increasingly addressing political issues of relevance to Britain’s Chinese community. That community is itself quite diverse, including not only people whose origins are from different regions of mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, as well as Overseas Chinese, but different professional and student categories too. Nikki Lee, from London Citizens, was the guest speaker at the AGM; I have been involved with her group in the ‘Strangers into Citizens’ campaign, urging the regularisation of many people working in the catering industry in particular. She especially highlighted issues relating to gambling — including consequent domestic violence — and concerns over the burgeoning numbers of betting shops, particularly in the London borough of Westminister, around Chinatown. I also suggested at the meeting that perhaps we ought to look into the effects of European legislation regarding alternative and complementary medicines, some of whose Chinese practitioners are undoubtedly worthwhile even if others might be bogus. At the meeting, Merlene Toh Emerson was re-elected as Chair.

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China Image Film Awards

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 10th October, 2010

Sunday 10.10.10 was an auspicious date for the closing ceremony of the 2nd China Image Film Festival at BAFTA, which was a gala occasion with a black-tie dinner before a screening of Han Sanping and Huang Jianxin’s modern historical epic ‘The Founding of a Republic’. In between were the awards for the week and I was honoured to be invited to present the one for Best Film, which was won by ‘The Floating Shadow’ by Jia Dongshuo. I was interviewed by Xinhua TV (in English) before going on stage, though I did give the first part of my speech in my now rather rusty Mandarin. Gratifyingly, I understood a great deal of the dialogue in ‘The Founding of a Republic’, without having to sneak too many peeks at the subtitles. I often used to go to the cinema when I was a student in Hong Kong, though as I pointed out in my speech, this was during the Cultural Revolution, when there was a very limited diet of films from mainland China. One I remember vividly was ‘The Red Detachment of Women’ (there was a ballet of the same name) by Jin Xie. There were very few politically tolerated themes in those days, the anti-Japanese War, the Civil War and stories of noble peasants being among them. Forty years on, the Chinese movie industry has really blossomed and Chinese cinema has now taken its place among world cinema. ‘The Founding of a Republic’ makes no real criticism of Chairman Mao, but it does give a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of KMT President Chiang Kai-Shek and even more so of his son and heir, Chiang Ching-Kuo. Altogether a very nice evening, at which it was nice to meet up with Merlene Toh Emerson, Chair of Chinese Liberal Democrats, again.

(Photo: JF with Merlene Toh Emerson and friend)

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Singapore 2009

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 25th April, 2009

jf-with-merlene-emersonMerlene Toh Emerson, LibDem PPC for Hammersmith, and I joined in the festivities with about 15,000 Singaporeans and friends in the park at Hampton Court this afternoon, at a Singapore 2009 event — one of several taking place around the world. The mood was good, not least because the weather was better than forecast and all of the delicious varieties of food were free! The Singapore government, which doesn’t like to lose track of its citizens when they move abroad, certainly put out the red carpet for everyone, with singing and comedy acts and even a Deputy Prime Minister flown to London for the occasion, plus a goodie bag which included a handy mat for sitting on the grass.

We were there to point out to Singaporean, Malaysian and other Commonwealth citizens resident in the UK that they have the right to vote n the European elections here on 4 June, as long as they are registered (closing date for registration 19 May).


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A Brief Encounter on Waterloo Bridge

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 23rd April, 2008

Bleary-eyed and somewhat jet-lagged, I joined a pack of Southwark and Camden councillors, Simon Hughes, Chris Rennard and other LibDem worthies early yesterday morning, for a photo-shoot with Brian Paddick on the central reservation of Waterloo Bridge, as we all pretended to be a cross-river tram. The TV crews and phoographers loved it, even if the commuters struggling past us looked distinctly bemused. It made a change from delivering leaflets, anyway.

At the other end of the day, I was at the Gallery in Foyle’s bookshop for the launch of Andrew Hosken’s unauthorised biography of Ken Livingstone (Arcadia, £15.99), described by the Evening Standard in the following terms: ‘No book is more eagerly awaited in all campaign camps’. How many people will have the chance to read it before polling day next Thursday is another matter, but I shall be reviewing it. Hosken’s earlier book was about that other extraordinary London political figure, Dame Shirley Porter. Labour gliterati were out in force at the Foyle’s launch, but so too Merlene Toh Emerson, who is flying the LibDem flag in London West Central in the GLA elections. 

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