Tuesday, 5 December 2017

An Open Letter to the Director General of the BBC, Sir Lenny Henry, Mr Shane Allen, and Ms Alex Moody - 'Chinese Burn'

To Tony Hall, Baron Hall of Birkenhead, Director General of the British Broadcasting Corporation; Sir Lenny Henry; Mr Shane Allen; Ms Alex Moody

Dear Baron Hall, Sir Lenny, Mr Allen, and Ms Moody

Chinese Burn (BBC3): A Complaint

A Hong Kong Chinese, a Taiwanese Chinese, and a Crazy Rich Asian enter a pub. The landlord looks at them and says, ‘What’s the joke?’

As this was how I felt after watching ‘Chinese Burn’, I am writing to complain about the non-inclusion of British Chinese (whether mixed-race or not) voices, and the marketing and aftermath of this show. I believe that if these issues had been handled, ‘Chinese Burn’ could have made for a more enjoyable comedy experience for all. ‘Chinese Burn’ is not a British sitcom and it lacks that British Chinese voice, and as a result, it does not and cannot fully reflect Chinese life in Britain. That is why it cannot and will not shatter stereotypes about the Chinese/East Asians in Britain and elsewhere, but instead create more of them. I feel very strongly about this, and that is why I am complaining.

The typical British-raised Chinese woman will not use ‘Asian’ to refer to ‘East Asian’. Although she might act, she will never encourage her bestie to play any prostitute, or use ‘fuck’ to describe her family (she’ll complain, but use words that are wittier). Most importantly, the kinder, more nuanced views of non-Chinese people that the British-born Chinese have when compared to eg American, Canadian, or Australian Chinese are lacking. As a result, although the show was about Westernised Chinese, I could tell that these were ethnic Chinese characters who had not had a British childhood and youth, but who had moved to the UK from abroad.

The reaction from abroad has been to the strong language and stereotypes in the show, but from my British-born Chinese perspective, these are really, really, really tame and acceptable because this is a comedy and not real life. For me, what was troubling and puzzling was that this sitcom went against originality and British sitcoms. After it became clear that the racism, sexism, and stereotyping against East Asian men came from the two main characters, for example, the main characters did not become the butt of jokes that pilloried them for this. Instead, tired, oft-repeated stereotypes about non-Chinese people and Chinese/East Asian males replaced witty observations of life, and the misuse of slapstick and physical comedy left a main character stripped of dignity until the end – a state which a British sitcom never leaves an underdog in.

If I, someone with no professional background in British comedy, can see this, why couldn’t the professionals? Did someone not read the script or watch rehearsals, and suggest alternatives? Did someone not suggest that a single British Chinese voice be brought in to collaborate with the immigrant voices? If Gok Wan and Alexa Chung were not available, what about Jo Ho and Ming Ho, who are two BBC scriptwriters? If new voices were needed, what about Bubzbeauty, Rebecca Boey and Chris Chan? Did the show’s creators, who are not British, get the appropriate support they needed to create the best show they could? Most importantly, is this the standard that non-white creators are up against, and is this the sort of content that the BBC is after - that non-white creators have to create characters that throw each other under a bus to be acceptable?

This show implies that the characters are underdogs simply because they are Chinese. It also implies that the Chinese experience is a foreign one, when in fact, it can also be British – Chinese food in Britain is different from Chinese food in China and Asia for a reason. It also implies that there is a serious disconnect between the BBC and those outside the BBC. As the most glaring example, how I am treated and viewed in real life is not mirrored in how 'Chinese Burn' treats and views its Chinese characters, and for 'Chinese Burn' to get the green light in the first place, its previewers must have had certain preconceptions about Chinese people in Britain that the people I am with do not have.

By leaving out the British Chinese voice, this show reinforces the perception that ‘the British Chinese are not real Britons’. This is a hypocritical stance to take when so many have declared that the BBC has and is to be more diverse. It is also hypocritical to see current British comedy shows pussyfooting around very real societal problems because of the fear of political correctness and how ‘certain groups of people might react’, but then see ‘Chinese Burn’ given that privilege to insult and mock a group of people for being that group of people and not for eg their bad actions and behaviour, and then for that group of people to be ignored when they voice their very real concerns about this.

‘Diversity’ is not just about skin colour, but also about voices. Skin colour should never be used as the only benchmark for diversity, ever.

In writing this complaint, I hope that public promises about ‘diversity in British programming’ do not result in the erosion of what ‘British programming’ is in terms of quality and content, and I also hope that this ‘diversity’ initiative is not a box-ticking exercise to say, ‘well, we’ve brought the [insert novelty group here], we’ve ticked the box, now let the audience decide’, and then not support the creators of new content adequately. I wonder if BBC Three is doing the right thing in not making a statement of any sort to reassure licence-fee payers that their money is not being spent to mock them, and in not making a statement to assist the creators of the show, to say that certain decisions lay with them and not the creators. Equally, I hope that this will not be used as a stick to beat BBC Three with, especially as British programming needs all the channels it can get to compete in output.

Ultimately, I think BBC Three and all who call for increased diversity in the British media must put their money where their mouths are; I honestly believe that BBC Three should have tried harder and given more support to the creators of the show before, during and after the airing of ‘Chinese Burn’.

Had I known what this show was really about, I confess that I would not have watched it, but having said that, my eyeballs and my mind haven’t been scarred for life, so that’s all right. Would I watch more episodes? I would, but only if the British Chinese involvement is there, and only if proper support is given to the creators.

Yours sincerely
Beanie Lei

Monday, 4 December 2017

My Translation of 'The Ballad of Mulan' into English

Disney's just announced that the Chinese actress Liu Yifei is to be cast as the warrior woman Mulan. I've been working on a translation of the original ballad which kicked it all off. It was written between AD420-589, and was set between AD386-536, when Northern China was ruled by the Xianbei people, whose Emperor was known as a 'Khan' or 'Son of Heaven', and whose culture revolved around horses. 

Some traditions elaborate on the ballad, giving details such as Mulan's surname (in some stories, she is surnamed Zhu, but in most stories, her surname is Hua), but this version gives the barest of details. The change in tenses was quite tricky, but I am pleased with what I have now. I did it for fun; enjoy!

木兰诗The Ballad of Mulan

唧唧复唧唧 木兰当户织
Tut-tutting, tut-tutting, tut-tutting;
Across the door, Mulan was weaving
不闻机杼(zhù) 唯闻女叹息
Though they could not hear her loom
Her family heard her sigh with gloom
问女何所思 问女何所忆
They asked what she was thinking
Or what she was recalling
女亦无所思 女亦无所忆
She said her thoughts were dull
And her recollections, null
昨夜见军帖(tiě) 可汗大点兵
But she'd seen an army notice last night
The Khan was calling men to fight
军书十二卷 卷卷有爷名
The Khan’s army had twelve scrolls
Her father’s name was on them all
阿爷无大儿 木兰无长兄
Her father had no eldest son
No older brother had Mulan
愿为市鞍马 从此替爷征
She decided to ride into town
And take her father’s place on the battleground

东市买骏马 西市买鞍鞯
East of town, she bought a steed
West of town, saddle and lead
南市买辔(pèi) 北市买长鞭
South of town, reins and a bridle
North of town, a whip for survival

旦辞爷娘去 暮宿黄河边
She said goodbye to her parents at the break of morning
And camped by the Yellow River in the evening
不闻爷娘唤女声 但闻黄河流水鸣溅溅(jiān)
She didn’t hear her parents calling for her
But instead heard the roaring of the Yellow River
旦辞黄河去 暮至黑山头
She left the Yellow River at the break of morning
And reached the Black Mountains in the evening
不闻爷娘唤女声 但闻燕山胡骑()鸣啾啾 jiūjiū
She didn’t hear her parents calling for her
But heard instead the foreign horsemen of Yanshan chatter

万里赴戎机 关山度若飞
She charged ten thousand li towards the battlegrounds
Crossing mountains so quickly, it was as if she had flown
朔气传金柝(tuò) 寒光照铁衣
The chilly northern winds led her towards the army timekeepers’ sounds
And on soldiers’ iron gowns, the coldest wintry moonlight shone

将军百战死 壮士十年归
Hundreds of generals and soldiers died in the fighting
And ten years passed before the warriors could return
归来见天子 天子坐明堂
When they arrived home, they and the Son of Heaven had a meeting
In a splendid throne room sat The Son of Heaven
策勋十二转(zhuǎn) 赏赐百千强
He used bamboo scrolls to record twelve promotions
And gifts and rewards worth hundreds of thousands
可汗问所欲 木兰不用尚书郎
The Khan asked everyone what were their needs
But Mulan had no use for officialdom
愿驰千里足 送儿还故乡
All she asked was for some swift steeds
To take her back to her old home

爷娘闻女来 出郭相扶将
Her parents heard of her return
And led the city out to greet her
阿姊()闻妹来 当户理红妆
Her elder sister heard of her younger sister’s return
And styled her hair and put on rouge and makeup at the doorway
小弟闻姊来 磨刀霍霍向猪羊
Her younger brother heard of his older sister’s return
And his knives whirred as he sharpened them, his pigs and sheep to slay

开我东阁门 坐我西阁床
I open my east-bedroom door
And sit on my west-bedroom bed
脱我战时袍 著我旧时裳(chang
I take off my robes of war
And put on my old dress instead
当窗理云鬓 对镜帖花黄
In front of my window, my hair like a cloud is done up
In front of my mirror, I put on yellow-flower makeup
出门见火伴 火伴皆惊忙
Outside, I face my army mates
And leave them in a whirl

同行十二年 不知木兰是女郎
We’ve known each other for twelve years to date
But they never guessed Mulan’s a girl!
雄兔脚扑朔 雌兔眼迷离
A male rabbit’s forelegs wriggle
And a female rabbit’s eyes wiggle
双兔傍地走 安能辨我是雄雌
But when two rabbits run, how can I tell
Which one’s male, or female?

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

An open letter to BBC3, Yennis Cheung, Yuyu Rao, and Shinfei Chen - 'Chinese Burn'

Dear BBC3, Yennis, Yuyu, and Shinfei

You don't know me and I don't know you, but I've just seen 'Chinese Burn' on BBC3 and I felt like writing. It's wonderful to see a sitcom on British telly (ok, it's an internet channel) written by and starring three ethnic Chinese leads, and I mean it when I say 'congratulations!' to you all for taking this great leap forward. I actually see your pilot episode as a beginning of sorts, and for that reason, I would like to make some suggestions for improvement.

1. make future episodes about characters, not stereotypes. So far, all the characters, even the poor Chinese and English blokes who were showcased, are stereotypes. Contrary to what a lot of people think, the best British comedy (like 'Blackadder', 'Fawlty Towers', 'Are You Being Served' and 'Jeeves and Wooster') involves characters, not stereotypes.

2. 'Chinese Burn' is about the immigrant experience. This is not the fault of the three writers, but BBC3, come on, you know better than to say that the British Chinese experience is solely an immigrant experience, or to imply this. What you've done has made me actually shift towards Gok Wan and even Basil Fawlty and the Vicar of Dibley than the three lovely ladies of  'Chinese Burn', even though Gok Wan is a gay, male designer, Basil Fawlty is a weird white man, and the Vicar of Dibley is a white woman who has since slimmed down. I think that says a lot. Change your marketing, BBC3.

3. The interactions between the girls with male characters of every race is pathetic at best and not realistic at worst. The Chinese men are mocked for having small penises, but the white men are feckless and/or loutish. I think if the girls cannot get on with any men for whatever reason, there is a storyline to be explored in making them lesbians.

4. The interactions between the Chinese and non-Chinese characters veer into cliche; I hope this sort of behaviour is confined to London, because it is not true to life where I live.

5.The show needs better male characters of every race, and even better representation of the Chinese experience in Britain by acknowledging that Eurasians, British-born and raised Chinese, and nice, worldly white people exist, especially if future episodes are to be marketed as a truthful representation of the Chinese experience in Britain. If this angle is to be taken, then future characters, and more importantly, writers and reviewers, must include Chinese from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and SEA, but also (quasi-)bananas from Britain, British Eurasians (let's call a spade a spade, why don't we), and British-born and raised Chinese. For this reason, I would suggest collaborating with young performers and writers like Rebecca Boey (@becboey), scriptwriter of the webseries 'Jade Dragon' (hers is more a Eurasian viewpoint than British Chinese), Gok Wan (his viewpoint is more British Chinese than Eurasian), Alexa Chung (she has style), and Chris Chan (@chrischanUK) (you need more young, male, British Chinese writers, and he's a start; I'm sure there are others).

6. the characters are weird and ethnic Chinese, and they admit that they have weird parents who are ethnic Chinese. Them having weird parents who are ethnic Chinese does not mean that all Chinese parents are weird. Based on how one-dimensional the characters are so far, in order to avoid future misunderstanding, I would suggest that the characters' catchphrase 'fuck Chinese parents' should be changed to 'fuck my parents' or 'fuck Jackie's/Elizabeth's parents'.

Anyhoo, break a leg, keep writing, keep thinking about what it is you're doing, and why you're doing it. Yes, most of 'Chinese Burn' is funny, and I wish I could say 'Well done!', but as it is, it does not and cannot represent someone like me, and it should be marketed differently. If I thought it was complete crap, I would have kept quiet about 'Chinese Burn' or said 'Fuck this, it's fucking shite!' (relax, it's not, so people, you should watch it, because it is funny and it's making history!!!!), but I obviously care enough to spend an evening on this blog post, and I hope you will make of it what you will.

Best wishes
B x

Monday, 13 November 2017

Did a cat get my tongue? No, my thoughts did.

There is freedom of speech, and there is freedom of criticism, and I am learning that these are powerful, but must be wielded responsibly. It isn't easy, but I hope I will get there.

I admit that I got angry when I watched the excellent Channel 4 documentary 'Britain's Forgotten Army', which was part of the Remembrance Weekend to remember the dead of both World Wars, because it was horrifying to learn that the men of the Chinese Labour Corps were not only omitted from official histories and school history books and the like, but that there were also questions of how they were recruited (spoiler: shockingly), how they were treated (spoiler: appallingly), and how China was treated in the aftermath of the First World War. It was horrible to realise just how deeply racism was institutionalised not just in Britain, but in France and the US, and until that documentary, I truly had scales on my eyes where institutionalised racism was concerned.

I have lived with white British people for a very long time. White doctors and nurses helped and continue to help my parents. I went to school and played with white people. I work with white people, and socialise with them. My family lived with white people for generations. White people are even part of my family. So, I will not and cannot accept that all or even most white people, especially in Britain, are racists and/or smug, paternalistic, condescending, colonialist gits and bastards.

But I just could not understand why the Chinese Labour Corps and China were treated so badly, and in the heat of the moment, I tweeted and tweeted. I woke up the next day to replies.

And then I realised that I had to be tactful. I was upset, but so were others; we have all been told lies and omissions. Making each other even more upset was not going to solve anything. So I decided to cool down, think about what I wanted to say and why, and I realised that it would be better if I emailed.

I know that we are living in the age of openness, but with openness there should still be consideration of how someone else is feeling, and that it does no-one any good to upset others. It is not political correctness, or self-censorship, but how I was brought up. Confucius said, 'Don't do to others what you don't want others to do to you', and I think Jesus said something similar: 'Do unto others as you would have them do onto you', and on that basis, I have restrained myself from putting down all my thoughts on my blog.

Anyway, I have responded. Fingers crossed something will come of it. Oh, and if you have the chance, catch 'Britain's Forgotten Army'. It's that good.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Bonfire Night

It's the Fifth of November and a Sunday today, and that can only mean one thing: it's Bonfire Night!

Back in 1605, there was a plot by a group of British Roman Catholics to blow up the Protestant British Government of the day, and one of them, Guy Fawkes, was caught in the bowels of Westminster with barrels of gunpowder and a fuse. He ended up being hung, drawn, and quartered, and since then, depending on one's family background in the UK, the Fifth of November has either been comemmorated with bonfires, fireworks, effigies called 'the Guy', and bangers and mash (which is another name for 'sausages and mashed potato', especially on Bonfire Night), or nothing. 

 'Bonfire Night' is still quite the festival where I am: an annual public display of fireworks culminating with huge bonfires is the norm. Four years ago, I blogged about not seeing the Guy that was something I associated with this time of the year, and it has stayed this way. I now wonder whether Halloween and trick or treating has replaced the 'penny for the Guy' and the Guy's subsequent burning at a bonfire. Who knows?

My Chinese New Years are relatively silent as a licence must be sought for fireworks displays in February or January in the UK, so for me, Bonfire Night has become my annual night of fireworks. I find myself drawn more and more to the bonfire. Watching it bursting into life before fading into embers feels like a cleansing ritual of sorts, in the sense that the fire consumes everything in its path, and does away with shapes and forms. Nothing is permanent, and there is energy, colour, light, and beauty in change, and although I am surrounded by man-made electric lights and surroundings for the rest of the year, this one night reminds me of nature's power and of those things that still have not been explained by science, like why mashed potato tastes odd when it is made with whipped cream instead of butter and milk, and why I am still unable to take a decent photograph of fireworks despite having the best digital cameras at my disposal. Looks like I will just have to find more opportunities to take photos of fireworks!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Some Random Thoughts on Ebook Covers and Designs

I realise that I have ignored my social media sites for a while since I released 'Five-Penny Rhymes', but the truth is that things at home and at work have been really hectic, so today, I took some time out and updated my Google+, Instagram and with some new pictures, and I am chuffed to bits.

This is what my book covers now look like on my social media sites:

The biggest change I have made is to the cover of  'The Prophecy', my Norse myth/Chinese myth mashup. The original cover looked like this:

It was generated using the Kindle KDP Book Cover Generator, which I thought was a new compulsory thing for Kindle books before realising as I did 'Five-Penny Rhymes' that this was not the case.

I have been working on 'The Vision', my first purely Norse-myth related novel (more on this later), recently, and realised that no matter what, I had to put more thought into the cover of 'The Prophecy', so that I could design for a series and for 'The Prophecy' to be a book that had the option to stand alone and not be part of the series, or to be part of the series. I had always had an idea of what I wanted the cover to look like, and having discovered these things called 'stock photos', I put a few together, adjusted them, drew and added some bits and bobs, and voila, I had a new cover which I feel is more appropriate to the book, and which I am really pleased with because of its look:

This cover also works much better in photo collages, as having the title in the centre of the cover (as opposed to the bottom, like a textbook) means that I can fit it into any part of a picture, and the title will still be visible. Designing the covers myself without using a template or a wizard is so much easier as I can play around with fonts and create my own templates for future books. The only problem is finding the time to do this, but I think I can save on time if I plan what my covers will look like beforehand on paper, and then follow my plans.

It has been so enjoyable to be writing and designing and drawing, and then seeing the results on Amazon. Yes, there were lots of blimps and mistakes along the way, and it was sheer bloody hard work, but it was so much fun to be actually learning all these new skills such as designing and laying out an ebook, and just seeing my three book covers together in a collage is more than enough for me. I want to do more, and this is just the beginning!

Monday, 2 October 2017

Introducing 'Five-Penny Rhymes', my first short collection of poems!

Here's the new cover for my first short collection of poems, 'Five-Penny Rhymes'; hope you like it! You can pre-order 'Five-Penny Rhymes' from Amazon Kindle soon, and it will be released on Amazon Kindle only on 18 October, which is very exciting!

The race-related US protests in Charlottesville and online, and Munroe Bergdorf and the hysterical reaction to her words, affected me more deeply than I imagined, because there was so much hate and anger swirling around what was actually a great, balmy summer where the weather was more pleasant than it had been for a while. I honestly felt that what I was reading did not reflect my reality. Ethnically, I am Chinese, and very visibly so, but culturally, I am a mix of British and Chinese and more; I know who I am, and I have never had any confusion over my identity, or yearned to be anything else apart from me. Reading 'Go Set a Watchman' by Harper Lee further convinced me that as a British-born Chinese woman in Britain, I have a duty to the people of all hues and backgrounds who I grew up with, and who I continue to live with, to use the English language to tell of other ways of life. Britain has had bad press recently, much of which I do not think it deserves, and I am trying to help in my own little way.

I firmly believe that North American and US literature and US-influenced voices like Munroe Bergdorf's must not define non-US countries, especially Britain and British society. Although the US Constitution is based on English law, and the English language is the main and official language of the US, Americans are not Brits (there is too much to go into here), and I do think that everyday normal individuals in the UK treat each other better. The US is unofficially segregated by race and gender, but this is not the case in Britain, and I hope it remains that way.

Although inequalities do exist in British society (and I cover some of these in 'Five-Penny Rhymes'), I see others as individuals, and 'an individual' is how I am seen. Individuals who are male and not Chinese do not see me as a 'race' or 'the sum of femaleness', and I certainly do not see them as 'a race' or 'maleness'. Although institutional racism and sexism do exist, I have been lucky enough not to have been mentally scarred by these, although it might be that my avoidance of racist institutions in general has helped.

Mentioning my background in my writing previously made me uncomfortable because I see issues as 'me' but not as 'a Chinese' or 'a Brit' or 'a British-born Chinese' or even a 'woman', and this has carried through in 'Five-Penny Rhymes', but nevertheless, I think readers need to have some context to 'Five-Penny Rhymes', to know why I wrote it.

Readers, you should read 'Five-Penny Rhymes' and buy it because you like the rhymes or because you think it's GREAT :-), and please don't read it or buy it because you're curious about its author or even worse, being pro-whatever race!!

Here's the description on Amazon:

I tackle bits and bobs about growing up in modern Britain head-on in rhymes, each one a short story. There isn't much about pain, humour, or romance, I'm afraid, but in this, my amazing (if I may say so myself, as I have managed to write twenty rhymes) first collection of poems, this experiment which started out as a challenge to myself has resulted in some seriousness, a few whinges, and lots of rhyming couplets.

Look out for the release on 18th October!