At this event in Leeds Central Library we invited members of the public to come and see how we’ve been creating online stories to share the history of Leeds’ Chinese community. Visitors were able to explore a range of archive materials and Chinese language books held by Leeds Libraries, alongside objects from Leeds Museums and Galleries. We then asked them to share their own histories and experiences of what it's like to be Chinese and live in Leeds.
Leeds Central Library holds a number of historical items which allude to Chinese residents and Chinese culture in the City, for instance in the historic playbills which can be viewed at http://www.leodis.net/playbills/.
In response to this, staff and pupils at Leeds Chinese Community School have been exploring Leeds’ historic archive before creating digital stories on the Yarn platform which integrate these artefacts with their own stories, memories, images and film.
Participants were able to view the Yarn stories and 'Leeds is My Home' film at our workshop. One, who volunteers as a teacher at Leeds Chinese Community School, was glad to see that our film reflected the way in which Leeds' Chinese community has changed over the years, with Chinese residents working in a diverse range of professions as well as those traditionally associated with earlier waves of migrants to the UK.
Glimpses of Chinese businesses can also been seen in historic photographs housed on Leodis (www.leodis.net) where the website's users are able to add to the archive by leaving comments and memories. For instance, on the page which features the image above, Patricia Smith notes
"The first Chinese Restaurant to open in Leeds was Man Fangs in Cross Belgrave Street. I believe it opened in 1958/9. I definitely remember going there for a 15th birthday treat with my Father, Arthur Moss who was a regular customer, in January 1960."
On the same page Graham Daniels recalls several former Chinese restaurants and comments:
"I visited them all in the late 60's as part of my job. I designed and set the type for the menus whilst working as a compositor at Norman Lewis printers. I was always treated to a meal whenever I visited, very good food, very genourous people."
We can also find records of Chinese residents in the Census but, on the whole, the Chinese community is very underrepresented and authentic Chinese voices are missing from the records. As one of the activities at our workshop, we asked participants to add locations which are important for the Chinese community to a map of Leeds.
At our digital storytelling workshop, we were fortunate to be able to present a number of handling objects contained within this beautiful Chinese handling box owned by Temple Newsam House, Leeds. The box was created as part of the 2008 China in Yorkshire festival, during which museums and galleries across Yorkshire worked with their local Chinese communities to showcase their Chinese collections and highlight Chinese cultural activities throughout the county. We used the box and its contents as a starting point for thinking about cultural fusions in the lives of participants and in society more generally.
Artist Suna Xie, who created the box itself, was inspired by the way in which hand-painted wallpaper at Temple Newsome House brought together Chinese, British and American influences. Accordingly, the box is decorated with a montage of imagery from both British and Chinese culture.
More information about the box and its contents is available on the My Learning website at http://www.mylearning.org/a-chinese-handling-box-for-temple-newsam-house-leeds/p-816/
These are some of the items contained within the box. Some, such as the baby carrier and the rice packet were created by members of Leeds Chinese Women's Group. We're particularly interested in the role these types of objects play in lives of the City's Chinese residents today.
For instance, one family arrived at the workshop with their smallest member in a modern, soft-structured baby carrier. We discussed the pros and cons of the traditional baby carrier on display (simple to make and more portable but perhaps less comfortable than modern padded designs) and changing British attitudes to 'baby-wearing' (i.e. carring in a sling or close carrier).
Many of the items in the Chinese handling box have associations with Chinese New Year, which takes place in February. Leeds Chinese Community Association organises the City's festivities in the Town Hall which includes dance, music, calligraphy, Kung Fu and more!
Our younger visitors enjoyed colouring pictures of dragons, an important emblem in New Year festivities.
This mother and son told us about their life in the UK and how they stay in touch with family members in China:
"I talk to my family in Shanghai and Yangzhou every Sunday morning on Facetime. I like being able to talk to my Grandad, Grandma and my Dad. When I visited my Grandad, Grandma and my Dad in China it was hot and when it is raining it is heavy." (M, age 6).
M's Mum told us:
"My Father was the first generation of my family who has emigrated from Hong Kong to Leeds in 1963, aged 17. He worked in one of the earlier Chinese restaurants called 'Jumbo Chinese Restaurant' which is no longer present. I am the second generation still living in Leeds and my son is now the third generation. I studied at the Leeds Chinese Community School as a child; I have volunteered at the same school as a Teacher's Assistant in the past for 2.5 years; now I volunteer as a Committee Member at the school. My son has started attending the school last year when he turned 5 years old, learning Mandarin. I studied Cantonese as this was the only language option available in the past years."
Another visitor mentioned the benefits of modern technology, which meant it was easier for UK residents to access Chinese language media and resources. He told us:
"before satellite TV and internet it was difficult to watch Chinese TV and film. My Dad used to rent video tapes so that he could watch films."
Modernisation doesn't always mean improvement, however and several participants mentioned that they felt Leed's Chinese community lacked cohesion and a sense of shared identity when compared to other Northern cities such as Manchester and Liverpool. This man, a second-generation Chinese-British resident, went on to say:
"My Dad's takeaway was closed on Sundays and the community used to get together. It feels like everyone knew each other back then".
We asked how easy or difficult it was to celebrate Chinese culture and heritage whilst living in the city. One visitor remarked that it was difficult, since she'd like to cook Chinese food from scratch everyday but can't always get hold of the right ingredients. She added, however, that it was good to be able to buy some Chinese ingredients in UK supermarkets.
At Leeds Central Library it's possible to access an array of Chinese language books for both young and adult readers. However, if you'd like to learn more about Chinese literature in translation you may also be interested to learn about the 'Writing Chinese' book club and events held at the University of Leeds (https://writingchinese.leeds.ac.uk/).