Hsiao Ch'ien


Hsiao Ch'ien was born into a sinicized Mongolian family in Beijing, China, in 1910. His father died before his birth and his mother died when he was seven. In 1931, he enrolled at Furen University where he and a young American named William Allen founded the English magazine China in Brief. In 1933, he entered the Faculty of English at Yenching University but switched to the Faculty of Journalism later that year before graduating in 1936.

In 1939, just before the Second World War broke out, he travelled to England to teach Chinese at the School of Oriental and African Studies and serve as a foreign correspondent for Takung Pao. After the outbreak of war, he also served as a war correspondent. SOAS relocated to Cambridge during the Second World War so, after spending one night in London, Hsiao Ch'ien went to Cambridge. He was classified as an 'enemy alien' by the Home Office but this changed after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the Chinese became members of the grand alliance.

The BBC chose Hsiao Ch'ien to report back to China about the European war and the war effort of the English. Around this time, he became good friends with Mulk Raj Anand and supported the Indian call for independence. He voiced his support for the Indian cause in his weekly BBC broadcast but the censors deleted it before it went on air. Later George Orwell, who was head of the BBC's Far Eastern Division, invited him to do several special broadcasts to the Indians and Americans, but strictly on the subject of literature.

SOAS moved back to London in July 1940 and Ch'ien took up residence in a house that catered especially to Asians; he shared the ground floor flat with a Tamil named Rajarantu, who later became the first deputy premier and foreign minister of Singapore. In wartime London, Hsiao Ch'ien socialized with Bloomsbury Group affiliates like Bertrand Russell, Leonard Woolf and E. M. Forster, with whom he became close friends. According to his autobiography, he first met Forster at the PEN Club memorial meeting for Rabindranath Tagore held on 9 May 1941. However, according to India Office files, this meeting was hosted by Krishna Menon and the India League. The speakers were Edward Thompson, Hewlett Johnson (Dean of Canterbury), Nagendranath Gangulee (Tagore's nephew), Beatrix Lehmann (actress), Bhicoo Batlivala, Helen Kirkpatrick (Chicago Daily Tribune) and M. Maisky (Soviet ambassador). Other attendees included Mulk Raj Anand, Tahmankar, Sunder Kabadia, Krishnarao Shelvankar, Alagu Subramanian, Iqbal Singh, Sasadhar Sinha and Asha Bhattacharya led the singing of Tagore's songs.

In June 1944, Hsiao Ch'ien became a journalist for Dagongbao and set up an office in Fleet Street, London. Soon afterwards he was sent to France and other parts of Western Europe as a war correspondent; he covered the meeting of the United Nations in San Francisco, and attended the Potsdam Conference in July 1945.

Hsiao Ch'ien returned to Shanghai in 1946 and took up writing. He was considered right-wing by the Chinese government and banished to the countryside but later received redress. He died in 1999 in Beijing.

Published works: 

Etching of a Tormented Age: A Glimpse of Contemporary Chinese Literature (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1942)

China but not Cathay (London: The Pilot Press, 1942)

'China's Literary Revolution', in E. M. Forster, Ritchie Calder, Cedric Dover, Hsiao Ch'ien and others, Talking to India: A Selection of English Language Broadcasts to India, ed. and with an introduction by George Orwell (London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1943), pp. 27-34

The Dragon Breads versus The Blueprints: (Meditations on Post-War Culture) (London: The Pilot Press, 1944)

A Harp with a Thousand Strings: A Chinese Anthology (London: Pilot Press, 1944)

The Spinners of Silk (London: Allen & Unwin, 1944)

British Graphic Arts (Shanghai: Zung Kwang Publishing Co., 1947)

(as Qian Xiao) How the Tillers Won Back Their Land (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1951)

(as Qian Xiao) Chestnuts and Other Stories (Beijing: Chinese Literature, 1984)

(as Qian Xiao) Semolina and Others (Hong Kong: Joint Publishing Co., 1984)

Traveller without a Map, translated by Jeffrey C. Kinkley (London: Hutchinson, 1990)

(as Qian Xiao) 'Letters from Cambridge'

(as Qian Xiao) 'Symphony of Contradictions'

(as Qian Xiao) 'Bloody September'

(as Qian Xiao) 'Three Days in London'

(as Qian Xiao) 'London under Silver Kites'

Date of birth: 
27 Jan 1910

Mulk Raj Anand (friend), Bhicoo BatlivalaZ. A. Bokhari, E. M. Forster (friend), Margery Fry (stayed at Fry's cottage in Aylesbury), John Lehmann (PEN Club), George Orwell (BBC), Bertrand Russell (attended tea parties with Russell), Stephen Spender (PEN Club), M. J. Tambimuttu, H. G. Wells (PEN Club), Leonard Woolf (met at Monk's House).

Contributions to periodicals: 

New Statesman and Nation (1939)

Daylight: Volume I: European Arts and Letters Yesterday: Today: Tomorrow ('The New China Turns to Ibsen', 1941, pp. 167-74)

Life and Letters Today, 81, May 1944, pp. 102-10, 110-19 ('Epidemic' and 'The Galloping Legs', published under the title 'Two Chinese Stories')


O. M. Green, International Affairs Review Supplement 19.11, 1943 (China But not Cathay)

Mulk Raj Anand, Life and Letters Today 43.86, 1944, pp. 52, 54 (The Spinners of Silk)


Secondary works: 

Chen, Theodore Hsi En, Thought Reform of the Chinese Intellectuals (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1960)

Gittings, John, 'The Scholar Who Went Back Home', obituary, Guardian (18 February 1999)

Hsia, Chih-Tsing and Wang, David D., A History of Modern Chinese Fiction (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1999)

Involved in events: 

China Campaign Committee, organized by Victor Gollancz, Kingsley Martin, Margery Fry, Harold Laski (the society lobbied on behalf of China's resistance against Japan in the war)

City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Current name city of birth: 
Other names: 

Qian Xiao

Xiao Bingqian

Date of death: 
11 Feb 1999
Location of death: 
Date of 1st arrival in Britain: 
01 Jan 1939
Precise 1st arrival date unknown: 
Dates of time spent in Britain: 



Milton Village, Cambridge

School of Oriental and African Studies, Christ College, Cambridge

King's College, London

First World War (1914-1918)

28 Jun 1914
End date: 
11 Nov 1918
Event location: 



Although the trigger for the First World War was seen as the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914, Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914. As Britain and France waged war against Germany in Europe and in Africa, Britain called upon help from her Imperial troops. Indian soldiers in the Indian Army arrived in Europe from September 1914. The first of these Indian troops arrived in Marseilles on 26 September 1914. They came from the Lahore and Meerut Divisions and the Secunderbad Cavalry. In October, Indians were fed into some of the fiercest fighting at Ypres. In March 1915, Indian troops provided half the attacking force at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, which was the costliest in terms of lives.

By 1918, India had sent over 1 million soldiers to fight in the War, not including Imperial Service Troops from the Princely States, Sailors and Indian Labour Corps. 138, 608 Indian soldiers (two infantry divisions, two cavalry divisions and four field artillery brigades) saw action on the Western Front. Here, 7700 Indians died, 16,400 were wounded and 840 went missing or were taken prisoner. Of the twelve Victoria Crosses awarded to Indians after the War, six were for those who had fought on the Western Front. The main memorial to the Indian Army on the Western Front was that designed by Sir Herbert Baker, and opened in 1927 at Neuve Chapelle.

Wounded Indians who had fought in France were sent to Britain to recover. In Brighton, the Royal Pavilion was transformed into a military hospital for Indian soldiers. During their time spent recuperating, Indians were visited by the King and the Royal Family. Tours were also organized for them to visit London and see the sights. The religious needs of the soldiers was taken into account, with nine kitchens erected to cater for the various dietary regulations of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims and areas were cordoned off for worship. Various other buildings were also converted into nursing homes for these soldiers. Two memorials exist in Brighton to commemorate the Indian soldiers who came through during the War - the Chattri on the South Downs and the Pavilion Gateway (unveiled by Bhupinder Singh in 1921).

People involved: 

Sikh Soldiers including those who were awarded Victoria Crosses: Mir Dast, Gobind Singh, Khudadad Khan, Darwin Sing Negi, Gobar Sing Negi and Kulbir Thapa.

Fighter pilots including Indra Lal Roy and H. S. Malik.

Indian Princes including Bhupinder Singh, the Maharaja of Patiala.

Published works: 

Bibikova, Massia, Our Indians at Marseilles (London: 1915) 

India and the War, with an introduction by Lord Sydenham of Combe (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1915) 

Mereweather, Lt-Colonel J. W. B. and Smith, Sir Frederick, The Indian Corps in France (London: John Murray, 1917)


Journal of the National Indian Association

Asiatic Review, including articles by Abdullah Yusuf Ali and D. N. Singh, July 1914 - January 1915.

Secondary works: 

Collins, Joyce, Dr Brighton’s Indian Patients. December 1914 - January 1916 (Brighton: Brighton Books, 1997) 

Das, Santanu, Touch and Intimacy in First World War Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005)

Ellinwood, D. C. and Pradhan, S. D., India and World War One (New Delhi: Manohar, 1978)

Greenhut, Jeffrey, ‘The Imperial Reserve: The Indian Corps on the Western Front, 1914-15’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History XII. 1 (Oct. 1983)

Omissi, David, 'Europe Through Indian Eyes: Indian Soldiers Encounter England and France, 1914-1918', The English Historical Review 122.496 (2007)

Omissi, David, 'India and the Western Front' on the BBC website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwone/india_wwone_01.shtml

Omissi, David, Indian Voices of the Great War: Soldiers Letters 1914-1918 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2007) 

Omissi, David, The Sepoy and the Raj: The Indian army, 1860-1940 (London: Macmillan, 1994)

Patiala & the Great War: A Brief History of the Services of the Premier Punjab State (London: Medici Society, 1923)

Visram, Rozina, Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History (London: Pluto Press, 2002)

Visram, Rozina, 'The First World War and Indian Soldiers', Indo-British Review XVI (June 1989), pp. 17-26.

Archive source: 

Archives, Imperial War Museum, London

India Office Records, L/MIL series, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras 

India Office Manuscripts, Mss Eur F143 series, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Lady Wasteneys collection, 'Indians in Kitchener's Hospital, Brighton', Mss Brit Emp s.22 (G370), Rhodes House Archives, Oxford


Tags for Making Britain: 

Meary James Tambimuttu


A Sri Lankan Tamil from an affluent English-speaking Roman Catholic family, M. J. Tambimuttu arrived in Britain at the age of 22. Having already published three volumes of poetry in Ceylon, he soon immersed himself in the literary world of London’s Soho and Fitzrovia. Within little more than a year of his arrival he had founded the magazine Poetry London (1939–51) with the writer and musician Anthony Dickins. While Dickins' involvement quickly diminished, Tambimuttu edited the first fourteen volumes of the magazine and a number of books, as well as writing his own poetry. In July 1943, with the backing of publishers Nicholson and Watson (on the recommendation of T. S. Eliot who was an admirer of his), he established Editions Poetry London, which published contemporary verse and prose, as well as art books, in hard cover. Tambimuttu was also a regular participant in the BBC radio series Talking to India during the Second World War. A man of charisma as well as a talented editor, he had an array of friends and acquaintances with whom he enjoyed the pubs and cafes of Fitzrovia.

Tambimuttu returned to Sri Lanka in 1949 then moved to New York in 1952 where he launched the magazine Poetry London–New York (1956–60) as well as continuing to publish short fiction and poetry of his own, and lecturing at the Poetry Center and New York University. In 1968 he returned to London where he founded a final magazine, Poetry London/Apple Magazine, which had just two issues, and a publishing company, the Lyrebird Press. He died of heart failure in London in 1983.

Published works: 

Songs of Youth (1932)

Tone Patterns (Colombo: Slave Island Printing Works, 1936)

Out of this War (London: The Fortune Press, 1941)

(ed.) Poetry in Wartime (London: Faber, 1942)

Natarajah: A Poem for Mr T. S. Eliot (London: Editions Poetry London, 1948)

(ed.) India Love Poems (New York: Peter Pauper Press, 1954)

(ed.) Poems from Bangla Desh: The Voice of a New Nation (London: The Lyrebird Press, 1972)

See also editions of Poetry London and Williams (below) for work by Tambimuttu.


Tambimuttu, M. J., ‘Fitzrovia’, Harpers & Queen (February 1975), pp. 223, 225, 229–30, 232

Date of birth: 
15 Aug 1915

Tambimuttu recounts his arrival in London in 1938, and immersion in the bohemian literary world of ‘Fitzrovia’ and Soho.


Ahmed Ali, Mulk Raj Anand, W. H. Auden, George Barker, Z. A. Bokhari, Hsiao Ch'ienVenu Chitale, Alex Comfort, Ananda Coomaraswamy (his uncle), Walter de la Mare, G. V. Desani, Indira Devi, Anthony Dickins, Keith Douglas, Cedric Dover, Lawrence Durrell, T. S. Eliot, William Empson, Gavin Ewart, E. M. Forster, G. S. Fraser, Lucian Freud, Diana Gardner, David Gascoyne, Michael Hamburger, Barbara Hepworth, Augustus John, Fredoon Kabraji, Alun Lewis, Wyndham Lewis, Louis MacNeice, Richard March, Una Marson, Narayana Menon, Henry Miller, Henry Moore, Anais Nin, George Orwell, Mervyn Peake, Paul Potts, Kathleen Raine, Balachandra Rajan, Herbert Read, Keidrych Rhys, Francis Scarfe, Elizabeth Smart, Edith Sitwell, Stevie Smith, Stephen Spender, Marie Stopes, Alagu Subramaniam, Graham Sutherland, Dylan Thomas.

Contributions to periodicals: 

On the third day after my arrival in London in January 1938…I had already discovered Fitzrovia, and settled down at 45 Howland Street, maybe in the same house where Verlaine and Rimbaud had once conducted their stormy love affair…


The first friendships in a new environment have a special quality and meaning and it was at Peter’s party that I first ran across Anthony Dickins, Gavin Ewart, Stephen Spender and Laurence Clark, whose poems I have consistently printed in Poetry London although he was too J. C. Squire-ish and Georgian for most editors...


By the end of February 1939, when the first number of Poetry London had been in the bookstalls for a month, with the special souvenir cover drawn by Hector Whistler, nephew of James McNeill Whistler, who came to our chiefly Sibelius musicals at 3 or 4 a.m. in the morning with a steaming pot of hot coffee in his hand…our humble dwelling in Whitfield Street had been visited by many celebrities of today. We had a pre-publication visit from Larry Durrell and his brother Gerald…


And thus it was that I became a true Fitzrovian like my friends Augustus John, Roy Campbell, Gavin Maxwell, Elizabeth Smart and Kathleen Raine, all of whom used to visit Fitzrovia with me. But I had it in my soul a very long time ago.

Secondary works: 

Beckett, Chris, ‘Tambimuttu and the Poetry London Papers at the British Library: Reputation and Evidence’, Electronic British Library Journal (2009): http://www.bl.uk/eblj/2009articles/article9.html

Maclaren-Ross, J., Memoirs of the Forties (London: Alan Ross Ltd, 1965)

Poologasingham, P., Poet Tambimuttu: A Profile (Colombo: P. Tambimuttu, 1993)

Ranasinha, Ruvani, South Asian Writers in Twentieth-Century Britain: Culture in Translation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007)

Williams, Jane (ed.), Tambimuttu: Bridge Between Two Worlds (London: Peter Owen, 1989)


Tambimuttu’s descriptions of meetings and friendships with a range of well known literary figures, such as Gavin Ewart, Stephen Spender, Anais Nin and William Empson, highlight the extent of his immersion in London’s literary life and suggest an acceptance of him on the part of his British friends and associates – and perhaps also a willingness to adapt to a different culture on the part of Tambimuttu. Passing, indirect allusions to his racial difference or ‘foreignness’ are either humorous or, when he retrospectively describes himself as ‘the pioneer’ of the ‘eternal migration and intermingling of cultures’ (perhaps with some exaggeration), almost boastful; and, rather than a sense of cultural dislocation on migration, there is reference to the continuity of his life in ‘bohemian’ London with his early years in Ceylon.

Archive source: 

Meary James Tambimuttu Mss, Add. MS 88907, British Library, St Pancras

Keith Douglas Mss, Add. Mss 53773-53776, 56355-56360, 60585-60586, 61938-61939, British Library, St Pancras

Richard March Mss, Add.  MS 88908, British Library, St Pancras

Reginald Moore Mss, British Library, St Pancras

Northwestern University, Chicago

Poetry London-New York records, Columbia University, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, New York

Contributors' Talks File 1 (1941-62), BBC Written Archives Centre, Caversham Park, Reading 

City of birth: 
Atchuvely, Jaffna Peninsula
Country of birth: 
Current name country of birth: 
Sri Lanka
Other names: 

Thurairajah Tambimuttu



45 Howland Street
London, W1T 4BL
United Kingdom
51° 31' 17.4756" N, 0° 8' 15.0792" W
Date of death: 
22 Jun 1983
Location of death: 
Date of 1st arrival in Britain: 
01 Jan 1938
Precise 1st arrival date unknown: 
Dates of time spent in Britain: 

1938–49, 1968–83

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