Born in Kingston, Jamaica, on November 22 1908, Samuel Chinque (Chen Tian Sheng) was taken by his father to China following the death of his mother in 1916. At the age of 18, he became a merchant seaman and then came to communism through his involvement in the struggle to improve his seafarers’ pay and conditions. His Jamaican birth entitled him to British citizenship and he was to base himself in Liverpool as a representative of the Chinese Seamen’s Union. He worked closely with those British seafarers willing to support the campaign for equal pay for Chinese sailors and this led him to the British Communist Party, which he joined in 1935 and was a member of for almost 30 years.
In 1937, Chinque threw himself into agitating for British support of China after Japan invaded. The Liverpool consul of the western-recognised Kuomintang Government put pressure on him to stop such work but this only served to push Chinque even further towards working for China’s revolutionary path.
With Britain’s entry into the war, he joined Liverpool’s fire brigade and served as an auxiliary firefighter. He became a FBU activist and engaged in intensive study of English editions of classic Marxist texts. With the end of the war in 1945, prominent Chinese revolutionary leaders suggested he move to London, which would serve as a window into continental western Europe, to establish the Kung Ho Chinese Mutual Aid Association.
He was one of the first to open premises in what was to become London’s Chinatown when, in 1947, he was invited to head the first overseas branch anywhere of Xinhua, the news agency of the People’s Republic of China. After the declaration of the founding of the Peoples’ Republic in 1949, the west would not recognise it. In effect, Chinque was the Republic’s London ambassador in all but name.
But the absence of diplomatic niceties gave him extraordinary licence; for example, in 1950, his office was part-sponsor of London’s May Day demonstration. The extent to which he continued this approach became all too evident as China’s political leadership increasingly set itself against the prevailing trends in most of the Communist Parties in the world, including in Britain. This came to a head in 1963, when Chinque was formally expelled from the British Party but he simply joined the Chinese Communist Party in response.
He remained in place at the the London news agency branch until 1975, a couple of years past the British convention for retirement age. Even then, he merely moved to semi-retired status, not fully stepping down until he was 74 in 1982 when he finally ceased the supervision of the London office of Xinhua. He died in London on November 27th 2004 at the age of 96.
Sources: Guardian 17 December 2004