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Mrs Li gets MBE

South Asian dance pioneer Bisakha Sarker joins Chinese orchestra founder in New Year Honours list

Written by . Published on December 30th 2013.

Mrs Li gets MBE

A CHINESE cultural champion born in old Canton is listed in 2013's New Year’s Honours for her long service to the Chinese community in Liverpool.

Mei Xia Li, known as Mrs Li to generations of Chinese children, has been awarded an MBE.

Mrs Li arrived in England in 1983 from her home in Guangzhou City with her husband Liao Gui Xiong and two daughters. Her husband had been appointed Chinese Cultural Officer of the then newly opened Chinese Pagoda community centre in Liverpool.

The couple quickly became known as ‘Mr and Mrs Chinatown’ for the community cohesion they generated in what is Europe’s oldest Chinatown.

Mr And Mrs Li In 1983Mr And Mrs Li in 1983They established the Chinese Youth Orchestra which has performed all over the world.

Sadly Mr Li died earlier this year. The orchestra, however, continues to be run by Mrs Li, approaching 70, and her daughter Liao Zilan.

Today Liao Zilan told Liverpool Confidential: “Our mother is very proud and excited as well as very surprised by this great honour. She is so grateful to her students who nominated her and the first she was aware was when an official letter arrived. It has also come as a great comfort to our mother following the recent loss of our father.”

As well as taking over the running of the orchestra, Mrs Li continues to teach Tai Chi at the Pagoda, with 100 students attending her weekly classes.

With her daughters Mrs Li is also striving to keep open the Pagoda, which like many community facilities has seen funding withdrawn because of cutbacks in public spending.

The Pagoda of One Hundred Harmony (its official name) was opened by the Prince of Wales in 1982. He was accompanied on the day by his then wife, the late Princess Diana, who at the time was pregnant with her son Prince William.

Wouldn’t it be great for continuity if our mother received her award from Prince William,” said Zilan.

In the official British Government citation announcing the award of the MBE it states Mrs Li moved to Liverpool in 1983 and helped her husband establish the Pagoda Chinese Community Centre which reaches out to the community and provides the opportunity to connect with a vast array of Chinese crafts and customs.

(Click here to add text)
She teaches many Chinese crafts and skills from infancy to adulthood. Thanks to her teachings, hundreds, if not thousands, of Anglo-Chinese residents have developed knowledge and awareness of their cultural heritage as well as traditional skills.

Through her unique talents she has managed to strengthen bonds between Liverpool and China, fostering an environment for equality and greater understanding of other cultures. Although based in Liverpool, she has visited schools and community clubs in Birmingham, London, Cardiff and the Eden Centre, often at her own expense. She has even led the Pagoda Arts centre to a Blue Peter performance, which undoubtedly educated the youth throughout the UK regarding Chinese culture.

Her outreach program extends beyond UK borders, including to Canada and China itself. She is also heavily involved with young people not in education or employment.”

Her late husband, known to all as ‘Mr Li’, real name Liao Gui Xiong,  was a classically trained multi-instrumentalist who built the orchestra into one of the largest of its kind in Europe. 

He died in his late 70s after losing a battle against leukaemia, and his funeral was attended by leaders of the city, including the Mayor Anderson and Lord Mayor Cllr Gary Millar.

Mr and Mrs Li took their wonderful orchestra to great venues such as the Royal Albert Hall in London as well as to the World Expo in Shanghai.

The couple were adored and cherished as much by orchestra members as the parents of his ensemble musicians.  More than 600 Chinese children living in the UK were taught to play traditional Chinese instruments by the couple.

Liao Zilan, Mrs Li’s daughter, is herself a former member who went on to become a renowned virtuoso harpist.  She currently helps her mother in the running of the orchestra.

Dancing queen

Bisakha Sarker tells her mates the good newsBisakha Sarker tells her mates the good news

An MBE also goes to BISAKHA SARKER, 69, for services to South Asian Dance in Merseyside.

She came to the UK in the 1970s and belongs to a pioneering generation who helped to establish Indian dance as a part of British culture, often in the face of indifference and ignorance. 

In Liverpool generations of schoolchildren have experienced her dance classes and workshops. In 1984 she was appointed as one of the first dance animateurs for Merseyside, where she worked tirelessly to link her work in South Asian dance to audiences across the diverse cultures of the North West of England. 

In 2002 she founded Chaturangan, a Liverpool company engaged in creative activities to raise the profile of South Asian dance. She has led Chaturangan in delivering innovative community and educational arts projects, creating culturally diverse cross arts productions for touring, producing resources for promotion of South Asian dance and organising international conferences on the issues of dance and health. 

Recently she has contributed significantly to raising the profile of older dancers and those with dementia.

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AnonymousDecember 31st 2013.

These awards are well deserved. Both ladies have quietly and without fuss contributed to the wonderful diversity and cultures we enjoy in Liverpool.

AnonymousDecember 31st 2013.

Nowt for old Doddy despite the great charity work he has done for many decades. I wonder why that is? If it is because he little scrap with the revenue many years ago that would be dreadful, given he was cleared and left court without a stain on his character. Maybe the 'establishment' are so unforgiving or peeved. If that is so shows what they think of the values of British justice. Give Doddy a gong soon, he's not getting any younger.

Amos NonymousJanuary 11th 2014.

Given the news that David Cameron's hairdresser, who incidentally charges our poverty stricken PM £90 a trim, is to receive a gong, it would be more than fitting that our illustrious Mayor, who is as equally as poverty stricken as the PM, should pursue the claims of his French Polisher.

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