Interesting story — but don’t get carried away!

Just some reflections on last night’s Who Do You Think You Are? on SBS. It was an interesting episode, concerning television journalist Jennifer Byrne.

The TV show’s film crew follow her as she visits England to discover a series of royal connections – before ultimately finding out that her 12 times great-grandfather was Sir Edward Neville, a courtier in King Henry VIII’s court.

She then follows her mother’s bloodline back even further and incredibly discovers that her 15 times great-grandmother was the granddaughter of King Edward III – officially making her a royal.

Well, don’t get too carried away!  They went down quite a few female lines to reach Edward III — and, after all, “Mathematical models imply that virtually every English person is a descendant of the Norman and Plantagenêt kings, including those who ruled 500 years after Alfred the Great.”  So Edward was back before the 15th great-grandparents of Jennifer Byrne. So one out of… a sizeable village or town!

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I mean no disrespect here. And it was worth seeing the Nevilles’ modest castle, not to mention learning about the intriguing Katherine Swynford.

The program turned to the Chinese background of Jennifer Byrne’s father, whose father was interned by the Japanese in Shanghai’s Lunghua Camp, made famous in J G Ballard’s novel and the movie Empire of the Sun, one of my favourites. Ballard was interned there as a child. Here is Christian Bale as Jim in the movie:

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I was surprised that the program did not mention that connection; it even appears that it didn’t occur to Jennifer Byrne, which surprises me rather. Sadly, Byrne’s paternal grandfather died soon after being interned.

From the South China Morning Post — ‘Empire of the Sun’ internment camp forgotten in Shanghai.

Former internee Betty Barr entered the Lunghwa camp in 1943 at the age of 10 with her Scottish missionary father, American mother and older brother.

Her most vivid memories are blistering summers, freezing winters, and an obsession with food.

“I was old enough to know what was happening. I didn’t think it was a picnic,” said Barr, 80, during a return visit.

She still guiltily recalls taking a sip of milk produced by the camp’s only cow from a mug she was taking to her brother in the hospital.

“My father rose to be the manager of the kitchen, though he could not boil an egg, because he could be trusted not to steal vegetables,” she said.

Betty Barr appeared in last night’s episode.

Concerning Jennifer Byrne’s paternal grandfather the program makers produced an embarrassing historical clanger. The old man was rewarded for his sterling efforts during the Revolution of 1911. Here is Shanghai during that revolution:

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The Chinese historians interviewed in the program didn’t make the clanger, nor did Jennifer Byrne — though I was again surprised by her apparent lack of knowledge about this key event in 20th century Chinese history. No, it was whoever produced what we saw because they seemed to confuse the 1911 revolution, which saw the end of the Manchu Qing Dynasty, with the 1949 beginning of the People’s Republic of China! Still, what’s 38 years!

Happens I have had a longtime interest in the subject: My Asian Century. But even if all you had to go on was the movie The Last Emperor — which I think Jennifer Byrne probably saw — you’d have some idea of the significance of 1911-1912 in China! Who Do You Think You Are should be more careful about its history!

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