The History of the Rotary Club of Peking
by Hermann G. Heid
Last updated: 24-10-1998
I am grateful to all of you affording me this opportunity to discuss a topic which has fascinated me for some 3 years now: the history of the RC Peking. The old Shanghai and Peking Rotary Clubs were closely intertwined; as a matter of fact all Chinese Clubs were closely knitted together.
What we have experienced in Beijing you are about to experience here and therefore I am glad to share with you what we in Beijing have learnt over time. Hopefully, this evening will give all of us some new insights. The RC Peking counted great men among its membership and I am continuing my research so that one day I may have enough material to write a book on the Men of the Tiffin Club.
It all began on January 18th 1923 when fifteen Americans and one Chinese met in the popular Wagon-Lits Hotel in Peking and subsequently appealed to the Secretary of the RC Chicago – who had been a charter member of the RC Shanghai – for help and advice on procedures how to obtain a Charter from RI. About the same time, and unaware of the meeting in Peking, Julean Arnold, himself a member of the RC Shanghai, was guest speaker at the Chicago Club. Arnold’s speech led to a discussion with Lester Struthers, Asst. General Secretary of RI, on the extension of Rotary into Peking and Rotary’s policies towards China.
Shortly after Arnold’s meetings in Chicago the Peking letter, detailing the January 18th meeting in Peking, arrived.
This letter and Arnold’s visit prompted the Secretariat to contact the RC Shanghai requesting nomination of a Shanghai Rotarian as Special Representative for the organising of the Rotary Club in Peking”. But the RC of Shanghai was primarily a white man’s club. Therefore, Jim Davidson of the Extension Committee was afraid that Shanghai would again build a club dominated by missionaries and “not bring together the many brilliant young Chinese holding important positions in China.” He favoured the appointment of Julean Arnold, of whom he knew that he would build a primarily “Chinese” Club. In June 1923 the Secretary of RC Shanghai, Dr. Julian Petit, wrote to the Secretary General, Ches Perry, questioning both the appointment of Arnold and the idea of setting up a RC in Peking altogether. This letter, of which I have a copy, was quite negative – one may say nasty – and it upset Julean Arnold quite a bit when he learnt about it later.
(2) Arnold had come to China at the age of 26, worked at various US Consulates and was a field representative of the American Red Cross. He was Chairman of the American Delegation at the crucial China Tariff Revision Commission, authored and co-authored several books and ultimately lectured at Berkeley University. On June 18th 1923 Julean Arnold assembled five men to discuss the requirements of RI and to bring 25 Charter Members together. Twenty-five potential charter members, of which twelve were Chinese, met for lunch in Arnold’s home on July 11th during which the project, obligations and essential features of a Rotary Club were explained. All candidates were asked to confirm their desire to become Charter members and to obligate themselves to Rotary.
(3) The temporary name THE THURSDAY TIFFIN CLUB was chosen and
(4) a photo taken. The first meeting of The Thursday Tiffin Club took place on Thursday, July 27th 1923, and Julean Arnold was elected President. The Extension documents for the RC Peking were quickly dispatched to Evanston in which Peking is described as a city with a population of 950,000 of which 947,000 were natives.
(5) The Extension Committee found two major irregularities and the Application is rejected! The irregularities are:
1. The proposed RC Peking based its Constitution and By-Laws on those of the RC Shanghai. But the RI Los Angeles Convention had compelled all new clubs to adopt the Constitution and By-Laws as revised at Los Angeles and
2. amongst the charter members five men had the same classification and five others used an identical business address.
Several months later, in March 1924, while en-route to Canton, Julean Arnold informed Perry that he had lost his former enthusiasm for Rotary. He was disappointed that the charter had not yet been granted and he had meanwhile learnt of the negative letter that Dr. Petit had written in opposition to the RC Peking.
In April The Tiffin Club disbanded but immediately selected new members for a second Charter attempt.
(6) All preparations were completed by July when Admiral Tsai Ting Kan, President of a newly organized club, sent the second charter application to the Secretary General. Tsai, like many other members of the RC Peking, was a remarkable man: Navy Commander, personal Secretary of the country’s President, Admiral, Top Military Advisor, China’s Delegate at several international conferences, head of the Tax and Customs Bureaus, MC at the Last Emperor’s wedding, Foreign Minister, Prime Minister, Professor, Author. While doing all this he was husband to three wives (two of whom died), one concubine and he had time to father one boy and eleven girls!
(7) Finally, on September 2nd 1924, Julean Arnold received the long awaited telegram from Ches Perry reading: PEKING CLUB ELECTED MEMBER ROTARY INTERNATIONAL AUGUST 30TH HEARTY CONGRATULATIONS
(8) Little is known of the Club’s Community work but there was correspondence with RI on Flood relief. And on Christmas Eve 1924 the club organized a Dinner for 200 of the very poorest boys of Peking. Many of whom had to be clothed first as otherwise they could not have ventured outside due to the extreme cold.
By 1928 the Club had grown to 47 members and published “The Peking Rotarian”. Following the re-naming of the capital RI approved a name change to RC Peiking in July 1929. The Club ceased to function on December 8th 1941 when invading Japanese forces ransacked and took over the meeting venue. Most files and possessions were stolen, confiscated or otherwise lost.
(9) The club was informally revived on August 30, 1945 (Date!) but times were bad! Many members could not afford the lunch and it was therefore decided to meet only once a month. The hotel permitted financially strapped members to bring their own lunch boxes.
Dr. Chengting T. Wang, charter member of RC Peking, had meanwhile become Rotary’s “Administrative Advisor for China” and upon his urging re- chartering efforts gained momentum. RI re-admitted the RC Peiping one year later on August 14th 1946 and Dr. C.T. Wang eventually became Rotary’s first District Governor. The Club now met fortnightly – once again – at the Wagon- Lits Hotel.
(10) Dr. Wang’s classification was ‘Parliamentarian’. This grossly understates the role he played in shaping China’s destiny in the first half of this Century! Educated at Yale, he served as Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s government chief negotiator at the Versailles Peace Conference. He was speaker of the Canton and Peking senates, member of China’s delegation at the Washington Conference, head of the China-Japan Conference for the return of Qingdao, repeatedly Foreign and Prime Minister and, late in his career, Ambassador to the United States. After his wife passed away he moved to Hong Kong where he married the daughter of Sir Shouson Chow (Chou Ch’ang-ling) and became Chairman of the Pacific Insurance Co. Both he and his father-in-law were members of the RC Hong Kong.
Of the 58 members at the end of RY 1946/47 twenty-eight were Chinese. Germans, Italians and Japanese were not admitted pending signing of Peace Treaties with these countries.
Civil order and the financial situation deteriorated rapidly. Membership fees and fines could no longer cover running expenses and a paper shortage prevented inter-club correspondence and the printing of members’ rosters. On October 1st 1949 Chairman Mao proclaimed The Peoples’ Republic of China. In July 1950 RI approved – again – a name change. This time to “Rotary Club of Peking”.
The Club closed 1949-50 with 41 members. Records indicate that the RC Peking was practically the only international organisation still remaining in Peking. Though no meeting had been cancelled uncertainties accelerated rapidly. By early 1950 only two Clubs in Northern China remained functional but late 1950 RI invalidated the Charters of most Chinese Rotary Clubs because they could no longer operate.
(11) Rotary Club Hong Kong reported that President T.E. Shaw and Hon. Secretary A.C. Hausske of the RC Peking were notable guest-Rotarians at their June 12th, 1951 meeting. They were on their way back to the USA and “the Rotary Club of Peking virtually goes with them”. On the eve of their departure from Peking the Chinese members held a special meeting to consider disbanding the club. The authorities had taken over all major facilities and it had become impossible to find meeting venues. T.E. Shaw reported that there had been no outside request to close the club, which could have gone ahead so far as he knew. But on June 26th 1951 RI declared the charter of the RC Peking null and void.
In November 1951 RI confirmed to hold a credit for the Rotary Club Peking “and nothing would thrill Rotary more when, one day, Rotary would return to Peking when this money would be waiting as a credit for that club.” Well, a group of Rotarians are poised to claim it!
(12) After 1951 China went through many painful years of turmoil and self- imposed isolation. But since 1978 China has opened up and gone through remarkable changes. The visitor of the 1950’s would not recognize the China of today!
When I arrived in Beijing in 1995 I had remained member of the RC Hong Kong. I was fully aware that many Clubs and Districts from around the world had undertaken countless projects in China and Rotary International had spent Millions for the construction of a Polio vaccine manufacturing plant in Kunming. Yet, Rotary had not been invited to return to China. Over the years many well-meaning, yet unauthorized, attempts have been made to re-establish clubs in the Mainland. All such efforts failed. Rotary wants to be invited and have assurances that clubs may function according to our constitution and by-laws. China on the other hand does not know how to deal with NGOs. One major obstacle is that Chinese citizens are not permitted to become members of foreign organizations. But what was I to do? I wanted to practice Rotary in China and I did not want to hear “no” from either side! There being no law prohibiting like-minded people to meet for weekly luncheons I gathered eight friends for a meeting nearly forty-five years to the day after the termination of the RC Peking. We have met weekly ever since that June 1996 and our group has grown to well over 40 dedicated Rotarians. About ninety percent are members of the Rotary Club of Hong Kong.
(13) Through the introduction of the RC Perth we located and invited PP Percy Chu of the former RC Shanghai to Beijing were we honoured him with a splendid 100th birthday party. RCs Perth and Hong Kong presented Percy PHFs and we arranged for Percy to appear on the popular TV program “Sons of the Orient” which has over 600 Million viewers.
(14) The community projects meanwhile undertaken by our group are too many to name. Whenever calls for assistance from within Rotary came the Rotarians in Beijing stood ready to help.
(15) When China was struck by devastating floods in 1998 we showed once again true Rotary spirit! We joined District 3450 to construct “Rotary International Village” for about six hundred people who had lost their homes. Our member Rtn Arthur Mattli co-composed and recorded music for piano and the Chinese pipa for a CD entitled “Village in the Floods”.
(16) Then RI President Luis Giay was pleased to see how much Rotary had flourished in Beijing when he and other Rotary dignitaries attended a meeting in May 1997.
(17) At our 100th meeting in June 1998 Rtn Bob Wilson presented us the original bell of the old Peking Club which he had discovered in an attic sale in Hong Kong. Within the community and various government Ministries we are meanwhile recognized and accepted as a trustworthy non-entity.
(18) While Rotary International remains cautious towards China several Rotary Clubs are seeking dialogue with us. The recently signed Friendship Agreement with the Rotary Club of Copenhagen and numerous joint projects meanwhile undertaken with other clubs may serve as examples.
We hope that the efforts in Beijing will soon bear fruit and that it will not be too long before the once thriving Rotary Club of Peking, which would celebrate its 75th Anniversary on August 30th this year, be re-chartered!