Chinese Industrial Cooperatives and the visit of SACU, Scotland-China Association (SCA) and Meridian Society members to the Beijing Bailie University 2013
Walter Fung has been SACU's editor of China Eye for ten years. He accompanied the SACU tour to China 11-27 September 2013 and describes the links with the Co-operative movement.
Co-operatives in China actually date back to the 1900s and were an important element in famine relief in some rural areas during the 1920s. However they became more much more widespread with the formation of the Industrial Cooperative Movement (Indusco), which was set up under the leadership of a number of foreigners and Chinese patriots during the late 1930s. The American journalist Edgar Snow (author of Red Star over China) claims that the idea to form industrial cooperatives to help China make up the lost production in areas occupied by the Japanese was the idea of his wife, Helen Snow.
The New Zealander, Rewi Alley became a leading light in the movement which became known as Gung Ho (工合, Gong He in Mandarin), which translates as' work together' or 'work in harmony.' They organised laid-off workers and refugees displaced by the Japanese invasion of China into numerous small manufacturing cooperative units. Much of Chinese industry was lost because it was in the north-east and coastal areas of China under Japanese occupation.
To seek international support and to promote the movement, Madam Sun Yatsen (the widow of China's Founding father, Dr Sun Yatsen), initiated the founding of the International Committee for Chinese Cooperatives, (ICCIC) in 1938. Madam Chiang Kaishek, Eleanor Roosevelt and other prominent figures also gave their support. It had the support of both the Nationalist government and the Communists. The Chinese Industrial Cooperative movement (CIC) then became known as the International Committee for the promotion of Chinese Industrial Cooperatives (ICCIC).
A number of new cooperatives were then soon set up at Baoji (Shaanxi), the terminal of the railway to the east of China. Within a two-month period, 40 cooperatives had been established producing foodstuffs, blankets, towels, shoes and medical dressings. By December 1941 there were 1,737 societies spread over 18 provinces.
When Shanghai was freed from Japanese control the headquarters of ICCIC was moved to there. Alter the 1949 Revolution, ICCIC continued until 1952 when their activities became suspended. However Rewi Alley remained in China and after the 1978 reforms and opening up of China to the outside world, he and some Chinese colleagues began to campaign to have the cooperatives resurrected. They were successful in this and in 1983 the ICCIC was renewed, with Rewi Alley as the first Chairman.
Rewi Alley and the ICCIC in 1942 set up schools for Chinese orphans to educate them and also to prepare them for work in the cooperatives. These schools were called Bailie Schools after a friend of Rewi Alley, Joseph Bailie, a American missionary who pioneered the concept of integrating theory and practice ('hand and brain') in education in China.
In 2010, the ICCIC became a member of the International Cooperative Alliance. The ICCIC at present, 2014, has about 150 individual members in China, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Canada, Japan, the US and Hong Kong SAR.
The vision of the ICCIC is to build a harmonious society by promoting the development of cooperative enterprises as a tool for narrowing the gap between rich and poor and establishing social and economic fairness for all. The ICCIC helps the development of cooperative organisations by promoting legislation and policies which enable cooperatives to thrive. It works with government leaders for cooperatives to follow a route which best suites China's needs and educates and trains cooperative personnel. Support is given to research which makes cooperatives more effective in China.
Exchange and cooperation with other cooperatives including foreign cooperatives is encouraged. An overall objective is to improve China's social welfare by eliminating poverty, creating equal opportunities for men and women, protecting the environment and helping in post-disaster relief.
The current Chairperson of the ICCIC is Martin Crook who has recently joined SACU and SACU has become a corporate member of ICCIC.
The Beijing Bailie University was founded in May 1983. It was one of the first non-governmental institutions of higher education officially approved by the Beijing Municipal People's Government. It is in the Haidian District in north-western Beijing and has about 7,000 students. Rewi Alley was an honorary president of the university and he hoped that the traditional spirit of 'hands and mind' of the Shandan Bailie School would be maintained. Since its establishment, over 20,000 students have graduated with various technical skills.
The SACU/SCA Group visited the Bailie University in north-west Beijing. A an account of the meeting has already been given in the last issue of China Eye, No 40, but some further details are presented here.
There were some very distinguished and interesting people present amongst out hosts at the Bailie University. They included one of the four adopted sons of George Hogg, Wan Bi, the widow of Israel Epstein and Isabel Crook who is now 98 years old. She is the mother of our main host, Michael Crook, and the widow of David Crook. David Crook was a friend of China who spent many years in this country teaching English language and writing numerous articles on China providing positive aspects of the country.
Isabel was also a teacher of English and despite her age has just published a book (2013), 'Prosperity's Predicament' recording identity, reform and resistance in wartime China. She with her husband published their account of land reform in a village called Ten Mile Inn, north China in 1959.
An account of George Hogg ➚ has already appeared in China Eye (No 38 but see also refs.3, 4).
Israel Epstein was a journalist and writer of Russian descent who all most of his life in China. Apart from writing several books, he was editor and then editor emeritus of China Today. He was a naturalised citizen of China and when he died at the age of 90, Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao attended his funeral.
In 2006, the National People's Congress (China's Parliament), adopted its first legislation on cooperatives specifically to cover Farmers' Specialised cooperatives. It provides legal status and affords protection against rule violation by both investors and local government intervention. Further rural reforms in 2008 strengthened farmers' individual rights to transfer or pool their land. This is conducive to the formation of rural cooperatives.
China is turning away from reliance on exports and is expanding domestic consumption and modernising the countryside. Cooperatives have a role to play here and may even assist in returning urban migrants to the countryside.
ICCIC is committed to looking for further ways for cooperatives to grow with the guidance of cooperatives principles and in accordance with China's national conditions, i.e. with Chinese characteristics.
References/Further Reading for this particular article and for the whole Needham tour
© Copyright Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) 2014 : an extract from SACU's magazine China Eye 41, Page 20, Spring 2014
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of SACU.
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