China and UK

Commemorating George Hogg

China and UK

Jenny Clegg is a Vice President of SACU . She is well qualified to write this article as she is co-author of "Shared Visions of Co-operation at a Time of Crisis: The Gung Ho Story in China's Anti-Japanese Resistance" in T. Webster et al (Eds) The Hidden Alternative: Cooperative Values, Past, Present and Future. (Manchester University Press 2012).

SACU have launched a new George Hogg Fund to help continue George's work. It will work with institutions in Britain and China, and in particular the Shandan Bailie School. For full details and how you can donate to support this work click here.

Q. What were some 60 Chinese war orphans doing singing 'Three Blind Mice' on the edge of the Gobi desert in 1945?

A. They were pupils at the Shandan Bailie School just established by Englishman, George Hogg, the school's first headmaster.

The dramatic story of how Hogg led his students aged between 6 and 18 on a 700 mile trek over some of the highest mountains in Western China in the depths of winter, to escape the advance of war across North China, was portrayed (albeit somewhat fancifully!) in the 2008 film, The Children of Huang Shi, directed by Roger Spottiswood and starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as George Hogg.

Hogg died tragically aged 30 in Shandan in July 1945. Little known in his own country today, he has a legendary status in China's North West for his work in the wartime cooperative movement and later as headmaster of a Bailie School of war orphans. However, an event was held to commemorate his achievements at his old school, St George's in Harpenden this October. The initiative of the Herts and Essex area cooperative society to mark the International Year of Cooperatives, the meeting highlighted Hogg's commitment to the 'Gung Ho' Chinese Industrial Cooperative (CIC) movement during the period of the anti-Japanese war resistance.

Hogg was just 22 when, after graduating from Oxford, he set off on a world tour, accompanying his aunt, the well known pacifist, Muriel Lester. After visiting the US and Japan, Hogg landed in Shanghai in February 1938 just months after the Japanese invasion to witness a city in ruins and swarming with refugees. A 2 week visit was to extend to the next, and last, 8 years of his life, as he felt compelled to stay and do what he could to help.

Hogg picked up some part-time work as a journalist and after moving to Hankou, began to mix with some of the prestigious China reporters - Jack Belden, James Bertram and Agnes Smedley. Through Smedley, Hogg was able to visit Yan'an, reporting on what he learned there with enthusiasm. At the invitation of General Nie Rongzhen he continued to travel in the guerrilla areas of North China for several months, often in dangerous circumstances, meeting with Zhu De for long conversations at the 8th Route Army Headquarters.

Hogg then took up the post of publicity director for CIC's North West Region in October 1939, more deeply committing to the China cause. He had come to learn of CIC whilst in Hankou where plans for the organisation were just being put into place by a group of progressive Westerners and Chinese, with a view to promoting a cooperative movement with international assistance as a means to support the development of China. The prime movers of CIC included New Zealander and Shanghai factory inspector, Rewi Alley, the American journalists, Edgar and Helen Snow, the Marxist academic, Chen Hanseng, and cooperative expert, Lu Guangmian.

The Japanese advance had destroyed China's industrial base at Shanghai and CIC's aim was to contribute to the rebuilding of Chinese manufacturing inland in support of the anti-Japanese resistance by creating small industrial units employing refugees to produce basic materials such as army blankets and uniforms. CIC's vision of China's transformation through rural industrialisation based on small-scale village cooperatives gained backing from both the CPC and the Kuomintang and was held up as a symbol of the United Front.

Hogg moved on to work as a CIC inspector travelling throughout the North West to investigate the progress and problems of village cooperatives. Then in March 1942 he took the post of headmaster of one of CIC's Bailie schools in the remote town of Shuangshipu in Shaanxi province. The Bailie schools were so called after the American Presbyterian missionary, Joseph Bailie, who, after arriving in China in 1890, was the first to introduce the notion of technical training. The Bailie 'hand and brain' method - part study-part work - was adopted by Alley as best suited to CIC aims in training up war orphans into skilled workers for the village cooperatives and preparing promising apprentices already working in the cooperatives as future cooperative leaders.

The task of headmaster appeared a thankless one - set up only 18 months previously, the school had already seen a rapid succession of headmasters unable to cope with the impoverished circumstances and with the classes of unruly orphans traumatised by war. But Hogg was up for it: a 'born headmaster' according to Alley. He soon established a daily regimen of 5 hours class work and 3.5 hours practical work in school workshops or neighbouring coops. But, in line with the best traditions of an English public school education, he also made sure there were plenty of sports and plenty of singing. Breaking with both Chinese and English tradition, Alley and Hogg sought to recruit working class students with a balance between those from the villages and from the cities: too many from the more educated elite, they thought, would have a negative influence on their classmates, passing on their 'long-nailed' attitudes. Hogg also ended the routine beatings and instead introduced a participative discipline, giving the boys responsibilities in managing the school, running their own committees for food, sport, the library, the wall newspaper, and the school shop.

Meanwhile he continued to write for the Manchester Guardian and Associated Press. His book I see a New China published in 1944 was received with acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. His wide travelling often in dangerous circumstances had given Hogg much opportunity to witness the cruelties of the Japanese armies and the human degradation of war. But the style he chose was not that of 'blood and guts' reportage: ; his heroes were the Chinese peasants and the world he capture was the everyday life of the ordinary folk in wartime China. In the words of one reviewer, his book offered a 'straightforward and unpretentious' record of China at war, but at the same time compassion and respect for the ordinary Chinese people, and with this an optimism about China's future, shines through in his writings, never more so than in his descriptions of the village cooperatives and their members.

By December 1944 it had become clear that the future of the school was in peril not only with the advance of the Japanese armies but also with increasing harassment from Guomindang soldiers. Having sent half of his students on ahead, Hogg set off with around 30 boys on the 10-week trek across the mountains to Shandan in neighbouring Gansu province. With only one truck for half of the journey and otherwise using donkeys and carts, they hauled some 15 tons of machinery - including one of the very few modern cotton milling machines in North West China - along with them. They eventually arrived at their destination in March 1945 and set about re-establishing the school in the buildings of an old temple. Just months later, Hogg caught tetanus after stubbing his toe while playing basketball with the boys, and died.

After 1949, CIC was wound up, and the Shandan Bailie School was re-established in Lanzhou in 1952 as a technical training college for apprentices from the local oil industry. During the Cultural Revolution, CIC activists came under criticism, but, concerned not least to rehabilitate the movement and those who had supported it, Alley revived CIC in the early 1980s. The Shandan Bailie School was re-opened in 1984, and George Hogg's grave restored in a memorial garden on the edge of town, as he himself was acclaimed by Deng Xiaoping as a 'great international fighter'.

Hearing of these developments, Daily Telegraph journalist, James MacManus, became intrigued to know why this unknown Englishman was being so celebrated in China. His research was eventually to reach fruition with the publication of the biography Ocean Devil in 2008. In this, MacManus sums up Hogg's achievements in the following way: "Hogg created a school from the chaos of war. He... moved it against all odds to the rim of the remote Gobi desert. He... rebuilt it as a refuge and a place of safety for some sixty pupils". When later in 1945, the News Chronicle published an appeal for young men to volunteer to take Hogg's place and work for the Chinese industrial cooperatives, nearly 6,000 applied.

Today, George Hogg's memory is being kept alive by his old school, where he is seen as their most inspiring alumni, a model of personal sacrifice who gave up a privileged middle class life for work amongst the most impoverished in war-torn China, regardless of the dangers and hardship he himself had to endure. A considerable collection of Hogg's papers are now held in the school archive and, after contact was established in 2008, staff and students have paid visits to the Shandan Bailie School and have also welcomed a visit from two of Hogg's four adoptive sons. At the most recent event in October, St Georgians mixed with people from the local history and local cooperative societies in a series of afternoon and evening activities. These introduced the ideas and principles of the cooperative movement and its work in Britain and internationally, and included talks on the international cooperative movement as well as on the development of CIC during the anti-Japanese resistance, which highlighted the support that came from the British cooperative movement to China at this time.

SACU's 'In the footsteps of Joseph Needham' tour will be visiting Shandan September 2013. China Eye will aim to include more on CIC in a future issue.

The above brief biography draws on "Ocean Devil: the life and legend of George Hogg". James MacManus. Harper Perennial (London 2008).

© Copyright Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) 2012 reprinted from SACU's China Eye magazine Issue 36, 2012

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of SACU.
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