Sine magazine

Sine issue : Spring 2006 - 40 years of the SCA Part II

by Elsie Collier

The path the SCA has taken in its first 40 years has been influenced by three things: China's culture and her social, political and economic development; individual members of the Association, their specific interests in China, and, in some cases, their areas of expertise and their jobs; and the fact that we are a voluntary organisation.

In the 1970s members, some of whom were lecturers at the universities in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee, spoke at schools conferences jointly organised with other bodies. Here are some :

  • 1970 - with Edinburgh University Department of Education and Extra-Mural Studies, a “One Day Study Conference”, with John Chinnery
  • 1971 - with Glasgow Corporation Education Department, a Senior Schools Conference, “China Toda”, with Andrew Watson and Jack Gray
  • 1972 - with the Council for Education in World Citizenship, organised by Muriel Murdoch, an “Ayrshire Schools Conference”, with John Chinnery and John Collier
  • 1972 - with the University of Dundee, a day conference, “China Observed”, with Alex Reid and John Fleming

Alex Reid and John Fleming were on the first SCA delegation invited to China by the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC). Among the delegation was Harold Dickinson, lecturer at Edinburgh University School of Engineering and Science. After the visit Harold wrote a report for the Commission on the Churches, “Participation in Development, World Council of Churches, Geneva, on “Rural China, 1972”. In this he gave a detailed analysis, based on visits to five communes and a Fruit Tree Research Institute, on land use and land distribution, People's Communes, intensive high-density planting, plant protection, mechanisation, electrification, etc. The report has statistical information on land use, crop yields, etc. from the communes visited and also information on representative families from the communes on, for example, family size, housing, food, household goods, size of private plots, etc. - making this a valuable source of information on a particular time in China's history, both agriculturally and sociologically.

Dr Mary Findlay, who was also a member of that delegation, was able to give immediate help to John Chinnery when he suffered a heart attack just after we arrived in China. Dr Findlay, with her medical knowledge and fluency in Chinese, continued to give valuable support when the SCA hosted medical delegations. Members of subsequent delegations or visitors to China continue to give talks and write articles on their experiences.

During the 1970s and 1980s there were other conferences and events: concerts by visiting Chinese musicians; a table tennis match between Scotland and the then world champions, China; an exhibition of graphic art from China in 1974/75. The latter was held in the Edinburgh City Art Centre, then in the old Royal High School building in Regent Road. It was opened by the Lord Provost Jack Kane and, representing the Chinese Ambassador, Cultural Counsellor Mr. Hu Dingyi and his wife Hsieh Heng, 2nd Secretary at the Embassy. We had a successful bazaar, with boxes of Chinese goods in great variety, sent from a Chinese shop in London. In 1989, the Year of the Snake, several members participated in a series of lunchtime talks on China held at the Royal Museum in Chambers Street, Edinburgh.

Changes inevitably come about, and these have been vast in China in the last 20 years. The opening up of China to the west and to western businesses and institutions resulted in a shift in some of the work of the Association. Fortunately, as our university staff members, who had been instrumental in much of our educational work, moved away, Janice Dickson was becoming more active in the Association. As National Chairman and through her connections with and knowledge of the commercial world, Janice works tirelessly to facilitate contacts between Chinese and Scottish enterprises, welcoming delegations from provincial and local authorities, academic, scientific and government institutions, planning their itineraries and arranging meetings with relevant bodies. Our close contact with the CPAFFC has been maintained, and the friendship and trust developed between us over the years is invaluable.

In response to the changed situation, the China Business Club (CBC) was started in 1995 to provide a network for people involved with business in China. Meetings are held, alternately in Glasgow and Edinburgh, over an informal Chinese meal and members are advised of visits of Chinese business delegations. An annual Chinese dinner is held in Edinburgh around the time of the Chinese New Year for members of the SCA and the CBC.

In relation to education, Dr Gladys Hickman, a retired geography lecturer, was inspired by a visit to China in 1975 to begin thinking about th need for information on this vast and important country to be brought to our school children. So she set about planning a photo resource geography teaching pack. The progress of the pack has been advanced by much hard work, but also hindered by the wavering commitment of members working on it over the years (an aspect of our voluntary nature) and the withdrawal of support by the Geographical Association. Gladys's drive and knowledge has, until recently, been the mainstay of the project. In 1999 the Higher Education Funding Councils for Scotland, Wales and England published a report that recommended funding for the development of university courses in Chinese studies. The report also stated that “a wider grounding in China in the school curriculum would do much to develop wider interest and knowledge of the country”. It also noted that this development could be hampered by the scarcity of Chinese language study in secondary schools.

It is only now, since the First Minister's recent visit to China, that the Scottish Office, is taking steps to implement the 1999 report. The Education subcommittee is in contact with The Scottish Office and is at present working on updating and expanding the photo pack in preparation for making it available on the Web.

Activities of the Glasgow and Edinburgh branches have differed over the years, reflecting the voluntary nature of the Association and the membership of the branch committees at any particular time. Recently, the Glasgow Branch has run two highly successful Overseas Chinese Film Festivals. The first, in 2002, was organised enthusiastically by François Josserand at the Gilmorehill G12 Theatre. The branch has also initiated the “Chinese Corners”, regular Sunday meetings at which Chinese and Scots can get to know each other better and improve their language skills. There are also regular meetings, as in Edinburgh, with speakers on a wide range of topics.

We are fortunate in having Eddie McGuire as one of our members, and Eddie has delighted us on several occasions, both in Glasgow and Edinburgh, with talks on Chinese music, which he has illustrated by playing different instruments and by bringing with him Chinese musicians who have played their traditional instruments. In the late 1980s Eddie was involved in a successful musical exchange, when the Whistlebinkies visited China and, in return, a group of traditional Chinese musicians came to Scotland the following year.

The number of students from China studying in Scottish universities is vastly greater than when the SCA began. In the early years, when we held Edinburgh Branch meetings in the Saltire Society rooms in Atholl Crescent, I remember the room there comfortably holding SCA members and the Chinese students in Edinburgh when we celebrated Chinese National Day. Now the University Chaplaincy Centre hall could not contain all the students and scholars. In the past, students had to manage on small government grants and some members helped to subsidise their expenses by providing accommodation. Scholars now bring their families here and the Association liaises with the Association of Scholars and the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, with whom we celebrate the Moon Festival, when Scottish country dancing is the highlight of the evening.

The SCA has supported twinning relationships between Scotland and China. The first twinning proposal, for Edinburgh, was made by Tom Nisbet, when he served on the City Council, and in 1985 John Chinnery accompanied Lord Provost John McKay to Xi’an to sign the friendship city agreement, a relationship that endures to the present, although it was suspended for several years following the violence at Tiananmen. Another enduring relationship has been that between Glasgow and Dalian. Fife Region and Gansu Province were twinned for a time in the 1980s, and John Chinnery wrote a report proposing the connection. The relationship, however, did not survive Tiananmen, although contact has recently been re-established. When the first delegation since the 1970s was invited to China by the Friendship Association in 1987, the group visited the friendship cities of Dalian, Lanzhou and Xi'an.

I hope that our 45th anniversary articles will tell of great strides having been made to ensure a knowledge of China in school children in Scotland - and who knows what new paths the Scotland-China Association will take !