Sine magazine

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

by John Chinnery

As an introduction to this subject, I could not do better than to augment the first page of a short article I wrote on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the foundation of our organisation, printed in the November 1996 issue of 'Sine'.

The forerunner of the SCA was the Britain–China Friendship Association, which was set up in London in 1949. Its inaugural meeting was addressed by, among others, the celebrated American journalist Agnes Smedley who had been resident in China since the 1930s and was acquainted with many of the leaders of the new government.

The People's Republic of China was formally recognised by Britain shortly after its foundation, but this recognition was not followed by the exchange of ambassadors, since Britain at the same time agreed to permit the representatives of Taiwan to retain their occupation of China's seat in the United Nations. Therefore, right from the start the BCFA was a campaigning organisation, rallying support for restoring China's seat at the United Nations and opposing the American policy of stationing its 7th Fleet in the Taiwan Straits, thus frustrating the PRC's attempt to complete the unification of China. The BCFA also endeavoured to expand friendly exchanges with China at many levels, including the exchange of delegations and individual visits, and ran its own programmes of meetings, conferences, lectures, language classes, etc. It was able to maintain its own premises until it disbanded sometime in the 1960s.

The disbandment of the BCFA was a result of the Sino–Soviet split of that period. Although its policy was to welcome all who shared its aim of developing friendship with China, no matter what their political persuasion, its leadership was still strongly under the influence of the Communist Party of Great Britain. When the Chinese government expected it to side with China against Russia, the BCFA refused. This decision split the organisation, and those who disagreed with it decided to set up their own successor organisation, the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU).

Some Scottish members of the BCFA had long desired to establish their own links with China and, perhaps goaded by the use of the word “Anglo” in SACU's name, a decision was taken to start a society to promote direct people-to-people links between Scotland and China.

The SCA was formally established at a meeting held in the University of Edinburgh in May 1966. The meeting, which was attended by people from all over Scotland, was addressed by, among others, the eminent scientist Dr Joseph Needham, a long-time friend of China and Honorary President of SACU, and by the Chinese author Han Suyin. The aim of the Association was declared to be “to foster friendship and understanding between the people of Scotland and China, both through its own efforts and by co-operation with other organisations and individuals at home and abroad who share the same aim”.

The first National Chairman of the SCA was the Rev. Ralph Morton, deputy head of the Iona Community, who had worked for many years in northeast China and had written and lectured extensively on China, including the Chinese Church. Two vice-chairmen were appointed, both from the universities: John Chinnery of Edinburgh University and Jack Gray, the historian of modern China who had recently been appointed to a post in Glasgow University. The first secretary of the SCA was Elsie Collier, who remains one of our most active members. Lord Boyd Orr was Honorary President, and vice-presidents included Compton Mackenzie, Lord Birsay, H. Stewart Mackintosh, The Rev. Principal Norman W. Porteous, and the sculptor Benno Schotz; Tam Dalyell became a vice-president in 1972 and remains so today.

During the first few years of its existence, the SCA continued the campaign for China's representation at the UN and for strengthened links between Scotland and China. The early efforts of the Association were also concentrated on education. In addition to the SCA branch meetings, film shows and other events were held regularly in Edinburgh and Glasgow and weekend schools and conferences were held in Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen and Glasgow, usually in co-operation with university extramural departments. Conferences on China for secondary school children were held in Edinburgh, Glasgow, the Trossachs and elsewhere. These were jointly organised by the SCA and either local education authorities or the junior branch of the UN Association. The Association also had its own journal, Sine. Starting modestly, it has developed over the years under the editorship of several individuals, most recently Neil McFadyean and Dale Finlayson.

Although the membership of the SCA has never exceeded a few hundred, its influence was far wider and it has always been broadly representative of all sections of Scottish society. This diversity is exemplified by two of its most prominent members during the 1970s, Tom Murray and Col. John Logan. Tom was a lifelong socialist and veteran of the Spanish Civil War whose interest in China dated back to the time when he read the news of the 1911 Revolution to his blind father. He was one of the prime movers in the foundation of the SCA, and the competition the Association now holds for school children was appropriately named after Tom. John Logan spent his younger years working for BAT in China, inspecting tobacco crops. As a prisoner in World War II, he planned several escapes from Colditz and subsequently became Commandant of Stirling Castle and Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Stirlingshire. He joined the SCA early in the 1970s and continued to lecture and show his films to audiences all over Scotland.

Tom and John were both involved in an incident involving the SCA. An acrobatic troupe from China came to Scotland to perform. They decided to donate their takings, amounting to hundreds of pounds, to the SCA. At the subsequent SCA National Committee Tom Murray moved that we should not accept it, since it might open us to the accusation of accepting “Beijing gold” (receiving “Moscow gold” had in the past been an accusation levelled against left-wing organisations and individuals in Britain and, indeed, in China). John Logan was about to visit London, and so he undertook the embarrassing task of returning the money to the Chinese Embassy.

One of the weaknesses of the SCA has been that it has never had its own premises but has had to rely on members and friends to provide meeting places. Our first chairman was of great assistance in this respect, arranging for us to meet in the Iona Community premises in both Edinburgh and Glasgow. The universities were often helpful in this regard, and over the years we have also met in Edinburgh at the premises of the Saltire Society, Abbeyhill School (whose then-head teacher, Sheila Mackenzie, was a Committee member), and at the Quaker Meeting House; in recent years Glasgow meetings have been held at the Multi-Cultural Centre in Rose Street.

Although the SCA has had only three chairmen – Ralph Morton, myself, and, for the past several years, Janice Dickson – it had several secretaries in succession in its early years. Elsie Collier was invited to go with her husband Johnny to teach in Guangzhou in the late 1960s, which meant that she had to leave the post. Subsequent secretaries included Jennifer Scarce, John Barr, his daughter Betty, Isabel Hilton, Valerie Waggot, Dale Finlayson, Tom Nisbet, and, for several years now, Euan Petrie. In fact, the Barr family - John, Ruth and Betty - with their long experience of China, were a great strength during the early days, and Betty has continued to contribute in numerous ways ever since, not least with the books written by her husband George Wang and herself in Shanghai and with George's frequent contributions to Sine.

Another drawback of having no premises was that the Association’s archives became scattered and largely lost. The SCA should now make an effort to gather together whatever it can, so that at least some of it can be retrieved. But having no premises also meant having few overheads, which gave it a kind of Taoist strength. SACU suffered from overreaching itself and having to curtail its activities in times of crisis. The SCA has survived such crises by never losing sight of its main aim as set out in its constitution and not being diverted from this aim by involving itself too deeply in political arguments. As a result, with the present amazing developments in China and the multiplication of personal and organisational contacts between Britain and China, its future is assured.

Just to mention two of the successful activities undertaken by the SCA in its first twenty years. One was those surrounding the visit of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, led by Chu Tunan in 1978. We organised a piper to welcome them to Waverley Station at the reasonable cost of one bottle of whisky. This got their visit off to a good start. I can still remember the scene as they solemnly processed from their train to the waiting cars led by the piper. They enjoyed a full programme of visits to people and places in Scotland. Their organisation has always given the Association great support, including numerous invitations, from 1972 onwards, to send delegations to China that have enabled visits to all four quarters of the country.

Another event was the China Week held in November 1986 at the Assembly Rooms in George Street, Edinburgh, and opened by Hu Dingyi, who served in London first as Cultural Counsellor and later as Ambassador. A whole week of activities, including film shows, exhibitions, a talk by our then-Honorary President, now Patron, the composer Ronald Stevenson, a concert of Chinese music, noodle-pulling and vegetable carving by one of Edinburgh's Chinese restaurateurs, and face-painting for children. These are but two of the events I remember with pleasure from our first twenty years. I am sure that if we can gather more information, it will be possible to put together a full account of SCA history. Perhaps our target for this should be 2016 - our 50th Anniversary !


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 !