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China Association

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0102 CHAS
Held at: School of Oriental and African Studies
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Full title: China Association
Date(s): Created 1889-1969
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 116 files and volumes
Name of creator(s): China Association


Administrative/Biographical history:

A proposal for the formation of a 'China Association' was first made at an inaugural dinner held for 'gentlemen with some connection to the Far East', at the Thatched House Club in London, on 4 March 1889. The China Association was formally constituted at a meeting held on 11 April 1889, and chaired initially by Sir Alfred Dent. The first Annual Dinner of the China Association was held in March 1890.

The China Association was a mercantile body, whose traditional role was to represent the interests of those concerned with trade to China, Hong Kong and Japan. Membership included representatives of the large China Houses such as Swire & Sons; Jardine, Matheson & Co; Paton & Baldwins; and Shell Petroleum, in addition to Members of Parliament and retired colonial and military officials returned from service in the Far East. The Association pursued a policy of collaboration with the Foreign Office. Personal representations for certain causes were made to the government, whilst adverse publicity and attempts to stir up public opinion were repudiated.

The General Committee (also known as the London Committee) served as the Board of Directors, dealing with policy matters. By the 1930s, the Committee employed two full-time secretaries who performed a variety of services including correspondence with the Foreign Office over commercial grievances in China; quarterly political summaries of Chinese domestic and international affairs for members; translations of the Chinese press; contact with the Chinese Embassy; and preparation for the Annual Dinner to which leading political figures were invited. The Presidency of the Association was initially an honorary post, with real leadership vested in the Chairman of the General Committee. The first Chairman was George Bowen, with Sir Alfred Dent as President (soon to be replaced by William Keswick). The Executive Committee, consisting of the nuclear leadership of the General Committee, was of administrative importance. Richard Simpson Gundry was named as the first Honorary Secretary. Elections for officers were held annually. The Association was funded through entrance fees, membership subscriptions and by donation, with funds managed by the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation.

Within the first year, the China Association enrolled 111 members. By 1895, this stood at over 400 and its General Committee was seen as the recognised representative of British commercial interests in China. Between 1892 and 1893, invitations were sent out to British residents in Hong Kong, China and Japan to form branch associations. The Shanghai Committee was constituted in December 1892, followed by Yokohama in the same year and Hong Kong in June 1893. In 1898, the China Association founded its Incorporated School of Practical Chinese. In 1917, this was merged with the School of Oriental Studies, where the Mandarin dialect was taught in the Far Eastern Department. The Japan Commercial Council of the China Association in London (Japan Association) was founded in 1948, and the Hong Kong Association in 1961/2.

By 1900, the strategy adopted vis--vis the Government had led to a division within the leadership of the Association. Against the background of growing fear of commercial competition from Russia, France and Japan, certain members of the General Committee and Shanghai Committee felt that the Association's influence with the Foreign Office was exaggerated, and that the Government was failing to effectively represent British mercantile interests in China. It was felt that public pressure was needed to push the Government into action, and Sir Edward Ackroyd suggested that the Association change its strategy and reorganise into a 'League'. This proposal was voted down, with the effect that the insurgents formed the China League, with R. A. Yerburgh as Chairman and G. Jamieson as Secretary. In 1903-4, the Shanghai Committee called for the amalgamation of China Association with the China League. A Special General Meeting was called, but again the proposal was voted down by a narrow margin.

The work of the China Association involved taking on the commercial grievances of British traders in China, and representing their interests to the British Government and the authorities in China. In this work, the Association often acted in conjunction with the London Chamber of Commerce, local Chambers and the Federation of British Industries. The history of the Association thus reflects the reaction of the British trading community to political events in China in the late 19th and 20th Centuries, and the pursuit of reform to allow for increased British trade opportunities in China's interior. Requests for intervention in the first decade of its existence included backing for transit passes in China's southern provinces; pressure for opening the West River for steam navigation and foreign trade; representation of concern over peace terms following the Sino-Japanese War, and their implications for British trade, and the threat of commercial competition arising from the lease of Port Arthur to Russia.

In the aftermath of World War Two, with the Communist advance across China and the Nationalist blockade of important cities such as Shanghai, the China Association worked to alert the British Government to the increasingly difficult circumstances under which British firms operated. Between 1950 and 1952, many British firms had left China, and the Association acted to ensure that official action was taken to protect British assets and concerns and to meet demands for compensation. In 1954, the Sino-British Trade Committee was formed, including representatives of the China Association, the Federation of British Industries, the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, the London Chamber of Commerce and the National Union of Manufacturers, to facilitate British-Chinese trade. There was a marked shift in Chinese government policy as a Chinese Charge D'Affairs was sent to Britain, and the China Association established contact with the new office. In 1957, the Association was involved in persuading the Government to bring the strict Chinese trade regulations into line with those applied to other Communist countries. In 1972, full diplomatic relations were restored between Britain and China.

The China Association continues its work today. More recent concerns include the handing of Hong Kong back to China in 1997. The Association assists in the maintenance and development of good relations between China and Britain, through continued sponsorship of the Sino-British Trade Council, and co-operation with other Chinese bodies in London including the Chinese Embassy, China Society and the Great Britain China Centre. The Association holds quarterly luncheons to which important representatives and speakers are invited.

The above history has been based largely on accounts of the China Association in the following works: N. A. Pelcovits, Old China Hands and the Foreign Office (New York, 1948); R. Birdman, Britain and the People's Republic of China 1949-1974 (London 1976).


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers, 1889-1969, of the China Association, including minutes and committee papers of the General Committee and Executive Committee; correspondence with the Foreign Office, Board of Trade, Sino-British Trade Council, Tientsin and Hong Kong Chambers of Commerce, Hong Kong Association and the British Consulate in Shanghai; annual reports (1889-1962); and separate items including the minutes and papers of the China Association's School of Practical Chinese Endowment Fund (1908-1955). Also includes committee papers and minutes of the British Chambers of Commerce in Hankow and Tientsin, the Hong Kong Association, the Sino-British Trade Council, and the British Residents' Association in Shanghai. Also includes photographs of banquets (1896-1906), and albums of newspaper cuttings on China (1940-1947) and Japan (1942-1949).

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

The material has been arranged in the following sections: chronological indexes (ref. CHAS/IND); minutes, committee papers and circulars (CHAS/MCP); correspondence (CHAS/C); annual reports (CHAS/A); separate items (CHAS/SI); photographs (CHAS/P); and newspaper cuttings (CHAS/N). Within each section, material has been arranged chronologically.

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

Copyright held by the China Association: Swire House, 59 Buckingham Gate, London SW1E 6AJ.

Finding aids:

Unpublished handlist. There are also detailed chronological indexes available for parts of the collection (Ref: CHAS/IND), for consultation in the Special Collections Reading Room, SOAS. A handlist of material retained by the China Association is also available at SOAS.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Deposited on permanent loan in 1978.

Allied Materials

Related material:

The School of Oriental and African Studies holds other collections relating to China including papers of Sir Alwyne George Neville Ogden (Ref: PP MS 47) and John Swire & Sons (Ref: JSS).

Additional material (1948-1951) has been retained by the China Association.

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

Rules or conventions:

Date(s) of descriptions:
15 May 2000

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