The Rotary Club of China and the Politics of Language
Last Thursday, October 22, I was invited to participate in the ENP China Webinar Series. My presentation titled « A Foreign Club with Chinese Flavor: The Rotary of Shanghai and the Politics of Language » addressed the issue of language that the Rotary Club – an American-born elite club – experienced in recruiting Chinese members.
The first part examines the importance and evolution of Chinese membership in the Rotary Club of Shanghai. It shows that although the club was founded by foreigners and used English as its official language – the number of Chinese members increased in the 1930s and became close to the majority from the Sino-Japanese war onwards. The second part investigates more closely the social background of the Chinese Rotarians and relies on Who’s Who to reconstruct their life trajectory and networks. It reveals that the Chinese Rotarians were already « Americanized » through their education, professional activities and lifestyles.
The third part examines the Chinese Rotarians’ commitment to the club and their attempts to sinicize the organization in order to attract a wider spectrum of Chinese elites, by translating Rotary literature into Chinese and by instilling some « Chinese flavor » into the program of the club. Their efforts, however, were doomed to fail as long as English remained the dominant language, and as the Chinese organizers of social events continued to rely essentially on their foreign contacts. This critical situation eventually led to the creation of Chinese-speaking club in parallel with the original club – the Rotary Club of Shanghai West – in 1948. The new club, however, was too short-lived to bring significant changes in terms of membership, leadership and modes of operation.
The Powerpoint of my presentation is available here.