Club History

Rotary in China and our own Rotary Club of Beijing both have a long history

The Rotary Beijing Bell

We might call our bell the real symbol of our Club.
The Rotary Club of Beijing calls its meetings to order with an old brass bell that was donated to the original Beijing club in 1925 by Hong Kong Rotarian Stanley F. Howard.
The bell disappeared after the establishment of Communist Government in 1949 and the club’s subsequent closure. Many years later, Hong Kong Rotarian Bob Wilson made a serendipitous discovery in a Hong Kong antique shop in 1992 when he noticed the store’s doorstop was an old brass bell.

Bob Wilson looked closer and recognised the design of the Rotary wheel on its surface and the engraving: “Donated by Stanley F. Howard, 20 August 1925. Rotary Club of Peking.” Without hesitation, Rtn Wilson immediately bought this piece of history, which had already survived most of a very turbulent century.
In June 1998 he donated it to the Beijing Rotary Fellowship Group in honor of its 100th meeting.



A look at the History of the Rotary Club of Peking

By Hermann G. Heid

On the 2nd of September 1924, Julean Arnold, the Commercial Attache` of the American Legation in Peking, received a telegram from “Ches” R. Perry, General Secretary of Rotary International. Arnold had eagerly awaited this telegram. Confirmation of the anticipated news would mean that Arnold had finally reached the finish line at the end of a long and frustrating road. Arnold had many times wanted to discontinue with the mission he had imposed upon himself. Good news, however, would mean that nearly 20 months of hard work had finally paid off.


(2) But let’s start at the beginning!

The first meeting leading towards the establishment of the Rotary Club Peking took place over tea on January 18th 1923 when fifteen Americans and one Chinese met in the Wagon Lits Hotel in Peking. L.M. Bocker, acted as Secretary of that meeting. He sent a report to the Secretary of the RC Chicago – Geo. L. Treadwell – who had been a charter member of the RC Shanghai. Bocker solicited Treadwell’s help and advice on procedures how to obtain a Charter from RI. According to Bocker the prospective Rotary Club would recruit its members from the foreign banking, legations, large business interests, educational institutions, foundations and missions. Among the Chinese names mentioned was that of Dr. C.T. Wang (who was to become the first District Governor in China).

Unaware of the meeting in Peking, Julean Arnold, member of the RC Shanghai, was guest speaker at the RC Chicago where he made such a strong impression that he was invited to stay for discussions on the extension of Rotary into Peking. Lester B. Struthers, Asst. General Secretary of Rotary International, spent a lot of time with Arnold and briefed him on Rotary’s policies and ideas – especially towards China. Struthers had in mind to possibly suggest Arnold as Rotary International Board’s Special Representative to oversee the establishment of the RC Peking. During his visit to the States Arnold also met with Jim Davidson, an influential member of the Extension Committee.

Two or three days after Arnold’s meetings in Chicago Bocker’s letter detailing the January 18th meeting in Peking arrived.

This letter and the visit by Arnold prompted the Secretariat to move quickly. It contacted the RC Shanghai requesting that they “suggest a Shanghai Rotarian who could be appointed as Special Representative for the supervision of the organising of the club in Peking”. RC Shanghai reacted within a few days by telegram stating HAVE APPOINTED K.P. CHEN

Not knowing that RC Shanghai had suggested a Chinese as Special Representative Davidson was afraid that the appointee would build a white man’s club in Peking and a club dominated by missionaries. Davidson thought that Rotary and China would be better served if the club would ”bring together the many brilliant young Chinese who are now holding important positions in and the representatives of the foreign community, who are friendly to China… a Club we can point to with satisfaction as being primarily a Chinese Club.”

When RC Shanghai suddenly withdrew the appointment of K.P. Chen Julean Arnold was appointed Special Representative. Shortly thereafter, in June 1923, the Secretary of RC Shanghai, Dr. Julian Petit, sent a confidential – and in my view nasty – letter to the Secretary General in which he questioned the appointment of Arnold and the idea of setting up a RC in Peking altogether. To Petit Peking was a political town which, once politics is taken away, is dead. He said a few other rather negative things which, when Arnold found out later, caused him a lot of distress.

Julean Arnold had returned to Peking on May 1st. On June 18th 1923 he assembled a committee of five key men to his home to discuss the requirements of RI and the idea of bringing 25 Charter Members together.

This committee invited twenty-five potential charter members to a luncheon in Arnold’s home on July 11th during which the project, obligations and essential features of a Rotary Club Peking were explained. Of the 25 selected men there were twelve Chinese, two British and eleven Americans. All present were asked to confirm in writing within one week individually their desire to continue as Charter members and to obligate themselves to the Constitution, by-laws and regulations of Rotary. Twenty-four of the twenty-five replied positively and sent in their initiation fees. One new name was added to replace the one who had failed to respond.

(4) On July 13th the Committee met again and selected the temporary name THE THURSDAY TIFFIN CLUB.

(5)The first meeting of The Thursday Tiffin Club took place on July27th 1923. The group agreed to meet every other Thursday from then on (6) and (7) Julean Arnold was elected temporary President with Admiral Tsai Ting-Kan serving as Vice President.

(8) Following the meeting on July 11th a photo was taken of all those who attended the meeting. Among them Admiral Tsai Ting-Kan, Sam Young, S.F. Howard, Julean Arnold and Dr. C.T. Wang.

All necessary documentation and a check for G$ 100 charter fee was sent to Jim Davidson of the Extension Committee with the request to proceed as expeditiously as possible in the granting of our charter.

A strong quartet to handle the singing had also been organized.

In his Extension Survey Julean Arnold writes about the Peking of 1923 as follows:

“Peking having a population of 950,000 of which 947,000 were natives and 3,000 foreigners. It was a political rather than a commercial city.”

Six weeks later Ches Perry sent an interim reply to Arnold asking for patience. Because Arnold is in Japan on Earthquake relief work Sam Young, the group’s Secretary, replies on October 29th. Young gives examples of speaking topics at their meetings, which include “The Origins of Money and Banking” and “What service the members of our club may render to our community, such as afforrestation schemes and the preservation of China’s monuments”. He also reports that singing will be one of the features of their gatherings because they were fortunate to have a number of songbirds in their midst.

Upon his return to Peking Arnold writes to Ches Perry that he was about to build a Rotary Club with a strong Chinese membership; contrary to the RC Shanghai and Tientsin which only had a handful of Chinese members. Julean was proud to have nominated about 50% Chinese to be Charter members. It is Arnold’s view that there are enough qualified and educated Chinese in Peking and other Chinese cities to build – what he calls – native clubs. He is critical of the foreign-dominated Clubs in Shanghai and Tientsin.

Julean must have received disappointing feedback from the USA because in January 1924 he writes a four page letter to Ches Perry in which he criticises the Extension Committee for stalling. After all, he had been in Chicago one year ago! Moreover, he was prevented from taking in new members until the issuance of the Charter. It had been difficult to hold the group together for so long.

(9) The Extension Committee meets early 1924 and finds irregularities in the Application. But the Rotary International Board empowers the Extension Committee to enter into negotiations with The Thursday Tiffin Club to straighten out these irregularities and to make it believe that it would be granted a charter as soon as the irregularities have been adjusted. Ultimately, however, the application is rejected!

What were the Irregularities?

RC Peking intended to base its Constitution and By-Laws on those of the RC Shanghai. But both of these had been changed at the Los Angeles Convention and all new clubs were compelled to adopt the Constitution as revised at Los Angeles. Provided that the By-Laws is not out of harmony with the Constitution and By-Laws of Rotary International clubs may alter the by-laws to suit their own needs. While RC Shanghai was exempt from making any changes in their Constitution and By-Laws on account of the Grandfather rule Peking had to adopt the revised documents. This had not been done. Therefore the application documents of The Thursday Tiffin Club were rejected by the Board of Directors of RI.
Rules for new clubs mandate that no more than 10% of the charter members may represent the same major classification. The list of charter members, however, contained 5 names each in Finance, Government Service and further five listed as their business address the Peking Union Medical College. Only one Charter member may come from the same institution.

General Secretary Ches Perry explained in an 8-page letter the deficiencies and offered remedies. Among the solutions: ask some members of the Thursday Tiffin Club to resign and make room for other charter members with acceptable classifications and affiliations!

On March 1, 1924, enroute to Guanzhou, Julean Arnold informs Perry that he has lost much of his former enthusiasm for Rotary. He is increasingly frustrated that the club has not yet been given its charter and he had meanwhile found out that Dr. Petit had written to the Committee on Extension strongly opposing the granting of a charter for Peking.

(10) On April 24th 1924 the Thursday Tiffin Club disbanded. A committee of three is appointed to select 15 possible charter members – in strict compliance with Rotary requirements. Julean Arnold is appointed Special Representative of the Board of RI to oversee the formation of the RC Peking.

On July 11th 1924 Admiral Tsai Ting Kan, who had been elected President of the newly organized club, sends the charter application to Secretary General. Sam Young signed as Secretary.

(11) As said earlier, the RC Peking with 22 charter member, was finally admitted by Rotary International on August 30, 1924 with (12) Admiral Tsai Ting Kan serving as its Charter President (13) and Julean Arnold as Director. The Club meets every 1st and 3rd Thursday at 12:45 p.m. at the Masonic Temple.

Little is known as to what the Club did in terms of Community Service work but there is correspondence with RI regarding Flood relief (14) and on Christmas Eve in 1924 the club invited 200 very poor boys for dinner. It turned out that 50 of the boys were so poor that they had not enough clothes to venture through the cold weather to come to the dinner. When the members heard of this they arranged through the Salvation Army that adequate clothing was provided.

By 1928 the Club had 47 members, organized one ladies’ night a year, and charged $20 each admission and annual fee and $5 birthday surcharge for a charity fund. The club did not belong to any District. The club’s publication was called “The Peking Rotarian” and the local press is very friendly towards Rotary. The Club was not growing – so the records show – because “Removal of Capital to Nanking transfers many members”.

In July 1929 the club changed its name to RC Peiping after the Chinese Legation in Washington confirmed to RI that THE PRESENT CORRECT SPELLING IS PEIPING

The Club ceased to function on December 8th 1941 when the Wagon Lits Hotel, which served as the club’s headquarter, was taken over by the Japanese for their own use for many years. Many foreigners were interned and the Chinese members found it unwise to hold meetings elsewhere.

The club was revived on August 30, 1945 when 17 of the previous 44 members and 12 visiting Rotarians – most of whom from various internment camps – attended the meeting. But due to the exorbitant cost of lunch, which many members could not afford, it was decided to hold only one meeting per month and offer Chinese luncheons. In fact the General Manager of the hotel permitted members to bring their own lunchbox.

All records, including the Charter, had been lost because the office of American Express, were most files were kept, had been ransacked at the time of the Japanese invasion. However, the Banner, the Bell, Badges and Flags had survived because they were stored in safe section of the Wagon Lits hotel.

Dr. C.T. Wang had meanwhile advanced to “Administrative Advisor for China” and he encouraged the revival of the RC Peiping. A first official meeting was held on December 9th 1945 at the Masonic Temple. Twenty-four of the previous members rejoined and four additional new members were accepted.

(15) Rotary International re-admitted the RC of Peiping with thirty charter members on August 14th 1946, giving it the old Club No. 1814. Dr. C.T. Wang had become the first District Governor over Districts 96-97-98. The Club met fortnightly at 5 p.m. at the Wagons Lits Hotel. One year later the club had increased its membership to over 50 and it contributed CN$1,000,000 to various Salvation Army Charities. A resolution was passed to support the City Cleaning Campaign, which was launched by the Municipal Government of Peiping.
Another noteworthy development in 1947 was the invitation of a woman as the first lady speaker at a luncheon.

The membership at the end of RY 1946/47 had risen to 58 with the largest contingent being Chinese (28) followed by Americans and British. Germans, Italians and Japanese were not admitted pending the signing of Peace Treaties between China and these countries.

The financial situation, however, was deteriorating. “Dixi” Friedlaender reports to the Governor that membership fees and fines were not enough to cover the club’s running expenses for printing, postage, servants’ fees and others and for reasons of paper shortage they can not keep up inter-club correspondence or print a roster.

On July 18th 1950, acting on the recommendation of the Secretary of the RC Peiping, RI approves once again the change of the name. This time to Rotary Club of Peking. This in view of the fact that the city is now the capital of China.

RC Peking closed that year with 41 members and not a single meeting had been cancelled. Records indicate that RC Peking was practically the only organisation of international character still remaining in Peking.

(16) But the uncertainties are rapidly accelerating. Only 2 Clubs in Northern China continue to function and RC Peking suggests to merge all remaining Rotary Clubs in China under one District. Late in the year the Board of RI terminates membership in RI of most Rotary Clubs in the former Districts 58-59 because the closed clubs could no longer function as a result of the prevailing conditions. Districts 58 and 59 became one with the DG of D-58 serving as the DG of the new D 58-59. Then, on July 1st 1951, the Clubs of the Districts 57 and 58-59 became non-Districted clubs supervised by an administrative adviser.

(17) Rotary Club Hong Kong reports in its Club Bulletin on the June 12th, 1951 meeting that President T.E. Shaw and Hon Secretary A.C. Hausske of the RC Peking were notable guest-Rotarians at their meeting. They were on their way back to the USA and “the Rotary Club of Peking virtually goes with them”. On the eve of their departure the Chinese members held a special meeting to consider the petition to disband the club. The authorities had taken over, one after another, all major institutions normally available for the Rotary Club meetings. It had become impossible to find acceptable venues. T.E. Shaw said that there had been no request from the outside to close up the club, which could have gone ahead so far as he knew, except that the Chinese members began to feel that their association with the American and other members was embarrassing. The membership had dropped to 26 – including absent members.

On June 26th 1951 RI terminated the membership of the RC Peking and declared the Charter null and void. (18)

(19) In November 1951, Asst. General Secretary George Means confirmed to A.C. Hausske that R.I. is holding USD 27.68 from the Rotary Club Peking “and nothing would thrill Rotary more when, one day, Rotary would return to Peking when this money would be waiting as a credit for that club.” Well, a group of some forty Rotarians are poised to claim it!


(20) After 1951 China went through many years of turmoil and self-isolation. With the opening policy, adopted in 1978, China began to not only open up to the outside world but go through a host of remarkable changes. The visitor to China of the 1950’s would not recognize the China of today.

Over the years Rotary International made several half-hearted overtures to China. But no earnest attempt was made to obtain permission to establish Rotary Clubs in the New China. The Asian Extension Committee under the very able Chairmanship of Bhichai Rattakul of Thailand was able to build solid relationships with China’s highest leaders but Rattakul was replaced by an inactive chairman. As Thailand’s former Foreign Minister and Chairman of the Thai-Chinese Parliamentarian Friendship Organization Bhichai’s contacts to the Chinese leadership were unsurpassed. Over the years many Rotary Clubs, especially from Hong Kong, Japan and the USA completed projects in China and provided scholarships. Moreover, countless Rotary Clubs and individual Rotarians initiated efforts to establish clubs – all falsely assuming that their China connections were solid enough to succeed. All efforts failed! Nothing was achieved!

I became a Rotarian in 1978 (RC Freeport, Bahamas) followed by memberships in RC Tokyo (1981) and RC Hong Kong (1987). When I arrived in Beijing on a work assignment in 1995 I had remained a member of the RC Hong Kong. Knowing that all prior attempts to organize a Rotary Club had failed I first secured the backing of my club for organizing informal fellowship meetings with other Rotarians or potential Rotarians. After informal but thorough checks with relevant government departments I foresaw no problems for like-minded people gathering for weekly luncheons. I convened the first fellowship meeting on 16th 1996. Among the eight persons attending I was the only Rotarian. Soon thereafter the Rotary Club of Hong Kong inducted the other seven and within one year our group had expanded to around 40 members. Today, about half of the Beijing group are members of the Rotary Club of Hong Kong, where I serve as Vice President ‘Beijing Extension’. A counterpart in Hong Kong serves as Director ‘Beijing Extension’. The other Beijing Rotarians belong to a host of clubs from around the world.

Initially, the weekly speakers came from among our own ranks. But gradually we invited outside speakers. The first Chinese speaker took four weeks to confirm the speaking engagement; obviously various approvals from superior levels were required. Because of the brotherly relations between China and Russia we purposely invited the Russian ambassador as one of the first members of the diplomatic corps to speak to us. If he would be prepared to speak to us we did not have to worry too much about future speakers! Ambassador Igor Rogachow spoke on July 8th 1997 and since then a number of government officials have addressed us.

In May 1997 we invited Percy Chu, President of the RC Shanghai in 1934-35, to Beijing to celebrate his 100th birthday in the midst of Rotarians. Those who attended that evening’s fellowship meeting – again numerous government officials and Deng Ling, the oldest daughter of Deng Xiao Ping, joined in the celebrations – will never forget the greatness which radiated from this remarkable man. Percy was awarded two PHF from the Rotary Clubs of Hong Kong and Perth, WA.

The community projects meanwhile undertaken by the Beijing group are too many to mention. And when R.I. District 3450 Hong Kong and Macau called for assistance the Rotarians in Beijing stood always ready to support.

R.I. President Luis Giay was quite surprised to encounter such a high caliber group of very active Rotarians when he and past Directors Bhichai Rattakul and In Sang Song attended a fellowship meeting in Beijing in May 1997.

In June 1998 Beijing-based Rotarians celebrated their 2nd anniversary which fell together with their 100th meeting. The evening meeting was highlighted when Rtn Bob Wilson of RC Hong Kong South presented to the group the original bell of the Rotary Club Peking which had been donated to the club in August 1925 by Rtn S.F. Howard. Since then the original bell has rung at every weekly meeting.

When China was struck by devastating floods in 1998 the Beijing group showed once again true Rotary spirit! The group joined in the Disaster Relief efforts of Rotary District 3450 which planned the construction of a “Rotary International Village” to house 150 families with about six hundred members who all had lost their homes to the floods. Beijing Rotarian Arthur Mattli and famous Chinese soloist composed and recorded music – for the first time ever the western piano and the ancient Chinese pipa are heard on the same recording – for a compact disc entitled “Village in the Floods”. The proceeds from this CD will go exclusively to the flood relief efforts of District 3450.


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Rotary Club of Beijing

Regular Meetings
Tuesday 12.30~14.00
Kempinski Hotel
Celine Lin
Club Administrator
+86 159 0121 4070