Esperanto
Author: David Poulson


Esperanto in China

Author: David Poulson
Published on: September 15, 2000

Introductory note for new visitors to the Esperanto Topic.

If you have only just begun to take an interest in Esperanto and wish to know some basic information about this fascinating subject, please start your reading at the first article of this series. Having already completed 68 articles, I am now at the stage of writing articles for those readers who have learned quite a lot about the Esperanto language and movement already, and who are now wanting to find out more than just the basic introductory information. To get to the beginning of this series

After you have read the first article, click on the link at the top of the page which says "Articles" to find the rest of the series, which is listed in reverse chronological order. ________________________________________________________

For convenience, I am going to divide the history of the Esperanto movement in China into four separate periods, the first taking place between 1900 and 1931.

It is believed that Russian merchants from Vladivostock, trading with Chinese traders in Harbin, first introduced Esperanto to China. Just over 100 years ago, Harbin was a small fishing town but during the late 19th and early 20th century, China, Japan and Russia all struggled for control over Manchuria and when in the 1900s, Russia was permitted to build a railway track connecting Manchuria with Vladivostock, Harbin became an important railway town.

Today Harbin has a population of 4 million and is the capital city of the province of Heilongjiang.

The most famous trading city in modern Chinese history is, of course, Shanghai and it is there that Lu Shiqing and others learned Esperanto, also from a Russian trader. Lu Shiqing learned it well enough to begin teaching it himself and Shanghai has, I think, had an Esperanto presence since the very early days of the 20th century.

Esperanto was also brought back to China by some students who had learned it while studying in Japan. Their teacher was Oosugi Sakae, a Japanese anarchist, and so it is not surprising that the title of the journals which they produced were Egaleco and Justeco. In 1908, some of these students (among them Liu Shipei) returned to China and they also began to teach Esperanto in Shanghai.

Young Chinese studied in other countries than Japan,of course, and several learned Esperanto in France, one of them returned to Canton and began to teach Esperanto there, while another learned Esperanto in England and sent textbooks back to China from that country.

In 1909, the first Chinese Esperanto Association was established in Shanghai by Sheng Guocheng and published its own journal, La Mondo. And ,after the Qing dynasty collapsed in 1911, the upsurgence of progressive ideas assisted the spread of Esperanto to many parts of China. I am sure that many of my readers will be very surprised to learn that in 1912, Cai Yuanpei, Minister of Education in the Provisional Government of the Chinese republic, instructed schools to offer Esperanto as an optional subject.

As the Chinese Esperanto Association only had 300 members at that time, this recommendation of the Minister might seem to have been a little premature. But it is indicative of the level of support Esperanto enjoyed. Frequent articles about the international language appeared in the Chinese language press, one of which was written by the very popular and influential fiction writer, Lusin.

During the second decade of the 20th century, Shanghai remained the most important Esperanto centre in China and I am happy to record that some of the young activists of that time, such as Bakin and Hu Yuzhi (Hujucz), were still very active in the Esperanto movement 50-60 years later.

During the first World War, the Chinese Government, had supported the Allies who promised that, in return for this support, the German concessions in Shangdong province would be handed back over to China at the end of the war. What actually happened was that those concessions were given to Japan!

The consequences of this were very significant. On May 4, 1919, about 3,000 students from various Beijing universities got together in Tiananmen Square and held a mass protest. The movement that was born at that rally (called, not unsurprisingly, the May Fourth Movement) was the first true nationalist movement in China and has inspired Chinese patriots of all ideologies ever since.

(To be continued).

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