W. H. Donald
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... Australia and the Chinese

Soon after Australia became a federation in 1901, it passed a Federal Immigration Restriction Bill as an effective shield against non-European immigration, above all from China. Popularly known as the "White Australia" policy, it adapted and enshrined existing regulations of the ex Australian colonies now transformed into 6 federated "states".

Discrimination against non-Europeans was relaxed by degrees from the late 1940s. But it is a mistake to regard Australian interest in Asia as "new" or as an outgrowth of a multiculturalism superseding the Whites-only days. On the contrary, Australia was deeply concerned with events in Asia for most of the 20th century - particularly in China and Japan. If nothing else, trade and war saw to that.

... Westerners in China

Benjamin Brodsky - filmmaker

Many famous Westerners made their "names" in China in the first half of the 20th century, the period under review. At least, it is impossible to dissociate China from their lives and careers.

The lure of China circa 1901 echoes its appeal today and not just to merchants bedazzled by the world's greatest mass market. Then, as now, China attracted innumerable merchants, altruists, the curious, medical experts, journalists and sundry adventurers from the "West".

For example, a long list of extraordinary (and lesser-known) Americans includes Dr. Harry Miller who established numerous hospitals throughout China. In the 1930s, he cured one of China's key figures of the twentieth century - the then drug-riddled Chang Hsueh-liang, who would live to be a ripe old 100. Or Benjamin Brodsky, the Russian Jew who went to San Francisco, traded merchandise with China, and, from 1909, became a seminal figure in the beginnings of Chinese cinema.

In the 1920s and 30s came writers and activists like Edgar Snow, Agnes Smedley, Nym Wales, Pearl Buck, Theodore White, Owen Lattimore and so many more. World War Two (1937-45) added to the group with remarkable generals like Joseph Stilwell, and Claire Lee Chennault who headed of the "Flying Tigers" those maverick American pilots who fought in China's defence. [See also SCHOLARLY ]

A whole range of foreigners enjoyed "China careers" until the Communists took power in 1949. Historians call many of them "Old China Hands", including Australasians from before1900.

Donald & the 1911 revolution ...

This was especially true after 1911, when the republican revolution, headed by Dr. Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), toppled the imperial Manchu (Qing) Dynasty which had ruled China since 1644.

Earlier, in Japan (1905), the exiled Sun co-formed the tungmenghui, a nationalist body - absorbing other anti-Qing groups - that eventually succeeded in overthrowing the imperial government. As its head, Dr. Sun became - very briefly - the first President of the Chinese republic at the beginning of 1912. One of his key advisers, W. H. Donald, drafted the President's inaugural Proclamation. (1)

In addition to his work (1903-08) for the China Mail , Donald reported Far Eastern events for British, Australian and American newspapers such as the Manchester Guardian and New York Herald. In 1908, he secretly joined the HK branch of the officially-banned tungmenghui and in 1911 moved to the mainland to edit Far Eastern Review based in Shanghai - and to become a combattant for the revolutionaries.

... "Republican" advisers from the West

The "republican" era (1911-49), one of the most tumultuous in Chinese history, made legends of some Westerners, including Australasians, intimately involved with the Chinese state and privy to its secrets.

For example, the remarkable New Zealander, Rewi Alley (1897 - 1987), was a lifelong "friend of China" both before and well after 1949 when the Communists took power. Before then, Australians like Dr. G. Morrison ("Morrison of Peking"), H. J. Timperley and, above all, "Donald of China" (W. H. Donald) attained influence as advisers to the national government of the day. Donald's position in the 30s was unique. He was the top Western adviser to national leader Chiang Kai-shek and to the powerful First Lady, Soong Mei-ling (Mme. Chiang). Yet, officially, he remained just their family "friend".

Numerically, however, the group pales before larger-than-life Chinese personalities who dominated the era - surely the stuff of drama for centuries to come. For example (off the top of this writer's head): the formidable Soong sisters, then the world's most powerful women; Tu Yueh-shen, the "Al Capone of Shanghai"; and the traitorous (and tragic?) Wang Jing-wei, once heir-apparent to the beloved Dr. Sun, yet vilified as the traitor who led a puppet government under occupying Japan. Marshal Petain, who headed the puppet "Vichy" government in German-occupied France, provides a European parallel to Wang.

Clearly, the lives of  individuals, great or otherwise, diminish against the movements of history, as expressed so well by writer Edgar Snow. China, said Snow, had claimed "a part of me even if I could make no claim on her .... I would never again imagine that I personally was anything more to China than an alien corn adrift on vast tides of history with a logic of its own and beyond my power to alter or my birthright to judge." [Journey to the Beginning, by Edgar Snow (Gollancz, UK, 1958)].

It claimed such a "part" of Donald too that he never revisited Australia and could only call China his "home". He was buried with honours in Shanghai's International Cemetery on November 10, 1946. Sadly, his grave is now unmarked; the writer could not locate it when visiting the cemetery in April 2000. 

Although Mr. Donald abhorred Chinese food and refrained from mastering any Chinese language, by 1929 he was indelibly known as "Chinese Donald" or "Donald of China". Today, Chinese scholars are reassessing his impact on the course of their nation's history..... [SEE Chinese Research ]

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Copyright, Frank Bren 2001. Photographs of Mr. Donald and friends are reproduced by kind permission of the Donald family (Australia) and Ansie Lee Sperry (USA). For all enquiries, please contact the Manager via frankmondial@lycos.com . Oh, and many thanks for visiting this site.