A man from county Down kept a diary during his years in China from 1854 to 1910.
They detail his efforts to find his feet while ‘roughing it in Hong Kong’ and searching for the relevance of his Wesleyan faith in the ‘anything goes’ Western attitude to China.
That in itself might make it worth reading the 77 volumes of his diary now stored in Queens University. However he went on to set up the Chinese Customs Service, post office and light house system. He also establish a brass band for Chinese musicians. In the process he became the most influential and respected Westerner in China at a crucial period of its modernisation.
The individual, of course, was Robert Hart, even today the most famous Irishman in China.
Born in 1835 in Portadown, he studied at Wesley College Dublin and Queens University Belfast. On graduating he was nominated for the British Consular Service in China and the rest is history.
Hart never forgot his roots and promoted a number of Irishmen to important positions and tried to help establish diplomatic relations between Imperial China and the Vatican.
He claimed he ‘did well for Western powers while doing good for China.’
You can follow his progress in China by viewing his diaries online thanks to Queens University.
It’s not often I get my picture painted.
Actually, I did not pose for the painting or even know it was planned.
One of the students staying in our house was returning to China after a year’s study here and he asked his artist friend, another Chinese student here, to draw a picture of the house with me (in typical pose?) out pruning the bushes.
I thought that if it showed me watering the flowers it might portray a nice image.
However, he told me it deliberately pictured me using shears.
‘It symbolises you role in the house here,’ he said. ‘While we are here you trim off our rough edges.’
I took it as a compliment.
Anyhow, I recommend the thought to those going to China to teach. It expressed the Chinese idea of what a teacher is: not one who just imparts knowledge but helps the student improve their character and be a better person. Or at least that is how I see it!
Among the thousands of people who came to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families were a number of groups from China. They came ‘unofficially’ because their State does not encourage such religious events, national or international.
When the Communist Party came to power it believed that, under a socialist economy and prosperity, religions would die out but that did not happen.
When the country opened again to the wider world in the 1980s, there were many thriving Christian churches and the government thought it wise to relax some of the restrictions. They even allowed individuals to do religious studies abroad.
But recently it has felt threatened by the continuing popularity of religion and re-introduced Mao-era rules prohibiting under-18s from attending church. Now religious buildings are required to display the Communist flag indoors.
Yet Christianity thrives and small groups of Catholics, despite the crack-down, took the brave step of coming to Dublin.
On arrival, they were surprised to see the negativity towards religion in the media here.
One of the visitors, a priest from the Chinese mainland currently studying in the USA, stayed with us and I tried to explain the situation. The institutional Church was unable to respond to reports of abusive behavior towards people in its care in the not-so-distant past. That opened up a credibility gap between ordinary people and the institution.
In China, the tension is between the government and believers but I hope he saw how the church too, as an institution, can alienate people.
In the meantime, maybe we in Ireland can better understand that religion is not the problem but the way it can become institutionalized.
Yesterday I was at the RDS, at the exhibition area for the World Meeting of Families.
I was supposed to be at the Columban stall but spent a lot of time going around the other exhibitions (the people next door were for Myshall, promoting their home area as a centre for pilgrimage.)
I met a lot of interesting people, many belonging to groups trying to do their bit to be of service for others but feeling a bit frustrated because of the lack of support they got.
Back at the Columban stall, my greeting was, ‘Do you have any teachers in the family?’ and if they had I told them about the Aitece program, sending volunteer teachers to China.
There was also a car with stained-glass windows. I am not sure what use that was unless you wanted to go straight to heaven when you took to the road!
Sun Yat-sen is revered as the Father of New China and Michael Davitt was the Father of the Irish Land League and one of the greatest influences in the early Irish independence movement. What do they have in common? Academics in China and Trinity College, Dublin, as well as historians in Shrule, Co Mayo, are digging into the past to find out.
Sun fled to Hong Kong in 1895 after a failed rebellion in China against the Qing Dynasty but at the request of the Qing authorities he was expelled from the city by the British. Michael Davitt, then an MP in London, brought the matter to the house of Parliament and kept pressure on the British government to recognise Sun’s independence movement.
Davitt even planned to visit China in 1899 to meet Sun and find out more about the situation.
Students from China are now at Trinity researching the contact between Sun and Davitt, and the Davitt memorial Museum in Shrule, near Davitt’s birthplace, is making a documentary about the relationship.
As it happened, it was in Shrule that the Columban Fathers (then known as the Maynooth Mission to China) opened its first college in 1918 and 330 young Irishmen left Shrule for China before the college moved to Co Meath in 1944.
Neither Davitt nor Sun thought there might be that connection.
Sometimes it may take a stretch of the imagination to find historic connections between Ireland and China as the two are far from being next door neighbours and while one is tiny the other is huge and a world power.
Yet both were striving to free themselves from foreign control and become independent republics at the same time and their struggles were a source of mutual encouragement.
The ‘Wuchang Uprising’ on 10 October 1911, which launched the Chinese movement, was reported in the Irish papers on 24 October of the same year as an inspiring example of a ‘National Awakening.’
I have noted already the influence Terence MacSwiney’s hunger strike in 1920 had on the Chinese revolutionary poet, Guo Moruo.
The involvement of Irish priests and Sisters in China from 1918 onwards brought regular news of political and social development in China to Irish homes through the ‘Far East’ mission magazine. Their presence in China also made Chinese officials aware of the fact that Ireland was not to be considered as part of England and that the Irish were not British.
Both China and Ireland had high hopes of getting their independence recognised at the post- World War l Paris Peace Conference of 1919 but the wishes of the Great Powers had preference.
More details of this ‘revolutionary’ interaction were given by Dr Aglaia De Angeli of Queen’s University at the China symposium in the Royal Irish Academy last April.
Today the links between Ireland and China are continued, not least by the Irish teachers going to China with groups like AITECE who interact with third level students and their appetite to learn about other countries and the way they manage their affairs.
When people ask me, ‘What is so important about China?’ I reply, ’What do you know about renminbi (RMB)?’
Those who have lived in China, like our volunteer Aitece teachers, know it well because their salaries were paid in it and they used it every day in the market.
It is the national currency of China and within a decade you might be using it too.
According to the IMF (International Monetary Fund) Constitution, its headquarters will be in the country with the largest economy. At present that is the USA but within a decade it is likely to be China. So the IMF HQ would move from New York to Beijing.
Now the IMF president is a European but soon that may be changing too.
At present it is useful to have US dollars in your wallet when traveling in many parts of the world but in ten years time, when China is likely to be the economic power, you may need RMB.
In 2000 the American economy was 8.5 times that of China’s but in 2001 China joined the WTO and by 2015 the US economy was only 1.6 bigger than China’s.
Economists figure China’s economy will overtake America’s within 10 years.
So, getting to know China is important and you can start counting your RMB.
Among the 1,500 who turned up in Dalgan last Sunday to enjoy the Family and Mission Open Day were representatives from China, Korea and Aitece.
The glorious weather showed Dalgan at its best and the international involvement brought extra colour and excitement.
The Chinese Catholic Community provided free Chinese tea and an opportunity to draw Chinese characters. They also sang and led a square dance.
The Korean Catholic Community were also there to show support and a local Tae-kwan-do team displayed their skills.
The AITECE teachers gathered from as far away as Cork and Leitrim with Garreth Byrne, in particular, encouraging passers-by to teach in China or tell their friends and neighbours about the opportunities.
With so many activities it was difficult to see and meet everyone and hopefully we don’t have to wait 100 years for the next occasion.
Where in Ireland do East Asia, ancient Irish hermits and thoroughbred horses come together?
The answer, of course, is the National Stud, near us here in Kildare.
The Stud is not only the home for famous racehorses but has an international school for horse management and training. Its students come for all over the world (see the photo), including China, Korea and Japan.
Within the Stud grounds is the 100 year-old Japanese Garden. A section hosts a Zen garden for those who want a touch of Buddhist spirituality.
Irish spirituality is represented in the St Fiachra’s Garden area with its copies of traditional beehive stone hermitages.
For those unable, at this moment of their life, to go to the Orient here is a chance of experiencing it while reflecting on the Celtic heritage and getting an insight into the romantic side of a horse’s life.
Enjoy the summer weather!
I am amazed at the colourful bloom of roses that has appeared in our front garden. Amazed because I did nothing to encourage them – no fertilising, no watering, no examining for green fly. lowres 26872 FAMILY AND MISSION FP AD_V1-2
They just showed up on their own, maybe wanting to reproach me.
I can’t help comparing their achievement with all the work that has gone into preparing for the Family and Mission Open Day on 1 July in Dalgan (click on link for details) . There the equivalent of fertilising, watering and attention to detail has gone on for months and I hope that that the outcome turns out as good.
The Open Day is part of the Columban Centenary Year celebrations and it has brought a lot of people together to prepare for a variety of events ranging from an outdoor Mass with Archbishop Dermot Martin, to a Pudsy’s corner for children, an area to meet Columban co-worker from abroad, media shows, food-stalls and an open air concert with performers from at least three continents.
Some of our AITECE teachers will be there to share their experiences of teaching in China and encourage others to following in their footsteps.
The Chinese Catholic Community from Dublin will also be present with dances and songs and prepared to talk about the Church in their homeland.
Committees and sub-committees and sub-sub-committees have being meeting regularly for the past few months to put all this together and it should be a colourful and exciting sight.
Here back home, I look at the display of roses in our front garden and wonder how they produced their show all on their own. Next year I must be nicer to them or, better still, set up a committee to do the fertilising, watering and fly spraying.