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China & ANU

Chapter 3

Candid Friends: Douglas Copland in Nanking, 1946–1948

On 8 May 1945, Germany surrendered to the Allied Powers. By the middle of that year, US forces had succeeded in ‘island-hopping’ across the Pacific, retaking most of the territories that Japan had occupied during the Pacific War. From Saipan the US Air Force launched devastating raids on key cities on the Japanese mainland, including Tokyo and Osaka; in July, a combined force of predominantly Chinese, British and US soldiers recaptured Burma. It was still widely anticipated that the fighting on mainland Asia, and in China in particular, would continue well into 1946 — yet it ended abruptly with the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on 6 and 9 August respectively.

Among those surprised at the war’s sudden end was Frank Keith Officer, a Gallipoli veteran who served at the Australian Legation in Chungking as Chargé d’Affaires for most of the time between Frederic Eggleston’s departure from China in March 1944 and the arrival of his successor two years later. Officer had been Chargé in Tokyo when John Latham was the Australian Minister to Japan and where, on 8 December 1941, he had received Japan’s formal declaration of war. ‘Having had the somewhat doubtful privilege of seeing the commencement of the war from Tokyo,’ he reflected in his despatch titled ‘Victory in the Pacific Day’, ‘it is particularly interesting to see its end from this, the wartime capital of China.’ It was a scene of jubilation:

Within a few moments, Chungking was in a state of hysteria: shouting singing, parading the streets, and, as on every possible occasion in China, letting off strings of fire crackers. A US Army camp near the Legation appeared to celebrate the occasion by the almost continuous firing of revolver shots — one hoped well into the air, but even then wondered where the spent bullets were falling! When the police guard at our gate commenced to discharge their rifles I felt the fun had gone far enough and should be checked!1

A garden party at the British Embassy, Chungking, 1945. From the left: Peng Sho-pei 彭學沛, Keith Officer and Horace Seymour, British Ambassador to China. (Courtesy Needham Research Institute, Cambridge UK)

The war with Japan might have ended, but the long-running civil conflict between Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists and the Chinese Communist Party led by Mao Tse-tung flared up once more. Following the Sian Incident of December 1936 during which Chiang Kai-shek was kidnapped and forced to agree to an armistice and the establishment of a ‘United Front’ between the two warring Chinese political parties against the Japanese, there had been some vague hope of a lasting accommodation. But, as Eggleston had observed in 1943, ‘the reconciliation at Sian was not in fact genuine’. Like so many others, Eggleston was of the view that Chiang Kai-shek had never forgiven Chou En-lai, the charismatic Communist envoy in Chungking, for the part he played in the incident. Eggleston had no illusions about the future of China under Communism: ‘The communists claim to be democratic but it must be remembered that they are trained in communist principles, and the gospel according to Lenin is one of dictatorship.’2

Now, the world watched on hopefully as new attempts to forge peace within China unfolded at breakneck speed. At the end of what was turning out to be a momentous month, Officer sent a despatch to Canberra titled ‘Events During August’. The most important development was Japan’s surrender; the second was ‘the decision of the Communist leader, Mao Tse-tung, to come to Chungking to discuss with the Generalissimo ... the possibility of an agreement between the Communists and the Central Government.’3

On 28 August, accompanied by the American Ambassador, Patrick Hurley, Mao flew from the Communist base in Yenan to Chungking. Shortly before embarking on the trip, Mao ordered the Party’s guerrilla units to regroup into regiments and to advance on key cities and railway lines in northern and central China. He arrived in Chungking, toasted his nemesis Chiang Kai-shek, who he not seen for twenty years, saluting him as ‘elder brother’, and smiled for the cameras as forty days of negotiations to determine China’s future began. The resulting Double Tenth Agreement of 10 October 1945 pledged that both sides would strive to realise political reconciliation, create a national army under unified command and undertake elections for a National Assembly that would initiate the country’s transition to democracy.

Chang Tzu-chung 張自忠, Mao Tse-tung, US Ambassador Patrick Hurley, Chou En-lai and Wang Jo-fei 王若飛 preparing to fly to Chungking for negotiations with the Nationalist government, August 1945. (Wikimedia Commons)

As Australian Minister to the Chinese Republic during the war, Eggleston had been optimistic that the country would emerge as a great Pacific power, one with which Australia would need to engage, cooperate and exchange knowledge. In spite of the best efforts of the US envoy, George Marshall, who arrived in Chungking in December 1945 to broker peace between the Communists and Nationalists and establish a ‘strong, united and democratic China’, Eggleston’s successor would find a country wracked by civil war.

The ‘Prof’

A successor to Eggleston, however, had yet to be appointed. Keith Officer reported to External Affairs in Canberra that the ‘main object of China’s foreign policy is to obtain and hold a position in the Council of the nations out of all proportion to its present capabilities.’ The Nationalist government was ‘intensely sensitive to criticism and to anything reflecting in the slightest degree on its prestige’, and that included the appointment and relative prominence of foreign diplomats in the republican capital. Ever since Frederic Eggleston had been sent to Washington the previous year, Officer had often encountered ‘complaint [about] the non-appointment of a new Minister’.4

The department would soon select Professor Douglas Copland, one of Australia’s most distinguished economists to the position. The New Zealand-born ‘Prof’, as friends and colleagues called him, had enjoyed a career that straddled academic life — most notably as the first Dean of the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Commerce — and public service, as an economic policy advisor to the Commonwealth Government. Copland was the special economic advisor to all three of the country’s wartime prime ministers: Robert Menzies, Arthur Fadden and John Curtin. In September 1939, Menzies had invoked emergency powers to appoint Copland Commonwealth Prices Commissioner. By having the authority to fix the prices of certain crucial commodities, Copland frustrated the price gouging and run-away inflation characteristic of other wartime economies. To ensure compliance with the new pricing regime and to prevent profiteering, Copland was given the authority ‘to examine the books of any enterprise, to investigate the rate of gross profit and, if necessary to fix a new one.’5 Adelaide’s Advertiser newspaper reported that:

Almost without knowing it [Copland] became in a day one of the most important figures on the home front — an autocrat fixing by decrees not subject to Parliamentary revision the prices of goods reaching an annual turnover of over £100,000,000 a year. ... No economist has ever been given such authority in any part of the world. ... He is a ‘Prices Czar’ in a complete personal sense.6

The death of Prime Minister John Curtin on 5 July 1945, and the end of the war only weeks later, brought an effective end to both of Copland’s appointments. When the economist wrote to inform the new prime minister, Ben Chifley, of his intention to return to academic life in Melbourne, he received in reply a suggestion that he might be willing to go to China on Australia’s behalf. The conditions of this new posting were concluded by mid October. In Chungking the Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kan Nai-kuang — a man who, we have noted, would become China’s first ambassador to Australia in 1948, and who would present ANU with its first collection of Chinese books — told the Australian Legation that his government was ‘very pleased to give agreement to the appointment of Dr. Copland as Australian Minister to China.7 It was also, External Affairs told Copland, ‘the intention of the Government to raise the status of the mission in China at an early date … by mutual arrangement with the Chinese consideration also given to the status of other posts.’8

‘He takes the profit out of profiteering’, The Sun, 26 November 1941.

Copland welcomed the new appointment. Accompanied by his secretary, Sylvia Brown, and Margaret Lundie, who would serve as the Legation’s clerk and archivist, Copland set sail for Hong Kong from Sydney on 28 January 1946 on a Danish merchant vessel, the Slesvig. After a week’s stopover in the British colony, the party flew to Canton and then on to Chungking, arriving there on 1 March.9

An official photograph following the presentation of Douglas Copland’s credentials to the government of the Republic of China, 23 March 1946. Copland stands beside the Chinese President, Chiang Kai-shek, with Chinese officials and members of the Australian Legation: First Secretary, Patrick Shaw (back row, second from the left), Second Secretary Charles Lee (back row, third from the left) and Third Secretary Barry Hall (back row, first on the right). Kan Nai-kuang (right of Chiang), then Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, was a friend of the Coplands and was appointed China’s first ambassador to Australia in 1948. (Courtesy National Library of Australia)

The Chinese President Chiang Kai-shek had an informal meeting with the new Australian Minister soon after his arrival, one that Copland described as ‘most cordial’. He reported to Evatt that the conversation confirmed everything he had heard about the ‘very high place’ Eggleston had occupied in Chungking’s diplomatic circles. During the exchange, Chiang also suggested that Copland might ‘be able to assist in the solution of some of China’s economic problems, which he said were very serious.’10

And it was not long before the Australian discovered how serious China’s problems were, or that endemic corruption among Chiang’s Nationalist officials was at their core.

At this time, in March 1946, Chungking was bustling with grandees, government officials, military personnel, foreign diplomats and journalists, many of whom had converged on the city to participate in or observe the Political Consultative Conference convened as a result of the US envoy George Marshall’s efforts at mediation between the Nationalists, the Communists and China’s other minor political parties. For his first three weeks in China Copland was caught up in the whirl of diplomatic socialising afforded by this unprecedented gathering.

He found that Chinese government ministers were ‘as a whole … able’, at least in terms of their formal education and experience in politics, but that ‘it is one of the paradoxes of China that there are so many people of ability and so few who accept the broad civic responsibilities that would be found in a western nation.’11 He discussed the success of Australia’s wartime economic austerity measures with many of the bureaucrats he encountered, including Weng Wen-hao 翁文灝, Minister for Economic Affairs, Yu Hung-chun 愈鴻鈞, Minister of Finance, Chu Chia-hua 朱家驊, Minister of Education and Wang Chung-hui 王寵惠, a prominent jurist and diplomat who was then Secretary of China’s National Defence Council. He was somewhat taken aback to find that frugality or restraint of any description ‘did not seem to interest the Chinese at all … [they] have no interest in rationing or, as far as I can see, in an equitable distribution of their own food resources.’12

By contrast, it was soon a ‘well-worn theme’ in Copland’s exchanges with his Chinese interlocutors that the Nationalist government expected ‘much ... from America, both in regard to monetary assistance and the use of technical experts’13 (it was hardly surprising that the US Army commander ‘Vinegar Joe’ Stilwell dubbed the Nationalist leader ‘Generalissimo Cash-My-Check’). Much of the aid was delivered by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), a body founded by the American President, Franklin Roosevelt, to provide support to countries devastated by the war. Two-thirds of Australia’s commitment to the UNRRA, amounting to some £6,563,000, went directly to China where relief supplies were frequently pilfered or sold. Throughout 1946 and 1947, the Australian press carried reports and photographs of UNRRA ships lying idle in Chinese ports, with one Labor MP telling parliament that: ‘clothes donated by Australian workers, bearing Australian trademarks, were hawked along the [Shanghai] Bund or sold openly in the shops’.14 Just as Australian public opinion and hopes for a post-war China deteriorated, so Copland’s view of China’s Nationalist government rapidly turned from cautious hope to bitter scepticism.

But what about their opponents, the Chinese Communist Party? Or, for that matter, the minor parties like the Democratic League and the Youth Party, representatives of which also took part in the Political Consultative Conference? ‘On the list of Chinese officials on whom I was expected to call’, Copland wrote, ‘no provision had been made for the leader of the Communist Party or any other Parties outside the Kuomintang’: Copland had to arrange such meetings privately. It was not that he was in any way starry-eyed about the Communists. Wary of their anti-democratic ideology and having heard reports of the brutality of their land reforms, he wrote that: ‘I would feel happier if the battle for a democratic constitution in China were being conducted by somebody other than the Communists’. Nonetheless, he managed to arrange a meeting with Chou En-lai, the Chinese Communist Party’s envoy to the peace negotiations:

[Chou] opened the conversation by paying a graceful compliment to Sir Frederic Eggleston, whom he knew well and respected highly. He then referred to the fact that Australia seemed to appoint scholars as her diplomatic representatives.

This has been a constant source of amusement to me, and it has always been possible to turn it off by saying that when you are in China you must do as China does and show some respect for the scholar. … He is rather more restrained in discussion than some of the more vociferous people I have met, and has a very strong underlying sense of humour. I hope to see more of him.15

The staff of the Australian Legation on the steps of the Chancery, Nanking, March 1948. From the left: Barry Hall (Third Secretary), Sylvia Brown (Copland’s personal secretary), Marion Beattie (Cypher Officer), Douglas Copland, Bill Hamilton (Accountant), Barbara Palmer (Stenographer) and Max Loveday (Third Secretary). Baby Robert Beattie, in Copland’s arms, was the first foreign child born in the city following the return of the Nationalist goverment. In 1950, Bill Hamilton was appointed as an accountant at ANU; he later served as the university’s bursar and registrar, retiring in 1978. (Photograph by Barry Hall, courtesy Diana Hall)

With the war over and the political conference under way, the next task for the Chinese government was to relocate back to its pre-war capital of Nanking. During April 1946, the Australian diplomatic mission in Chungking was occupied with preparations to join the exodus. Most diplomatic representatives arrived in the old capital by 5 May, which Chiang Kai-shek declared to be a day marking the government’s ‘triumphant return to Nanking’ 凱旋南京. Copland handed responsibility for the relocation to his Third Secretary, Barry Hall, while he travelled north ‘to see China as it was in the spacious days — or at least to form some impression of life in the old concession areas, and how it has been affected by the war and the abolition of extraterritoriality.’16 At the invitation of the British Ambassador, Horace Seymour, Copland visited the formerly Japanese-occupied cities of Tsingtao in Shantung province, Tientsin and Peiping [see Maps, pp.iv-v].

As the RAF aircraft in which Copland was flying approached Tsingtao, he was struck by the sea-side city: ‘a string of American warships at anchor in the bay, green fields in and around the scattered city … wide streets with well-built modern houses’. The place ‘made a far more pleasing impression on me than has any place in China so far’; yet Copland was also aware that Tsingtao, as well as Tientsin and Peiping represented ‘pockets of government resistance’ within a Communist-dominated countryside. Only a huge US military presence — some 50,000 US marines were stationed in those three cities alone — ensured that both parties adhered to the ceasefire.17

Copland (front row, second from the left) and the British Ambassador, Horace Seymour (right of Copland) with Chinese and foreign officials at the Summer Palace, Peiping, May 1946. (Courtesy National Library of Australia)

In her study of the Chinese Civil War, Suzanne Pepper writes that ‘the carpetbagging [Nationalist] official from Chungking became the hallmark of the reconversion period’ — the months in which tens of thousands of government soldiers and officers, many of them travelling in American planes, were ferried ‘back east’ in the wake of the Japanese surrender. ‘According to his [the carpetbaggers’] popular image,’ she writes, ‘he had five preoccupations: gold bars, automobiles, houses, Japanese women, and face.’18 Copland observed popular outrage at the carpetbaggers first hand. Locals in Tientsin and Peiping told him that ‘they had been better off under Japanese control’, while the behaviour of the Nationalist government — which was returning ostensibly to liberate them — evoked memories of the brutal warlords who had ruled China during the 1910s and 1920s. In the eyes of many, Chiang’s government was well on the way to ‘snatching defeat from the jaws of victory’. Many, Copland wrote, ‘[compared] their position with what it might be if the Communists were in full control’.19 For the Australian Minister, the prospect of a Communist victory in the Civil War seemed neither unrealistic, nor too far off. On his last night in Tsingtao, he slept badly due to the constant crackle of gunfire coming from the outskirts of the city.

Less that one month after he had settled in at the new Australian Legation in Nanking, Copland had come to some important conclusions about the prospects of the Nationalists and the probable effects of American intervention in Chinese politics. In a despatch to Canberra dated 4 July and marked ‘MOST SECRET’, he recounted a ‘long and frank’ conversation with Tillman Durdin, a veteran New York Times correspondent who served as an advisor to the US envoy George Marshall. Durdin wanted to ‘sound me out’, Copland wrote, ‘on a proposal he had been thinking of making to Marshall’. For his part, Copland reported:

I had been thinking a good deal about the long term implications of American intervention in China, and I was able to underline his [Durdin’s] fears that it would not produce political reform, that it would leave all the abuses of the land and financial systems practically untouched, that it was in danger of producing one of the worst systems of exploitative capitalism the world had known, that it would lead in the end to much dispute between the Chinese Government and the Americans with a new anti-foreign campaign, and that all this would be balm to the soul of the Communists and greatly to the advantage of Russia.20

Copland’s hilltop residence at Kwei-yun Tang 歸雲堂 (The Hall of Returning Clouds) to the west of Nanking, with the city and Purple Mountain in the background, c.1947. (Courtesy National Library of Australia)

Nanking, the ‘Glorious Village’

The city of Nanking, a glorious centre of commerce and culture from Ming times in the late fourteenth century, had never fully recovered from the depredations of the Taiping Civil War in the mid-nineteenth century. That war — to that date the longest, and bloodiest, civil conflict in human history — left the Lower Yangtze Valley, where Nanking is situated, a depopulated Trümmerfeld, so much so that in 1930 the noted essayist Lin Yutang could describe the place as little more than a ‘glorious village’:

[I]ts little hills and undulations in the city topography, its cabbage fields and poultry yards, its horse carriages plodding drowsily along narrow alley-ways, and the general appearance of desolation and extreme rusticity inside the city limits.21

By the time Copland arrived in Nanking, in May 1946, swathes of land within the ancient city walls were still devoted to agriculture. The Minister’s official residence was located to the west of the city centre on a hill in a district known as The Hall of Returning Clouds, proximate to the Yangtze. It offered a vista of the surrounding countryside. As Copland wrote to his wife Ruth, who was still in Australia and would not arrive in Nanking for another year:

The sun is setting on Purple Mountain and there are low hills all around to the left and in between fields and trees, still green with leaves showing the first signs of losing their colour, and the corn fields taking on a yellow hue. The peasants are working in their fields and people are wandering aimlessly on the roads, and you would think that China was really the land so often described in books.22

The residence (or, in official parlance, ‘the Legation’) boasted a swimming pool, where Copland’s staff spent a lot of time during the blistering summer months, and a yard large enough to host garden parties and games of cricket with members of the British Embassy. But many visitors confused the Copland residence with the Chancery — the site of official diplomatic business, which was located in the main part of the city — including once guests for a dinner party that the Minister was hosting for local university professors: ‘The four who turned up late [having gone to the Chancery by mistake] were from Ginling College, including the distinguished principal, Dr Wu Yi-feng, probably the most able woman in the land’, Copland wrote to his wife. ‘She had been here before and had had trouble [with the address] on that occasion’.23 Copland’s own commute between the Legation and the Chancelry was unproblematic as he had a driver although, as he told his close friend and former teacher, the economist Lyndhurst Giblin, on most days he preferred the two-mile walk into town: ‘it is across almost open country within the city walls and in these still Autumn days the landscapes are extraordinarily attractive.’24

In 1929, shortly after the Republican government had been installed in Nanking, urban planners began transforming the gracious, if down-at-heel, old town known to its residents as Chin-ling 金陵 (‘Golden Hills’) into a modern capital city, new suburbs of which were in part inspired by another planned city, that of Canberra. Some of the older suburbs to the west of the Drum Tower in the heart of the old city were demolished to make way for a ‘High-Level Residential Zone’.25 There, grand mansions for officials, the wealthy and foreign diplomats were built in keeping with contemporary architectural trends and the latest standards of hygiene. An Australian Chancery was opened in the heart of this district at 34 Peiping Road in June 1946, before moving to a second location in early 1948, at nearby Yi Ho Road. It was not just Eggleston who referred to the Melbourne suburb of Toorak as the standard for all things solid and upper class. ‘We have the British Counsel next door and the Canadians at the end of the street’, wrote Barry Hall in a letter home. It was ‘just as if a large chunk of Toorak was liberally sprinkled with foreign diplomats of all descriptions’.26

The first Chancery of the Australian Legation at 34 Peiping Road (now Beijing West Road), Nanking, c.1947. (Photograph by Max Loveday, courtesy Loveday family and Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade)

The second Chancery at 32 (previously 26) Yihe Road, now a private residence, in 2013. The building is one of many protected sites in the ‘Yihe Road Republican Architecture Complex’ 頤和路民國建築群. (Photograph by William Sima)

The mayor of Nanking, Shen Yi 沈怡, lived in a modern stucco house at 38 Peiping Road which was mockingly referred to as ‘the White House’ due to its resemblance to the presidential residence and workplace in Washington. Shen and his wife, ‘first lady’ Inyeening Shen 沈應懿凝, would become good friends of the Coplands following Ruth Copland’s arrival in mid 1947. Inyeening Shen later wrote that she found the Australian couple ‘affable and sincere, without the hypocritical politeness … so often seen as the only social amenity of many of the other diplomats.’ Copland, she also noted, ‘frequently presented lectures in Nanking, at universities and other education institutions. He also took pleasure in going to other cities in China by invitation from local universities. We met more often in academic gatherings than at diplomatic functions.’27

The Australians also made friends with the university lecturer, translator and bon vivant Yang Hsien-yi 楊憲益. Yang and his English wife Gladys (the daughter of a British missionary) lived nearby and were frequent guests at legation functions, including the celebration of Australia Day in 1948.28 Yang Hsien-yi taught English and Byzantine history at two local universities. Despite this and as a result of rampant inflation, he only made the equivalent of eight dollars a month, an amount that could merely buy the equivalent of two sacks of flour.29 Bill Hamilton, the mission’s accountant, who later served as Bursar, then Registrar, of ANU, recalls that on one occasion he lent money to the Yangs, which Hsien-yi repaid with a set of Japanese woodblock prints.30

Copland was naturally cordial in his dealings with members of the country’s political establishment, but his real sympathies lay with the students and intellectuals protesting against the Civil War. Copland found the despotic and violent behaviour of the Nationalists — including the brazen assassination of the outspoken liberal poet Wen Yi-tuo 聞一多 in Kunming, in July 1946, after he likened Chiang Kai-shek to Hitler and Mussolini — as well as their corruption and lack of concern about inflation to be repugnant. One of his most prominent contacts was Soong Ching-ling 宋慶齡, the widely-respected widow of Sun Yat-sen (and sister of Chiang Kai-shek’s wife, May-ling), who the Australian diplomat met in September 1946 after lecturing at the Shanghai Rotary Club. An outspoken opponent of the Civil War, Soong — a public figure who, despite her lofty status, was under surveillance as a Communist sympathiser — admired Copland’s liberal opinions. ‘Madame Sun will welcome you here,’ Copland wrote to Ruth, shortly after that first encounter. ‘She has been reading my address at the Rotary Club & said that she was pleased that I was a liberal — we had a talk about China & agreed that progress could only come through the adoption of a liberal policy’.31

‘Lunch with the Mayor’, March 1948. From the left: Ruth Copland, Lady Stevenson, Inyeening Shen, Douglas Copland, unknown, Shen Yi, and Anujee Menon (wife of the Indian Ambassador, KPS Menon). (Courtesy National Library of Australia)

In September 1946, the British writer and historian Charles Patrick FitzGerald, who would eventually establish the Chinese Studies programme at ANU, arrived in Nanking to work for the British Council, which was also located on Peiping Road. He recalled with humour his first introduction to the Australians who lived over the road. The windows of the Australian Chancery did not have curtains, and FitzGerald caught sight of the Australians, Charles Lee, Barry Hall and Lionel Phillips, while they were undressing.32

FitzGerald had been fascinated with China since his school days in London and, after having found himself a job in China at the age of twenty-one, had lived and travelled in the country for over ten years. During this first China sojourn, from 1923 to 1928, he studied Chinese in Peking and worked as a depot clerk on the Peking-Mukden Railway. In 1927, while working at the International By-Products Company in Hankow — ‘the euphemistic name’, he said, for a company which turned pig guts into hot dog casings for export to America — he witnessed the siege and capture of that city by Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist forces during the Northern Expedition.33

FitzGerald’s formal education, which later proved to be a matter of some contention among his prospective employers at ANU, consisted of a Diploma of Mandarin from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, which he completed in 1930 shortly after returning from his first stint in China. By the time FitzGerald met Copland and his fellow Australians in 1946, the British clerk and adventurer turned scholar had built up a formidable knowledge of the country and its history. He had also published three significant books: the first, Son of Heaven, a biography of the founder of the Tang dynasty, Li Shih-min 李世民, appeared in 1933 through Cambridge University Press; his second, China: A Short Cultural History, was published by Cresset Press in London in 1935 and was later translated into Chinese, Russian, Polish, Italian and German (it was used as a standard introductory text in high schools and universities up until the 1980s). The year after China was published, FitzGerald was awarded a Leverhulme Fellowship to study the language and culture of the Bai, or Min-chia ethnic minority in China’s southwestern Yunnan province. He pursued this project from 1936 to 1939 and published the resulting book, The Tower of Five Glories, in 1941.

FitzGerald and his wife Sara were soon enjoying frequent contact with the Australians and, like Inyeening Shen, they appreciated the informal friendliness of Copland and his staff. Sara FitzGerald commented that: ‘the Australians were much better at mixing with the Chinese than most of the embassies’.34 For his part FitzGerald remarked:

Chinese regarded Australia as in a different category from the leading nations of the West, the United States, Great Britain and France. … Australia — even more than Canada — was seen as a ‘liberated’ country, which had shaken off colonial bonds. It was therefore treated with sympathy as a potential friend, and as Sir Douglas Copland developed his policy approach, a useful intermediary between the Chinese government and the embassies of the major Western powers. The Communists, who still in 1946 had a mission, headed by Chou En-lai … also saw Australia in this light, and formed good relations with Sir Douglas.35

FitzGerald might have been referring to an occasion in September 1946 when Copland received Wang Ping-nan 王炳南, an emissary from Chou En-lai, at the Australian Chancery. He told his wife Ruth that the Communists were ‘actually sounding me out as to whether there was not some form of international mediation that could be adopted to stop the civil war. I must say that I sympathised with them, but I could only say that I would call on Chou early next week and have a further talk. Meanwhile I’ll have to send a message to Canberra about the talk. I don’t expect much response.’36

As was so often the case, Canberra was unenthusiastic.

CP FitzGerald shortly before his first trip to China, c.1923. (Courtesy Mirabel and Anthea FitzGerald)

Letter, Lo Chung-shu to Eggleston, 29 April 1949. (Courtesy National Library of Australia)

Canberra Interlude

Later that same month, Copland was summoned to New York to support Norman Makin, the Australian Ambassador to the United States, at an early meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations which had been established the previous year. Before returning to China, Copland took a long detour and spent thirteen weeks in Australia. While there, he complained to Prime Minister Ben Chifley about Canberra’s lack of attention to the Nanking Legation.37 The Chinese, he said, ‘had been a little disturbed that no response had come from Australia to their repeated suggestions that the status [of the Australian Legation] should be raised [to that of an embassy]’. Copland also told the Prime Minister that China’s spiralling inflation had also placed a considerable financial burden on him and his staff.38

By the time Copland arrived in Canberra in early 1947, Frederic Eggleston had been sitting on the Interim Council of ANU for some four months. He had already shared with the Council his enthusiasm about inviting a Chinese scholar to lecture in Australia in the hope that such a prominent visitor would help advise the university on the development of Chinese Studies. He now asked Copland to pursue the matter on his return to China. At this stage, Eggleston had still not heard back from Lo Chung-shu, the British-educated philosopher to whom he had extended an invitation to visit Australia at the time of ANU’s inauguration the previous August (Lo was travelling overseas and Eggleston’s letter went missing; he would not receive a reply for another two years).

In response to Eggleston’s request, Copland suggested four possible candidates: Hu Shih, President of Peking University; the evolutionary biologist and eugenicist, Quentin Pan, then at Tsinghua University in Peiping, who, as another outspoken critic of the Nationalist government, Copland admired as a ‘person of strong personality, a good sense of humour and great courage’; and one ‘Professor Li, whose full name I forget, of St. John’s University, Shanghai, [who] would be able to deal with Economics and Political Science’. The fourth was Wu Yi-fang, who held a PhD in biology from the University of Michigan. In 1927, Wu had been appointed head of the Ginling Women’s College in Nanking, becoming China’s first female university president.39

Eggleston approved of extending an invitation to Hu Shih, a prominent cultural figure and political thinker since the 1910s. He also suggested Tsiang Ting-fu 蔣廷黻, a Columbia University educated historian of Ch’ing-era and modern China, who had supervised John King Fairbank at Tsinghua University in the 1930s. Tsiang had abandoned academic life in 1935 to join the Nationalist government, convinced that China needed strong, dictatorial government in the face of mounting Japanese aggression.40 Eggleston submitted both Hu’s and Tsiang’s names for consideration to the ANU Interim Council during its seventh meeting, in March 1947.41 Meanwhile, after consulting with the British Council in Nanking, Copland’s Chargé, Patrick Shaw, provided a list of thirteen other potential candidates, which was sent to Eggleston in April. These thirteen included Copland’s original suggestion of Wu Yi-fang, a person whom Copland had come particularly to admire.

Letter from Copland to Eggleston, 9 April 1947, including the names of Chinese scholars to be considered by the Interim Council. (Courtesy National Library of Australia)

Letter from Copland to Eggleston, 9 April 1947, including the names of Chinese scholars to be considered by the Interim Council. (Courtesy National Library of Australia)

He pursued this quest as the situation in China continued to deteriorate. Copland remarked to a friend that the city to which he had returned on 20 May 1947:

was a very different Nanking from the one I had left. In the interim, the civil war had gone wrong, as it was bound to. There was a tremendous increase in prices and no end of the inflationary movement in sight, and political unrest was boiling up to a crisis. None of my Chinese friends could offer any hope of any improvement, and very few of them actually wanted to talk about it.42

The US envoy George Marshall had left China, having declared his mission to broker a truce between the Nationalists and the Communists a failure. In July, the Nationalist government issued a General Mobilisation Order, in effect a declaration of full-scale civil war that cast aside even the pretence of the ceasefire agreements which had been the hallmark of American mediation since 1945. Copland reported to Canberra that a page of cartoons by the artist Loh Han-ying 樂漢英 which overtly lampooned Nationalist politicians, scholars and military leaders for their corruption, venality and incompetence had appeared in the newspaper Tieh Pao 鐵報. It was ‘one of the few pleasing things’ Copland found on the Chinese political scene at the time. As a result of the increasingly paranoid Nationalist regime of censorship, Tieh Pao was soon banned, but the English newspaper China Weekly Review soon reprinted the satirical material.43

Two cartoons from the China Weekly Review, 31 May 1947. Left: Hsuen Tieh-wu 宣鐵吳, the Commander of the Shanghai Garrison, is shown ‘beating tigers and catching flies’ 打虎捏蒼蠅 — a euphemism for an anti-corruption drive against high- and low-level government officials. Working under Chiang Kai-shek’s son, Chiang Ching-kuo 蔣經國, Hsuen was in charge of stamping out racketeering involving government loans that had been given to Shanghai rice producers to stabilise market prices; right: Hu Shih, doyen of the 1919 May Fourth intellectual movement, editor of the 1930s journal Independent Review 獨立評論 and President of Peking University, sits in front of a blackboard on which the words ‘education first’ are written.

Copland had by now developed strong sympathies for the anti-Civil War movement led by students and liberals. While continuing to support Eggleston’s search for suitable academics to lecture in Australia, the communications between the two men in the second half on 1947 reveal a distinctly different approach to the task. Eggleston, driven by an obsession with perceived ‘intellectual eminence’, was adamant that Hu Shih should be invited to Australia; Copland had his doubts. Certainly, he had approved of the ‘dignified statement from the leading scholar of China, Dr. Hu Shih’ when, in May, Hu condemned Chiang Kai-shek for his attacks on anti-war student protesters as Communist stooges. In defence of the students, Hu cited examples of student protests from Chinese history. However, by July, Hu had changed tack entirely, coming out in support of Chiang’s General Mobilisation Order against the Communists.44 Chinese liberals, Copland wrote to Eggleston, were ‘beginning to entertain some doubt as to whether [Hu] can be sufficiently independent to maintain any semblance of liberal influence.’ By contrast, he found the female university president Wu Yi-fang inspirational:

One of the most independent persons is Dr. Wu Yi-feng [sic] of Ginling College. Her comment on the Mobilisation Order was that you could never settle the Communist question by military means. There are stories concerning her that, at a private party during the last meeting of the PPC [People’s Political Conference], she tackled the Gmo [Generalissimo] on his repressive measures against the students. That is a pretty brave thing for an academic person to do. … I would have as much confidence in her integrity of mind as I have almost any Chinese I have met. As soon as I hear from Hu Shih, I shall cable you, and, if he does not respond, I shall make another suggestion.45

Eggleston knew Wu from his time in Chungking: ‘She seems to me one of the nicest looking people I have ever met, but whether she has any intellectual eminence I couldn’t make out’, he responded to Copland, politely rejecting his suggestion that they invite her to Australia.46

Wu Yi-fang, one of only four women to sign the Charter of the United Nations, at the UN San Francisco Conference, June 1945. (Courtesy UN Photo)

It would appear that Eggleston had made little effort to find out just how ‘eminent’ Wu Yi-fang was, and his comment on her appearance, rather than pursuing the issue of her intellectual acuity, is telling. Although Wu was prominent enough to be one of the first female signatories of the UN Charter, Tsiang Ting-fu, the second candidate on Eggleston’s wish-list, had been appointed as the Republic of China’s representative to the United Nations. ‘I am glad to see this but, in another way, I am sorry’, Eggleston wrote to Copland, ‘because I believe that this will mean he will not be able to come to Australia.’ Thereupon, Eggleston instructed Copland to approach Hu again, in the hope that he might be able to come to Canberra in 1948 — ‘any time from March to July would do.’47

ANU Calling

For Copland these were by no means the only frustrations he experienced in China. The decaying political situation deeply depressed him while at the same time he was increasingly disillusioned about the value of his reports to Canberra. He felt that he was merely ‘beating the air’, especially since External Affairs still showed no sign of elevating the status of the Legation. The Department had also failed to attend to his requests regarding staff salaries and permanent accommodation for the Mission. Moreover, his wife Ruth and daughter Rosemary were finding it difficult to cope with Nanking’s stifling summer heat (the city is one of the country’s notorious ‘Three Great Furnaces’ 三大火爐), and the Coplands were concerned to place Rosemary in an appropriate school back in Australia.48 At the end of July, he wrote to Eggleston:

You probably know that I am not particularly well pleased with Australian relations with China, and I don’t think I could afford to mark time here much longer than the end of the year. With the dead weight of a return to Kuomintang dictatorship, there is neither life nor inspiration in Nanking, and by the end of the year I certainly think I shall have exhausted all the reporting I think will be worth while. I should very much like to get up north, not only in the cities held by the Government but out into the Communist area. However, that will be impossible because I am sure the Chinese Government would frown upon it and I don’t think my friends in Canberra would think that they would have a particularly good political asset in my roaming around among the Communists in China. I continue to hear reports of the effectiveness of the Communists’ war effort and the efficiency of their administration compared with that of the Government, and I would very much like to see it on the spot.49

Despite his misgivings about Nationalist government disapproval, Copland did travel north for a second time. From 19 September to 7 October, he visited the grand, if deliquescent city of Peiping. He stayed in the courtyard house near Coal Hill 煤山 in the centre of the city where Barry Hall lived while attending language classes. The Communist-held areas that he was so keen to visit now included much of Manchuria:

It is not stretching one’s imagination too far to say that if the Communist campaign in Manchuria is successful, the fortunes of the Government armies to the north of the Yellow River will be seriously affected.50

Despite his reservations about Hu Shih, Copland met with him on a number of occasions during his stay in Peiping. The day before he left the city, he attended a banquet with Hu who, ‘in a half serious vein’, suggested that the Australian diplomat ‘be appointed adviser to the Chinese Government on how to check inflation’.51 As Copland reported to Mills and the Interim Council of ANU, on this occasion Hu told him that if he were to accept an invitation to Canberra, he would only be able to stay for a month. It was the same for Tsiang Ting-fu who, he said, ‘was really quite upset that he could not accept the invitation [to visit Australia]’.52

Copland found a letter from Eggleston waiting for him upon his return to Nanking:

I really can’t quite get your idea that the Communists have something to contribute. So far as I can see, they are only running around in circles picking up bits of railway line wherever they come across it. ... I hope you do not leave the Service at the end of the year unless you have something much more worth your while and valuable to the public of Australia. Would you like to be Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University at Canberra? I have no authority in the matter, but I would know what to do.53

Copland replied the next day to say he would be interested in the position.54 Thereupon, when addressing the Interim Council, Eggleston argued strongly in Copland’s favour. The economist’s qualities, Eggleston declared: ‘included proven administrative capacity, a flair for publicity, vast energy, and a determination to take no nonsense from anyone who might offer it.’55

Letter from Soong to Douglas Copland, 4 November 1947. (Courtesy National Library of Australia)

Letter dated 26 March 1948, the day Copland left Nanking. (Courtesy National Library of Australia)

Soong Ching-ling in 1958 (from Commemorating Comrade Song Qingling 纪念宋庆龄同志, Beijing: Wenwu chubanshe, 1982)

The Council approved the appointment that same month. In March 1948, one week before leaving China, Copland received a letter from CP FitzGerald, who now headed the British Council office in Peiping:

When I last saw you in Nanking you will remember that you asked me to give you a short note on my career. I enclose this on a separate sheet, with apologies for the delay. We are all very sorry that you should be leaving China, and China will lose a candid friend — of which she has too few. On the other hand Australia will be the gainer by your return, and I feel sure that at Canberra you will find work after your own heart.56

The letter came accompanied by a copy of FitzGerald’s curriculum vitae.

1 Despatch no.50, ‘VP Day’, 16 August 1945, p.1, NAA A4231, 1945/NANKING.

2 Despatch no.101, ‘Communism’, 10 August 1943, p.2, NAA A4231, 1943/NANKING PART 2.

3 Despatch no.55, ‘Events During August’, 5 September 1945, pp.1-2, NAA A4231, 1945/NANKING.

4 Despatch no.7, ‘Legation Report’, 27 January 1945, p.4, NAA A4231, 1945/NANKING.

5 Marjorie Harper, Douglas Copland, pp.225-226.

6 ‘Canberra Gossip: Autocrat Overnight’, The Advertiser (Adelaide), 30 September 1939, p.23.

7 Telegram, Australian Legation to Department of External Affairs, 25 October 1945, NAA 1066, IC45/64/2/2.

8 Norman Makin (Acting Minister for External Affairs) to Copland, 16 October 1945, NLA MS3800, Box 148.

9 Margaret Lundie, Never a Dull Moment in China: Pleasures and Problems of Legation Life, Roseville: Orana Press, 1987, p.iv.

10 Despatch no.17, ‘Presentation of Credentials’, 26 March 1946, p.1, NAA A4231, 1946/NANKING PART 1.

11 Despatch no.23, ‘Discharge of Diplomatic Courtesies’, 17 April 1946, p.1; and, Annex A, ‘Discharge of Diplomatic Courtesies’, p.1, NAA A4231, 1946/NANKING PART 1.

12 Despatch no.23, ‘Discharge of Diplomatic Courtesies’, p.4.

13 Despatch no.23, ‘Discharge of Diplomatic Courtesies’, p.3.

14 Henry S Albinski, Australian Policies and Attitudes Toward China, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965, pp.6-7. The UNRRA figure of £6,563,000 is approximately $450,000,000 in 2015.

15 Despatch no.23, ‘Discharge of Diplomatic Courtesies’, Annex A, ‘Discharge of Diplomatic Courtesies’, p.4; and, Annex C, ‘Miscellaneous Notes on Further Discussions’, pp.1-2. Emphasis in the original.

16 Despatch no.27, ‘Visit to Tsingtao and Tientsin’, 21 May 1946, Annex A, ‘The Spacious Days in China’, p.1, NAA A4231, 1946/NANKING PART 1.

17 Despatch no.25, ‘Visit to North China’, 13 May 1946, p.1, NAA A4231, 1946/NANKING PART 1.

18 Suzanne Pepper, Civil War in China: The Political Struggle, 1945–1949, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1978, p.16.

19 Despatch no.27, ‘Visit to Tsingtao and Tientsin’, Annex A, ‘The Spacious Days in China’, p.8.

20 Despatch no.49, ‘The Truce Discussions: Some Reflections’, 4 July 1946, pp.1, 4, NAA A4231, 1946/NANKING PART2.

21 Lin Yutang, ‘The Little Critic’, The China Critic, vol.III, no.49 (4 December 1930): 1165-1168, at pp.1165-1166.

22 Letter, Copland to Ruth, 4 September 1946, NLA MS3800, Box 158.

23 Letter, Copland to Ruth, 18 September 1946, NLA MS3800, Box 158.

24 Letter, Copland to Giblin, 12 October 1946, NAA A4144, 270/1946.

25 For details of Nanking’s ‘Capital Plan’ 首都計畫, see Charles Musgrove, China’s Contested Capital, pp.55-88.

26 Letter, Barry Hall to his mother, 31 May 1946, provided to the author by Diana Hall.

27 Jane Shen Schopf, ed., My Years in Nanking: Reminiscences of Inyeening Shen, Bloomington (Indiana): iUniverse, pp.90-91.

28 Despatch no.15, ‘Australia Day, 1948’, Annex B, ‘Informal Reception on Sunday, 25th January on the eve of the Australian National Day, at 26 Yi Ho Lu, From 5:30 to 7:30 PM’, p.4, NAA, A4231, 1948/NANKING PART 1. Margaret Lundie (in Never a Dull Moment in China, p.108) notes that: ‘We did get to know some Chinese well, notably Yang Hsien-yi and his China-born wife of English stock, Gladys. They lived quite close to us. In order to supplement their salaries, ravaged by inflation, they used to sell pottery and miscellaneous curios.’ For an account of Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang’s relationships with later generations of Australian scholars, and a tribute to Yang Hsien-yi following his death in November 2009, see China Heritage Quarterly, no.25 (March 2011), online at

29 Yang Xianyi, White Tiger, Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2002, pp.152-154.

30 Author’s interview with Bill Hamilton, 21 August 2014, Canberra.

31 Letter, Copland to Ruth, 30 September 1946, NLA MS3800, Box 158.

32 Stephen Foster, ‘Interview with Emeritus Professor CP FitzGerald’, 2 May 1991, ANU Oral History Archive, online at: See also Mirabel and Anthea FitzGerald, ‘C.P. FitzGerald: A Memoir’, in the volume ‘In Memoriam: Charles Patrick FitzGerald’, East Asian History, no.6 (December 1993): 1-6.

33 CP FitzGerald, Why China?: Recollections of China, 1923-1950, Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1985, p.85.

34 Lundie, Never a Dull Moment in China, pp.99-100.

35 CP FitzGerald, Why China?, p.211.

36 Letter, Copland to Ruth, 18 September 1946, NLA MS3800, Box 158.

37 Marjorie Harper, Douglas Copland, pp.292-300.

38 Copland, summary of ‘An interview with the Prime Minister on January 8th’, 10 January 1947, NLA MS3800/Box 148.

39 Letter, Copland to Eggleston, 18 February 1947, NLA MS423/12/98.

40 Letter, Eggleston to Copland, 26 February 1947, NLA MS423/12/103; see also John King Fairbank, Chinabound: a Fifty-Year Memoir, New York: Harper & Row, 1982, pp.85-103.

41 ANU Interim Council, Minutes of the Seventh Meeting, 14 March 1947, ANUA 198, Box 2.

42 Letter, Copland to Bernard Foster, 7 July 1947, NLA MS3800, Box 153.

43 Despatch no.67, ‘The Cartoonist in China’, 7 June 1947, p.2, NAA A4231, 1947/NANKING PART 2.

44 Despatch no.70, ‘The Reign of Repression’, 9 June 1947, p.3, NAA A4231, 1947/NANKING PART 2.

45 Letter, Copland to Eggleston, 24 July 1947, NLA MS423/12/149.

46 Letter, Eggleston to Copland, 8 September 1947, NLA MS423/12/163.

47 Letter, Eggleston to Copland, 20 June 1947, NLA MS423/12/140. The minutes of the Interim Council (Eleventh Meeting, 11 July 1947) recorded correspondence from Copland, advising that ‘as Tsiang Ting-fu is unable to accept, he [Copland] is inviting Dr. Hu Shih to visit Australia on the National University’s behalf’. See ANU A198, Box 2.

48 Letter, Copland to John Burton (Secretary, Department of External Affairs), 12 August 1947, NLA MS3800, Box 148.

49 Letter, Copland to Eggleston, 24 July 1947, NLA MS423/12/149.

50 Despatch no.72, ‘Military Situation in China — Manchuria’, 14 June 1947, p.2, NAA A4231, 1947/NANKING PART 2.

51 Despatch no.8, ‘Visit to Peiping’, 17 October 1947, Annex D, ‘Diary on Visit to Peiping’, p.14, NAA A4231, 1947/NANKING PART 3.

52 Letter, Copland to Mills, 30 September 1947, NLA MS423/12/169.

53 Letter, Eggleston to Copland, 8 September 1947, NLA MS423/12/163-164.

54 Letter, Copland to Eggleston, 9 October 1947, NLA MS423/1/466.

55 Foster and Varghese, The Making of the Australian National University, p.31.

56 Letter, FitzGerald to Copland, 19 March 1948, NLA MS3800, Box 149. On 22 March, Copland responded to FitzGerald: ‘Thank you for your reference to “the candid friend”. It is not always easy to get away with, but I must say that my Chinese friends have been most charming and are now showering gifts on me. I leave Nanking on the 26th to catch a plane from Shanghai on the 28th, and I hope to be in Sydney on April 2nd in time to be present at the closing stages of discussions between the University and the academic group who have come from England to discuss the basic plans for the University. I shall certainly let you know in due course what these plans are. Meanwhile, I think I shall envy you your time in Peiping, particularly from now until the end of June. If I had not been leaving, I think I would have paid another visit before the summer.’ (Letter, Copland to FitzGerald, 22 March 1948, NLA MS3800, Box 149.)

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