China Beat Archive



Caroline Reeves

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May 20, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright May 20, 2008 Caroline Reeves. Used by permission.


As Chinese rush to aid their countrymen and other countries rush to aid the Chinese, it is important to note that Chinese participation in mutual aid and in the international relief community is not new. Here I continue with part II of the earlyhistory of the Chinese Red Cross Society.

At the turn of the twentieth century, China was being torn apart not by the movement of tectonic plates, but by political, social and intellectual currents. In a world shaken by the new imperatives of Social Darwinism (that posited a divide between “modern” nations that would thrive and “backward” ones that would disappear or be conquered) and split by international competition for colonies, China’s business, intellectual and political elites became seriously concerned about China’s place in the world and its very survival as a state. The international community of developednations considered forming a national Red Cross Society as an important benchmark of “civilization,” distinguishing between world players and states deserving of domination and subjugation. This equation of a certain practice of humanitarianism with the right to be included in the community of nations is still with us today. Note the media’s outcry over Myanmar’s failure to conduct humanitarian relief according to international standards, and the acclaim awarded to China for its treatment of the earthquake crisis. In 1899, China’s leaders saw this equation clearly and took steps to sign the international Geneva Convention (the “Red Cross Treaty”) to improve China’s international reputation. Although thwarted by the Boxer Crisis (1899-1901), which began with a violent anti-Christian insurgence and ended with China being occupied by foreign troops from various countries, this initiative was taken up again four years later.