Elites, Networks and Power in Modern China

Rotary Club

This case study takes the Rotary Club as an intriguing example of the American-born transnational organizations that developed in interwar China and served as a potential channel for the dissemination of American-style elite sociability, culture of professionalism and business ethics. Rotary was not just a self-contained elite club, but was considered by Chinese Rotarians as a unique venue for instilling a new spirit of public service in community life. Ultimately, it became a channel for the development of the first global, internationally-minded elite in modern China. Drawing on a variety of primary, untapped sources — archives of Rotary international (RI) (reports, correspondence, rosters, constitution and by-laws, pamphlets, bulletin Pagoda) and local newspapers — and a varied set of appropriate methods (close reading of newspapers reports and Rotary literature; multivariate, network and sequence analysis; geographical information system), this case study will trace the development of Rotary in Republican China and examine the significance of the movement for Chinese elites and Chinese society. We will combine a macroscopic approach (systematic analysis of membership and members’ participation) with micro case studies of prominent Rotarian leaders and the closer examination of club activities — not only its social gatherings aimed at entertaining members and helping them socialize, but also its philanthropic projects that had a broader impact on local society, and its diplomatic efforts during the Sino-Japanese war. As unique as it were, the Rotary was not isolated but worked in close cooperation with other institutions like the Young Men Christian Association (YMCA) and its sister organization Y’s Men’s Club. An important task of this case study, therefore, will consist in reconstructing the network of Rotary at the local, national and international levels. It is only by carefully situating the club within this nexus that we will better understand how the Rotary in China became a uniquely international organization that was eventually conducive to the first global elite in modern China.