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Caught in the crossfire: women's internationalism and the YWCA child labor campaign in Shanghai, 1921-1925.

From 1923 to 1925 the Chinese Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) led a coalition of women's organizations in a campaign to ban child labor in the International Settlement, Shanghai's largest foreign enclave. The campaign linked women's local concerns in China with the activism of international feminists whose organizations were based in the West In the aftermath of World War I those organizations claimed the moral and professional authority to shape a new global order. Among the organizations that joined this effort was the World YWCA. (1) YWCA leadership believed women could "revolutionize" politics if they interjected their gendered values into political arenas. Moreover, they believed women had the obligation to promote those values on a world scale. (2) The world needed "the motherliness of woman in the very best sense of the word; it needs the personal touch, the practical common sense and the clear, direct thinking characteristic of women." (3)

The reference to "the motherliness of woman" indicates how women continued to express their authority in the moralistic language of maternal feminism that had characterized nineteenth-century campaigns for suffrage and temperance, especially when addressing their remarks to other women. Increasingly during the interwar years women used professional expertise to define their authority and businesslike language to defend their involvement in public life. Moral and professional authority became a "fluid amalgam" of female authority that women used to achieve their goals. (4) Even women whose primary occupations were marriage and motherhood used their standing in women's organizations to construct "professional" identities that enhanced their standing among women and their power vis-a-vis men.

International feminists used both their moral and their professional authority to promote their organizations' causes overseas. They considered themselves to be "world women" whose work transcended national boundaries. (5) Some scholars categorized them as "feminist imperialists" because, intentionally or not, they replicated the unequal power relationships between imperial rulers and imperial subjects when they introduced causes conceived in the West to non-Western lands. (6)

This study argues for a more financed view of the relationship between women's feminist internationalism and imperial power relationships. First, feminist internationalism was neither monolithic nor static. How women experienced and practiced it differed based on individual beliefs, cultural identity, and political views. Their feminist internationalism changed over time, and their activism served as catalyst for that change. Second, imperial power relationships became tangled webs because the relations between rulers and subjects were complicated by issues of gender, race, and class. (7) Categories such as "feminist imperialist" mask those complexities. For example, in the International Settlement Western women were both colonizers and colonized--that is, privileged among Chinese men and women because they were Westerners but barred from the male arena of politics because they were women. (8) The position of their Western-educated Chinese colleagues was ambiguous as they were often considered complicit in the West's imperial agenda because of their acceptance of Western values (such as Christianity or modernity), while at the same time they were doubly colonized as both Chinese and women. Finally, this study illustrates the central importance of local context and historical contingency. Support for and resistance to women's activism grew out of its local context as it was driven by local issues and influenced by contemporary events.

These issues are examined through the work of three YWCA women. Briton Agatha Harrison (ed the child labor campaign from its inception to January 1924. American Mary Dingman, the World YWCA industrial secretary, led the campaign from Harrison's departure to its collapse in June 1925. Chinese YWCA secretary Cheng Wanzhen served as the campaign's local publicist. These women shared the Christian-inspired values of social justice and uplift for the poor and downtrodden promoted by the World YWCA. They considered their reform-minded internationalism a moderating influence on male greed, a modernizing influence on industrial society, and an assertive act of political engagement. (9) Their experiences highlight how the Settlement's complicated and overlapping gender, race, and class identities made women's well-intentioned activism problematic for the Settlement's social communities. Western political leaders and businessmen promoted neo-Victorian conceptions of womanhood that denied the women public roles. If gendered boundaries barred women from political participation, imperial rule did the same to Chinese businessmen who could neither vote nor hold political office in the International Settlement. The Chinese thus saw bylaws on which they could not vote as acts of imperialism that further eroded Chinese sovereignty. The laboring poor considered middle-class women's concern for their children's welfare intrusive. Where elites objected to women's interference in public affairs, the poor objected to women's interference in their private lives.

These attitudes did not prevent a coalition of Shanghai women's clubs from claiming a public voice. The Joint Committee of Shanghai Women's Clubs challenged Settlement authorities to redress the child labor problem. They campaigned to pass a child labor bylaw and pressed on when the political process thwarted their desired outcome. Both Western and Chinese women crossed gender boundaries, questioned the motives of the Settlement's political and business leaders, and insisted on their authority to decide what would benefit elites and working poor alike. In these ways women disrupted the Settlement's power relationships and challenged the aspirations of all the Settlement's communities.

In the end the campaign altered the beliefs of Harrison, Dingman, and Cheng. Harrison and Dingman were not in the International Settlement long enough to understand its complicated power relationships, but they were there long enough to be affected by their experiences. Harrison arrived uncertain of her mission. Her internationalism evolved in China. World YWCA industrial secretary Mary Dingman arrived convinced of the efficacy of feminist internationalism. When she left, she admitted the child labor campaign had exacerbated the Settlement's racial and class tensions. Cheng Wanzhen easily crossed the social and cultural boundaries that separated the Settlement's national groups. But as the campaign wore on, she increasingly identified with the antiimperialist nationalism of her fellow Chinese. Despite her commitment to labor, Cheng actually expressed relief when the child labor bylaw failed.

This study of the child labor campaign individualizes, contextualizes, and historicizes the experience of three internationalist activists. The campaign's failure was inextricably linked to the fact that it was conducted in the ambivalent world of Shanghai's International Settlement in the early 1920s. The campaign literally became "caught in the crossfire" of a particular historical moment. Context and historical contingency are keys to understanding how and why the campaign altered how Agatha Harrison, Mary Dingman, and Cheng Wanzhen perceived and practiced feminism.


The International Settlement was the site of complicated and ambivalent relationships between multiple colonizers and a semicolonized Chinese state, between foreign and Chinese business communities competing for profits, and between Chinese pursuing different visions of a modern China. When women challenged the Settlement's status quo, they entered an arena of unequal and unstable power relationships.

Shanghai sits at the mouth of the Yangzi River delta, midway along China's east coast. It became a treaty port when China signed the Treaty of Nanjing after the first Opium War (1842). That treaty granted foreigners the right to establish autonomous enclaves in treaty port cities. The International Settlement officially rented land from and paid taxes to the Chinese government, but treaty stipulations ensured its separate municipal authority and thus autonomy from Beijing. It was semicolonial because no foreign power completely dominated it, although the British community had greater influence because they were the first to settle there in significant numbers and remained the largest Western community. (10)

Despite the larger British presence, the International Settlement was multinational. In 1915 the largest expatriate communities were the Japanese (7,387), the British (5,521), and the Americans (1,425). (11) Foreigners, however, comprised only 3 percent of the Settlement's population. (12) The Chinese majority included an emergent class of capitalist entrepreneurs, less clearly defined groups of intellectuals plus middle-class urbanites, students, and a large underclass of laborers. The Settlement's foreign ratepayers (taxpayers) elected the Settlement's administrative body, the Municipal Council. Although Chinese businessmen paid taxes, they could neither vote nor hold office. But their lack of formal political power did not prevent them from influencing Settlement politics through the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and other Chinese business organizations.

China's domestic affairs intruded into the Settlement's world of privilege and profit. Political inexperience and corruption plagued the republican-style government established after the Qing dynasty collapsed in 1911. By 1920 regional warlords controlled most of the country, and their infighting disrupted life in the Settlement. Ordinary Chinese citizens also disrupted the status quo. When the Versailles Peace Conference disallowed China's claims to German imperial holdings in Shandong province and awarded them to Japan instead, Beijing University students marched in protest on May 4, 1919. Youth across the country joined their display of antiimperialistic nationalism. Student protests ushered in a period of political activism and cultural iconoclasm known as the May Fourth Era. Young and old alike became sensitive to China's lack of unity and sovereignty. Warlords were blamed for the former and imperialists for the latter.

Although the precise number of single and married women living in the Settlement was not recorded, there were enough women for the influential newspaper the North China Herald to include a "Women's Page" with features for both the frivolous and the civic minded. Its more serious articles domesticated female authority by portraying the ideal woman as a dedicated wife and mother whose public activities were limited to her clubs. While the Settlement's female ratepayers could vote, that privilege was not extended to women who accepted their "proper" place in the home. Female ratepayers, however, found themselves continually barred from politics by the manipulations of the Municipal Council, whose conservatives were committed to maintaining the gender boundaries that excluded women from political life.

The International Settlement thus lay beyond both Chinese jurisdiction and that of formal colonial empire. It was a world of imperial privilege; of national, racial, and class divisions; of rising Chinese nationalism; and of closely guarded gender boundaries. This was the political arena into which YWCA women would attempt to interject their female authority and "revolutionize" the Settlement's political arena by pressing for a ban on child labor. Their mandate came from the World YWCA, which in 1920 reiterated its commitment to social justice as part of women's international effort to shape a new world order.


From its inception the World YWCA was an international organization with an ever-increasing number of national affiliates. It was an early sponsor of women's transnational activism, with labor identified as an important cause as early as 1906. (13) However, it was at the 1920 postwar meeting in Chambery that World YWCA leaders issued a call to action, not only recommending that national associations create industrial programs but urging them to join with other groups to pressure governments to enact and enforce legislation. (14)

The Chinese YWCA was represented at Chambery by national general secretary Grace Coppock. The Chinese YWCA had been organized in Shanghai in 1899 and had come under the aegis of the World YWCA in 1907. At the same time it developed a close--but never exclusive--relationship with the YWCA of the U.S.A. The YWCA movement expanded slowly, partly because of ponderous organizational procedures and partly because it required potential members to belong to a church congregation. By 1920, in addition to the national office and separate city association in Shanghai, it had seven city associations across the country, with a combined membership of around two thousand. (15)

Grace Coppock brought the World YWCA's labor mandate back to China. She already had a long-standing interest in industrial matters and thus made the work her priority. Through colleagues she heard of Agatha Harrison, an experienced welfare worker who was on the faculty of the London School of Economics. Coppock invited Harrison to come to China. After some hesitation Harrison agreed to a two-year contract. (16)

Harrison arrived in May 1921, uncertain of her mission except that the YWCA National Office expected her to establish an industrial program. She knew nothing of the local situation. She quickly discovered that the Settlement's residents knew as little and cared even less about the conditions in factories or the plight of the laboring poor. Harrison told the Chinese-led National Committee that its first task must be to raise public awareness, which she referred to as "making opinion." (17) Heeding the advice of the professional expert they had hired, the National Committee agreed.

The National Committee also appointed Smith College graduate Cheng Wanzhen as their delegate to the Second International Congress of Working Women. (18) A Western colleague described Cheng as poised and articulate, with "a remarkable understanding of Anglo-Saxon thought and expression." Cheng initially worked half time for the YWCA Publication Department and half time for the influential Chinese newspaper Shenbao (The Commercial Times). (19) Upon her return from the Congress, she served on the newly created National Christian Council's Industrial Committee's cabinet and assisted Harrison during the formative stage of the child labor campaign. (20) She became the campaign's publicist for the Chinese community through her articles in Nii qingnian bao (The YWCA Magazine). Even the Chinese Communist Party acknowledged Cheng as an industrial expert and worker's advocate. (21)

Following the recommendations set forth at Chambery, Coppock and Harrison looked for groups to join in making common cause. (22) Then in October 1921 Coppock died. Devastated by her new friend and mentor's death, Harrison nonetheless continued their work. In early November she invited the American, British, and Shanghai (Chinese) women's clubs, and the Shanghai YWCA, to a meeting. (23) The pretext for the meeting was a debate in the Herald over the working conditions of child laborers in Shanghai. The appointment of a child labor commission by British colonial authorities in Hong Kong had inspired the Herald debate. (24) Harrison must have realized a child welfare issue had the potential to unite the women of Shanghai, whose clubs were so clearly divided along national lines. (25) Moreover, it was so obviously a "womanly" cause that the Settlement's conservatives would have to acknowledge women's authority to speak publicly about it. Conceivably, she might have also hoped that the fact that Hong Kong considered child labor an important issue might make the Settlement's influential British community amenable to reform. The child labor issue thus became the issue Harrison used to "make opinion" She could not have foreseen how volatile that opinion would become.

Harrison's meeting resulted in the creation of the Joint Committee of Shanghai Women's Clubs dedicated to the redress child labor in Settlement factories. (26) Their first step toward that goal was to educate themselves through a study of factory conditions. Members of the Joint Committee spent the following year visiting shops and factories. Although no copy of the ensuing study or its results survived, what they found is known from other writings. Among other things factories paid little attention to safety. For example, imported machines arrived without safety guards. Local vendors manufactured duplicates that exactly replicated the imported model. Thus, locally manufactured machines lacked safety guards. Reports of hideous accidents abounded. Many shop floors ignored sanitation and ventilation standards common in the West. Health risks were further exacerbated by general filth. Children as young as six labored in such conditions for twelve to fourteen hours at a time. Some of the youngest worked in match factories where they handled hazardous white phosphorous. Many children were brought from the countryside by contractors who paid parents an initial fee then remitted a portion of the children's very low wages back to families made desperate by deepening rural poverty and famine. Many of these children were little girls, preferred for work in cotton mills. (27)

Thai ihe Joint Committee's study took so long is not surprising. Its board consisted of three representatives each from the British, the American, the Shanghai, and later the Japanese women's clubs, plus three from the YWCA. Most of the clubwomen were married to business or political leaders and thus divided their time between home and club work. Harrison understood the Joint Committee's limitations and knew from the beginning that YWCA women would have to lead the effort. (28) So while the Joint Committee conducted its study, she crossed gender boundaries, intruded into business chambers, and commandeered men's time.

Men objected to such intrusions into professional and political work spaces and the demands made on their time and attention. Harrison recounted wearying rounds of endless meetings that garnered her only some support and further entrenched her opposition. (29) In November she spoke with Municipal Council chairman H. G. Simms, who spoke discouragingly to her. Simms, however, told the council members they should appear "sympathetic " Their sympathies seemed to be with Chinese parents who would be deprived of their children's income if child labor was banned. The council members also questioned whether they had the authority to introduce and enforce reform measures. They discussed this with foreign and Chinese business associations, including the Chinese, because they knew Chinese groups influenced the opinion of the Settlement's entire business community. When the Chinese groups noted that the Chinese national assembly was considering child labor stipulations as part of its new factory law, all agreed to wait. (30)

The Joint Committee knew nothing of those discussions. In February 1923 it formally asked the Municipal Council to abolish night work for children under twelve; provide part-time schools in factory districts under the Municipal Council's control; and extend the Health Department's jurisdiction to factories in matters of ventilation, sanitation, and safely. Their letter was brief; their tone was polite, straightforward, and devoid of moralizing language. (31) Bypassing any reference to their authority as wives and mothers, they tactically positioned their recommendations as reasonable and moderate when compared to the much larger National Christian Council's insistence on the complete elimination of employment of children under age twelve. In regard to child labor their recommendations were even less progressive than the legislation Beijing would enact. Article 7 of Beijing's factory law prohibited night work for "juvenile workers," which were defined as boys under seventeen and girls under eighteen. (32)

Despite the moderation of the Joint Committee's recommendations, Cheng Wanzhen warned them that Shanghai's working poor would construe their humanitarian concern for child workers as interference in family matters. Factory owners had pointed out to Harrison and Cheng that working parents believed their children were safer in the factories than left unsupervised on the streets. Parents also feared their children would be kidnapped and sold to brothels or traffickers in human labor. In addition factory owners suggested that using the age of twelve to define "child" went against Chinese perceptions that children younger than twelve were capable of hard work, (33) While factory owners had their own interests at heart when speaking as they did, the perspectives they conveyed nonetheless reflected the desperate reality of the laboring poor. (34)

The joint Committee acknowledged Cheng's concerns. Still, to those mid-die-class women, child labor was an evil to be abolished. It was difficult for them to accept that working-class women saw child labor not only as necessary for survival but as a way to protect children from the hostile urban environment. Cheng understood both viewpoints. Although she wanted her colleagues to understand the reality poor parents faced, she did not discourage the Joint Committee from pressing the Municipal Council toward reform. She had published an article on the bleakness of workers' lives and the urgency of the child labor problem. (35) Her involvement with the Joint Committee suggested she believed women should be in the vanguard ol the child labor reform movement.

The Joint Committee believed that their status in the Settlement and their well-reasoned compassion were sufficient to grant them a voice in a public discussion on child welfare. In reality they gained that public voice only after the Municipal Council used them to resolve or postpone two political crises.


In April the Municipal Council suddenly acquiesced to the Joint Committee's appeal and appointed a Child Labor Commission. While this suggested the committee had been persuasive, a point of view recorded in all YWCA and Joint Committee histories of the child labor campaign, a closer examination of local affairs reveals that the Municipal Council made a pragmatic decision that resolved two troublesome issues. The first regarded what rapidly became a contentious issue: education for Chinese children. The second was an open challenge to the male dominance of the Settlement's political arena. Examining these two issues reveals that the Municipal Council's sudden recognition of women's moral authority to speak out on child labor, and willingness to allow women to participate in the Settlement's public affairs, was a savvy and pragmatic political act.

The previous year the council had appointed a commission to evaluate the Settlement's educational system. It recommended that the council provide schools for Chinese children. The Settlement's conservatives, who signed their letters to the editor "Shanghailanders" debated the matter in the Herald. The consensus, later supported by the Municipal Council, was that the Settlement had neither the means nor the responsibility to provide public education for Chinese children, especially those from poorer classes. (36) Shanghailanders saw the International Settlement as a colonial enclave where privileges accrued only to those who held the power to rule. Issues of race and class were evident in the debate over education for Chinese children and would reappear during the child labor campaign. These debates in the Herald were clearly gendered male. The second and even more rancorous issue involved women's participation in Settlement politics. As ratepayers women business owners could vote and hold office. In March 1923 Dr. Margaret Polk wrote the Municipal Council, asking why women ratepayers were not on the list of candidates for the council. The council replied that in the future they would list eligible women. However, they went ahead and elected new council members from the current all-male slate. Polk reacted angrily and publicly. In a letter to the Herald she accused the council of deliberately leaving off women's names and called on the American and British Women's Clubs, the YWCA, the Women's Christian Temperance Union, and the Women's University and College Club to "unite in seeing that women's interests are guarded." (37)

The Herald engendered a debate over women's public roles by publishing Polk's letter, a second letter from "an old ratepayer," and an article quoting a nameless council member. The council member stated that women were incapable of "useful service"; he and others would resign if a woman were elected. Given that the membership of the council was known to all, the anonymity of the speaker served little purpose. His statements conveyed the sentiment that he spoke for many if not all council members. The old ratepayer was no less inflammatory. He claimed the council already looked out for women's interests because the purpose of good government was to look out for the interests of all. He suggested that if women insisted on public service, they should confine their efforts to advisory committees. (38)

The Herald's editor shaped the debate by including an article that made it very clear that, despite promises made by the council regarding future elections, some council members scorned the possibility of women joining their ranks. Shanghailanders would have perceived that nameless council member as a man of sense and, while agreeing with the old ratepayer, might have thought he went too far. On the other hand, women like Polk may have been grateful to the Herald for exposing men's outmoded ideas. It is nearly impossible to ascertain the attitude of the Herald's editor. He printed letters by women, those in support of women, and those that virulently attacked women. However, by showcasing debates such as the one Polk engendered, the Herald's editor at least gave women access to the paper's public forum.

The Municipal Council's reaction to the Polk debate was more transparent. The Joint Committee had presented them with an example of women united in a common cause. Creating the Child Labor Commission and inviting the Joint Committee's full participation resolved their recent dilemmas. First, it forestalled further discussion about schools for Chinese children. Second, it allowed women to choose their path, and obligingly, women chose the route of womanly service suggested by the old ratepayer. When Municipal Council chairman Simms introduced Jane Addams at a speaking engagement during her world tour, he used the occasion to laud the council and figuratively dismiss women:
  To affect social reforms along Western lines in this country
  is a herculean task ... 1 am glad to say this International
  Settlement is in the vanguard of progress in this
  direction, and the most powerful influence in
  bringing about reforms will come from the women of China
  supported by such active and experienced bodies as the
  various Women's Associations represented here this
  afternoon, which have become such a feature of the social
  life in Shanghai during the past few years. (39)

Simms placed the burden of reform on the "women of China" in a polity where the Chinese had no political power. He denied women their unity of action by referencing women's clubs rather than the Joint Committee. More egregiously, he dismissed women's efforts as a "feature of social life in Shanghai" His words resonated with those who believed women should have little or preferably no influence in public matters. They would have rankled women like Harrison and Cheng who were working professionals with little interest in social affairs. They would, or should have, warned any on the Joint Committee who considered the Municipal Council an ally. Simms and his fellow council members were skilled politicians, governing as colonizers in an imperial context. They had little intention in 1923 of sharing their power.

The Child Labor Commission convened in late June with nine members. H. Lipson Ward, a lawyer, chaired the commission. The remaining eight included four businessmen and four women. (40) That almost half the commission's members were women indicates that the council wished to silence Polk. That three of the women were from the Joint Committee was not surprising, as Simms had asked the committee to recommend names. The Joint Committee women were Agatha Harrison, Mrs. Donald MacGillivray, and Soong Meiling. MacGillivray was the wife of a prominent British missionary and a longtime Shanghai resident. Soong was the daughter of a wealthy and influential Christian Shanghai family, had been educated in the United States, and spoke (lawless English. The fourth woman was Dr. Shi Meiyu, the adopted daughter of a Methodist minister, an 1896 graduate of the University of Michigan medical school, and a dedicated medical evangelical. Eventually these four women would be joined by Dame Adelaide Anderson, who came to Shanghai at the invitation of the National Christian Council. She accepted an invitation to join the committee in December 1923. Her tenure, though brief, as she also left before the report was complete, lent stature to the commission's work.

At the commission's first meeting, Simms noted that good administrators accepted responsibility for the welfare of children living under their jurisdiction, a statement that co-opted women's moral authority and gave it to the Municipal Council. (41) He wanted Soong and Shi to represent Chinese workers dependent on their children's income. (42) To Simms, Soong and Shi were "women of China" with a maternal concern for their people. It escaped him that the two women came from different social classes and economic backgrounds and that their concerns, maternal or otherwise, were not the same. Soong Meiling was a social elite and personally ambitious; four years later she married Generalissimo Chiang Kaishek and became the first lady of China. Shi was a Christian fundamentalist who ran the Bethel Mission in Shanghai, where she trained nurses and directed the mission's hospital. (43) She attended few commission meetings, although she did sign the final report. (44)

Simms must have recognized the contradiction in mentioning both the moral imperative of child welfare and the economic imperative of children's income lo their parents. More forthright than in his speech the month before, he clearly presented the commission with the nearly impossible choice it would make: whether to free children from long hours of tedious work or to deprive already poor families of money they needed to survive. Unspoken were the financial advantages that attracted foreign investment to the Settlement and the demands on factory owners to increase profits. The businessmen on the commission would have been very aware of these imperatives and of the conflicting interests and competing agendas the commission would be considering.

Just how seriously other agendas competed with the welfare of children soon became apparent. As the Settlement's Chinese found their voice, it was clear that issues of race and class joined the issue of gender to overshadow imperial prerogatives and humanitarian causes.


Harrison had accepted a two-year assignment. She stayed until World YWCA industrial secretary Mary Dingman arrived in January 1924. Dingman knew the work in Shanghai fairly well, as she had spent five months working with Harrison early in 1923. (45) Convinced of her knowledge and professional authority, she threw herself into her work with resolve.

As already seen, the Herald served as a public forum for not-so-civil debates. Soon after Dingman arrived, a vituperative exchange in that paper should have alerted her to the racial tensions in the Settlement. A request by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce that the Municipal Council provide schools for poor Chinese children precipitated the debate. A reader who signed himself "Anti" responded by stating, "It is yet to be proved that non-European races submitted to our education are capable of assimilating themselves to our mental standards" A Chinese reader who used the pen name C.C.H. responded, "'Anti' is quite right ... Indeed, most of us would not [assimilate] even if we were capable, if the examples we see in the correspondence columns of your papers are representative of these 'mental standards.'" "Anti" retorted, "It is not my fault that C.C.H ... is at a loss to make out what I mean. I am afraid he must remain at a loss until he is better acquainted with the English language." (46)

Newly arrived, Dingman may have been incredulous that educated men would use palpable expressions of racial hatred in such a public forum. The debate should have at least warned her that not only were the Settlement's national communities divided along national and racial lines, but the Chinese community deeply resented the imperial arrogance of the Anglophone communities. But that debate was just one aspect of the complicated political situation Dingman needed to grasp. With Soviet help Sun Yatsen had brokered an alliance between his Nationalist Party and the neophyte Chinese Communist Party with the goal of freeing China from warlord domination and foreign imperialism. The United Front provided Communists with the opportunity to create a labor union movement that supported both the Front's goals and their own revolutionary aims. As a result the number of strikes in foreign enclaves such as the International Settlement increased after 1923, lasted longer, and became more disruptive. (47) Thus the debates over education for poor Chinese children and the evils of child labor occurred in an increasingly tense atmosphere that exacerbated racial animosity.

The editor of the North China Herald was not the only one adding to tensions. Cheng Wanzhen did so with a biting article that attacked Western ignorance of and arrogance toward the plight of China's working poor:
  Most people ... say "Industrialization in China is still so young,
  What is the use of passing labor legislation? China has so many poor
  people, what more do they want besides a job?" People who speak like
  this ... fear that labor laws will put limits on capitalism and cause
  great difficulty in world markets. ... They feel that the poor should
  work from dawn to dusk ... they should simply work all the time. Rest
  and relaxation, sanitation, education, recreation, entertainment, all
  of these luxuries belong to the rich. As for the poor, as long as
  they do not starve to death, they should be content. (48)

Cheng captured the essence of arguments against abolishing child labor; opponents claimed that industry in Shanghai was still developing and that child labor was necessary for China to be competitive in world markets. But as debates in the Herald and Cheng's writings reveal, there were clear undertones of race and class hatred. The Chinese, with whom Westerners did business, were not only a political underclass but, according to "Anti" mentally inferior and incapable of benefiting from Western-style education. China's poor clearly belonged not only to an inferior race but also to a lesser species, deserving of only a marginal existence despite the fact that they were necessary for the profits foreigners sent abroad.

Cheng's article indicated that her understanding of the "Anglo-Saxon mind" included a grasp of the greed that drove colonial interests and the attitudes that underpinned racial and class hierarchies. Her audience--readers of the YWCA Magazine--could not have missed her antiimperialist tone. Did her thoughts reflect those of her readers? Did her words influence them? National Committee chair Gong Hezhen may actually have been shocked at Cheng's radical undertones as she worked hard to maintain the YWCA's position as a middle-class women's organization. On the other hand, Cheng's fellow industrial secretaries, whether Western or Chinese, may have found themselves in close agreement. They had no social status to protect. They neither wore white gloves nor attended cotillions. Their altruism was less idealistic and more truly humanitarian; to them workers were human beings.

A more critical question was whether or not Mary Dingman was aware of Cheng's thoughts. The article was written in Chinese, but the two women could have discussed the issues. Cheng might have done so with Harrison. After Coppock's untimely death Cheng became Harrison's closest associate. By 1924, when Dingman arrived, the women on the Joint Committee were more experienced, and she would not have depended on Cheng. Dingman was a prolific letter writer; if she read Cheng's article, it is hard to imagine she would not have mentioned it in one of her frequent letters to Harrison or to the leadership at the World YWCA headquarters.

On July 9, 1924, the commission published its report. It began with the foreboding observation that there was little interest in its work and that the Municipal Council did not have the authority to restrict child labor on humanitarian grounds. Ratepayers, however, could pass a special bylaw granting the council such power. The report ended by recommending a minimum age often for the employment of children, a maximum twelve-hour day for those under fourteen, and no night work. (49)

The Herald lauded the commission's report as "one of the most significant documents published in this country" and its recommendations as "humane, moderate and conservative." (50) Then nothing happened. Although the council acknowledged receipt of the report on July 9, a war between warlords prevented their discussion of the report until October 1. (51) Dingman was determined to press the council to act and, with commission chair H. Lipson Ward, met with the new Municipal Council chair, Mr. Stirling Fessenden. They suggested that the child labor issue was garnering too much attention in England and elsewhere to be ignored, and it would "be wise" for the foreign community to "do something." Joint Committee chair Cong Hezhen also wrote Fressenden, telling him the Joint Committee would "do anything in its power" to cooperate in seeing the commission report enacted into law. She and Dingman interviewed the Municipal Council's acting secretary to learn the specifics of how the special ratepayers' meetings were run, how many ratepayers were registered, how many were needed for a quorum, and so on. While women were not the only parties pressuring the council to act, their persistence helps account for the fact that in January 1925 the Municipal Council officially adopted the report and had their legal advisor frame a bylaw to be placed before a special ratepayers' meeting in April. (52)

Getting the Municipal Council to act was a pyrrhic victory. There had not been a quorum at special ratepayers' meetings for nine years. Chinese business associations had lobbied against bylaws they considered counter to Chinese interests and influenced ratepayers not to attend. A press bylaw, which restricted Chinese publishing companies, had been introduced every year since 1917. A bylaw to increase wharfage dues had been dropped in 1923. (53) Then in 1924 the council passed a resolution requiring special ratepayers1 meetings to take up outstanding business from previous years. The success of the child labor bylaw was now tied to press and wharfage bylaws opposed by the Chinese. (54)

The child labor bylaw was also tied to the women, and, intentionally and not, their actions continued to rankle men. It was not only the actions of the Settlement's women that rankled them. Back in England Agatha Harrison continued to challenge the male status quo in the International Settlement from afar as she unrelentingly tried to explain China's industrial problems. At a Rotary Club meeting Harrison blamed the West for these problems. The Settlement's British expatriates were enraged. The Herald publically criticized her. It pointed out that, while foreign factory owners may have not done as much as Harrison thought they should have, they had at least done something. The Chinese, on the other hand, had done nothing (55) What remained, the Herald's editor left unspoken, was the ever-present shadow of imperial interests and the unequal competition between colonizers and the colonized in the Settlement. When Europeans withdrew their investment dollars during the Great War years, the Chinese-owned industrial sector grew. (56) When European competition returned after the war, that growth was curtailed. Although not insensitive to humanitarian reform, the Chinese needed to compete.

Dingman may or may not have been sensitive to the underlying issues. Her priority was to defend her colleague from scurrilous attacks. She responded to the Herald's statements and other attacks on Harrison with logical, circumspect words that showed her professional calm in the midst of men's emotional tirades. She wrote with a studied directness, warning the paper's readership that "this clear cut issue promises to be a touchstone by which the foreign community of Shanghai will be judged by those deeply concerned in this subject all over the world." Almost prophetically she concluded, "It will indeed be 'striking copy' for Western newspapers if these recommendations, almost unbelievably moderate, are rejected by direct vote or lost by failure to obtain the necessary quorum" (57)

Dingman knew she needed the Herald's, support for the coming campaign. When her letter did not stem the outrage, she went in person to meet with the editor. She assured him that Harrison was sensitive to the multiple causes of and responsibilities for China's industrial problems and was both sympathetic to and appreciative of the efforts individual factory owners had made to improve factory conditions. Dingman assured him she knew these things personally as she was in constant contact with Harrison. She convinced the editor that Harrison's words had been misrepresented and that he may have based his editorial on insufficient information. (58)

Dingman's account of her interview with the Herald editor revealed her persuasive powers. Although she might have preferred to use the same conciliatory tactics on the foreign business community, the inflammatory language of the attack on Harrison made it clear that such tactics would never work. This was not a group to be won over by reason. Writing a colleague in England in January 1925, Dingman suggested that "some wise agitation in England could help us out here" and enclosed a list of British firms operating in the Settlement so that "direful letters" could be written to influential representatives of those firms. (59)

There was another type of "agitation" occurring in the Settlement--labor agitation. Even factories whose owners enforced modern standards were not immune. Some suggested that, while previously workers had made mostly economic demands, now strikes appeared to be more politicized. (60) In February 1925 Dingman discussed the situation with fellow Child Commission member G. Okada. Okada managed a firm that operated a dozen mills in the Settlement. Workers at one of those mills were on strike. Dingman thought perhaps the strike was indicative of anti-Japanese feelings, but Okada believed it was "anticapitalistic." Both feared "outside agitators." (61) Their reference to "outside agitators" revealed the imperial world of the Settlement that saw Chinese as "outsiders" in their own country. Dingman and Okada were, however, correct. Organizers from Sun Yatsen's United Front were behind much of the strike activity, supported by idealistic students from nearby Shanghai University. (62) Not only were they nationalistic and antiimperialistic, but they possessed the audacity of youth to act on their beliefs.

Dingman, Okada, and other foreigners in the Settlement failed to make connections among the labor unrest, student activism, and the issue of Chinese sovereignty. They believed the increasing number of strikes reflected "extraneous political and communistic influences" and saw the Chinese worker as a mere pawn in a political game. Dingman wrote that "[the] strikes had caused great suffering to thousands of ignorant workers ... The majority of them are like dumb, driven cattle who did not know why they were striking." (63)

Although it is unlikely thill Cheng knew of Dingman's thoughts as they were expressed in a personal letter home, Dingman's words placed her among the countless Westerners Cheng had condemned for dehumanizing Chinese factory workers. It is possible that by February 1925 Dingman and Cheng were growing apart in essential understanding of the child labor issue. But at least in February both women still worked toward the same goal--passage of child labor legislation.


As the April special ratepayers meeting approached, the Joint Committee conducted a short but intense campaign to ensure that they captured--and kept--the community's attention. Women and their male allies spoke before business and social groups; committee women wrote prominent officials overseas, cabled women's and labor organizations, and sent articles to foreign papers. (64) There was support for the bylaw. The Shanghai General Chamber of Commerce, as well as the British and American chambers, endorsed it. Twenty-four British, American, Japanese, and Chinese companies signed a petition supporting it. Although representing only some of the firms, the signatories were some of the leading and most progressive men in Shanghai. (65)

Shcnbao published several articles strongly opposed to the press bylaw, which remained silent on child labor. This indicated that, to some in the Chinese community, the press bylaw, rather than the child labor bylaw, was the critical issue at the upcoming meeting, for it trespassed on the one freedom they had in the International Settlement--the right to express their views. (66) However, on this issue there was no single Chinese position. One of the signatures on the petition of twenty-four was that of the manager of the Commercial Press, the largest Chinese publishing company in the Settlement. (67)

Despite the Chinese preoccupation with the press bylaw, the child labor bylaw drove most debates. Some letters addressed to the Herald continued to speak of the importance of children's wages to working families. Others insisted that until there were sufficient educational facilities, passage of the child labor bylaw condemned children to remain in meager homes or wander mean streets. The Joint Committee attempted to override all objections, drawing on "their experience from history" to "cut the vicious cycle into which the children of China had already drifted" Before the April special ratepayers' meeting, Dingman and other committee women genuinely believed that the committee would bring about a revolution in social thinking and unite the Settlement's communities to abolish child labor. (68)

The Joint Committee's chair and vice-chair participated in the heated debate over the child labor bylaw in the Herald. Both signed their names without using "Mrs" and included their committee affiliation. By momentarily putting aside their identity as wives and mothers, they put themselves on an equal footing with the men whose correspondence dominated the debate. Their letters exhibited "the clear, direct thinking characteristic of women" that YWCA leaders had emphasized in 1920. Committee chair Gong Hezhen (who signed her English name, Anna Kong Mei) wrote a brief but emphatic note stating that, contrary to the opinion of some in the "foreign community," the Chinese were not indifferent to the issue and that "there have been many groups of enlightened Chinese working for the adoption of this important By-law" (69) Committee vice-chair Beatrix Gull addressed her letter to those still mulling over the issue. She provided them with a list of businessmen who she believed were qualified to look at the issue from both "moral and economic" standpoints. All supported the child labor bylaw. She concluded by asking, "Is it possible that these are all wrong and that Shanghailander is right?" (70)

In this anxious atmosphere Cheng published a final article on the child labor bylaw with a subtle yet unmistakably nationalistic message. After outlining the bylaw, she concluded, "We who are interested in the labor question naturally endorse ameliorating labor conditions. We hope that these proposals can become law and that the provisional factory laws promulgated by our government last year will be implemented." (71) Understanding Chinese antiimperialistic feelings, she knew that if Beijing enforced child labor legislation, a similar law in a foreign enclave would mirror government policy and be less intrusive.

Despite the controversy the campaign stirred, there was no quorum at the April 15 special ratepayers1 meeting. Some believed the Japanese did not attend because the meeting was conducted in English. As it had for the past nine years, Chinese opposition to the press bylaw certainly factored into the poor showing. Or perhaps, as the Herald offered glibly, there simply was not enough interest in the child labor issue to draw ratepayers to a lengthy meeting on a "fine spring afternoon " (72)

British consul-general J. T. Pratt rejected the suggestion of ratepayer apathy. He noted that, among other causes for the poor turnout, the campaign had been conducted by women "who relied on speeches, meetings and letters in the papers, without making any attempt at a personal canvass of each ratepayer" His remarks were not wholly accurate. British women had sent voter forms to two thousand voters to secure signatures in support of the bylaw. Pratt at least did not place all the blame on women. He observed that those opposed to the bylaws had stayed away to prevent a quorum. (73)

Pratt's remarks were telling of male attitudes. As was the case for other officials, the international attention the campaign garnered directly affected him. The British government, which had supported reform in the Settlement's British factories since the previous spring, had urged him to exert his influence to ensure passage of the bylaw. (74) His statement is perhaps most remarkable because his wife was a member of the joint Committee. (75) He was thus in a position to assist, advise, and support women's efforts. That he criticized those efforts suggests that either he attempted to help, had his advice rejected, or stood on the sidelines while women conducted their campaign in their own way.

Whether he had been an ally or an observer, he now acted. With the assurance of the council's support, Pratt convinced seventy-six leading businessmen, representing seven nationalities, to petition for an unprecedented second meeting, which the Council scheduled for June 2. However, it refused to provide Japanese interpreters since they would prolong the meeting. Their pragmatism possibly masked a fear of jeopardizing European American dominance of Settlement politics. Councilmen further emphasized that, even if the next meeting did empower them to restrict child labor, they absolutely would not provide a "dole" for children barred from working. (76)

The scheduling of a second meeting exacerbated tensions even among the women who had campaigned for the legislation. Her Chinese colleagues advised Dingman that Chinese opposition to the press bylaw was now so strong, they could no longer take part in the campaign for passage of the child labor bylaw, as the two were still linked. In a letter to Harrison she mentioned that Cheng had concluded that the harm caused by the press bylaw outweighed whatever good the child labor bylaw might accomplish and expressed her hope that the second meeting would fail. Dingman refused to accept Chinese nationalism as an impediment to the second meeting. (77) Interestingly, one writer to the Herald, who was obviously a Westerner, understood perfectly well. He wrote that there would be bitter resentment in all homes suddenly stripped of income: "At times like these when agitators are stirring up class strife, when the cost of rice is going up ... a step such as contemplated might easily ... lead to unfortunate results locally." He further stated that "if the ratepayers, drummed together to pass the Child Labour Resolutions, at the same time passed the 'Printed Matter By-Law' ... we should have sueceeded in antagonizing the poorer and the educated classes at the same time ... To pass at one meeting two measures which, although both intended for the welfare of the community, will arouse bitter resentment seems to me a risky experiment." (78)

The Joint Committee's history of the campaign explained that, while the Chinese members "never wavered" in their hearts, they felt pressured by their community's opposition to the press bylaw into believing that the child labor bylaw was another effort to expand foreign control. Western women understood their colleagues' concern, an indication of "international understanding." The Joint Committee then decided that Chinese women's groups would be "quiescent" in the final push. (79) Whether everyone on the Joint Committee was actually sympathetic to the position of the Chinese members cannot be known. A year later the memory of how the Joint Committee had been attacked after the June 2 meeting may have convinced it that its international and national divisions were not significant next to the men's refusal to recognize women's right to participate in the public arena.

Dingman would have understood that reasoning, as both she and Harrison became the target of vitriolic attacks. In a letter to the Herald W. Bruce Lock-hart wrote, "There is a limit to being gallant to the young ladies who tell tales of Child Labour. Miss Agatha Harrison and Miss M. A. Dingman, who are the origin and energy of this YWCA agitation, show a most laudable interest in other people's children." He went on to warn, "If Shanghai signs a blank chit at the next Special Meeting of Ratepayers ... at the behest of the hard-luck story of one of these young things from the Young Women's Christian Association, that blank chit ... has to be paid." (80)

Lockhart's caustic, even misogynistic language indicated deep-seated resentment toward women's activism. His attack indicated the extent to which the women's campaign had trespassed on the public domain of men. His Ian-guage perpetuated stereotypes of women as ignorant and manipulative. His words echoed those written two years earlier over the issue of women serving on the Municipal Council. The irony was that in that earlier debate the "old ratepayer" suggested that women were fit to serve on a committee such as the Child Labor Commission. Fit to serve but not to influence.

Lockhart's letter was written when tension in the Settlement had reached a crescendo. On May 15 a Japanese factory guard shot and killed a striking Chinese mill worker. Students marched in protest. On the morning of May 30 police arrested several protest leaders. A large, angry crowd converged on a police station in the heart of the Settlement, where the arrested students were being held. Frightened they would be overrun, police opened fire, killing or wounding over a dozen people. The May 30th Incident spawned nationwide protests that caused more violence and deaths. The situation in the International Settlement was so grave that on June 1 the Municipal Council declared martial law.

Outrage in the Settlement's Chinese community was palpable. A store near the police station placed an inflammatory ad in Shenbao calling for a boycott of foreign goods. What caught the eye was the illustration--a black, masklike face crying white tears, with a caption typeset in large bold Chinese characters reading, "Cry for the students murdered on Nanjing Road."81 Thirty leading Chinese organizations and businesses issued a manifesto through the Chinese Chamber of Commerce opposing the press and wharfage dues bylaws. They endorsed the child labor bylaw but expressed concerns over the lack of provision for schools for the children the bylaw would put out of work. (82) They knew the issue of schools for children was as inflammatory an issue for the Municipal Council as the press and wharfage dues bylaws were for them.

It was now evident, even to Dingman, that the situation was untenable. Although most of the joint Committee's constituent clubs opposed halting their work, the YWCA unofficially told the Municipal Council they would stop. (83) Early on June 2 the Municipal Council went so far as to send out a message warning ratepayers not to attend the scheduled meeting because of ongoing unrest. Nonetheless, the meeting was held, and there was an even larger turnout than at the April meeting. But there was still no quorum. (84)

The YWCA, which had provided the leadership for the campaign, felt only relief when the ratepayers' meeting was declared "never to have been held." The YWCA distanced themselves from the indignation of the foreign community and refuted foreign press accounts that explained away the nationwide protests as Communist influenced. They believed the Chinese response came from "forces deep in the inner spirit and history of the Chinese people." The association's Chinese leadership pledged to "help to bring about a better understanding and a right relationship between our own people and the foreign nations concerned " Both Chinese and foreign staff endorsed that statement. However, they considered it separately, indicating that the political divisions in the International Settlement, where foreign and Chinese belonged to separate communities, momentarily intruded into the YWCA's community of like-minded women. (85)

Shanghailanders did not end their attack on women's meddling in the Settlement's public life. Sometime after the aborted June meeting a letter to the editor of a Shanghai newspaper described the Joint Committee as "a group of women reformers" who "obviously had no realization of the economic factors involved." (86) The Settlement's women, however, remained undaunted. In February 1926 Margaret Polk again wrote the Herald over the issue of women's names being left off the list of Municipal Council candidates. (87) In May 1926 the Joint Committee's founding clubs created a permanent body called the "Joint Committee of Shanghai Women's Organizations." In addition to its original members the committee grew to include the Dutch, German, and Portuguese women's clubs; the American Association of University Women; the Chinese Women's Suffrage Association; the Foreign YWCA; and the WCTU. (88) According to their constitution they sought to "foster, in all ways possible, friendly international understanding, to aid in civic movements, and to promote the welfare of women and children of all nationals in Shanghai." Two of its first acts were to write a history of the child labor campaign and to create a child labor subcommittee. Recognizing the criticism that women lacked an understanding of the economics of industry and labor, the subcommittee's first project was a study of workers' cost of living. Although the Herald deprecatingly referred to the group as "club women," the Joint Committee was still active after Japan's invasion of China toppled the Settlement's world of foreign prestige and profit. (89)


Women's foray into the political arena of Shanghai's International Settlement altered how they perceived and practiced feminist internationalism, though not to the same degree. Harrison's beliefs and values were transformed. Dingman's were momentarily shaken. Cheng's evolved.

Harrison was not a "world woman" and had no ambition to become one when the World YWCA representatives interviewed her for a posting to China. Harrison's internationalism had its genesis in China but matured after she left. (90) Its wellspring was the abusive labor practices she found in Shanghai, which she blamed on the West. Equally important, however, was the Settlement's parochialism and the antagonisms between its communities: "What is the use of us all talking in a large way about internationalism and coming out to interpret it to the East, when Americans and British ... when thrown in together so often, do not live it?" (91) Harrison considered the YWCA movement in Asia, particularly in China, as a place to begin "digging some very deep foundations" for women's internationalism. She believed the way to develop an international outlook was "mixing people up and making them live and work together." (92) Her beliefs would draw her into the world of Mahatma Gandhi, whom she met on a 1929 trip to India. She collaborated with him for many years, supporting his cause in England through the India Conciliation Group. (93)

Mary Dingman arrived to finish what Harrison had started, a difficult enough task given that she was a Yankee in the hub of Britain's imperial interests in China. However, it was the Chinese, not the British, whom she failed to understand. She would not accept the explanations of her Chinese colleagues for the failure of the first ratepayers' meeting. A local YWCA history of the campaign, published in English, excused her by stating that Dingman twice tried to get a clear understanding from Westerners as to why Chinese opposed the press bylaw but could not because of the "obscurity" in which the Chinese and foreign groups were "cut off from understanding each other's real motives in a community such as this." (94) But the writer, who signed his name "E.T.," outlined the situation very well. Dingman associated with veteran YWCA secretaries who had been on the ground in China for years and with Chinese women on the Joint Committee such as Gong Hezhen and Soong Meiling, both of whom were fluent in English. Were elite women such as Gong and Soong themselves "cut off" from the mainstream Chinese community? The defensive tone of Gong's letter to the Herald suggests she was not.

The May 30th Incident shocked Dingman into realizing how inflamed the situation had become: "It is now a real question in the minds of some as to whether there ought ever to be another attempt to get this Bye-Law adopted ... A complicated international situation exists ... so we must wait." She found comfort in the fact that the Chinese, who opposed the extension of foreign control over their lives and country, believed in the principle of limiting child labor. (95) After she left China in mid-June, she described her final week in the country as one of trying to sort through issues "suddenly crystallized by the killing of the students," adding, "I have a very uncomfortable feeling that I left many things undone." In the coming years, although she continued to have difficulty comprehending the Chinese mind, as the World YWCA's industrial secretary Dingman supported the YWCA's efforts to develop local solutions for China's industrial problems. (96)

Cheng Wanzhen's beliefs evolved during the child labor campaign as her nationalism eclipsed her Christian-inspired, feminist internationalism. This is not surprising given the fact that she returned to China just as the May Fourth Era began. YWCA national publication secretary Helen Thoburn described Cheng as "going through a pretty concentrated experience in new thinking" and noted that she was "capably making the adjustment ... to the balanced personal and social form of Christianity that alone can serve China." The "new thinking" Thoburn referred to was the iconoclastic nationalism of the May Fourth Era. I Ier YWCA colleagues were aware of her intellectual explorations. Thoburn noted that Cheng was "closely in touch with the radical new tendencies expressed, chiefly by the students, in what is being called the Renaissance Movement in China but keeps her poise in the midst of what is meaning nothing short of a brainstorm to many." (97)

The extent of Cheng's radical connections is unknown, but it is likely they were limited. She taught English with Harrison at Pingmin Girls' School, and the CCP recognized her as a worker's advocate, although they would have regarded most of her activities as "bourgeois" Cheng belonged to the Chinese Social Service League and the Shanghai Women's Club. In April 1921 she helped found the Shanghai Business Women's Club and served as its first president. Her club work involved Cheng in the organization of the Shanghai Suffrage Association (Shanghai canzheng hui) in 1922. (98)

Her writings trace her path from internationalism to nationalism. One of her first articles, a report on the Second International Congress of Working Women, appeared in the March 1922 issue of the widely circulated Funu zazhi (Ladies' Journal). She highlighted the Chinese YWCA's response to the local labor question because it sent her to the Congress of Working Women and brought Harrison to China. (99) Most of her other articles appeared in the YWCA Magazine. In 1922 she wrote on the creation of the YWCA industrial department and on the campaign for labor legislation. (100) In those articles Cheng again highlighted the YWCA's broad engagement with labor issues but also the need for the Chinese National Assembly to draft labor legislation. She discussed the creation of the Joint Committee and its intention to not only get Settlement women interested in the labor question but also to get them to work for the improvement of working women's lives--an ambition that many may not have shared with her. She emphasized the leadership role of the YWCA in these endeavors and the importance of women's unity of action:
  The YWCA originally sought to elevate the spiritual,
  intellectual, physical and social lives of Chinese
  women so that they could reach their highest potential
  and come together as a group to fulfill their obligation
  to God and the world ... These goals for Chinese women
  include all Chinese women. As working women have not had
  the opportunity to develop their potential, the YWCA must
  provide them with opportunities by promoting a labor
  movement. The Association cannot do this alone; it must
  join with other groups to help working women seek happiness
  and well-being. (101)

Cheng's words captured the promise of Chambery and were her most eloquent interpretation of World YWCA-inspired internationalism. Her vision, as noted above, went beyond the scope of the Chinese YWCA National Committee's current commitment. She would work for the YWCA long enough to see its industrial secretaries shift their focus from public campaigns to direct involvement with working women.

Cheng's early and frequent mention of the importance of a Chinese national policy needs to be understood in the context of the campaign for a child labor bylaw in the International Settlement. She increasingly believed Chinese laws should provide the foundation for any bylaws passed in treaty ports. Another concern was the lack of Chinese political power in the International Settlement. That fact eventually forced the Joint Committee's Chinese members to withdraw from active campaigning. In the end Cheng realized the press bylaw sought to silence the radical Chinese press. As a journalist she would have not wanted new ideas, even those with which she did not agree, suppressed.

Dingman's refusal to accept Chinese explanations of opposition to the bylaws may have become a catalyst for Cheng's incipient nationalism. One scholar suggests the two women had a falling-out when Cheng finally voiced opposition to it and her hope that the second ratepayers' meeting would also fail. However, the same scholar claims that Cheng left the YWCA over the "incident" and that is incorrect. (102) While she came to view bylaws on which her countrymen could not vote as instruments of imperialism, she did not leave the YWCA or end her involvement with industrial work. Cheng had decided to marry before the April ratepayers' meeting and had already requested part-time status to start in the summer. She remained a YWCA secretary until late 1926, when ill health forced her to resign. (103) Cheng's nationalism eclipsed her internationalism in the context of the debates over China's sovereignty and the status of the Settlement's Chinese residents as a colonized people. However, she remained committed to the international community of the Chinese YWCA and the laboring poor for whom she cared so deeply.


The YWCA-led child labor campaign revealed the problem of considering Western women feminist imperialists when Chinese women supported their effort to ban child labor. Complex power relationships and closely drawn gender boundaries in the International Settlement frustrated women's attempts to use their female authority for political purposes and affect humanitarian reform. The campaign highlighted the importance of local contingency and historical context in shaping how women perceived and practiced feminist internationalism. YWCA women disrupted rather than replicated power relationships, challenged existing gender relationships, and exacerbated racial and class tensions in the International Settlement. Their work caused Agatha Harrison, Mary Dingman, and Cheng Wanzhen to reevaluate both their feminism and their internationalism.

The child labor campaign revealed the limits of women's internationalism in Chinese treaty ports dominated by multiple colonizers who treated the colonized people as outsiders in their own country. Campaign leaders failed to understand that a meeting that considered the child labor bylaw along with the press and wharfage bylaws created a conundrum for all. Whatever the results, some portion of the Settlement's population would feel frustration and anger. Especially after the May 30th Incident, passing the odious press bylaw might have escalated tensions and erupted into more violence.

The campaign's failure also pointed out the difficulty women faced when constrained by outdated constructions of womanhood. Men, who generally objected to women's involvement in politics, had grudgingly suggested that they serve on committees that dealt with "womanly" issues. When the Shanghai Municipal Council created the Child Labor Commission and invited women to sit on it, women embraced the opportunity but refused to be co-opted into the Shanghailanders' neo-Victorian world order. Instead they lobbied aggressively to get the commission's recommendations enacted. Conservative men dared not attack committee women married to political and business leaders. Few of them could read Cheng Wanzhen's articles. But Agatha Harrison and Mary Dingman were single women and transient residents who based their authority as much on professional claims as they did on the moral certitude of their sex. (104) They trespassed into the world of men by meeting with factory owners and members of the Municipal Council. To those men Harrison and later Dingman personified women's interference in public affairs.

Finally, the campaign illustrates the importance of local context and historical contingency in understanding how Western and Chinese women perceived and practiced feminist internationalism, how they experienced the campaign differently, and how those experiences altered both their perception and the praxis of feminist internationalism. Harrison arrived in China feeling unqualified to address industrial issues in a foreign country. First in Coppock and then in Cheng Wanzhen she found women committed to internationalism and capable of translating it into a local cause. Before she left, she had experienced an epiphany and become a committed internationalist. Mary Dingman arrived confident in her professional authority and convinced of the efficacy of feminist internationalism. When she left, she admitted the child labor campaign had exacerbated the Settlement's racial, class, and gender tensions. But her original beliefs remained the same. Soon after the Chinese imperial court collapsed in 1911, Cheng left China to study in the United States. She returned in 1919 to the foment of May Fourth nationalism. When the child labor campaign forced her to choose sides, she chose to stand with her countrymen and the women who opposed imperialism. Nonetheless, she Remained in the international community of the YWCA and continued to dedicate herself to labor in the spirit of Chambery.

Although the events of 1921-25 belong to a different century, they still resonate. While women's feminist internationalism evolved over the course of the twentieth century, many of the same issues remain in the twenty-first. Women increasingly claim global solidarity, but articulating a common vision remains difficult. Accusations of extortive labor practices remain linked to the transfer of jobs from the industrial to "developing" countries able to provide cheap labor. The fact that child labor remains at issue, invoking the same arguments and counterarguments as it did nearly a century ago, suggests that the drama played out on the streets of Shanghai in the 1920s remains very much a "modern" one.


The World YWCA has reorganized its China materials; thus, citations in this article may no longer match their index.

(1.) See Anna Rice, A History of the World's Young Womens Christian Association (New York: Woman's Press, 1947).

(2.) Karen Garner, "Global Feminism and Postwar Reconstruction: The World YWCA Visitation to Occupied Japan, 1947," Journal ofWorld History (June 2004): pars. 4-5, Those gendered values were essentially maternalistic. Political legislation women were to support included child protection, public education, temperance, and anticrime.

(3.) Garner, "Global Feminism," par. 6.

(4.) Angela Woollacott, "From Moral to Professional Authority: Secularism, Social Work, and Middle-Class Women's Self-Construction in World War 1 Britain," Journal of Women's History 10, no. 2 (1998): 85-86.

(5.) Sarah Paddle, '"For the China of the Future': Western Feminists, Colonisation and International Citizenship in China in the Inter-war Years," Australian Feminist Sfitdies 16, no. 36 (2001): 325.

(6.) Leila J. Rupp, "Challenging Imperialism in International Women's Organizations, 1888-1945 " NWSA Journal 8, no. 1 (1996): 2.

(7.) Mrinalini Sinha, Donna Guy, and Angela Woollacott, eds., Feminisms and Internationalism (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1999), 1-13.

(8.) Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (London: Routledge Press, 1995), 5-6.

(9.) Fiona Paisley, "Cultivating Modernity: Culture and Internationalism in Austrian Feminism's Pacific Age," Journal of Women's History 14, no. 3 (2002): 105-32.

(10.) See Nicholas R. Clifford, Spoilt Children of Umpire: Westerners in Shanghai and the Chinese Revolution of the 1920s (Hanover: Middlebury College Press, 1991).

(11.) Francis Pott, A Short History of Shanghai (Shanghai: Kelly and Walsh, 1928), 211.

(12.) Pott, Short History, 211.

(13.) Rice, History, 106-7.

(14.) "Social and International Responsibility," chap. 3 of World YWCA Statements of Policy: 100 Years of Forward with Vision, Adopted at Legislative Meetings, Volume I: 1894-1994 (Geneva, Switzerland: World Young Women's Christian Association, n.d.), 98-99.

(15.) "News Items," Young Women's Christian Association of China, Feb.-Mar. 1919, 9-10, Ruth M. White Papers, File 1919, Record Group 8, China Records Project, Yale Divinity School Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT. There are no reliable membership figures for the Chinese YWCA. The figure provided here is a "best guess" gleamed from numerous pamphlets and reports.

(16.) Agatha Harrison, "Annual Report," Feb. 23, 1921-Mar. 23, 1922, reel 51.2, YWCA of the USA Records, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, MA (hereafter U.S./China). Harrison's papers, housed at the Friends' Library in London, were not consulted for this paper.

(17.) Agatha Harrison to Mary Dingman, Nov. 26,1921, untitled folder, and "Minutes National Committee," June 16, 1921, Folder--1921 Reports, both Box 396, China Files, Archives of the World YWCA, Geneva, Switzerland (hereafter World/China).

(18.) "Minutes National Committee," June 16,1921.

(19.) Helen Thoburn, untitled biographical sketch of Cheng Wanzhen, n.d., untitled folder, Box 396, World/China.

(20.) Agatha Harrison, "Committee of Economic and Industrial Relations," Nov. i, 1921, reel 51.2, U.S./China; Robin Porter, Industrial Reform in Republican China (New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1994), 74.

(21.) Christina K. Gilmartin, Engendering the Chinese Revolution: Radical Women, Communist Policiest and Mass Movemetits in the 1920s (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 69, 92.

(22.) Agatha Harrison and Florence Sutton, "Review of the Industrial Work of the YWCA 1921-1924," Folder--1922 Minutes and Reports, Box 398, World/China.

(23.) A. Harrison to Dingman, Nov. 26,1921.

(24.) Porter, Industrial Reform, 101.

(25.) The child labor campaign was the main focus of the YWCA National Industrial Office between 1923 and 1925. Both the Shanghai and the Tianjin City Associations investigated and reported on the plight of women workers during those years. From 1927 through the 1930s working women were the main focus of the YWCA's national industrial program under the leadership of Deng Yuzhi.

(26.) "The Work of the Committee directed toward the Regulation of Child Laboni in Shanghai 1921-1926" 6, Folder--1927 Industrial Reports, Box 404, World/ China (hereafter "Committee History"); A. Harrison, "Industrial Statement," Nov. 7, 1921, reel 51.2, U.S./China; "Minutes National Committee," Oct. 20,1921; Harrison and Sutton, "Review of Industrial Work"; Cheng Wan/hen, "Nii qingnianhui laodongbu chenglide jingguo he zongzhi" (The Nature and Goals of the YWCA Industrial Department), Nii qingnicw bao (YWCA Magazine), Oct. 1922,13-14, U121, 44-2, Shanghai Municipal Archives.

(27.) Augusta Bertha Wagner, Labor Legislation in China (Peking: Yenching University, 1938), 26-31; Miss W. T. Zung [Cheng Wanzehn], Modern Industry in China, Industrial Reconstruction Series No. 4, Industrial Committee of the National Christian Council, reprinted from The Chinese Social and Political Science Review, Oct. 1923, rev. Feb. 1924, 3-7

(28.) A. Harrison to Dingman, Nov. 26, 1921.

(29.) See Irene Harrison, Agatha Harrison: An Impression by Her Sister (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1956), 31-42.

(30.) Adelaide Mary Anderson, Humanity and Labor in China: An Industrial Visit and Its Sequel, 1923 to 1928 (London: Student Christian Movement, 1928), 128-33; The Minutes of Shanghai Municipal Council, 28 vols. (Shanghai: Shanghai Classic Publishing House) (hereafter SMC), Nov. 15,1922,22: 211, and Jan. 24,1923, 22: 283.

(31.) "Child Labour in Factories" Apr. 14, 1923, North China Herald and Supreme Court and Consular Gazette (hereafter NCH), 131; "Committee History" 7-8.

(32.) Porter, Industrial Reform, 184-88. This appendix includes all provisions of the legislation that Beijing enacted in 1923 but never enforced.

(33.) Agatha Harrison, "Confidential: Child Labor in Shanghai Cotton Mills April 25, 1922," 1, and "Letter to A. Brooke-Smith, Edward Pearce, et al." May 2,1922,1, both reel 51.2, U.S./China.

(34.) SMC, Mar. 28,1923, 22:316; "Child Labour in Shanghai: Women's Organizations to Approach the Council" NCH, Feb. 7, 1923, 447; Anderson, Humanity and Labor, 133-34.

(35.) Cheng,"Huigong shiye" (Welfare Work), YWCA Magazine, Jan. 1923,14-15.

(36.) "The Child Worker," NCtL Dec. 22, 1922, 564, "Child Labour and Education," NCH, Jan. 13,1923, 69, and "Child Labour and Education " NCH, Jan. 20,1923,176.

(37.) SMC, Mar. 14, 1923, 22: 309; "Women and the Council," letter from Margaret Polk, NCH, Mar. 24,1923, 876.

(38.) "May Women Serve on the Council?" NCH, Mar. 31,1923, 866, and "Letter from "An Old Ratepayer," NCH, Mar. 31,1923, 876.

(39.) "Miss Jane Addams1 Address," NCH, May 12,1923,387.

(40.) "Committee History" 9.

(41.) Agatha Harrison, "Shanghai," World Tomorrow 6, no. 11 (1923): 332, Columbia University Library, New York.

(42.) SMC, Apr. 11, 1923, 22: 328, May 1, 1923, 22: 343, May 23, 1923, 22: 348, June 27, 1923, 22: 357;"Child Labour Commission: Inaugural Address by Council's Chairman" n.d., File--1922-1923 Correspondence, Box 399, World/China.

(43.) Connie Shemo, "Shi Meiyu: An 'Army of Women' in Medicine" in Salt and Light: Lives of Faith that Shaped Modem China, ed. Carol Lee Hamrin and Stacey Bieler (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2009), 61.

(44.) "Report of the Child Labor Commission," July 1924,11.

(45.) Karen Garner, Precious Fire: Maud Russell and the Chinese Revolution (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003), 56.

(46.) SMC, Feb. 13,1924, 22: 412; "Correspondence: Education and Chinese Children" NCH, Apr. 5,1924, 26.

(47.) "Some Facts about the Labour Movement in China," 2, in Annual Report of the [National Christian Council] Committee on Christianizing Economic Relations, 1926-1927, File--1927 Minutes and Reports, Box 404, World/China. See Jean Chesneaux, The Chinese Labor Movement 1919-1927 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1968); and Marie-Claire Bergere, The Golden Age of the Chinese Bourgeoisie 1911-1937, trans. Janet Lloyd (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

(48.) Cheng, "Wcishemma yingyau tichang laodong lifa yundong" (Why We Should Promote the Campaign for Labor Legislation), YWCA Magazine, Apr. 1924, 6-7.

(49.) "Report of the Child Labour Commission of the Shanghai Municipal Council," untitled folder, Box 401, World/China; Wagner, Labor Legislation in China, 79-85.

(50.) "Child Labour Commission--I" and "Child Labour Commission-II" both NCHy Aug. 9,1924, 203-4.

(51.) Hilda S. Murray, "The Industrial Work of the YWCA--1924-1925" 5-9, Box 402, World/China; SCM, Sept. 3,1924, 22: 475, and Oct. 1,1924,22: 499.

(52.) "Industrial Work of the YWCA" 5; "Committee History," 11-14; Dingman to Constance Smith, Jan. 14, 1925, Folder--1925, Box 402, World/China; SMC, Jan. 21, 1925, 23:18, and Mar. 16,1925, 23: 30.

(53.) "The Press By-Law Once More," "The Ratepayers Meeting," and "Municipal Gazette News: Registration of Printers and Publishers," all NCIT, Mar. 26, 1921, 783, Apr. 16,1921,150-52, Apr. 5,1924, 25; SMC, Mar. 22,1922, 22: 75, Mar. 20,1922, 22: 81.

(54.) SMC, Jan. 23,1923, and Mar. 12,1924, 22: 420-21.

(55.) "Child Labour in China " NCH, Jan. 10,1925, 44.

(56.) Emily Honig, Sisters and Strangers, Women in the Shanghai Cotton Mills, 1919-1949 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1986), 17; Berg&re, Golden Age, 70-71.

(57.) Mary A. Dingman, "Child Labour in the Mills," NCH, Jan. 17,1925,102-3.

(58.) Dingman to Smith, Jan. 14,1925.

(59.) Dingman to Smith, Jan. 14,1925.

(60.) Anderson, Humanity and Labor, 247-49. No figures are available for 1925, but in 1926 there were 169 strikes at 165 factories, with thirty-two different causes and seventy-eight related demands. See H. G. W. Woodhead, ed., The China Year Book (Tientsin and Shanghai: North China Daily News and Herald), 957.

(61.) Dingman to "Dear Family and Friends" Feb. 20, 1925, Folder--1925, Box 402, World/China.

(62.) Anderson, Humanity and Labor, 232, 242, 247-49.

(63.) Dingman, "Dear Family and Friends."

(64.) Dingman, "Dear Family and Friends"; Threads: The Story oj the Industrial Work of the YWCA in China, 1925 (Shanghai: National Committee of the YWCA of China), 6-8, Folder 1--1925, Box 402, World/China.

(65.) "The Child Labour Question: Local Employers Who Are in Favour of the Enactment of the By-Law," NCH, Apr. 11, 1925, 56; "An Endorsement from Employers of Shanghai," Folder--1925, Box 402, World/China.

(66.) "Yinshuawu fulu genben buneng chengli zhi liyou" (Basic ReavSons the Printed Matter Bylaw Cannot Pass), Shenhao (Commercial Times), Apr.12, 1925, 13; "Si tuanti duiyu zinshua fulu zhi hanjian" (Correspondence from Four Organizations Regarding the Printed Matter Bylaw), Shenhao, Apr. 14,1925,12; "Si tuanti wei yinshuawu fulu zhi gonghan" (An Official Letter about the Printed Matter Bylaw from Four Organizations), Shenhao, Apr. 15,1925,13.

(67.) "Endorsement from Employers of Shanghai"

(68.) "Committee History," 19.

(39.) Anna Kong Mei,"To the Editor" (dated Apr. 14), NCH, Apr. 18,1925,110-12.

(70.) Beatrix Manico Gull, "To the Editor" (dated Apr. 12), NCI I, Apr. 18,1925,110-12. Gull was writing in response to a letter to the editor written by "Shanghialander" that insisted passage of the bylaw would result in a "dole" for the poor and necessitate public schools for Chinese children.

(71.) Cheng, "Shanghai zujietonggong weiyuanhuide jigeyian" (The Proposals of the Shanghai Child Labor Commission), YWG4 Magazine, Apr. 1925, 15-16.

(72.) "Industrial Work of the YWCA," 5; Anderson, Humanity and Labor, 249-50; "A Quiet Ratepayers' Meeting," NCH, Apr. 18,1925, 95.

(73.) Anderson, Humanity and Labor, 254-55; Dingman to "My dear Family and Friends," Apr. 3,1925, Folder--1925-1926 Correspondence, Box 402, World/China.

(74.) Wagner, Labor Legislation in China, 88.

(75.) Letterhead stationery, Joint Committee of Women's Organizations on Child Labor, Folder--1925/1926 Correspondence, Box 402, World/China.

(76.) SMC, Apr. 29,1925, 22: 45-46, and May 13,1925, 22: 50-51; "The Child Labor By-Law," NCH, May 2,1925; Murray, "Industrial Work of the YWCA," 8.

(77.) Dingman to A. Harrison and Lily Haass, Apr. 30, 1925, Folder--1925, Box 402, World/China.

(78.) E. T., "To the Editor," NCH, May, 28,1925, 429.

(79.) "Committee History," 21-22.

(80.) W. Bruce Lockhart,"Some Facts Regarding Child Labour Agitation," NCH, May 9,1925,244.

(81.) "Ku nanjinglu beihaide xuesheng" (Cry for the Students Murdered on Nanjing Road), Shenhao, June 1, 1925, 15.

(82.) Threads, 11.

(83.) Murray, "Industrial Work of the YWCA," 9.

(84.) SMC, June 2,1925,23: 62-65.

(85.) Supplement to "The Green Year" Concerning the Events of and since May Thirtieth in Shanghai, 3, July 1, 1925. "The Green Year" was the English-language supplement to the YWCA Magazine.

(86.) Eleanor Hinder, "Toward the End of a Two-Year Term, Phases in an Evolution" Jan. i, 1928,4, Folder--1928 Reports, Box 406, World/China.

(87.) Margaret Polk,"Women and the Council" NCH, Mar. 6,1926, 63.

(88.) "First Annual Report of the Joint Committee of Shanghai Women's Organizations" 16-17, File--1890/Miscellaneous Documents, Box 413, World/China. The Foreign YWCA was established in 1927 as a separate organization in response to the growing number of foreign women interested in an association of their own.

(89.) "Committee History" 25; "Shanghai Club Women: Their Attention Directed Toward Industrial Conditions "NCH, June 19,1926, 567; "Club Institute: Shanghai--City of Refuge," May 17 and 18,1939, Joint Committee of Shanghai Women's Organizations, File 1890 (miscellaneous documents), Box 413, World/China.

(90.) I. Harrison, Agatha Harrison, chaps. 7-15.

(91.) A. Harrison to Wathen and Philips, Nov. 15, 1921 (emphasis in original).

(92.) Agatha Harrison, "A Personal Experience in Internationalism," typescript copy of article that appeared in Time and Tide, May 25,1923, reel 51.2, U.S./China.

(93.) Gertrude Bussey and Margaret Tims, Pioneers for Peace: Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, 1925-1965 (Oxford: Alden Press, 1980), 109-10; I. Harrison, Agatha Harrison, chaps. 8-14.

(94.) Murray,"IndustrialWorkofthe YWCA," 8; Threads, 11.

(95.) Murray, "Industrial Work of the YWCA," 9.

(96.) Lily Haass to Dingman and A. Harrison, Mar. 11, 1926, and Dingman to Lily Haass and Eleanor Hinder, Nov. 25, 1926, both File 1925-1926/Correspondence, Box 402, World/China.

(97.) Thoburn, untitled biographical sketch of Cheng, n.d.

(98.) "Shanghai Business Women: The Club Meeting,'5 523, and "Shanghai Business Women " both NCH, Feb. 25,1922, 562; "Chinese Feminists," NCH, Sept. 23,1922; "Chinese Women's New Aims," NCH, Oct. 14,1922, 87.

(99.) Cheng Wan/hen, "Dierci guoji nii/i laogonghuide jingguo" (The Results of the Second International Congress of Working Women), Funii zazhi (Ladies' Journal), Mar. 1922,41-43.

(100.) Cheng, "Nature and Goals of the YWCA Industrial Department"; Cheng, "Why We Should Promote the Campaign for Labor Legislation."

(101.) Cheng, "Nature and Goals of the YWCA Industrial Department," 13.

(102.) Porter, Industrial Reform, 57.

(103.) "National Committee Minutes, April 16, 1925," Folder--China Reports 1925, Box 402, World/China; Lily Haass to Dingman and A. Harrison, 28 Sept. 1926, Folder--1926, Box 402, World/China.

(104.) Woollacott, "From Moral to Professional Authority" 85-111.
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Date:Sep 1, 2011
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