UNSW CI

Chinese Studies Seminar Series

Events
Wisdoms of the East; Shanghai and Sydney: Theosophical links in the 1920s-30s

The Confucius Institute at UNSW Australia is proud to promote the debut event of the renewed Chinese Studies Seminar Series. The first seminar will dicuses the influential Theosophical Society, and will be convened by the renowned A/Prof. Jon Eugene von Kowallis with guest speaker A/Prof. David Reeve.

Background:

The founder of the Theosophical Society in China was Dr Wu Ting-fang, a great Chinese diplomat and senior politician, Minister of Justice, Foreign Minister and at times Acting Premier of the Republic of China. He was Chinese ambassador to the United States, Spain and Peru in the period 1896 to 1907.

The Theosophical Society (TS), formed in New York in 1875 by Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott, had an impact in the nationalist movements of several regions in Asia, particularly India and Indonesia, as well as Sri Lanka and Burma. After the TS moved its headquarters to Adyar in Madras in 1883, theosophical disciples and concepts flowed along the late imperial sea-lanes, forging links between India, Sri Lanka, the Dutch East Indies and Australia. 

The TS aimed to learn from the ’wisdoms of the East’ and had as its first objective:  ‘to form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or colour’. It was this objective that most appealed to Dr Wu Ting-fang who founded the Shanghai Lodge in 1920. In the next five years Lodges were established in Shenjiang, Hong Kong, Wuhan, Tianjin, Macau, Swatow (Shantou), Amoy (Xiamen) and Haikou. These lodges had a mix of Chinese and European members. Links with Australia were built by people like Malcolm Manuk and the Rev C Spurgeon Medhurst. Chinese counterparts included King Yat Seth and Dr A Wan Hee.  World War II put an end to this fascinating example of Chinese-Australian ties built around ideas and philosophies.

Biography:

David Reeve began his involvement with Asian studies as a young diplomat in 1968, being posted to the Australian Embassy in Jakarta in 1969-1971, later taking up researching and teaching Indonesian studies. From 1984 to 1987 he was posted to the University of Indonesia in Jakarta as the founding Australian lecturer in the Australian Studies program there and he has maintained his interest in the links between Australian and Asian studies. He began working at UNSW in 1990, where he served as the head of Chinese and Indonesian for the first seven years of those programs. From 1997 to 1999 he was Resident Director of the ACICIS program in Yogyakarta, the consortium of Australian universities that sends Australian students in Indonesia. He co-ordinated the Asian Studies teaching strand at UNSW from 2000 until his retirement in 2006. He is now completing a biography of a prominent Chinese Indonesian historian, Ong Hok Ham. He is also working on the role of the Theosophical Society in India, Indonesia, Australia and China in the 1910s to 1940s.