William Liu, Douglas Copland and the George E Morrison Lectures at the ANU

On 11 September 2014, the Seventy-fifth George E Morrison Lecture was presented at The Australian National University (ANU) by the noted economist Christine Wong. The title of the lecture was ‘State of the Local State in China: Challenges for Xi Jinping and Beyond’. It was the first time in the venerable history of the lecture series that the new building of the Australian Centre on China in the World was used as a venue. Prior to the oration, William Sima, a young scholar undertaking research on the Morrison Lectures and the early history of Chinese Studies at The ANU spoke about his recent archival discoveries. His remarks are reproduced below.

William Sima is now working with Olivier Krischer, a CIW Postdoctoral Fellow, on an exhibition related to his book project, China & ANU  Diplomats, Adventurers, Scholars, that will open in the CIW Gallery in April 2015.—The Editors


Fig. 1: William Joseph Liu, 1920. From C.Y. Yong The New Gold Mountain: The Chinese in Australia, 1901 – 1921, 1977, p.101

Fig. 1: William Joseph Liu, 1920. From C.F. Yong, The New Gold Mountain: The Chinese in Australia, 1901-1921, 1977, p.101

I remember so well, when the late Sir Colin MacKenzie established the Lectureship in 1931, he told me that it was to serve, though maybe only in some very small war, ‘in preventing conflict in the Pacific, but, if it ever came, that Australia and China would be fighting side by side to stop it as quickly as possible.’—William Joseph Liu, co-founder of the George E. Morrison Lecture in Ethnology, 1944

On 18 September 1931, Japan’s Kwantung Army, stationed in northeast China near the city of Mukden (today known as Shenyang), detonated explosives on a Japanese-owned railway line. Japan declared that the attack had been committed by nationalist Chinese subversives, and used it as a pretext for the full-scale invasion of China’s three northeastern provinces – Liaoning, Heilongjiang and Kirin (Jilin) – a region then commonly known as Manchuria. A puppet government in a puppet state called Manchukuo 滿洲國 was established the following year, with the last Manchu Emperor of the fallen Qing Dynasty, Aisin-Gioro Puyi 愛新覺羅·溥儀 (1906-1967), installed as Emperor. The events of 18 September became known as the Mukden Incident, which remains today one of the most notorious dates in the Chinese calendar of ‘a century of national humiliation’ 百年国耻.

Fig. 2: William Ah Ket. From Lindy Schultz, 'Lecturers' East Asian History, no.34 (December 2007), p.155

Fig. 2: William Ah Ket. From Lindy Schultz, ‘Lecturers’, East Asian History, no.34 (December 2007), p.155

The Mukden Incident caused widespread disillusionment with the League of Nations, an intergovernmental organisation established in 1920 with the principal task of maintaining peace through collective security and military disarmament. It was highly unsettling for Australia, and led Canberra to pursue a conciliatory attitude towards Japanese activities in China, right up until Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour (7 December 1941) and the advent of the Pacific war. The noted scholar of international relations, William Macmahon Ball later termed this the ‘Anxious Decade, 1931-1941′. In 1935 George Foster Pearce, then Australian Minister for External Affairs, gave the following summary of his government’s position:

The Government remained suspicious of her ultimate intentions, but with British naval strength reduced below the safety point, and with American aid discounted, there was no policy open to her other than trying to be friendly with Japan and to give her no excuse to adopt an aggressive policy vis-à-vis the Commonwealth. And to rejoice (irrespective of the moral aspect) every time Japan advanced more deeply into Manchukuo and North China.

Morrison of Mukden

In the wake of the Mukden Incident, Chinese Australian community leaders began to raise funds for the George E Morrison Lecture in Ethnology. They were William Joseph Liu 劉光褔 (affectionately known as ‘Uncle Billy’, 1893-1983), a merchant from Sydney, and William Ah Ket 麥錫祥 (1876-1936), a renowned Melbourne barrister. The Morrison Lectureship was established under the auspices of the Australian Institute of Anatomy (now the National Film and Sound Archive) in Canberra; the Director of that Institute, Sir Colin MacKenzie (1877-1938) was another key figure behind the lectureship. Liu described his first meeting with MacKenzie at the end of the 1933 book White China by John H.C. Sleeman (a rambling, rhetoric-laden, 350-page condemnation of Japanese aggression):

I’m always glad that I went down to Canberra in September 1931. We met by accident Sir Colin MacKenzie, the world famous anatomist. With charming courtesy, he showed us through the Institute of Anatomy. … Naturally we talked of China. Sir Colin’s dream had been the founding of a lectureship in memory of Morrison. Sir Colin graciously gave his patronage to the Sino-Australian movement, and the Chinese community in Australia did the rest. This movement will grow.

Shortly after this meeting, Mackenzie formalised his plan to establish the Morrison Lecture in a letter to Liu, dated 7 October. Recent events in Manchuria were formative in his thinking:

The Australian Institute of Anatomy has been founded by the Commonwealth Government for the advancement of medical science, and can be regarded as the first unit of the National University of Australia. … At the present time the relationship between Australia and the East, and especially China, are the subject of increasing attention, and … the cultural aspect is as important as the commercial. A great Australian, the late Dr. Morrison, laboured hard in the interests of China, and I am venturing to suggest the foundation of a Lectureship in his memory to be delivered in the Lecture Theatre of the Institute of Anatomy annually on the subject of Ethnology. If such were founded by Chinese citizens it would be a remarkable gesture of scientific friendship from China to Australia.

Liu and Ah Ket then began to raise funds for an endowment. MacKenzie made the first donation of £10; further correspondence between he and Liu, and a memorandum from the Department of Health, show that by mid-January 1932 they had raised a total of £402. The George E Morrison Lectureship was now formally established. Its purpose was to ‘improve cultural relationships between China and Australia, and to honour the name of a great Australian, Dr. George Morrison.’ The Lecturer each year was to be chosen by a ‘permanent committee’, comprising the Minister for Health, the Chinese Consul-General, the Director of the Institute of Anatomy, William Liu and William Ah Ket.

Covers of China and the Trouble in Manchuria (1931); J.H.C. Sleeman, An Appreciation (1933); and, the dedication page of White China (1933). These books were part of a series which William Liu produced with the journalist and publisher John Harvey Crothers Sleeman (1880-1946). Their aim was to raise awareness of Japanese aggression in China, and to further Sino-Australia trade and mutual understanding.

Wei-ping Chen 陳維屏 (1876-1936) was Consul-General of the Republic of China to Australia at this time, and he delivered the inaugural lecture in May 1932, and the fourth in 1935. Chen’s successor, Chun-jien Pao 保君建 (1896-1970) delivered the sixth. The Consulate-General was closely involved with selecting speakers and promoting the Lectureship during its first ten years at the Australian Institute of Anatomy.

Fig. 4: George Ernest Morrison in Peking, 1905. Mitchell Library

George Ernest Morrison in Peking, 1905. Source: Mitchell Library

By far the most well-known Australian involved with China in his time, George Ernest Morrison (1862-1920), doctor, adventurer and journalist, was an ideal choice of namesake for the oration. He was the first China correspondent for The Times of London (from 1897 until 1912), and thereafter served as a political adviser to the first President of the Chinese Republic, Yuan Shih-k’ai 袁世凱 (1859-1916). In these capacities Morrison observed and became personally involved in some of the most crucial events of the late Qing and early-Republican period – the Boxer Rebellion, the decline and fall of the Manchu dynasty, and the rise of Japan as a challenge to British and Russian dominance in northeast Asia. That the bustling commercial promenade of Wangfujing was once called ‘Morrison Street’ among Peking’s foreign community, and in Chinese it was known to many as 莫理循大街,  bears testament to the popularity and influence of ‘Morrison of Peking’ in that city. The studio which once housed his astonishing library remained on Wangfujing until 2007, when it was unceremoniously demolished in preparation for the Olympic Games.

The Australian journalist rose to prominence in 1898, after publishing a Russian ultimatum to China demanding the lease of Port Arthur (now part of Dalian). At the time the British government paid little regard to the ultimatum; the biographer Cyril Pearl writes that Morrison ‘[risked] his reputation on the truth of an uncorroborated report’, when he put his story to print on 25 March. Then,

On 27th March the Port Arthur convention, giving Russia everything she had demanded, was signed in Peking. When the House [of Lords] met, two days later, Mr J. Dillon (Mayo E.) put a question to the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs: ‘I beg to ask … if he can explain how it is that The Times correspondent in Peking has been able on several occasions recently to publish facts of the utmost public importance several days before the Foreign Office had obtained any information in reference to them?’

Fig 5: Photograph of Sir Colin MacKenzie, 1930. National Museum of Australia

Photograph of Sir Colin MacKenzie, 1930. Source: National Museum of Australia

Morrison ‘had been an earlier admirer of Japan, and found little to quarrel with until after the defeat of Russia in 1905’, wrote CP FitzGerald (1902-1992), Foundation Professor of Far Eastern History at The Australian National University. ‘By the time the [Great] war had come Morrison was highly critical and suspicious of Japan. Her designs on China were inordinate and would be destructive not only to China’s independence but to the trade and prestige of Britain in the Far East.’ Morrison’s foresight was especially resonant after the Mukden Incident; at the ninth Morrison Oration in 1940 the Archbishop of Sydney, Howard Mowll, lamented the fact that Morrison had no successor during the years of appeasement, when Australian public opinion towards China was often apathetic, ill-informed or favourable to Japan:

The appointment of an Australian Minister to China would go far to enlighten and strengthen public opinion, and to help China in her national development. Morrison, the brilliant Australian journalist who educated public opinion in the last century, and in whose memory these lectures were inaugurated, left no successor in his work, the result being that a great deal of public opinion, with no foundation in adequate knowledge, is, in the present crisis, unreliable.

After the passing of William Ah Ket in 1934, and Sir Colin Mackenzie in 1936, Uncle Billy was the last surviving member of the group that founded the Morrison Lectureship. By the late 1930s he had become, effectively, the Morrison Lectureship’s custodian, taking on the founding committee’s role of selecting a lecturer each year, while Frederick Clements, MacKenzie’s successor as Director of the Institute of Anatomy, handled arrangements at the official level. It was Liu who invited William Goddard (1887-1962), the President of the China Society of Australia who hosted a popular radio show on Pacific affairs, to present the tenth Morrison Lecture in 1941.

Goddard’s was the last before the Pacific War brought a stop to the Morrison Lectures. ‘It would seem that so many people here [in Canberra] are so intently engaged in wartime activities’, reads one 1944 letter from Clements to Liu, ‘that they have not the time nor the inclination to attend public meetings or addresses.’ However, William Liu’s papers, preserved at Mitchell Library in Sydney, show that he made a determined effort to keep the Morrison Lectureship running throughout the war years.

In August 1944, Liu suggested a joint oration featuring Sir Frederic Eggleston (1875-1954), the first Australian Minister to China, and Hsu Mo 徐謨 (1893-1956), the first Chinese Minister to Australia: ‘Combining the two Ministers’ Orations would fittingly cover 1943 and 1944, two-in-one publication this year. As 1942 was a critical year for us all, it could be mentioned as the reason for “the pause” for that year. Otherwise, our lectures have been continuous since 1931.’

Fig. 6: ‘Saying goodbye to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek’, Nanking, April 1948. ‘Papers of Douglas Berry Copland’, NLA MS3800, Box 70

Fig. 6: ‘Saying Goodbye to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek’, Nanking, April 1948. Source: ‘Papers of Douglas Berry Copland’, NLA MS3800, Box 70

Eggleston had returned from China’s wartime capital, Chungking (Chongqing) in March 1944, on what was supposed to be a short furlough; he was appointed Minister to the United States just two weeks after his return, and his departure soon after prevented him from delivering the Lecture that year. Hsu Mo declined ‘after careful consideration’, as ‘Dr. Clements frankly made it known to me that … owing to various conditions the attendance at my proposed lecture might be embarrassing small, and intimated that … the matter might, to our mutual advantage, be dropped for the time being.’ Liu was ‘naturally disappointed that you could not … see your way clear to help us revive the lectureship this year’ – and quietly furious with Clements for putting in Hsu’s mind concerns about a lacklustre attendance. In 1945, and again in 1947, Liu and Clements approached HV Evatt, then Minister for External Affairs to deliver the Morrison Lecture. These plans were cancelled because of Evatt’s participation at a number of international conferences.

On 12 May 1948, William Liu met Professor Douglas Copland at the Trocadero Theatre in Sydney, after Copland had delivered a lunch-time talk on China to a meeting of the United Nations Association. He had recently returned from his post as the second Australian Minister to China, and was now the first Vice-Chancellor of the newly established Australian National University.

China featured heavily in Copland’s plans for the new University. ‘I am returning to Australia to re-enter academic life as Vice-Chancellor of the new National University at Canberra’, Copland had said in his official farewell statement, shortly before leaving China:

Fig. 7: William Liu, O.B.E., for services to the Australian Chinese Community, 1982. Australian Dictionary of Biography

William Liu, O.B.E., for services to the Australian Chinese Community, 1982. Australian Dictionary of Biography

I regret leaving, but in returning to the academic world, I do not feel that I am deserting the world of China which I have come to respect and admire. One of the special fields of study to be fostered by the new university at Canberra is Pacific Studies, and this will, of necessity, keep me in active touch with many phases of Chinese life and scholarship.

Impressed with Copland’s talk, on 24 May Liu told Clements that ‘it dawned on me that [Copland] would be an ideal person to favour us our next Morrison Oration, as I suppose the question of Dr Evatt’s delivery is still uncertain.’ Clements agreed, suggesting further that the new ANU School of Pacific Studies – pending agreement from Liu and his associates within the Chinese community – would make an ideal new home for the long-struggling Morrison Lecture:

As you realise, this Institute is a biological institute concerned with the study of human health and disease and related sciences. It has always been a puzzle to me as to why Sir Colin MacKenzie was so anxious to establish an ethnological lectureship in relation to this Institute. For a number of years now I have been turning over in my mind the possibility that should a National University be established in Canberra, with an appropriate Department, that it might be more fitting for the Lectureship to be transferred to the National University. … I do not believe negotiations could be effected in time for this year’s Oration, nor do I think the National University would want to take it over so quickly, but it may be completed in time for the next year’s Oration. I would appreciate yours and any of your colleague’s ideas on this proposition. I shall not communicate officially with the National University until I have heard from you and of course until I have discussed the matter with my Minister.

On 1 July, Liu replied that he had ‘sought the views’ of Dr SY Woo, Consul-General for China, Mr CM Yuen, Editor of the Chinese Times and Barrister W.J. Lee, son of one of the foundation subscribers – all of whom supported, as did he, that the Morrison endowment be transferred to the ANU. Copland delivered the eleventh oration, titled ‘The Chinese Social Structure’ on 27 September 1948. Writing to the Department of Health the same day, he indicated that, after conferring with the ANU Interim Council, that they were ‘grateful … to the Institute for the suggestion that this unique and important foundation should be transferred to the University.’ These arrangements were completed the following year.