What to do with temples?

Another in our occasional series on teaching aids. One aspect of Chinese modernization that most teachers mention is the modernizing state’s need for buildings to house schools, government offices and such. They also had a need to get rid of temples and other aspects of the backwards old society. Given that the basic architectural structure of all these was the same (connected courtyards) it was easy to toss out the Buddhas and turn buildings into something useful. Here is a nice picture to illustrate this.

This is a cool picture for two reasons. First, this temple has been converted into an industrial cooperative by Rewi Alley’s Gong Ho (Work Together) organization. I always like Gong Ho, since it is one of the few Chinese phrases to have come into English. It is a common phrase in the Marines, and there used to be a gun nut magazine called Gong Ho. I’m going to guess that the people who read Gong Ho did not know that the phrase came from a homosexual New Zealand Communist.

Second, this image is from Graham Peck’s Two Kinds of Time, which I am happy to see is coming out in a new edition. The book is a travelogue of Peck’s trips through West China in 1939-40, and I highly recomend it. Peck, Graham. 2008. Two Kinds of Time. University of Washington Press.


  1. “a homosexual New Zealand Communist.”

    Eh? That’s quite a claim to make- the homosexual part, at least- considering it is hotly debated in Alley’s homeland. Open that Wikipedia article and click on the link, footnote number 2, I believe, to the NZ Edge article ‘Alley Postscript’ (http://tinyurl.com/5f4kv2), you’ll see.

    I mean, if he was gay, fine, but there’s been a fair bit of bollocks spouted about the man and the evidence is scant. And in the context, the charges are not merely of homosexuality, but of relationships with his students that were somewhat less than professional. Isn’t it better for all if we try and aim at a story for which there is objective evidence? I mean, take this from fairly far down the NZ Edge’s article’s list of articles discussing Alley’s sexuality, a piece by Geoff Chapple:

    “The former head boy at the old Shandan school, Ni Cai Wang, was later appointed headmaster to the proposed new Shandan school. In 1986-87 that school was under construction, and Ni shared a small hut alongside the building site with a New Zealand teacher, Tom Newnham. They spent a severe Shandan winter there, and one night, under no kind of duress and apropos of nothing to do with any scandal, Ni made the casual comment to Newnham that, back in the late 1940s, he and some of the senior boys at Shandan had surprised Courtenay in flagrante delicto with one of the younger students. They beat him up, and told him if there was any more of it, they’d report him to Alley. It was just a passing comment, but it doesn’t square with the kind of school culture Brady or Archer paints.

    The only other seemingly reliable Shandan witness quoted in the text is Dr Bob Spencer, a medic at the old Shandan school clinic, who, in a 1994 telephone interview with Brady, told her: “We were vaguely aware of Rewi Alley’s proclivities and sexual activities. It didn’t appear to be affecting the boys in any way.”

    What does this mean? What did he know? What was he told and by whom? Was it Archer, in which case these independent witnesses are one and the same? A biographer who wants to pursue the homosexual topic should have asked Spencer these questions. Without that kind of clarification, the Spencer statement remains suggestive but ambiguous. In preparing this article, I tried to trace Spencer to sort it out, but he, too, is now dead. As a journalist and author myself, I think Brady fails, not in raising the topic, but in stating more than she has evidence for. She makes her unequivocal claim: “But it is undeniable that Alley had sex with his students…” and then softens it on cultural grounds “… and while this is anathema to contemporary Western mores as an abuse of the fiduciary relationship, in the social climate of China in those times it was not at all unusual”.

    But whether softened by that cultural context or not, that “undeniable” cannot be correct, for, quite simply, it is deniable. Brady presents the case for, but seems reluctant to give any weight to the case against.”

    In other words, the jury is out.

  2. I find it hard to believe that a New Zealander, Communist or not, commanded a battalion of Marine Raiders during the Second World War. Per the U.S. Marine Raider organization site: “Brigadier General Evans F. Carlson, USMCR, first heard the term (Gong Ho) used in the mountains of north China in 1937 where he was assigned to observe Chinese guerilla resistance to the Japanese incursion.” Their information coincides with an article I published on the Raiders some 24 years ago.

  3. Lirelou,

    Alley did not command the Marines of course. He did set up the 工合 organization however, and that is the origin of the phrase. See Peck’s book or some of the stuff on Alley

  4. Chris,

    I don’t know if he was gay, nor really care all that much. I remember Brady made a case for it (in the book and also in an article in East Asian History), and also why it matters, that I found pretty convincing.

  5. Alan, as I understand it, the phrase is a Chinese phrase. I do not dispute that Alley may have used the phrase prior to the organization of the World War II Marine Raiders. But the phrase came into widespread use in English because Carlson made it the motto of his Raider battalion, and a wartime film entitled “Gung Ho” popularized both the phrase and the Marine Raiders. And Carlson did so based upon his own experiences as an observer with Chinese communist forces in North China. We may agree to disagree, but I believe that the impact of the wartime American film industry played an obviously greater role in popularizing the phrase.

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