In the 1930s war waged in China as the then Japanese Empire deployed its armies in an effort to control its neighbour. The government of China under the Nationalist or Kuomintang Party led by Chiang Kai Shek sent out appeals to those Chinese born or Chinese descended people around the world for help. Many of these people living overseas had long supported the Kuomintang and had early been anxious about the threat Japan posed to China.
By 1937 however this threat was ramping up into a full-scale war that was even beginning to worry non-Chinese people in places such as Australia. One among the many organisations that began to be formed to support China was the New South Wales Chinese Women’s Relief fund. Formed in 1937 it signalled, according to its President Mrs J. A. Chuey, the first time ‘Chinese ladies have emerged from the privacy of their homes’ into the public.
Thanks to the preservation of some of the files of the Chinese Women’s Relief fund by their successor organisation – the China-Australia Friendship Society – and recently donated to the State Library of NSW we have some idea of how this community-based organisation went about its task of supporting China. From the file we have details of funding raising efforts that include musical recitals at the Sydney Town Hall (Concertina Selections & Maori Poi Songs) and cocktail parties (whisky, gin, vermouth & ‘Sparkling Hock’). The money raised was used to purchase medical supplies such as ‘bone files’ and ‘mouth gags’. As well, donations of clothes were solicited directly from people around NSW and it is here that the networking of the Chinese Women reached into the wider community with many of the donors also women but not Chinese Australians.
These letters, invoices and receipts speak for themselves as evidence of ordinary people struggling to do what they could in the face of the horrors of war. Just as loudly perhaps this file is an echo from the past as we see similar events and similar efforts being made once again in the face of the horrors of one country invading another.