All About Rotary Hong Kong


On 20th March 1930, Honorary General Commissioner Rtn James W. Davidson wrote to Rotary International concerning the promotion of a Rotary Club in Hong Kong. He was introduced to the Governor, Sir William Peel, who was immediately sympathetic and helpful. He was aware of the need for more communication and understanding between the various ethnic and social groupings in the community.

With this backing, and with the help of such leading citizens as Robert Kotewell, William Hornell (Vice Chancellor of the University of Hong Kong), Dr. Arthur Woo and W.E.L. Shanton (Senior Partner of the Firm Deacons, Solicitors), Rtn Davidson was able to send a cable to Rotary International on 23rd November 1930 with the news that the Rotary Club of Hong Kong would be organized on 8th December 1930. Rtn Davidson had almost literally rounded up a total of 79 of the leading citizens of Hong Kong as Founder Members. There were 31 Chinese, one Indian, one Japanese and 46 Americans and Europeans.

The new club then met regularly from 8th December 1930 on Tuesdays at Lane Crawford's Restaurant, such meetings were of course provisional until Charter No. 3413 was granted by Rotary International on 20th February 1931.

Meanwhile Rtn James W. Davidson and his family had left Hong Kong to return to Chicago. After revisiting Shanghai and Japan he left Yokohama on 12th March to Vancouver. Having filed his report in Chicago he returned to his home in Canada. His health had been declining for some time, partly at least as a result of the hardship and tropical sickness on his journey through southern Asia and he died shortly after returning home.

Rotary in Hong Kong owes it to Rtn Davidson to record the following quotation from an address by Rtn Julean Arnold of Shanghai when he visited the Rotary Club of Hong Kong on 17th November 1931:

"Hong Kong was supposed to be the hardest place in the world in which to start a Rotary Club. Jim (Davidson) was a great organizer, and I was not surprised at his trying to crack this hard nut. His great joy when he came back to Shanghai after a tour devoted to starting Rotary clubs was his accomplishment in organizing the Hong Kong Rotary Club in which he took great pride."

In 1935 Rotary International decided to form a District No. 81 to unite member clubs in Hong Kong, China and the Philippines. The club celebrated its tenth anniversary in February 1941 with a dinner in the Rooftop Garden Restaurant at the Hong Kong Hotel.

The gathering storm clouds of war over the whole of Asia must have cast a somber shadow on the mood of Rotary gatherings as the thirties gave way to the forties. Yet few members could have realized that the meeting on 2nd December 1941, when they heard Mr James Lee give a talk with slides on "The Splendor of Peking", would be their last chance to meet in freedom and in fellowship for four years.

In July 1945 came the liberation of Hong Kong and the city's long process of rebuilding a normal pattern of life. In November of that year a Past President, Dr Arthur W. Woo called a party of friends together for lunch at the Cafe de Chine. Many happy atmosphere reminded him of Rotary activities in the "good old days". This was evidently the cue Dr Woo had been awaiting. In reply he suggested that the work of Rotary be revived.

E.J.R. Mitchell undertook to plan a program of events beginning with a meeting which was, in effect, the re-inauguration of the Club. In January 1946, the first postwar Rotary lunch in Hong Kong took place at the Gloucester Hotel's restaurant. A motion passed noted that the Club had "been in abeyance" since 1941 and stated that it had now been restarted.

It was revealed the Club still had $7,000 in the bank but this was frozen under wartime rules and so funds were urgently needed. Members were asked to pay their half-yearly fee of $15 immediately, which they did. The Club came back to life. It was resolved that future meetings would take place at the same venue.

There were, of course, some other formalities still to be undergone. Rotary International's headquarters was contacted with an application for readmission, a request that was readily approved on the basis that the Club had never really ceased to exist. A duplicate copy of the Charter was dispatched from the US. Many of the Club records, previously assumed to have been destroyed, were found in a metal box at the former Sports Club in King's Building, Connaught Road.

The postwar years were a time of challenge of Hong Kong. A massive increase in population, caused in the main by an influx of refugees from China, stretched community and welfare services to breaking point. It was a time of particular need from the type of help groups such as Rotary could provide. The decision was made to have not just one but many Rotary Clubs in the Territory.

The result of this was that from 1947, when the Rotary Club of Macau was formed, until the present day, the spirit of Rotary is now witnessed in no fewer than 100 clubs in what has become District 3450.

In the context of Hong Kong, Rotary can be said to have created greater cohesion within the community. As the former Hong Kong Governor, Sir Alexander Gratham commented when he addressed the Club in 1956: "If I were asked what one thing more than any other brought the Chinese and non-Chinese together, as we now take it for granted, it was the establishment of The Rotary Club of Hong Kong".

Today, The Rotary Club of Hong Kong is known as the "Mother Club" of Rotary International District 3450, and it is from our Club that the Rotary movement branched out in this District.

Thus, the Mother and Premier Club continues to play an important role in community, vocational and international services; always bearing in mind the Rotary motto of Service Above Self. Members of the Club are called upon to expound "The Four Way Test": Is it the TRUTH ? Is it FAIR to all concerned ? Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIP ? Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned ?

The services accomplished by the Club are numerous and vast and extended to all sectors of our society.  They include scholarships, student exchange programs, orphanages, polioplus campaign (to eradicate polio by the year 2000), 3-H program (that of hunger, health and humanity), elderly homes, hospice care and so on.

In May 1996, Rotarians hosted a splendid 100 year's birthday party for PP Percy Chu of the former Rotary Club of Shanghai (1934-35). In June 1996, a group of Rotarians from the Club together with Rotarians from Rotary Clubs from around the world, started to hold informal meetings in Beijing on a weekly basis, bringing the Rotary spirit to China.

Membership of the Club comprises many of Hong Kong's most distinguished citizens who come together in a desire to serve. Rotarians are expected to perform diligently their share of service to the Club, to their vocations, to the community and towards better international understanding. We are bound by the Club's Constitution and By-Laws under Rotary International.