While reading The Religious Question in Modern China by Vincent Goossaert and David A. Palmer, I was grabbed by the murky origins and follow on activities (including an impressive operation during the Nanjing massacre), of the Red Swastika Society (RSS) in China during the 1920s and 30’s. Was the intent of this service activated for the genuine, empathetic dispersion of humanitarian supplies and helping hands, or was it a vehicle for the Chinese empire to introduce Western, Christian-influence and prosperity in an effort to keep up with the competitive, international status quo? Does the red swastika emblem have any symbolic correlation to Adolf Hitler’s 1920 adoption of the swastika (or Hakenkreuz [Ger., hooked cross], now a world-recognizable mark of Nazi propaganda), or was this just a benign coincidence? Furthermore, in the 1930’s, did the RSS cater as a front for Daoyuan (School of Tao: a redemptive society considered superstitious by Chinese Christian elites) in order to escape persecution?
According to Chinese historical authors and specialists Goossaert and Palmer, the Daoyuan-led RSS was officially established in 1922, modeled after the International Committee of the Red Cross Society (ICRCS) based out of Geneva, Switzerland. It was relished as both a symbol of the ancient moral and ethical beliefs of Chinese culture, and of forward-thinking national leadership. At the time, many Chinese leaders holding seats in the higher echelons of government had been educated in the west, or substantially influenced by western missionaries, educators and intellectuals that had created a prominent Chinese sub-culture. During the Sino-Japanese wars, the RSS ran evacuation operations and “war hospitals where Chinese Medicine as well as talismans and spirit–writing cures were provided” (G&P 101). In this aspect, the RSS greatly differed in the medicinal practices of the west— weaving older, secular traditions with modern medicine and techniques. Fortunately, in keeping open minds, both the east and western parties involved benefited from each other’s innovative and mindful practices, providing for and strengthening an effective and fast-growing relief society. My interpretation of the RSS’s beginnings (although alternating from the eventual duality of the RSS), is that it was founded on good faith and true desire to initiate hope in the lives of the less fortunate.
Although eventually gaining much of the world’s attention as a Communist symbol of Nazi Germany taboo, the swastika design was originally a Sanskrit signifier of “good fortune”, or “well-being,” and is considered sacred in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Odinism. The swastika is still a common, modern sight in both Indian and Indonesian temples. Inasmuch as China did evolve into a communist state, the swastika, in my opinion, was chosen by the Daoyuan for its connectivity to Buddhist and Hindi culture, which has been a “western” influence in China for centuries longer that Britain or the United States.
In 1927, the Kuomintang (KMT) government induced a kind of “witch hunt” for redemptive societies, claiming they were slowing the progression of modern China. Many of these societies were dispersed and eradicated, but others— to include the Daoyuan –endured. By broadcasting their life-enhancing efforts to the nation, some redemptive societies maintained their secular beliefs without interference. These redemptive societies included the RSS and the School of Aikido to name a few, both of which can be linked to the Daoyuan. The Daoyuan “explicitly denied being religious, proposing a higher form of cultivation that transcended the religions of the past” (121), however, their methodical proclivity to their beliefs was very religious and faithful in nature— beliefs that in some cases were held in higher regard to the RSS mission statement itself.
Works Cited / Referenced:
Goossaert, Vincent, Palmer, David A. The Religious Question in Modern China. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011. Print.
“History of the Swastika.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 10 Jun 2013. Web. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007453
“Swastika.” Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. Ed. J. Gordon Melton. 5th ed. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. 1514-1515. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web.
Wylie, Neville. “The Sound Of Silence: The History of The International Committee Of The Red Cross As Past And Present.” Diplomacy & Statecraft 13.4 (2002): 186-204. Academic Search Complete. Web.