Soong Ch'ing-ling


The China Welfare Institute: Forty Years in the People's Service



Source: Soong Ching Ling, "The China Welfare Institute: Forty Years in the People's Service", in China Reconstructs magazine, vol. XXVII, no. 6 (June 1978); pages 6-10.
Transcription & HTML Markup for Juan Fajardo, January 2022.




OUR China Welfare Institute is now forty years old. It was founded as the China Defense League in June 1938 during the anti-Japanese war. After victory in that war in 1945 and throughout the subsequent War of Liberation, it was called the China Welfare Fund. In 1950, in the newborn People’s Republic of China, it took its present name.

At all times its effort has been twofold. First, to serve immediate needs of the Chinese people in their fight for emancipation and advance. Second, to explain the significance and aims of that struggle to people the world over. At all times our organization has followed the leadership of the Communist Party of China. Unvaryingly, in its work of rallying friends at home and abroad it has been guided by Chairman Mao Tsetung’s policy of the united front. For decades it enjoyed the direct support and encouragement of Premier Chou En-lai.

The history of the CWI can be divided into four periods, in differing historical situations.

The first lasted from the founding of the China Defense League in Hongkong in 1938, shortly after the Japanese imperialist invasion of China, until the outbreak of the Pacific War in December 1941 when Hongkong, too, fell to the Japanese.

Internationally this was the period of gathering and clarification of anti-fascist forces. The battle-fronts when we were founded were in China and in Spain. Soon afterward they spread over most of the earth. Our particular task was to help win the support of people everywhere for the spearheads of China’s anti-Japanese resistance, the Eighth Route and New Fourth armies led by the Chinese Communist Party, and for the people of the Liberated Areas.

Materially, we collected funds and medical and other essential supplies. We worked to publicize and assist the International Peace Hospital headed first by Dr. Norman Bethune of Canada and then by Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis of India — those two exemplars of internationalism who took the struggle of the Chinese people as that of their own people, and after dauntless and devoted frontline service cemented that common cause with their lives. We supported also, in Yenan, the Anti-Japanese Military and Political College which trained students from all over the country as cadres for the guerrilla forces and base areas, the Lu Hsun Arts Institute (named after China’s great people’s writer) which prepared cultural workers to arouse and educate the masses to battle, and the Border Region Orphanage and a nursery endowed by patriotic overseas Chinese in Los Angeles, U.S.A. to care for children whose parents had died, or were engaged, in the fight for our nation’s existence. We channeled help to units of the Chinese industrial cooperatives in the Liberated Areas, which contributed to the economic viability of those areas.

The reason for locating the China Defense League in Hongkong was the extreme difficulty of doing such work from places ruled by Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang. The latter, while giving lip service to the cause of national resistance, in fact obstructed and sabotaged it. In Hongkong, though there were obstacles there too, we could at least receive and assemble war relief for the Liberated Areas, conduct correspondence and do some publishing. We put out the monthly China Defense League Newsletter in English to bring to foreign friends in many countries the truth of China’s resistance. We helped found the progressive Chinese-language daily, Hua Shang Pao for compatriots in Hongkong and Macao and those abroad. In 1940-41 both publications played their vigorous part in exposing throughout the world the stepped-up Kuomintang intrigues to surrender to Japan and destroy the Chinese people’s own armed forces by renewed civil war.

In the second period, 1942-45, we had to function in the teeth of constant harassment in Chiang Kai-shek’s wartime capital, Chungking. There, we could not even get premises; my own living room was the sole safe office and meeting place. Contacts with foreign friends and overseas Chinese had to be veiled. The dauntless anti-Japanese guerrilla forces for whom they sent contributions were under tight Kuomintang blockade — denied not only bullets to fight the invaders but even medical supplies to heal the wounded. Nonetheless, in different ways, some funds and supplies did reach us, and were delivered to their destinations. In 1944 we managed to forward an X-ray machine, the first and only one to reach the Liberated Areas which by then had a total population of 90 million! In international publicity, though in Chungking we could neither print nor mail, we prepared many statements and reports which were put out by progressive aid-China groups in other countries.

For the friendship among peoples, which is not accidental but based on fundamental common interest, there could be no impermeable blockade. Inside Chungking, despite trailing by Kuomintang spies, we kept in regular touch with the Eighth Route Army office headed by Chou En-lai. That was how we passed on funds and supplies entrusted to us, and received news of our assisted projects and of the people’s guerrilla war to make known to the world.

As we had done in Hongkong, we worked on a broad united front basis with friends both Chinese and foreign. The Chinese people, as always, had friends far and near; no blockades, no intrigues or slander, no hostile efforts could ever keep us apart.


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WITH the defeat of the Japanese invaders, the organization moved to Shanghai. From December 1945 we were called the China Welfare Fund and embarked on our program for the third period. Now one direction of our efforts was to get for the people’s areas, which had fought and suffered most in the war, their proper share of international relief funds and supplies from UNRRA (the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) and from less official bodies. The Kuomintang was being allocated 98 percent of such aid. The Liberated Areas, with at least half the war-affected population, got only two percent! Naturally, the amounts going to the Kuomintang did not benefit the people; huge sums were embezzled, and supplies laid by for the civil war it was soon to launch.

Working in cooperation with the newly set up Chinese Liberated Areas Relief Administration (CLARA) we opposed two tendencies inimical to our country and people. One was the bid by some foreign agencies to distribute relief directly at all levels, as a means of penetration and domination. The other was the attempt by the thieving, reactionary Kuomintang “relief” setup to monopolize incoming funds and supplies. To resist such things was part of a much larger struggle — the struggle to make sure that in our country the fruits and honors of the people’s anti-fascist victory should not be usurped by imperialist-backed fascists. Help from other peoples, extended to China, belonged rightfully to the Chinese people. However, unlike the Kuomintang, the Liberated Areas never begged for outside aid, never relied on it to keep going. Their keynote was self-reliance.

This quality was attested by the growth of the Bethune International Peace Hospital, which the China Defense League had long sponsored,

Throughout the anti-Japanese war years the Kuomintang reactionaries had obstructed outside aid so that only a sporadic tiny trickle got through. Nevertheless, by that war’s end the original single International Peace Hospital had grown to eight, in as many Liberated Areas, with 42 local branches and a total of 11,900 beds — plus Bethune Medical Training Colleges which prepared the personnel.

The China Welfare Fund, bringing to a focus the energies of democratic and just-minded Chinese and foreign friends, channeled people’s aid to these people’s hospitals and, as before, to the Border Region Orphanage, Los Angeles Nursery and Liberated Area industrial co-ops. It also helped some new projects in different Liberated Areas — including pharmaceutical plants and agricultural and stockbreeding experimental farms.

Within Shanghai, too, the Fund unfolded its work. It initiated a range of cultural and welfare activities for working people and their children. It fought against the starvation, disease and ignorance caused by Kuomintang exploitation and corruption. It set up maternity and infant-care clinics. It trained school pupils to act as “little teachers” in literacy centers for children deprived of schooling, and a theater which was at the same time a school, in which the children were both actors and pupils. A special fund helped progressive writers and artists who were persecuted by the Kuomintang reactionaries to create new works without starving. In these ways we also exposed the cruel exploitation and cultural despotism of the Kuomintang reactionaries. None of our local undertakings were “charities”. All were animated by the spirit of self-help and self-respect for which the Liberated Areas had shown the way. In ways suited to the then Shanghai, under dark reactionary rule, this spirit was consciously inculcated in our projects. Their key personnel were devoted revolutionaries. Even of the children, not a few were underground “Young Pioneers” — learning in their early years to serve the people in defiance of hardship and danger.

So in different ways, the China Defense League and its successor, the China Welfare-Fund, did their bit for the people’s victory, and the fostering of forces for the new China then being born.


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IN 1949 came the liberation, the founding of our people’s republic. The new democratic revolution won, China’s millions moved on to socialist revolution and construction. This historic triumph, of course, transformed our organization as well — and launched it into its fourth period. We were no longer a “Fund”, collecting from donors and distributing to beneficiaries. We became part of the new nationwide effort and budget. So did our former assisted projects.

Having summarized our work since 1938 we prepared for the future. With Premier Chou En-lai, who had given us such invaluable help and encouragement at all stages, I discussed our new policy and tasks. Led by the Party, we planned to develop pilot projects in women’s and children’s health, children’s culture and education, and, in view of our past work in this field, in international publicity. In whatever we did, we would seek to set a high standard. From mid-1950, with these new tasks, we became the China Welfare Institute.

Thenceforth our projects were centered in Shanghai itself. Our clinic there grew into the International Peace Maternity and Child Health Hospital. Our other earlier undertakings were enlarged and developed into the CWI nursery, kindergarten, Children’s Palace and Children’s Art Theater. All moved out of their quonset huts and shacks into good buildings provided by the state. Our publishing work began anew. In 1950 we established Children’s Epoch, a magazine geared to pupils in the fifth and sixth primary school grades to inspire them with communist morality and broaden their knowledge. In 1952 China Reconstructs, appearing first in English, began to bring to readers abroad the facts of China’s socialist revolution and construction.

In 1958, on the twentieth birthday of our institute, Premier Chou En-lai set out his hopes for us: “May the China Welfare Institute make greater contributions to improving the physical and spiritual health of China’s women and children, and the upbringing of the new generation of working people in the country’s present great leap forward in socialist construction, thus responding to the Party’s call for technological and cultural revolution and manifesting the Chinese people’s excellent tradition of self-reliance and hard struggle.”

Ever since, we have tried to carry on in this spirit.

Our women’s and children’s hospital, which began with 50 beds, now has 300. Every year it accommodates 8,000 inpatients, and treats nearly 200,000 outpatients. Following Chairman Mao’s policy of unity between the Chinese traditional and the western style doctors, it has carried out scientific research in such fields as gynecological and obstetrical operations (including excision of the womb) under acupuncture anesthesia, family planning, treatment of cervical cancer and treatment of extra-uterine pregnancy without surgery. The hospital’s work on the efficacy and drawbacks of different means of contraception and on electronic diagnostic devices for the newborn has won nationwide professional attention. By sending out medical teams to factories and farms, and founding a midwifery school, the hospital has fulfilled its function of popularization (the teams also give tests for cervical cancer). Through regular classes for rural barefoot doctors and refresher courses for qualified obstetricians and gynecologists, it carries out tasks of technical guidance. In internationalist help to some third world countries, it has sent personnel to join Chinese medical teams working there. Hundreds of foreign medical practitioners, scholars and scientists come to visit the hospital each year. Through these friendly contacts, our personnel have learned a great deal.

Each year hundreds of thousands of boys and girls attend the Children’s Palace. Recent activities here honored the memory of Chairman Mao and Premier Chou, promoted the revolutionary tradition they have bequeathed to us, helped the youngsters to understand the immense tasks in which our country is engaged under the leadership of the Party Central Committee headed by Chairman Hua Kuo-feng. Thousands have been coached in scientific and technical subjects, literature, art, sculpture and sports. Many performances and exhibitions of the children’s science work have been given. For China’s modernization needs, meetings are -arranged for interested boys and girls to meet outstanding personnel in these fields.

The CWI Children’s Theater has trained many actors, playwrights and stage artists. In 1952 Chairman Mao saw a performance there and gave instructions for the theater to stage shows for Peking’s children in Huai Jen Tang which was then the most important hall in China’s capital. With a growing repertoire it was expanded into the Children’s Art Theater in 1957. Among its own creations was the play Little Footballers, seen and praised by the late Premier Chou in 1964. In 1977 the theater gave 259 performances before a total young audience of 397,891.

The CWI Nursery and Kindergarten turn out healthy, high-spirited children who have a good level of knowledge for their ages, love the Party and country, and are already awakened to our people’s revolutionary traditions, collective spirit and love for labor. Besides patriotism, they are taught internationalism through stories and through visits by foreign friends. Hardiness and resistance to illness are promoted by routines such as the regular “three baths” — cold water baths, sun baths and air baths. The personnel summarize and improve methods of child care and preschool education, then make the results available to others in such work.

Children’s Epoch, from its founding in 1950 and until 1966, put out 389 issues and was eagerly read by both youngsters and educationists. Then, because of the disruption by the “gang of four”, it suspended publication, resuming only in April this year. Its circulation is now more than double that before its enforced suspension.

China Reconstructs today appears not only in English but in French, Arabic, Spanish, Russian and — beginning with this year — German,

The launching of the cultural revolution made us eager to improve our work further. But the “gang of four” wanted to demolish it. They negated everything the CWI had done in the first 17 years after liberation, slandered some of our projects as “models of revisionism” and victimized our veteran personnel. They denied the need for pioneering in methods and research, or for any division of labor. Their baleful interference and influence caused losses in our various programs.

Though we have done some useful work, it is far from sufficient, and some projects that I had envisioned did not materialize. Nevertheless, we have in the main carried out Chairman Mao’s revolutionary line and the various policies outlined by him.

Now, once and for all, the “gang of four” has been smashed by the Party Central Committee headed by Chairman Hua Kuo-feng. A new Long March has begun — to build a powerful socialist country with modern agriculture, modern industry, modem national defense and modern science and technology by the end of the century. In its ranks the China Welfare Institute is determined to do more work, and do it better. As for 40 years past, we shall serve our people and revolution. And through China Reconstructs we shall continue to convey the facts of China’s socialist progress to friends in other lands.