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History of Nanjing YMCA

The first YMCA in China was established in 1885 by American Christian missionaries in a Fuzhou Church School. In 1895, the North America YMCA Association sent missionaries to the city of Tianjin to establish the first inner city YMCA. Starting in 1900, other cities set up inner city YMCA programs such as Shanghai (1900), Fuzhou (1905), the city of Guangzhou (1909), Shantou(1910), and Hong Kong (1910).  December 12 – 15, 1912, the Chinese YMCA Sixth National People's Congress was held in Beijing, formally establishing the YMCA National Association. Since then, the YMCA organization has been established in all major cities throughout the country.

The YMCA first arrived in Nanjing during the late Qing dynasty. In 1909, the North American YMCA dispatched Americans Whitman and L.N. Herpes and shortly after the YMCA was established. While preparing to establish the YMCA, the North American Youth Association also sent Dr. M.T. Exner in 1910 from Shanghai to Nanjing to take the opportunity to have the YMCA sponsor the opening of the Southeast Asia Industrial Exhibition. Dr. Exner was also responsible for preparing the first National Athletic Games held in Nanjing, with over 150 people participating from all over China. This marked the beginning of modern sports in China. The YMCA made “not to be served, but to serve” as their motto, meaning that their purpose isn’t to be served, but to serve others, serve the community, and benefit all mankind. The YMCA’s “Four Education” Program promotes the development of moral, intellectual, physical, and social skills. This program has received the attention and support of the community as moral education develops moral character,  intellectual education edifies ones abilities, physical education enhances ones energy, social development increases communal participation, ultimately promoting the Christian idea of the spirit of sacrifice and cultivating youth integrity.


After the Xinhai Revolution in 1911, the Republic of China set up a provincial government in Nanjing, and on January 1, 1912 Sun Yat-sen was sworn into office as president. It was at this time that the YMCA was officially founded due to the support of several ROC government members including Sun Yat-sen, Wang Zhengting and Ma Poyuan. After several months of preparatory work and applying for approval from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Nanjing authorities allocated a location for the foundation of constructing Nanjing YMCA meeting place. In the process of financing the establishment of the YMCA meeting house, Sun Yat-sen donated three thousand dollars which was used as the start-up costs of the Nanjing YMCA. Sun Yat-sen said “the YMCA is a school meant to develop integrity.” Because Dr. Sun took the lead in donating to the YMCA, many people throughout the city and community likewise donated generously to the foundation. With all of these preparations in order, Nanjing YMCA inauguration ceremony was held on April 1, 1912 in the Huapai Meeting House. Dr. Sun Yat-sen heavily emphasized the work of the YMCA and he, along with various members of the Nanjing Provisional Government attended the YMCA inauguration ceremony, meeting with both local and foreign general secretaries, presidents and board members of the YMCA.


Below: A Letter to Encourage the Young Christions in Chine -in Dr. Sun Yat-sen' Own Handwriting

    Shortly after the Nanjing YMCA was established, the board of directors president was Wen Peishan, American Ji Litai was general secretary, and Xia Rihu was made vice general secretary. Nanjing YMCA board members included Tu Yuqing, Zhou Jigao and Li Xiudong. After the YMCA was established in Nanjing, its earliest activities included developing cultural activities, with an emphasis on physical education, in order to attract youth participation and expand their numbers. Specifically in the YMCAs first year, they organized a lecture on science. Dr. Rao Bosen was the speaker and he brought with him many scientific instruments and lectured about topics such as wireless electricity, airplanes and single track railways. His use of scientific instruments made his lecturing easy to understand, left an impression on the audience and made a contribution to the development of the scientific world.

    In 1913, during the height of the Battle of Gan Ning, primary and secondary schools in Nanjing were affected by the war and many were destroyed. The Nanjing YMCA had only been established for a little over a year and had already seen the destruction to their school. Because tutoring locations were limited and according to the local needs at the time, the YMCA established a day and night school, hired faculty and divided into classes. Not only did this welcome out-of-school youth, it was highly praised by the community and increased the local people’s awareness of the YMCA. This helped lay a foundation for the establishment of the YMCA Middle School.

    From 1912 to 1949, the Nanjing YMCA in the Republic of China was similar to other YMCA’s throughout China.  Because they accepted economic allowances from the United States, they didn’t experience a full level of independence. During this period there were many plagues and misfortunes such as the ten years of fighting between warlords and eight years of the Sino-Japanese War. During this difficult time, the YMCA strived as much as possible to launch and hold activities.

Below: the Staff and Co-workers During the twenties of 20 century


Sanitation Exposition

In order to better serve the local community, the Nanjing YMCA has historically organized conferences to communicate the importance of sanitation.  Currently, the Nanjing community does not place much emphasis on public sanitation, which negatively impacts the health of Nanjing citizens. In 1916, YMCA held a Sanitation Exposition and—in conjunction with the China Council for Sanitation—invited Dr. Peter W.W. (毕德辉博士) to come to Nanjing and address the conference.  Using various diagrams and instruments to supplement his lecture, Dr. Peter W.W. gave an inspiring and engaging speech that was not only interesting to individuals who initially lacked a basic understanding of sanitation, but was also effective in communicating sanitation fundamentals to this audience.  This initial exposition lasted one week, with an attendance of 10,000 during that period. Accordingly, this exposition had a historically significant impact on the sanitation of Nanjing citizens.

Receiving Chinese Workers Returning from France

During World War I (1914-1918), China sided with the Allied Powers and although Chinese soldiers did not see military action, China permitted the British and French governments to recruit Chinese workers to labor in the European military camps. These workers have been termed “Chinese workers.” In 1916, the British and French governments sent representatives to Nanjing’s Pukou, Shandong’s Qingdao, and Weihaiwei, where they established recruiting centers. These recruiting centers were extremely successful, ultimately resulting in 200,000 Chinese workers rushing to Europe. The majority of these workers settled in the Northern French theater, with a smaller portion in Southern France and Belgium. Approximately 130,000 of these workers assisted the British military forces, 50,000 of the remaining workers were in French military camps, and fewer than 10,000 Chinese workers assisted the American military effort. The work of these Chinese workers on the front lines of the war was both menial and dangerous. They dug trenches, laid barbed wire, fixed roads, and transported supplies that were essential for the war effort.  Chinese workers behind the front line assembled ammunition and maintained artillery and other machinery.  After the fighting stopped, these workers were again sent to the battlefield to clear out remaining obstacles, fill in trenches, clean the battleground, bury the deceased, and recover arms and ammunition. Besides what was required to cover food and lodging, these workers received a pitifully small wage—typically only one or two francs, with a maximum of three or four francs.

These battleground Chinese workers organized the Chinese Workers Youth Association amongst themselves.  This association included some American missionaries and exchange students who had worked in the Nanjing YMCA who maintained communication with the Nanjing YMCA. World War I ultimately ended in November 1918 with an Allied victory. As wave after wave of these Chinese workers returned to China from France, in 1920 Nanjing YMCA established a reception center to welcome these Chinese workers as they returned from Europe.

These returning Chinese workers were an invaluable contribution to the success of the Allied Powers. These workers—who forsook their homes and careers in order to facilitate an Allied victory through selfless sacrifice, diligence, blood, sweat, and tears—were invariably touched by the warm reception provided by the Pukou Reception Center. Many of these workers returned to villages in the Nanjing area, while others went home to Anhui or Zhejiang; however, the majority of the workers were from Shandong, where they were happily reunited with their families.

Eliminating Illiteracy by Educating the Common Man

While in Europe, the Chinese Workers Youth Association began organizing classes to educate the illiterate workers in an attempt to promote literacy among the common people. The organizer of this first effort, Dr. Yan Yangchu returned to working at the Nanjing YMCA in a push to promote education for common citizens. As a part of this effort, he wrote four 1000 character manuals to provide an educational foundation.  These efforts have cemented Yan’s legacy as a pioneer in educating the common man, and was fully supported by the Nanjing YMCA.

Armed with these manuals, the Nanjing YMCA sent two representatives to the Council for Promoting Common Education in order to establish schools for commoners and thereby organize activities aimed at eradicating illiteracy. Throughout the city, over 80 schools were established, with between 5000 and 6000 students from low income families attending each semester.  These schools represented the largest push for commoner literacy by any youth organization in the country. Today, the Nanjing YMCA continues its vigorous support of common education by organizing middle schools for by sending teachers to teach a “First 1000 Characters” class as well as organizing education exercise weeks. These education exercise weeks include debate competitions, with prizes awarded to the winners.  All of these efforts have been a powerful push in the effort to eradicate illiteracy.

Emergency Relief Assistance Efforts

In addition to the programs provided during normal operation, the YMCA also provides special work and assistance in response to extraordinary and emergency circumstances across the country. In coordination with youth associations from around the country, the Nanjing YMCA has actively participated in emergency relief efforts in response to the 1920 drought in Northern China, and the 1931 Yangtze River Flood. In response the Yangtze River Flood of 1931, the Nanjing YMCA immediately organized a group to investigate the rising waters in all the villages of Jiangning, sent workers to assist the victims, raised funds to finance the relief effort, and delivered all these resources to the citizens of the afflicted regions very promptly.  Then Nanjing YMCA also sent representatives to other regions to raise money that was used to restore the businesses and rebuild the homes of those who lost everything in the flood. These efforts are a manifestation of Nanjing YMCA’s commitment to serving the community.

Establishing the Nanjing YMCA Office

In the 10 years following the founding of the Nanjing YMCA, the program grew rapidly, with continued growth in membership and activities. As the rented space in the Huabei Building felt smaller and smaller by the day, the small space was no longer large enough for the many activities sponsored by the YMCA, and the program was in desperate need of a new office. With the support of the local government and society, as well as the Nanjing YMCA board of directors, plans were drawn for the construction of a new building that could meet the expanded needs of the organization.

Originally, the central YMCA organization in North America had a policy that if a city in China wanted to establish an office, the North American organization would provide 50% of the funds required for the building, with the other half to be provided by the city in question.  The North American YMCA organization provided $60,000 USD for building costs, but the Chinese YMCA was unable to produce matching funds to finance the building. However, fundraising in Nanjing and the surrounding area was able to raise the equivalent of 20,000 RMB at current exchange rates.

After the financial arrangements were complete, the Nanjing YCMA hired an architect to design the new building. Finally, in the Spring of 1925, construction of the new building was officially underway. After over a year of construction, the Nanjing YMCA building opened in 1926.  The building was located on Chengnanfu South Street (modern day Zhonghua Road), in the prosperous heart of the city. The location was easily accessible, which facilitated the hosting of various activities, and provided a location for a multitude of community service and other appropriate activities.

Founding the Xiashu Village Progressive Society

While the majority of the Nanjing YMCA’s work in conducted within the city, the organization began reaching out to local farming villages in 1933. The first chosen location was Xiashu Village, located in Yinxing Township just outside of the Nanjing Zhonghua Gate. This village was designated as a service area, and the Society for the Progression of Xiashu Village was established. Xiashu Village was small, with just over 90 households, and the Nanjing YMCA established a plan to begin work there. The first four areas of focus were cultural and artistic classes, sanitation education, citizen education, and planned parenting classes. Work proceeded according to this plan, and as the classes achieved the desired results, supplementary material was continuously added. All of these efforts were warmly received by the citizens of Xiashu Village.

Repairing the Office and Restoring Activities

By 1935, there were over 2000 members of the Nanjing YMCA.  The 16 members of the Board of Directors were at that time: Ling Daoyang (凌道扬) as Chairman, Shen Kefei (沈克非) as Vice Chairman, Zhou Ligao (周李高), Li Tianlu (李天禄) (secretary), Zhang Xintuo (张信妥) (treasurer), Zhang Zhijiang (张之江), Liang Hancao (梁寒操), Tong Runzhi (童润之), Zhang Fang (张坊),Chen Yuguang (陈裕光), Wei Xueren (魏学仁), Li Handuo (李汉铎), Jiang Bengong (姜本恭), Hong Huanqing (洪焕卿), and Huang Renlin (黄仁霖).   There were 13 other administrators: Shi Rangzai as Chief Administrator, with Hao Ruiman as his assistant. The other administrators were: Xia Rishan, Zhou Damin (Education), Xie Jiamei (Students), Wang Din, Hu Zhaotang (Work Affairs), Gao Wanjun (Accounting), Qiu Cunshan (Exercise), Zhang Yongsheng (Assistant), Liu Shaohua (Literature), Zhu Shouyi (Secretary), and Wang Sheng (Farming). These diligent leaders worked night and day to establish a school based on the foundation of social activities, which was later renamed the YMCA school. They also established an exercise field and held many exercise activities. There was a YMCA swimming pool, reception hall, cafeteria, shower, and barbershop. These businesses and activities were all abruptly terminated during the Japanese occupation.

Because the Nanjing YMCA organized anti-Japanese propaganda during World War II, including painting anti-Japanese banners and other activities, the YMCA became a target of the Japanese military, and the YMCA center was burned to the ground by the Japanese military.

After World War II finally ended after eight years of fighting, the national YMCA organization sent Zhu Peien (诸培恩), Li Shoubao (李寿葆), and H.L. Maynard to Nanjing in the Fall of 1945 to restore the Nanjing YMCA, with Zhu Peien to serve as the director. After repairing the damage caused by Japanese arsonists, the YMCA building was rebuilt, with its completion in November 1946. The middle school and other social activities were also gradually restored and reorganized. As China was freed from the Japanese occupation, there were over 20 remaining employees of the Nanjing YMCA, with approximately 1000 members.

The Nanjing YMCA set new records for activities and participation during the Nationalist Period, including many new youth activities. As in other locations, Nanjing YMCA is not a church organization, although some of the principles taught come from Christianity.  Likewise, since some of the funding came from the United States, some of the programs were inevitably influenced by American ideals. Nevertheless, both during the Japanese occupation and the post-war era, the YMCA supported the struggles of these youth as they fought for their country.

Promoting the “3 Selfs” Patriotic Exercises

After Nanjing was liberated on April 23, 1949, the Nanjing YMCA as an organization attended the Nanjing Citizen’s Association. In the Spring of 1950, every local Christian organization began promoting activities denouncing imperialism, with an especially strong push towards opposing American influence.  From this time forward, Chinese Christians were directed to practice the “3 selfs”: self-control, self-sustainment, and self-proselytizing. From the installment of this program, all youth were encouraged to be heavily involved in this movement, which spread throughout the city under the direction of Director Zhu Peien and Assistant Director Han Wencao as well as other administrators.

Revising and Supplementing YMCA Leadership Training

After the unrest caused by the Cultural Revolution, the Nanjing YMCA and YWCA were gradually reestablished in the early 1980’s, with a joint headquarters located at Number 229, Zhongshan Road. On July 13, 1985, the Nanjing YMCA and YWCA were reorganized in the first joint members meeting. The board of directors was presided over by Han Wenca as chairman, Liu Benli as assistant chairman, and Zhu Peien as director on the side of the YMCA, and for the YWCA: Zheng Shushen (郑淑慎) as chairman of the board, Lu Baoyuan (卢宝媛) as assistant chairman, and Zhuo Zhaohua (卓兆华) as director. Under the direction of these leaders, the Nanjing YMCA entered the Chinese modern era, with a renewed dedication and enthusiasm for promoting wholesome youth activities.

The Nanjing YMCA now sponsors an extracurricular cultural school, which in August of 1985 organized advanced foreign language classes. In August of 1990, summer camps were introduced. In May 1992, the Nanjing YMCA experimented in entrepreneurship in order to raise more funds and established an exercise center. Since the full reestablishment of the Nanjing YMCA in 1985, cultivating relationships with new friends has continually flourished, and is a central focus of the Nanjing YMCA. 

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