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One Foot in Paris and One in China

One Foot in Paris and One in China

What prompted Mason to send Gunn to China in 1931 and what was really expected of Gunn is not totally clear. Gunn kept his plans very close to his chest, perhaps due to the sense that he had that others, i.e. Russell, did not approve of the new direction that Gunn had stamped out for himself. In fact, Russell thought that the China program that eventually emerged, “was not a good program but he (Gunn) sold it to them (the Trustees) because Gunn was eloquent”. Mason, on the other hand, saw China as a way of getting “away from our old program, Western medicine grafted on China.” At the same time, however, Mason later informed Hackett that Gunn “was out of a job” at the time and had been “adopted” by the social scientists”, which administratively speaking was true. However, when Fosdick again attempted to alter the balance of power among the Foundation’s division, the China program was seen as a “tangible expression” of the kind of program he thought the Foundation should be promoting, but one which he identified under the rubric of ‘agriculture’ in his history of the Foundation!

Gunn had some knowledge of what was going on in China through his meetings with Rajchman, who as we’ve seen, was deeply dedicated to helping China. Štampar, too, kept him informed of new developments, for example, of the interest expressed by the Chinese government to have Borčić sent to China to help in the development of a health demonstration in one of the Chinese Provinces (March, 1930).

The first solid reference linking Gunn to China is his 31 March 1931 letter to Gregg in which he noted that he was “waiting to hear further from MM [Max Mason] with regard to what he wants me to do in China”.  A month earlier, Gunn communicated to Mason that he had decided to use the four months that he had accumulated as vacation to “go around the world” which included America where he planned to “make a tour of certain centres of the United States” along with Day.  He expected to leave in early May and not return to Paris until late October. This plan no doubt provided Mason with the opening he needed to convert Gunn’s vacation into a serious exploration of new possibilities. After Gunn visited Vincent (who on retirement had joined the CMB) in London to talk about China, he responded to Mason positively: I am glad to have an opportunity to do some work for the Foundation in China, particularly along the lines indicated by you. Gunn left for China in June of that year.

Gunn knew of some developments in China through his regular contact with Rajchman. When Gunn became aware of Grant’s work in China is not clear. Rajchman spoke “enthusiastically” about Grant’s work around the same time that Grant turned down the job of Secretary of the Commission on Instruction in Public Health that Rajchman had offered him. This was when he informed both Russell and Gregg that he preferred to stay in China to see what shape Gunn’s program would take. Some historians consider Grant to have been the brainchild behind the program that Gunn eventually developed in China, but given Gunn’s intense interest in rural development, this seems not to have been the case; however, it is clear that without Grant’s help Gunn would have been at a loss as to how to proceed.

Later in April, Gunn met Rajchman again following a visit to Athens, Belgrade, Budapest, Vienna and Prague where he explored possible projects in the social sciences. Rajchman had just returned from China, so the two of them spent two days together during which time Gunn obtained “a lot of information concerning Chinese politics and the relationship of the League of Nations to the Chinese Government, which will make a useful background in connection with my own visit”.

Gunn continued to inform Day about possibilities for the social sciences in Vienna and Prague, while indicating that he was “planning to sail on the 8th May on the ‘Athos II’ going directly to Hong Kong, and then following the itinerary in China which has been outlined by Mason”. Before his departure Gunn received a letter from Day who hoped that Gunn had secured a report from Condliffe that suggested a “number of leads in the social sciences in China.” John B Condliffe was a New Zealander who joined the Institute of Pacific Relations in 1927 as a researcher. This led to many studies being undertaken in China, including J Losing Buck’s Land Utilization in China, and various projects carried out by the Nankai Institute of Economics, both of which became central to Gunn’s interests as discussed below.

Shortly after his departure Gunn cabled Mason: Have given serious consideration letters from you and Day concerning Far East STOP Have decided opportunity offered there too important not to be undertaken STOP Circumstances have delayed writing but will do so within few days Meanwhile going for two weeks rest.

During this visit, which lasted 7 weeks (9 June to 30 July, 1931), Gunn interviewed more than 130 leading Chinese and foreign individuals and visited more than 40 academic institutions. In addition to the suggestions received from Condliffe and Greene, he was assisted by Grant.

Gunn saw his task as aiding China “to use and adopt, with probable modifications, much of Western civilization”. And as Western civilization was “under fire in China”, the demand is now to ‘Chinafy’ Western knowledge. This was not the time to withdraw from China, as the Foundation could be most useful in various fields. Gunn wrote his report on the premise that the Foundation is going to continue work in China, with an emphasis on the ‘is’.

Gunn’s discussions with TV Soong, China’s Minister of Finance, and CT Wang, Minister of Foreign Affairs, convinced him that the Foundation was looked upon in a cordial manner. On the other hand, the PUMC had “been through some difficult periods”, which seemed to have lessened its favor in the eyes of many Chinese. This was partly due to the controversy surrounding Faber’s report concerning medical discussion, as discussed earlier.

No doubt under the influence of Gregg, and possibly with Gregg in mind, Gunn indicated that if the Foundation were to have a program in China it “should be in Medical Education and not in medical research”.  The idea of creating an experimental Medical School in Nanking, one of Faber’s proposals, about which Greene had strong reservations, led Gunn to note that this would be an item that Gregg “would naturally study when he is in China”. Two other items at the PUMC deserved attention as well, psychiatry and post-graduate public health education. The latter proposal, which Gunn approved, was shaped by Grant. However, when Grant had discussed this idea with Russell the year before, Russell noted that he thought it “improbable” that the PUMC could become part of a “national scheme for a graduate school”.  As will become clearer in the sections that follow the officers in New York were extremely wary of tying up the PUMC in any manner with the Chinese government, something which seems on paper to be contrary to the view that Vincent had expressed in his report for 1924:

The Peking Union Medical College has no desire to be an independent center of foreign influence in China. It seeks to serve the best interests of the Chinese people, in harmony with national purposes and ideals.

The trustees hope that the time will come when the College and Hospital may be put under Chinese control and made an organic part of the Chinese system of education.

But Vincent was no longer President, and even if he was a member of the CMB, other CMB officers opposed this view, as will be seen as well.

Concerning the social sciences, Gunn saw both difficulties and promise. First of all, he was convinced that a good deal of social science investigations was “of a very low grade”. However, there existed good work in Nankai, Yenching, and Nanking Universities. Yenching “was the most important item in the Foundation’s program of assistance to natural science departments of Chinese universities”. It had received significant funding in the past; it was awarded US$250,000 in 1929 for endowment of the departments of biology, chemistry and physics, courses designed to improve the quality of students entering the PUMC.  Yenching was also being supported for social science education (US$20,000 annually); it was the only institutions outside of America to receive such support.

Gunn indicated that he was recommending that serious consideration be given to the Nankai project for its Institute of Economics, which was directed by Franklin L Ho and HD Fong. Condliffe did not know any other research center in China which was “more promising at the present time”. Gunn agreed, he was convinced that Ho and Fong were “two men … distinctly above the average and have an unusually well-developed research spirit”.

Gunn also drew attention to the “admirable work being carried on in agricultural economics and Rural Sociology at the University of Nanking”. Condliffe considered building up the Nanking University to be “of great importance”. If he (Condliffe) were to give any money for agricultural economic research in China, “he would entrust it to Nanking, even for disbursement to other institutions.” It was the presence of Professor J Lossing Buck, who Gunn also admired, that made Nanking stand out.

Almost last in his report was an account of his visit to Yen’s Mass Education Movement in Tinghsien. Like others before him Gunn was most impressed. Yen’s movement was one “worth watching with the greatest possible care. It may conceivably bring the answer to many of the problems in China in the course of the years to come”. He judged Yen to be a truly remarkable man, one who “combines idealism with great wisdom in judgment and the ability to place himself practically in the attitude of a peasant”. Most importantly, Gunn judged his program to have a “good deal in common with one suggested by Dr Štampar for Yugoslavia”.

Yen’s main problem, as he was to explain to Štampar after the latter’s visit to his Movement, was finding researchers capable of making any kind of contribution, as there were “very few men who are qualified to give advice in matters pertaining to rural reconstruction”. As Štampar had experienced in his own country, the few experts that return from being trained abroad, and even some who have never left China, are “alienated”, as their education is “so much of a foreign and a city” one. The more we work in the rural field, Yen wrote Štampar,

The more we realize that there is no such thing, as far as our type of work is concerned, as research in physical or natural science purely, uncomplicated by the factor of social relationships, traditional attitudes and behaviour. In order to evaluate this factor properly, one must actually live with the people one and prescribe for, and penetrate their hearts and minds. However, not everyone who has valuable experience to share can do this, and if he is only broad enough and wise enough, and not too dependent upon his city spectacles, he may be able to make a real contribution in a short visit – but such a man is rare in China today! At any rate, we must squeeze all experts dry, and if we keep our minds open, we will surely get something from each that is vital to our common task.

While in China, Gunn wrote Day that there was “no doubt that the Social Sciences in China are very much on the move and it looks very likely that the Foundation, if it so desires, will find important opportunities for work in these fields there. You had better make a mental note that a trip to China on your part will have to be included in your program before too long a time has elapsed”.

Gunn still hoped to make a tour of the States with Day, whom he expected to meet in Vancouver where his ship The Empress of Asia, which he boarded in Yokohama on 8 August, was due on 17 August. From the West Coast he proceeded to New York where, among other events he had lunch with Gregg, Ruml and Day, where he learned of the uncertainty that reigned in the home office. Day was “restless at Max Mason’s avoidance of his obligation to set up policy,” while Gregg said “unity of policy could only come through the unifying action of a personality and that it should be either Mason, or broken up among directors”.

What role Mason’s “uncertainty” had on Gunn’s program is not easy to judge, as we do not know if he was indifferent to Gunn’s program or if had such confidence in Gunn as to lead him to protect Gunn from the interference of the New York based Directors.

Gunn returned to Paris in November where he found that everything had gone smoothly during his long absence. Strode, who was in charge, had “done a splendid piece of work in taking care of matters as came up during my absence”.

In a private letter to Gregg, however, he wrote: Europe is in an awful mess and it is almost impossible to find an optimist. I have only met one and he said that he was optimistic because he did not dare to be pessimistic”, while at the same time indicating that it seemed to him “that there never was a time when the Foundation had a greater opportunity to push its program in all parts of the world. We are one of the few international activities which still command respect”.

Gunn visited Spain for a couple of weeks at the end of the year. He was not impressed by what he found there. The social sciences were judged by most of the people that he met to be “in a very primitive condition … Extraordinarily little original work” was being done. There were one or two “men of importance” who had been trained abroad in public administration; otherwise there were very few qualified persons. The term ‘social science’ was confused with ‘social work’. He learned of plans to create an Institute for Research in the Social Sciences about which there was unanimous opinion that it “must be independent of government control” and that “it should not be attached to a university”. Gunn was in no position to promise anything but if the Spaniards were “really in earnest” the Foundation “might well consider aiding in fellowships and possibly in contributing in part toward the budget of the Institute.” Gunn concluded that while he was not particularly ‘bullish’ about Spain, “it is a fact that this Republic with its 22,000,000 of people is stirring and may possibly be on the eve of a serious forward development”.

On his way to Spain Gunn wrote Day that as “a layman” he was “confused by the terms, sociology, ethnology, cultural anthropology, human geography, etc.” as there seemed to be “a lot of artificial frontiers”. At the same time he wrote Gregg:

I had a most satisfactory time with Day whom I like very much. He is certainly very direct with me and I am hopeful that I can be really helpful to him in connection with the social sciences…. I feel a bit of a tyro, but I am gradually learning at least some of the lingo for the social sciences. However, I have no false impressions that I know any of the social sciences at all well.

Gunn’s claim at being a layman was not a play at being modest. He was interacting with some of the leading European figures in the social sciences at the time, such as Merriam and Bronislaw Malinowski. From today’s understanding of the social sciences of that time it is clear that there were subtle differences among them that might contributed to Gunn’s frustration with not being able to clearly distinguish one branch of the social sciences from the others.

Referring to Radcliffe-Brown’s piece on primitive people, Gunn noted that primitive people were still to be found in parts of Europe and that “opportunities for important work in cultural anthropology” existed. Radcliffe-Brown, an Englishman, who was Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Chicago at the time, had spent most of his earlier years in Africa, so it was not obvious that Europe was within his scope of interest, which is probably why Gunn asked for a “fairly definite statement of what our policy is to be in this general field”.

The trip to Spain was followed by one to England, Belgium and Holland. On his return to Paris he wrote a short report to Day adding that he was leaving for Vienna at the end of the week with plans to go on to Budapest, Cluj, Bucharest, and “possibly Jassy, Lwow, Cracow and Warsaw”. He would return via Prague, “probably spend the month of March in the Paris Office and then may make a trip to the Scandinavian countries”.

What exactly Gunn was seeking to do at the time is not totally clear. Russell, after meeting with Mason on March 24, 1932, noted in his diary that Mason told him “of plans for SMG surveys” without describing what would be surveyed and where. As it was, the financial situation of the Foundation continued to worsen; it was not a propitious time to be looking for any new projects. Gunn learned this directly from Mason following his submission of 5 projects for the December meeting of the Board to consider, which led Mason to write back asking him to “pass the word to all of the European staff that only those proposals should be sent to New York which have reached maturity in negotiations, and which could not be avoided without our losing face and without injury to the institutions involved”.

As for Gunn’s future, he was a bit more upbeat. Tight economic conditions might last for “a year or two, and probably longer (but) when our securities return to high market value, we may have a vastly enlarged program of activities”. This, Mason continued, has “a strong implication for your new work. We have done much for Europe and we have had a considerable program in China, but I am keenly interested in having the Foundation spread its efforts more broadly than in the past before it concludes its operations. It is, as you know, with this thought that I have been so eager to have you take on the new type of work”.

This assessment no doubt contributed to Gunn’s optimistic end-of-year letter to Gregg in which he indicated:

It seems to me that there never was a time when the Foundation had a greater opportunity to push its program in all parts of the world. We are one of the few international activities which still command respect.

On the other hand, this sense of euphoria also is indicative of a tendency on Gunn’s part to be bi-polar, as suggested by Michael Gunn, remembering that his father, Alan, used to refer to Uncle Mike’s “Black Irish mood”.

Despite his traveling almost continuously, Gunn was in his office often enough to gain the respect of Warren Weaver who had joined the Foundation in late 1931 and would go on to gain fame as the “father of micro-biology”. Weaver said of Gunn:

He was an extremely colorful, extremely romantic, extremely interesting character. He was married to a fascinating creature who had been an actrice …. Mike and his wife were an amazing pair. We all enjoyed them very much. He had all the romantic enthusiasm of the Irish, all of the best charm of the Irish, something of the unpredictability of the Irish, and was a brilliant man, certainly a wonderful colleague.[1]

Gunn had divorced his first wife in early 1930 and remarried in 1933.  His second wife, Carroll McComas (1886-1962), was a silent-movie star who began her career as a whistler in vaudeville when she was thirteen! She was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico; her father was a Judge and her mother, Alice Moore McComas, was a writer, actress and suffragist.

When and where their marriage took place is not certain. The Foundation has it taking place in Shanghai in July 1933, while the New York Times reported it as having taken place in New York City, and later interviews with her reports the year of their marriage as being 1930, although this might refer to when they met, as Carroll loved travelling. Her passport shows her having visited the orient. One can easily envision that they met during one of those visits – in Japan, China or Hawaii.

While away, Russell learned from Mason of the plans being made for Gunn’s surveys; the plural here makes it impossible to know whether Mason spoke of the various surveys Gunn was making in Europe concerning the social sciences or if it included China as well.

In any case, the funds available for the social sciences were far less than either Day or Gunn had hoped for. Mason told Gunn in June to stop all ongoing negotiations and to expect to proceed “with great conservatism for a year or two, and probably longer”. At the same time Mason indicated that he was “keenly interested in having the Foundation spread its efforts more broadly than in the past before it concludes its activities”. It was with this thought that Mason had been “so eager to have you take on the new type of work”. Investing in the social sciences in Europe, however, remained an active possibility.

Just before returning to China in the fall of 1932, Gunn met Russell and Heiser. Gunn still claimed that “he did not know what his assignment in the Orient would be”. He agreed with Russell, however, that “in general terms he was an assistant to the president without executive functions in the same way as he had been an assistant to the president in France”. It was also agreed that “it was not the time to embark on projects in China in which the Chinese government had not from the beginning agreed to participate and ultimately take over.”

This conversation took place in New York where Gunn met with his New York based colleagues to discuss social science projects in Europe. Two ‘conversations’ were held to consider social science projects in Europe. In addition to Gunn, who was still Associate Director in Europe for the Social Sciences as well as Vice-President of the Foundation, and Day, there were Stacy May and Sydnor Walker (Associated Directors) and John Van Sickle (Assistant Director in Europe).

The list of items under consideration was considerable, and included: the Institute for Economic Research in Paris; Institut für Weltwirtschaft und Seeverkehr (Kiel Institute – “a really significant center for economic research in Germany”); the Institute for Administrative and Economic Sciences at Bonn, Germany (which Gunn believed to be one of Germany’s important centers for economic research despite the recent loss of Joseph Schumpter, who had moved to America); the Economic Section of the League of Nations (whose work Gunn “emphatically endorsed” as well as its leadership); and the Geneva Research Center (both Day and Gunn were favorably disposed). It was also agreed during the latter meeting that projects in the field of social work should only be presented if the work were tied in with university social science research, or if it were tied in with work of the Public Health Division and had the endorsement of that Division as being necessary to round out the Division’s Public Health program in a given center. Presumably this reference was to the IHB, in which case one must wonder how they could expect to convince Russell to join them in such a project.

Meanwhile, in China, Grant prepared for Gunn’s next visit. As he put it later: I felt that if Gunn was going to survey or review opportunities throughout the world for a multi-disciplinary RF program, that China would probably offer him as good an opportunity as any other country he could visit and if such a potential developed, I could play a more useful role with him then continuing within the narrow confines of the PUMC itself. Grant was particularly attracted to Gunn’s wish to develop “a unified multi-purpose Foundation program”. If such a program could be brought into existence, “the Foundation’s goal of the welfare of mankind could be more effectively demonstrated than through each discipline undertaking its own single subject”.

Grant had a very high opinion of Gunn. As he put it in his oral history:

Gunn was a born imaginative leader. He was Irish. He belonged to the Sedgwick school of public health, which was among the pioneers which produced Winslow and people of that kind. They were all non-medical, and I think that helped them to be such imaginative public health leaders, because they weren’t chained down by the conventional medical ideas of public health.

Gunn was one of those individuals to whom the term ‘lovable’ can be ascribed without in any manner detracting from the strength of his personality. He had a heart of gold and would do anything for his friends. My collaboration with him was one of the nicest personal associations I had over my professional life …

Gregg was also keen on getting involved in China. Gunn promised him that he would attempt to make Greene, “realize your interest in the PUMC and China generally”. Greene, as Vice-Director of the PUMC, served as a “middleman” between Peking and New York. But when Gregg discussed China with Mason, he learned that Mason was of the opinion that he did not “take it for granted” that the Medical Sciences “needs to do any work in China”. Instead, Gregg found another way to get involved; he got himself elected to the CMB and managed to travel to China in the autumn of 1932, but he and Gunn only got to meet in Tokyo, while Gunn was on his way to moving to China.

Gunn took this occasion to make it clear that he did not wish to spend his time with the details of the present Medical Sciences program in the Far East in order to “dispel impression that RF interests in China and Japan are largely medical”. This probably accounts for the fact that Gregg met alone with Victor Heiser, IHD regional representative, to discuss a number of possible projects in China in which the DMS might be interested, including Grant’s request for aid in the teaching of public health at the National School in Peking. Like Russell had said earlier, Heiser indicated that such a development “should depend on undertaking by Chinese Government that they will assume main burden”. Gregg, however, did not think that prospect likely “in the near future” or that the PUMC “would necessarily welcome such a complication”. He also made it clear that whatever was developed should not be a special project dependent on the Foundation.

On the day after his arrival in Peking, Gunn again suggested to Mason the “desirability of your planning in the not too distant future to visit this part of the world”. On the next day he started the rounds of visits to individuals and institutions that he had found to be of interest and importance during his earlier visit. Word circulated that he had “a vast sum of money available for the purposes of rural reconstruction”. This no doubt added to the list of visitors he had to see. Some of these contacts he wrote about in his diaries. But it was only at the end of 1933 that the results of his investigations became clear, as discussed in the next chapter.

While waiting to learn the fate of the China program, Gunn made an exploratory trip to Mexico and continued to work on a children’s book – The Doings of Dinkie – which he had started several years earlier and which was published in 1937.

While Gunn expressed interest in learning about developments in Mexico concerning public schools, health service and other community services, he also intended to do some touring, especially as he was traveling with Carroll. He sailed on 29 August 1934 on the ‘Oriente’, which took them to Progreso where they proceeded to Marida to it was expected that they would want to visit the ruins in Chichèn Itzà and Uxmal. From there they went on to Veracruz and Mexico City.

To Mason (Dear Max) he wrote about their progress with Spanish and his unofficial contacts “with some of the leading men who are interested in the rehabilitation of the rural population”. To Russell (Dear Russell) he wrote of the “two outstanding contributions that the IHB” was making: demonstrating the value of a full-time service on the part of people engaged in the work, and a thoroughness of the actual work done, which included records and reports. He thought it “desirable” for the IHB to continue its cooperation with the Mexican Government for some time.

Mason took the occasion to express the hope, having received Gunn’s letters from Mexico, that “perhaps in a couple of years’ time” the Mexico study would be “the next thing in order”.

The Doings of Dinkie is a charming account of the imaginary land of Zulibria where liberated animals live free of any contact with humans. Dinkie, a visiting dog, brings King Lupo, leader of Zulibria, news of the possible existence of a Pool of Happiness. A Royal Commission is established with Dinkie as its Director. The whole of Zulibria is preoccupied with the journey this Commission is about to undertake:

Some of the older animals were rather dubious about the whole matter and wondered if the Commission would ever return…The Female Animals held an indignation meeting because none of their sex was included in the Commission. Others pointed out that there was no Doctor on the Commission…

The book recounts the adventures of the Commission providing Gunn with much opportunity to philosophize (never too heavily). For example, reaching a pool that turns out to be a sheet of solid glass, Wiseacres, the owl, remarks:

My friends and good fellow-members of the Commission: This pool can teach us a good lesson. Reginald and the rest of us thought that this was a pool of cool water, but the fact is it is not a pool at all, but a sheet of plate-glass. This shows us that things are not always what they seem and that one can be deceived by appearances. I do not think that this is meant to be the Pool of Happiness, but rather a pool which shows us that we must be wise and not jump into pools without investigating them or jump to conclusions too rapidly.

The Pool of Happiness turns out not to be where Happiness is to be found. It is in a nearby Happiness Dispensary, where an elephant without a trunk along with two other animals presided. Tusko, the elephant, tells how he lost his trunk and how this made him miserable. But when he met others whose loss was greater but who were not unhappy, he reflected:

Perhaps he had been vain about his appearance. He had been a silly elephant, that was sure. He had been miserably unhappy. Other animal, he observed, were also unhappy about all kinds of things. Why not change his point of view and be happy and gay? He would do it at once.

Upon return to Zulibria, the Royal Commission is honored and Gunn ends, not with the mere recounting of its findings, but by Dinkie establishing himself as a travel agent responsible for organizing “Special Caravans to the Pool of Happiness”. Knowledge, it would seem, cannot be passed on by mere words, one must see it for oneself.

Looked at from the perspective of Gunn’s professional life, one can read much into this story. Even his later visit to the Soviet Union may have possibly played an important role in shaping the plot, especially when one learns that the books illustrator, Vera Bock, was born in St Petersburg in 1905 and emigrated to the US with her mother at the onset of the Russian Revolution.

There is no indication that his book sold well. Brief mentions of it are to be found in American newspapers but only in passing. For example, in an article by Olive Roberts Barton in the November 11 issue of the Abilene Reporter News, the book is considered to be “especially suitable in the three-to-six age” group!



[1] Weaver, 250