Burns anniversaries have been celebrated around the world for a long time, proliferating in the nineteenth century. In Shanghai, where China’s first Scottish association, the Shanghai St Andrew’s Society, was established in the mid-nineteenth century, however, the anniversary, as the North China Herald reported in 1902, ‘has gone without public celebration’. But it was all about to change, thanks in particular to Charles Stewart Addis, the new president of the St Andrew’s Society. Addis, together with other members of the Society’s committee, was ‘determined that the reproach of neglect of Scotia’s favourite son should no longer be justly cast on his fellow-countrymen’ in Shanghai.
Consequently, a celebration was organised, and approximately one hundred members of the Society ‘met to eat a Scottish dinner, sing Scottish songs, listen to Scottish oratory, and tak’ aff their drams’ at the city’s prestigious Shanghai Club. Sir James Lyle Mackay, K.C.I.E, British Plenipotentiary, was the guest of the evening. Other invited guests included Mr. Pelham Warren, H. M. Consul-General, and Mr. H. S. Wilkinson, Chief Justice of H. M. Supreme Court. It was an illustrious round.
The gathering took place in the Shanghai Club’s private dining room, which had been decorated with wreaths and garlands of evergreens. Behind the chairman were the royal arms, and behind the vice-chairman a large portrait of the Robert Burns – a painting especially painted for the occasion by a Mr. Smedley. On the walls versions of the royal standard could be found ‘in which two quarters were occupied by Scotland’s rampant lion, the leopards of England and the harp of Ireland having each one quarter.’
The menu was plentiful and included many a Scottish dish, such as cock-a-leekie and, of course, haggis – as well as ‘a wee drappie Talisker’. Between courses many a toast was had. For Addis they had gathered, had been ‘drawn together by a common impulse, we meet to commemorate a familiar name, to consecrate, if I may say so, a common affection.’ It was, and continues to be, in that spirit that Burns anniversaries are celebrated around the globe to this day.
Learn more about Robert Burns as a Scottish Diaspora Icon.
Check out the connection between Burns and New Zealand.
For details on the Shanghai St Andrew’s Society, see my new book Clubbing Together.
Image source: Sir Charles Stewart Addis Papers, PP MS 14/20, School of Oriental and African Studies Special Collections, University of London.