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China, Theosophy in

The first lodge in China was the Saturn Lodge in Shanghai chartered in 1920, with Mr. H. P. Shastri as President and Mr. G. F. L. Harrison as Secretary. This was apparently renamed as Shanghai Lodge, since it is so reported in the annual report of 1924. In 1922, Sun Lodge was chartered in Shanghai. The theosophical efforts in China were often pioneered by Westeners who were then living in various parts of China.

In 1923, two more lodges were chartered, the Hankow Lodge, in Hankow, and the Hongkong lodge in Hongkong (headed by M. Manuk). In 1924 Dawn Lodge was formed in Shanghai headed by Kinson Tsiang. This was composed of young people. In 1925 Blavatsky Lodge was formed also in Shanghai, headed by Dorothy Arnold. This consisted of Russians who lived in Shanghai, and the dearth of theosophical books in Russian was a problem to the group. During this time, Arnold also conducted educational work for children. The Besant School for Girls was opened in 1925. It was successful, such that by 1928, the student population had grown to 340. In 1930, it grew to 448, and many had to be refused admission. Miss Arnold had to resign as Vice President of the Lodge to focus on the school’s work.

In 1925, Edith Gray of the American Section visited the Shanghai Lodge and gave lectures on Karma and Reincarnation, which led to the formation of a Karma and Reincarnation Legion. They published Far Eastern T.S. Notes which came out every two months. Translations were made of theosophical books, such as At the Feet of the MasterTheosophy and The Riddle of Life. By 1925, theosophical centers were established in Amoy (Xiamen), Swatow (Shantou), Macao and Hoihow (Haikou), all in southern China. In Macao, a newspaper controversy on reincarnation arose lasting for an entire month, which brought reincarnation and theosophy to the attention of the masses. The newspaper exchange was subsequently printed in book form. In the same year, a lodge was organized in Tientsin (Tianjin), called the North China Lodge. The Presidential Agent for China was Mr. M. Manuk in 1928 based in China. Later, however, the theosophical activity in China was under the Presidential Agency for East Asia. The lodges were visited by C. Jinarājadāsa in 1937. During that year, the theosophists also established a Vegetarian Society in Shanghai.

During the second world war, theosophical activities in Shanghai and Hongkong ceased, and when the communists took over China in 1949, all theosophical groups ceased to function except in Hongkong, which was a British colony. The Hongkong lodge however was only intermittently active, and by the 1990s, there was no longer any theosophical meetings or activity there.

Theosophical literature in Chinese were mostly written in the old classical style rather than the modern style or baihua, hence are relatively harder to read for later generation Chinese.