Sam Noumoff


One of the remarkable features of China is that she has served as a magnet for a wide variety of foreigners over the centuries, from those who came to save their souls, to those who came in the expectation of enormous profit to those who came seeing China’s misery as a call to the human struggle for liberation.


Among the latter of these groups was a New Zelander by the name of Rewi Alley, who together with a group of equally committed foreigners and patriotic Chinese organized the Gung Ho Cooperative  movement in 1937. Its goal was to organize the unemployed and refugee workers into light industrial production units to supply the battle front in the struggle against the Japanese army of occupation.


In early 1939 an international support committee was organized from Hong Kong under the patronage of Mme Soong Ching Ling and the Anglican Bishop of Hong Kong, Rev. R.D. Hall. In that year Gung Ho Cooperatives spread throughout unoccupied China and within two years grew to number 3,000 with a membership of 30,000. In addition to providing blankets and uniforms for the army, they produced very basic necessities for the civilian population.  


Financial support came from the overseas Chinese community augmented by support groups, who by the end of the war had contributed in cash and kind an equivalent of $19 million, a modest sum at that time. It was during this period that the phrase Gung Ho entered the English language and was adopted by some US Marine Corps units to signify the unity of purpose as well as a counter cry to when Japanese troops shouted banzai (ten thousand years) during an attack.


Three years after liberation in 1952 Gung Ho’s activities were absorbed into the state planning process. Within a decade of the opening up process,  in 1987, Gung Ho was reactivated as an international non profit organization under the leadership of Rewi Alley and Zhu Xuefan former Chair of the Revolutionary KMT., and registered with the Ministry of Civil affairs. Funding support came from the Central government and the Rewi Alley Memorial Cooperative Foundation until 2000. Rewi Alley had died, age 90, at the end of the founding year. For the past ten years financing has come from grants by the World Bank, the Canadian Government, the New Zealand Embassy and Friendship Association, in addition to local governments and small contributions from overseas membership.


Recent projects have included three pilot cooperatives in Gansu, Sichuan and Shaanxi and concentrate on democratic participation, gender equality, best practice business management, support for the poorest in the community and mutual finance, being the most prominent.  Micro-credit grants once a part of the program was abandoned but is now under consideration again.



The cooperative scene remains complex in China. Currently there are 21 million farmers in Agricultural Cooperatives, and 20,000 plus, many more thousand in 2,230 local cooperative coalitions with assets equal to $40.8 billion (CA). The Cooperative movement falls under the jurisdiction of Central, Provincial and local government authority.


I joined Gung Ho in 1989 two years after it was reorganized and have remained a firm supporter since that date. Why? My reasons are clear. Having criss-crossed China many times in the early opening up period lecturing on China’s entry into the world economy and witnessing the enormous changes taking place, I became convinced that in addition to the macro-planning approach introduced by former Premier Zhu Rongji, the cooperative form was and remains an essential part of the post reform period. Progress can be measured in many ways with material improvement being the key, however, almost at the same level of importance is acquiring the knowledge and skills associated with empowerment democratic management and supervision as well as deepening the grass roots level of gender equality programs and support for the most historically deprived members of the community. An old economist in Hunan some years ago reminded me of a saying: “It is better for two people to each have half a up of rice, that one to have a full cup while the other one is empty” If China is to move forward in the long march to a truly harmonious society, the cooperative movement will play a profoundly significant role.


(International Committee for the Promotion of Chinese Industrial Cooperatives, Beijing)

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