Twentieth Century Impressions of Hongkong, Shanghai, and other Treaty Ports of China/Ceremonies/Guilds


As in other countries, so in China, there are many and various kinds of societies, unions, or guilds among the people. But, in the Middle Kingdom, there is this difference, that none of them are legally registered or incorporated. So long as they do not commit anything against the peace or good order of the place or against the Imperial Government they are tolerated and even recognised by Government officials as institutions having certain rights and privileges. The most commonly known and by far the greater majority of these societies or unions are the guilds. These guilds are really trade or business unions or associations of artisans, manufacturers, or merchants. Each one particular trade or business has its own guild, in which all persons or firms engaged in that trade or business are associated together for mutual protection and aid. It has its own rules and regulations, its funds, and committee of management. The members of the committee are generally elected annually by members of the guild. The election usually takes place at the beginning of the Chinese year, when members meet and feast together. All rules or customs affecting any particular trade are regulated by its guild. Should any individual member transgress any of the rules he is liable to a fine, and should he persist after he has been warned or fined he is liable to be expelled from the guild. A member after expulsion is subject to a boycott by the other members of the guild, and oftentimes the boycott is maintained in such a vigorous manner that the ex-member is only too willing to submit to any terms that the guild may impose for his re-admittance. The common funds of the guild are raised differently in different guilds. Though collected chiefly for the purpose of protecting the trade or the members, they are often devoted to charities or used in connection with festivals, religious ceremonies, processions, and other public functions. On such occasions the different guilds frequently vie with each other in making the best show. Besides these guilds formed by persons engaged in some particular trade or business, there are other guilds formed by merchants of one particular province or 1 district trading in another province — such, for example, as the Canton Guild or Ningpo Guild in Shanghai or Tientsin. These guilds can scarcely be classed with the trade guilds, but are rather associations of a social and charitable nature. They possess big buildings known as "the Wiu Koon," in which the members meet and discuss matters affecting the welfare and interest of their provincials. There are also in China many other societies, some of them secret. The Ko Lo Wiu, the Big Knife and Triad Societies, are some of the better-known secret societies, to which only the lower classes belong. Even beggars themselves have their own associations. They divide themselves into districts, each of which is ruled by a headman, who is all-powerlul among his own associates, and the beggars of one district may not encroach upon another district.