The port town of Shanghai was one of the cities opened to foreign trade by the 1842 Treaty of Nanking. One of the effects of the treaty was that it created relationships between Shanghai and other, Western port cities. Trade, like colonialism, has been one of the factors that has led to the spread of Freemasonry around the world. Boston was one of the American ports that exchanged goods with Shanghai. Because of this trading relationship, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, located in Boston, began to explore the possibility of establishing Masonic lodges in the Shanghai area.
In 1864, during the Civil War in the United States, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts chartered a lodge in Shanghai, called the Ancient Landmark Lodge. In Shanghai at this time there were also individual lodges chartered by England and Scotland. China was in many ways an open field for Masonic jurisdictions based in the West wishing to establish Masonic lodges in Shanghai, one of the faraway port cities that they traded with.
In 1922, Arthur D. Prince, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, made an official visit to the Ancient Landmark Lodge and to other Chinese lodges in the area. He installed the officers of Ancient Landmark Lodge and wrote up a long report upon his return.
By the 1920s men from the local Chinese population were being admitted to American Masonic lodges in the Shanghai area. Freemasonry grew out of a Western philosophical system and for Masons, like Prince, an American in China in the 1920s, trying to apply Western thought to Eastern ideas could often prove challenging and sometimes revealed a common bias of the time that considered Western systems preferable to those in the East. One of Prince's comments in his report was that many Chinese, who were followers of Confucius, could satisfy the requirements for admission to Freemasonry. This was probably because the basic teachings of Confucianism stress the importance of education and moral development of the individual as does Freemasonry.
In 1923, William Van Buskirk (b.1864), an American who lived in Shanghai, was made a Mason in Ancient Landmark Lodge. He worked in a governmental position of Deputy Marshal for the Department of State of the United States. Later, in 1926, Van Buskirk was elected Master of this lodge and was issued a Masonic certificate for this office, as seen in the image above. The National Heritage Museum also holds Van Buskirk's Masonic apron on loan.
Worshipful Master Certificate of William Buskirk, 1926, Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.10854
Sources used in today's post:
Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, A. F. & A. M., Boston: Caustic-Claflin Company, v.1922, p. 451-487, v.1926, p.644.
Call numbers: 17.9763 .G751 1922, 17.9763 .G751 1926
Roy, Thomas Sherrard. Stalwart Builders: The Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, 1733-1978, Worcester, Mass.: Davis Press, 1980.
Call number: 17.9763 .G751 R888 1971