In its current incarnation, the Foreign Correspondents Club of China set up shop in 1981. It was a time when the corps of international journalists in Beijing was beginning to mushroom, as China’s “open door” economic reforms kicked in and the government set out to normalize diplomatic ties with Western nations. The FCCC’s first president was Drago Rancic, dean of the foreign correspondent community and bureau chief of the Politika agency of Yugoslavia (yes, back when Yugoslavia was a country).
The club’s roots reach further back to the turn of the 20th century, an era populated by many larger-than-life characters. One of the most colorful was George Ernest Morrison. He had been hired to be Peking correspondent of The Times after an editor read Morrison’s account of his overland journey from Shanghai to Rangoon. Speaking hardly a dozen words of Mandarin, he completed his 1894 pilgrimage dressed as a local Chinese, replete with a false queue trailing down his back (a queue is the long single braid which the Qing Dynasty court required all ethnic Chinese men to wear as a symbol of submission). During the Boxer Rebellion, Morrison was severely wounded — and reported to have died — during the seige on foreign legations in the Chinese capital. He was bemused by his hagiographic obituary published in The Times on July 17, 1900.
During the Chinese civil war, a foreign correspondents club existed in the Kuomintang’s wartime capital of Chongqing, where journalists rubbed shoulders with the likes of Gen. “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell and Madame Chiang Kai-shek. The former clubhouse was still standing in the 1980′s, when it was visited by Sinologist Liz Perry. But by the turn of the 21rst century the yellow Western-style structure had been razed to make way for — what else? — a shopping mall.