My own story in China began in 2009, when I brought my first company to Wuhan. However, at the time, I did not realise that our family connection with China started in 1875, and spans across six generations.
It was only in 2014, when I visited my parents and told them more about my business in Wuhan that my father said 'When you were two years old, your grandfather and grandmother visited Wuhan in China. They came back with many videos and journals. Do you remember?' I confessed to remembering seeing the diaries and videos when I was younger, but not paying much attention to them.
However, my father’s words about 'China' and 'Wuhan' urged me to climb to the top floor of the old house where my room was as a child. From under the bed, I pulled out a suitcase left by my grandparents, which was full of dust and their relics. I opened my grandmother’s journal about China, and found that the first few pages recorded their experiences in Wuhan.
My grandparents loved to travel throughout their lives, visiting 27 countries and regions. In 1963, at the age of 63, they joined a tourist group of 12 people that came to the 'communist China' that they had always been curious about."
According to the journal records, the group spent 23 days in China, visiting Beijing, Wuhan, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Nanjing. After entering China, the first city they visited was Wuhan. They were shown the Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge and the Wuhan Iron and Steel (Group) Corporation, which was the pride of Chinese industry at that time.
My grandmother, Lady Dorothy Haworth, wrote in her journals that when they were walking in the street, they were always greeted warmly by smiling Chinese people, and that on International Labor Day in Beijing, 'there was a festive atmosphere everywhere. People were wearing beautiful clothes. Many kites were flying in the sky.'
In each journal, there are many of my grandmother’s hand-drawn scenery illustrations of the trip. The journals are also filled with Chinese paper-cuts, postcards, stamps, invitations and even old cigarette packet labels depicting Chinese scenes, all collected during the trips.
By investigating these journals, I also found out that my Great-Great-Grandfather, Henry Theodore Gaddum, started a family silk trading business between Shanghai and Manchester in 1875, during the late Qing Dynasty. In 1887, Henry’s eldest son, Harry Gaddum, followed his father’s advice and came to China. Harry studied business as an intern in Jardine Matheson’s silk trade department in Shanghai for two years. Many years later, Harry recalled this period of time in a family book, describing his time in China as 'the most wonderful days of my life'.
In those days, Jardine Matheson had a special steamship for delivering letters from Europe every month, so Harry was lucky and could receive family letters days ahead of others in China. Harry’s time outside the office was very busy as he participated in polo, rowing, hunting and other activities. Very different to my travels in China - I sometimes need to travel between Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan and other cities within a single week. The competitive pressures are much greater than for my forefathers.