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The Commemoration of Our Shared Memory
Friends Ambulance Unit – China Exhibition

A new exhibition has opened in the city of Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, China, to commemorate the humanitarian work of the Friends Ambulance Unit’s China Convoy between 1941 and 1951. This is the first time that the story of the humanitarian service provided to the people of China by the China Convoy has been presented to the Chinese public.

The exhibition opened on 18th April to coincide with the International Day of Monuments and Sites, which this year has as its theme the ‘Heritage of Commemoration’. Entitled The Commemoration of Our Shared Memory, it has been arranged in seven sections, each describing a different aspect of the history of the FAU’s involvement in China.

It starts with an explanation of conscientious objection in Britain and how the FAU was formed in 1914 and re-formed in 1939 and provides an overview of FAU service at home and abroad. It goes on to describe the China Convoy’s work, including the transportation of medical supplies, the delivery of emergency and public health services, and rehabilitation and reconstruction work. The exhibition then explains the activities of the FAU and its successor body the Friends Service Unit throughout the Chinese civil war and summarises the relief services provided in the Communist-controlled area around Yan’an in the north of Shaanxi Province.

Its final section provides a remembrance of those members of the FAU and FSU who lost their lives in China and elsewhere, and an acknowledgement of the lasting scars of others who had sought to relieve the enormous sufferings of the Chinese people during and after the Second World War. It concludes with a testimony to the legacy of Friends’ service in China, including a range of humanitarian relief initiatives across the world and continuing work in the cause of peace and reconciliation.
The initiative behind the exhibition came through links forged by the FAU China Convoy Reunion Group with the Xi’an Municipal Administration for Cultural Heritage. The Municipal Administration was eager to present this story to the people of China and to provide testimony and tribute to this example of international compassion in the service of our common humanity.

The materials for the exhibition were provided by members of the Reunion Group, together with the generous support of Friends House Library, the Quaker Service Memorial Trust and many other individuals and organisations. It features over 120 original photographs from the 1940s and other images, accompanied by supporting text in both English and Chinese and an introductory film shot in China in 1947 provided courtesy of the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia.

The exhibition was designed and assembled in under two weeks, thanks to the remarkable efforts of staff at the Xi’an 8th Route Army Museum and their colleagues in the ICOMOS International Centre for Conservation, Xi’an.

Mr Zheng Yulin, Director of the Xi’an Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage, has summarised his appreciation of the exhibition:

‘We would like to share these stories, with all the people whose lives and happiness today were made possible by the sacrifices of the China Convoy and their Chinese colleagues. Through these precious and moving images, we can commemorate the brave deeds of the Friends Ambulance Unit and the Friends Service Unit in rescuing Chinese wounded soldiers and civilians in those terrible times, and feel the scars made by the brutal war and their healing through the humanitarian activities and the perseverance and kindness of these individuals. The history is passed, but showing what happened is to commemorate the hard-earned peace, and to enlighten thinking about history and the present, war and peace, life and its purpose.’
The exhibition, which is situated within the Xi’an 8th Route Army Museum, Xi’an City, is open 0900-1700 every day, except Mondays. Admission is free of charge, and the exhibition is currently scheduled to remain open until the end of July. Thereafter it is hoped it may be re-located to the other principal areas of China in which the FAU and FSU delivered relief services between 1941 and 1951.