China adventure

17th May 2017

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The fascinating story of Wadham alumnus, adventurer and hero George Aylwin Hogg (1915 –1945) has been detailed in a new book by his nephew Mark Aylwin Thomas.

  • Mark Aylwin Thomas

    Author and nephew of George Aylwin Hogg, Mark Aylwin Thomas

  • Archivist Jeffrey Hackney shows Mark Thomas the College's George Hogg archive.

Mark, who has been the guardian of his uncle’s letters and papers, visited Oxford this month to present the papers to the Bodleian Library, to view Wadham’s George Hogg archive and to present the College with a copy of his new book.

Wadham students living on staircase 25 will have noticed the plaque commemorating George Hogg. Hogg was a British adventurer, known as a hero in China for saving 60 orphaned boys during the Second Sino-Japanese War. He led them 700 miles (1,100 km) through dangerous mountain passes in the worst winter weather for 70 years, escaping the approaching Japanese invaders and nationalist secret police in the Shaanxi area.

Hogg grew up in Harpenden in the UK, attending the local St George's School, before following in the footsteps of his three older brothers in coming to Wadham to study for his BA. In 1937 he sailed on the Queen Mary to New York City, hitch-hiked across the United States, and joined his aunt with whom he travelled to Japan. As a freelance journalist several of his articles about the USA and Japan were taken up by the Manchester Guardian. In January 1938, during the undeclared war between China and Japan, he left Japan to visit Shanghai, China. He became a journalist with the American United Press Agency, in the then wartime capital Hankou, as well as continuing with freelancing for the Manchester Guardian.

Hogg helped set up the first industrial co-operatives in China, detailed in his own book, I See a New China. In Shaanxi, in partnership with New Zealand-born communist Rewi Alley, Hogg set up a technical training school for 60 orphaned boys. When in 1944, the nationalist army searched classrooms for boys to recruit, Hogg decided to relocate them to Shandan in Gansu Province 700 miles away.  A vignette of Hogg’s life was portrayed in Roger Spottiswoode’s 2008 film, The Children of Huang Shi.

In Blades of Grass: The Story of George Aylwin Hogg, Mark Aylwin Thomas, explores his uncle’s own letters and writings and shares this astonishing life story of perseverance, service, and dedication. Thomas offers a personal and compelling window into the character of this remarkable man, and Hogg’s own words lend an authentic and distinctive insight into his service—training young Chinese men in their vocations in the remote confines of Northwestern China in Shandan. George Hogg was part of a vision to create a unique form of industrial training on which to base the reconstruction of industry for a new post-war China.

Though he died in 1945 at the age of thirty, Hogg’s name and legacy is remembered in China to this day.  Author Mark Thomas, who shares his unusual middle name, Aylwin, with his uncle, became fascinated with the story after attending a 1988 memorial event in China. Since then he has acted in the role of his uncle in a six-part mini-series for Chinese television, and has been the guardian of his uncle’s legacy. His book is published by Authorhouse.

Wadham Foundation Fellow Alan Green (Chinese, 1948) has taken a keen interest in the work and achievements of George Hogg and the College would like to thank him and the Hogg family for their generous support.