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Florence Kirk: Biographical and Historical Timeline


Florence Kirk is born in Manitoba (Kirk 1).


At the age of nine, with her parents and seven siblings, Florence moves to the outskirts of Unity, Saskatchewan. The house and land comes as a surprise to Florence, who has grown accustomed to living in a more developed area (Kirk 2).


Florence Kirk studies at the University of Saskatchewan and receives her B.A. and M.A. in English and French (Kirk 4).


The Communist Party of China (CPC) is established (Sheng 25), with the aid of the international communist organization known as Communist International (Comintern) (Sheng 24).


From 1926 and ending in 1928, the Kuomintang (otherwise known as the KMT, the Guamindang, the National People’s Party, or the Nationalist Party), in cooperation with the CPC, leads a military campaign against local warlords. (Tien 13). This campaign is known as the Northern Expedition, and is devised to bring unity to China. The KMT achieves dubious levels of success, and its ultimate contribution to the unity of China is questionable (Tien 38).


In the midst of the Northern Expedition, the KMT attempts to remove the growing Communist threat, and carries out the Shanghai massacre of April 12. An irreparable divide is created between the KMT and the CPC. Each party claims legitimacy as the governing body of China, and the stage is set for the Chinese Civil War (Tien 13).


Florence spends her early teaching years in Salvador, Bounty and Yellow Grass, Saskatchewan, later moving to Regina College, where she remains for two years (Kirk 5).


On September 18, Japan seizes control of Manchuria. China, embroiled in an internal battle with the CPC, is greatly weakened and so gives little response. The international community gives little more than a verbal reprimand. Skirmishes and battles follow for several years, although the Sino-Japanese War does not truly begin until 1937 (Tien 5).


In the fall, Kirk journeys across the Pacific from Vancouver to Shanghai on board the S.S. Empress of Canada, a seventeen-day venture (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 2. Correspondence, 1932. Letter from Florence Kirk to Lillian, on “Canadian Pacific, S.S. Empress of Canada” letterhead; Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 2. Correspondence, 1932. Letter from Florence Kirk, 7 September 1932).

Kirk begins her first term teaching English at Ginling College, the first college to offer a bachelor degree program to women in China (Jackler, 2007 p. 102). Ginling College was located in Nanking, near the Yangtze river and Purple Mountain (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 2. Correspondence, 1932. Sketch Map of Nanking, China).

Kirk instructs first and second year English classes and, despite her lack of knowledge of the language and culture, feels welcomed by her students and the faculty at the college (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 2. Correspondence, 1932. Letter from Florence Kirk, 25 September 1932).

The beginning of Kirk’s position at Ginling also marks the beginning of a peaceful period in the area of Nanking, which lasts five years (Jackler, 2007 p. 111). Kirk spends her initial months in Nanking teaching and becoming accustomed to the city and College life (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 2. Correspondence, 1932. Letter from Florence Kirk, 4 October 1932).

With fellow faculty members, Kirk travels by bus to Wuhu, a river-side city approximately 50 miles from Nanking, visiting gardens and temples (Kirk 29).


In June, Kirk finishes her first year of teaching in Nanking at Ginling College (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 3. Correspondence, 1933. Letter from Florence Kirk to Friend, 24 June 1933).

In July, during her summer break from teaching and in an effort to recover from illness, Kirk travels by means of boat and the Yangtze river to Kuling, a mountain resort located at 4,000 feet. She spends five weeks there, and in August she returns to Nanking (Kirk 49; Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 4. Correspondence, 1933. Letter from Florence Kirk to Folks, 29 June 1933).


In April, with 72 others who are primarily students and Ginling faculty members, Florence embarks on a four-day tour to T’ai Shan, the largest sacred mountain and the birthplace of Confucius, (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 5. Correspondence, 1934. Letter from Florence Kirk to Home Folks, 18 April 1934; Kirk 70).

Chiang Kai-shek of the KMT launches a successful offensive against the CPC, who are forced to relocate. This period is referred to as the Long March, and lasts from 1934 to 1936. During the March, the CPC strengthens internally, and disassociates itself from the Comintern ( Wikipedia: “History of the Communist Party of China”). In addition, Mao Zedong rises in power within the party (Wikipedia: “Long March”).


In the summer of 1935 Kirk returns to Canada. She remains in Saskatoon during her year of absence from her employment with Ginling College (Kirk 86).


In September 1936, Florence returns to Nanking and resumes her teaching duties at Ginling College. Once again arriving in Shanghai, she takes a six-hour train ride to Nanking (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 8. Correspondence, 1936. Letter from Florence Kirk to Family, 27 September 1936).

On December 12, General Chiang Kai-Shek is kidnapped by KMT general Zhang Xueliang, in order to force cooperation between the CCP and the Kuomintang in the face of the approaching Sino-Japanese War. This event is known as the Xi’an Incident. As a result, the Chinese Civil war is suspended from 1937 to 1946, so that the CPC and KMT can focus their energies on expelling Japan. This cooperative entity is known as the Second United Front (Sheng 203).

On December 27, 1936, Kirk writes of the aforementioned political instability in China. She writes of her limited knowledge of the Xi’an Incident, and recounts the presence of uneasy fear resulting from this lack of knowledge and inefficient communication. Kirk then rejoices that Chiang has been released unharmed, to great celebration. (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 8. Correspondence, 1936. Letter from Florence Kirk, 27 December 1936).


In April 1937, Kirk tours Hwang Shan with 19 others. Hwang Shan is a previously inaccessible sacred mountain. Kirk and the others ascend by means of chairs carried on the backs of individual workers, and visit temples and gardens along the way. They stay overnight at 6000 feet (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 9. Correspondence, 1937. Letter from Florence Kirk to “My dear friends,” 20 June 1937; Kirk 79).

On July 7, the Japanese capture the Marco Polo Bridge. Known as the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, this battle is commonly recognized as the beginning of the second Sino-Japanese War (Barret 15).

On August 13, 1937, the three month Battle of Shanghai is initiated (Wikipedia: “Battle of Shanghai”).

In the fall of 1937, while visiting a mountain vacation resort called Tsingtao during her summer break from teaching classes Florence receives word of the Battle of Shanghai. Her sister, Lillian, is due to arrive in Shanghai, with intentions of taking a position as secretary in Nanking; however, she is intercepted and informed that she should meet Florence in Tsingtao (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80, file 9, Letter from Florence A. Kirk to “My dear friends,” 11 November 1937).

In the fall of 1937, Kirk and the faculty members that had accompanied her to Tsingtao are directed by Ginling College to travel to Shanghai and to establish Ginling classes for students residing there. The College is intended for those students with parents who desire that their children remain at home during the increasingly tumultuous and dangerous times (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 9. Correspondence, 1937. Letter from Florence A. Kirk to “My dear friends,” 11 November 1937; Kirk 88).

Finding space in the YWCA, Florence and the few other teachers provide classes and tutoring during the fall of 1937 for Ginling students, despite the limited availability of books and severe lack of educational resources (Kirk 88).

On November 11, 1937 Kirk writes of the situation in Shanghai. She describes the constant and foreboding presence of planes overhead and the 210,000 refugees searching for relief in the city (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 9. Correspondence, 1937. Letter from Florence and Lillian Kirk to “Our Mutual Friends,” 11 November 1937).

On November 12, Shanghai is fully occupied by Japan (Kirk 95).

Following the capture of Nanking on December 13, 1937, Japan launches a six week offensive known as the Nanking Massacre, or alternatively as the Rape of Nanking. An estimated 300,000 citizens are murdered, and 20,000 to 80,000 women are raped (Wikipedia: “Nanking Massacre”).

In December, Kirk and other faculty members receive word of the Nanking Massacre, and hear of the atrocities taking place in their former city (Kirk 97).

In the following days they are informed that Ginling College has become a refuge centre primarily for women and children seeking protection from the Japanese invasion. At one point it houses ten thousand individuals, leaving no more than standing room (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 10. Correspondence, 1938. Letter from Florence Kirk to Christabell, Roy, Arnold, Harold and Joan, 27 January 1938; Kirk 108).


In the spring of 1938, Kirk and Eva Spicer return to Ginling College in Nanking to retrieve necessities, such as books, for the Shanghai branch of Ginling. They must apply for travel permits to be approved by the Japanese. They are forced to travel in fourth class, in conditions that they are not accustomed to (Kirk 113). Upon arriving at Ginling, Florence writes of the emptiness and changes of the campus. Now surrounded by barbwire fences and lacking in both students and faculty, the campus is a shadow compared to its former state in the previous year (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 10. Correspondence, 1938. Report by Florence Kirk titled “A Visit to Nanking,” June 1938).

In June 1938, the Ginling College unit in Shanghai moves to Hankow (Hankou), and ultimately to Chengtu, the capital of Szechuan, a trip of approximately 2500 miles (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 10. Correspondence, 1938. Report by Florence Kirk titled “Ginling’s Migration to West China,” July 1938). After traveling for 2 months, the group of Ginling faculty and students arrive in Chengtu on September 13, 1938 (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 10. Correspondence, 1938. Report by Florence Kirk titled “Ginling Arrives in Chengtu”).

In fall 1938, facing mounting opposition, the Japanese army carries out intensive air raids on civilian locations in almost every major city thus far unoccupied in China; millions of Chinese are killed, injured, or reduced to refugees in their own provinces (Wikipedia: “Second Sino-Japanese War”).

Throughout 1938, relations between the KMT and CPC grow increasingly strained. Over the next few years, the military partnership between the CPC and the KMT begins to break down, as demonstrated by increasingly frequent open confrontations (Sheng 254).


Beginning in 1939, and following through to 1941, Japan loses its stronghold on China, and faces an ever increasingly determined opposition (Wikipedia: “Second Sino-Japanese War”).

In May, two hundred miles from the new Ginling Campus, the temporary capital of China, Chungking, is bombed by the Japanese. This greatly upsets the student body, as many students have relatives living in the city (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 11. Correspondence, 1939. Letter from Florence Kirk, 4 May 1939).

On June 12, Florence writes of the previous day’s bombings in Chengtu. Upon hearing the warning sirens, the faculty and students make it to the dugouts for protection moments before the dropping of approximately four to five bombs. Two unexploded bombs land near the Ginling library, but do not inflict any real damage on the building. Other areas of Chengtu are not as fortunate, and experience causalities and injuries numbering in the hundreds (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 11. Correspondence, 1939. Letter from Florence Kirk to Family, 12 June 1939).


Due to shortages in faculty at Ginling College, Kirk takes the position as Chairman of the English Department (Kirk 158).


Ginling class schedules are rearranged in order to accommodate the almost daily bomb warnings that occur around noontime (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 13. Correspondence, 1941. Letter from Florence Kirk to Mr. Evans, 1 July 1941).

Kirk leaves China to pursue a doctorate from Northwestern University near Chicago. She does not return for three years (Kirk 175).

The frequent confrontations between the KMT and CPC culminate in the Southern Anhui Incident in January 1941. General Chiang Kai-Shek orders an ambush against the CPC, and 80,000 KMT troops are sent to annihilate the 9,000 CPC soldiers. Public opinion expresses disapproval of the KMT’s continuation of the civil war in the midst of a Japanese invasion (Sheng 260).

On December 7th, Japan bombs Pearl Harbor. This leads to a reversal of America’s isolationist foreign policy, and America becomes directly involved in WWII. Days later, both the USA and China declare war upon Japan. This interaction between Japan and the USA also pulls the war between Japan and China into the greater fray of WWII (Wikipedia: “Second Sino-Japanese War”).


In late February, Kirk sets out to return to Chengtu, China, leaving from New York and stopping along the way in Portugal, Africa and India (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 16. Correspondence, 1944. Letter from Florence Kirk to Lillian, 25 February 1944).


The Ginling student body increases in numbers to 547. This forces the college to borrow beds from the Nurse’s Training School and results in insufficient supplies of desks and materials, which creates a difficult teaching and learning environment (Kirk 152).

On August 6, the United States drops an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. This is followed by a second atomic bomb on August 9, on Nagasaki. On August 15, Emperor Hirohito surrenders to the Allies. Japanese troops officially surrender in China on September 2, when they sign the act of capitulation (Sheng 302).

Florence writes of the Japanese surrender in China, and how it has restored hope for peace at Ginling College (Kirk, 182; Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 17. Correspondence, 1945. Letter from Florence Kirk to Lillian, 15 August 1945).

Kirk writes to her sister, and describes how inflation has affected the price of food in China. She explains that a single egg costs $50 - $70 (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 17. Correspondence, 1945. Letter from Florence Kirk to Lillian, 15 August 1945).

Following the end of the Sino-Japanese war, the Chinese Civil War recommences (Sheng 310).


Florence and the rest of Ginling College return to Nanking in the spring of 1946. They have been away for eight years (Kirk 185).

Finding Nanking and the Ginling Campus changed from the years of war and its role as the headquarters for the Japanese military, Kirk, the other faculty members and the students face a long period of adjustment and campus rehabilitation before Ginling will fully resemble its former self (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 18. Correspondence, 1946. Letter from Florence Kirk to Friend, 10, February 1946).


During its process of rehabilitation, Ginling College receives relief from missionary organizations at intervals throughout the year. Kirk and the other faculty members are thrilled to have such a variety of previously unattainable food and practical items, such as vanilla, dish towels and tinned fruit (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 19. Correspondence, 1947. Letter from Florence Kirk to Family, 1 February 1947; Kirk 218).

In cooperation with the Chinese Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, Ginling College faculty and students provide a Milk Feeding Station for children in the area. They provide milk and olive oil to over 500 children everyday (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 19. Correspondence, 1947. Pamphlet from Ginling College, April 1947; Kirk 222).

Florence writes of the Ginling Campus slowly returning to its former appearance. The high inflation rates mean that it makes more sense to buy building materials then to hold onto cash; as a result, Ginling goes forward with its campus plans and builds a new dormitory (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 19. Correspondence, 1947. Letter from Florence Kirk to Friends, 18 November 1947).


In her spring vacation from the school year, Florence travels to Wuhu and resides at a Methodist Missionary with a view of the nearby river (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 20. Correspondence, 1948. Letter from Florence Kirk to Family, 9 May 1948).


In the spring of 1949, Florence writes of the Communist advances toward Nanking. In April 22 she states that they are crossing the Yangtze River and approaching Nanking (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 21. Correspondence, 1949. Letter from Florence Kirk to Family, 22 April 1949).

On April 24 the People’s Liberation Army enters Nanking. Florence writes of frustration and worry for not receiving any mail or newspaper for extended periods of time in the midst of the confusion and disruption (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 21. Correspondence, 1949. Letter from Florence Kirk to Lillian, 7 May 1949).

By the end of 1949, the CPC controls the majority of mainland China, and the KMT is forced to relocate to Taiwan. On October 1st, 1949, Mao Zedong and the CPC establish the People’s Republic of China, now commonly referred to simply as China (Sheng 398).


Kirk returns to Canada for a final time. Due to not receiving a re-entry permit, Florence does not travel back to China the following year (Florence Kirk fonds. 91-80. File 22. Correspondence, 1950. Letter from Florence Kirk to Lillian, 23 August 1950).

Florence Kirk’s time in China totals 18 years. She has been witness to the first phase of the civil war between the KMT and the CPC, the events and aftermath of the Sino-Japanese War, the Second World War, the conclusion of the civil war, and the Communist takeover (Kirk).



Barret, David P. and Larry N. Shyu, eds.
China in the Anti-Japanese War, 1937 – 1945: Politics, Culture, and Society.
Studies in Modern Chinese History, Vol. 1. Peter Lang: New York. 2001.

Jackler, Rei.
“ ‘Within the corners of our grad lie furled, the flame and splendor of the Ginling World’ The Significance of the Ginling Women’s College Campus”
in Historical Discourses (Vol XXII, 2007-2008). p. 102-116.

Kirk, Florence.
Sunshine and Storm: A Canadian Teacher in China 1932-1950.
Victoria, 1991.

Sheng, Hu.
A Concise History of the Communist Party of China.
Foreign Languages Press: Beijing. 1994.

Tien, Hung-Mao.
Government and Politics in Kuomintang China: 1927 -1937.
Stanford University Press: California. 1972.

University of Regina Archives and Special Collections.
91-80 Florence A. Kirk fonds.

“Battle of Shanghai.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_shanghai [2010-01-20]

“History of the Communist Party of China.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Communist_Party_of_China [2010-01-20]

“Long March.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_march [2010-01-20]

“Nanking Massacre.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanking_massacre [2010-01-20]

“Second Sino-Japanese War.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_sino-japanese_war [2010-01-20]

Last Revision: 2011-Mar-17