After first discovering the lovely cloth dolls created by Ada Lum, I began to feel very curious as to her life and background. It has not been an easy search, but a very interesting one. I would like now to try and string together some of the information I have uncovered with the disclaimer that the links are still not completely clear and some suppositions have been made.
In the "Sunday Oregonian, Portland," June 21, 1936; American born Chinese actress Anna May Wong writes of her first visit to China. The article is subtitled, "She finds social life of Shanghai even more glamorous than that of American cities." Please note that this is 1936, one year prior to the beginning of the 2nd Sino-Japanese War (which merged into WWII with the bombing of Pearl Harbor) and 13 years prior to the formation of the communist People's Republic of China (when all outside, western influence was shut out of China by the "Bamboo Curtain.") In this article Miss Wong mentions a visit with a woman named Ada Lum.... "After tiffin (a meal at midday; a luncheon) I had a delightful shopping trip with Ada Lum, sister of Gordon Lum, Australia's Chinese tennis champion. (Gordon made his home in Shanghai in the 1930's and perhaps Ada came because he was there.) We went to a number of shops hidden in the byways of the Chinese city, down alleys crusted with grime of past dynasties or in courtyards flanked by ancient temples."
In fact, Miss Lum's residence in Shanghai and her talents and abilities are noted in an even earlier publication. The Chinese Christian Yearbook of 1934 edited by Frank Joseph Rawlinson records that, "Bringing beauty into the home is the aim of Miss Ada Lum, who is a wizard with her hands- and an attractive one at that. Her specialty is decoration of the home, though anything she touches becomes a work of art. She has been most successful in the decoration of children's rooms and nurseries." (pp 87-88)
And Perry Burgess also came in contact with Miss Lum in Shanghai in the course of his leprosy work. He writes in his autobiography Born of Those Years,
"Miss Ada Lum, Chinese in descent and English (?) in citizenship, a friend of many years standing, was a writer who carried a column in one of the English papers. (It should be noted that Miss Lum's niece remembers the Lum family occupation as creating an early Chinese-language newspaper in Australia) Ada was on the Japanese blacklist because of her outspoken articles. Her friends were greatly concerned, but she shrugged her shoulders at their warnings, continued to write and speak her mind, and managed to survive.
She has a pleasing personality and was a leader in community and welfare activities, especially Red Cross work. Some of my most delightful evenings in China in peacetime had been spent in her company when she took me and other friends to restaurants for unusual native dishes. Ada is a cultivated gourmet so these dinners were memorable affairs, although she achieved her fine results by taking tyrannical charge of the restaurant's kitchen until the meal was served to her liking. Ada took it upon herself to be our guide, showing Cora and me the wreckage of the city. The people, their homes destroyed, simply camped on the streets or in the doorways of half-shattered buildings." (pp148-149)
This brings us to Miss Ada Lum's community service in the early stages of war. Evidently she had already begun working with the Red Cross as in "China Monthly Review," a Shanghai English language journal published by John W. Powell, she was noted for having written at least two articles related to this humanitarian work. One was a special Red Cross supplement of December 4, 1937 entitled, "Hospital for Refugee Children."
An article in the "Rochester Democrat and Chronicle," dated Sunday, January 2, 1938, and entitled "Priest Saves 115,000 Chinese Lives in War;" includes a photograph of Ada Lum dressed in her Red Cross uniform alongside French Jesuit Priest Father Jacquinot. The photo caption includes the information that Ada Lum is the sister of former Chinese Davis Cup player Gordon Lum and was then involved in the aid of Shanghai refugees. Father Jacquinot de Besange is known for courageously setting up a Safe Zone for Chinese in Shanghai. A similar Safety Zone was set up in Nanjing; but as with the rest of this city, it was not truly safe.
I will come to a close here noting that at some point Ada Lum removed from Shanghai to HongKong, but I will leave this and some family background for another post....