Freemasonry in China

by MasterMason
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For as long as I can remember, China has been mysterious and fascinating to me.  When I realized the Great Wall of China was the only man-made structure on the earths surface that was purportedly discernible in outer space, my fascination expanded. Prior to this we learned one of the Ming Tombs had been opened, and was now on display. One could actually view the tomb of an Emperor together with his wife and concubine! and one could now tour the Forbidden City.

Beijing, we learned, had evolved from a half million year old ‘Peking Man,’ which had been found, and a prehistoric village was also on display. So, it was in awe that my wife and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in that fascinating country in early 1983.

We observed the sights of Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, Guillin, and Guangzhou (formerly Canton) before entering into the Colony of Hong Kong.

While visiting Xi’an, my wife and I visited the Shaansxi Provincial Museum, where we viewed polished black marble tablets which were approximately two inches thick and ten feet by three feet in size. These ancient tablets were standing as well as lying, row upon row and all with readable Chinese characters.

Then the terra cotta figures of the Emperor Qin Shi Huang, who ruled from 259 to 210 B.C.E., together with his entourage, were viewed in their burial place inside a building which would be the equivalent size of a hanger containing at least two Boeing 747’s. Xi’an itself was the original capital of China and was the main stop on the old Silk Road used regularly by Genghis Khan.

In this area we also viewed the Bampo Museum, the site of a Neolithic village dated from the Yangshao Culture of the 6000 B.C.D era, all under cover.

During our tour, I climbed the 225 foot tall, seven story Big Goose Pagoda, which has bricks bonded together with egg white and mortar! The pagoda has withstood many earthquakes and still is intact! Artifacts from the Tang, Sing and Min Dynasties were on view as well.

It takes little of one’s imagination to realize the known written history of this country dates further back than one can imagine! Recently we read in a newspaper where the Hong Kong Custom authorities made a seizure which included thirty-six pottery jars which were made in China’s New Stone Age from 8000 to 4000 B.C.E.

It must be realized that Western Freemasonry, or whatever one wishes to call Freemasonry, is actually new in China: in that fascinating and beautiful ‘Middle Kingdom,’ now referred to as China, or the People’s Republic of China.

Our tenets or beliefs as we know them however, were in place and in use many years prior to the building of King Solomon’s Temple. And so, I will now begin my essay which I have given the caption of.

Introduction & History

China is a land of history, of mystery and great contrasts. Mainland China is the largest nation in Asia and the third largest in the world, exceeding in area only by Russia and Canada. It is home to one-fifth of the world’s population, most of whom are crowded into a small area of the country along the eastern coast.

This article was born out of a love for the Chinese people and the beautiful Middle Kingdom with its fascinating history, coupled with a concern for our brethren both in Communist China and in Hong Kong, which will became part of the People’s Republic of China in 1977.

Some of the similarities between ancient Chinese and current Masonic teachings will be reviewed. This article then discusses certain societies found in China which appear to have some similarities to Masonry, then briefly discusses some chartered Masonic lodges in China, and ends with a brief review of the early history of the Grand Lodge of China.

Similarities between ancient Chinese teachings and Masonry.

In its myths and legends, its proverbs and precepts, its symbols and ceremonials, China manifests a basic masonic philosophy which far outreaches that of any other nation, be it ancient or modern, western or oriental.

  1. Ancient Books and Rituals:

Prior to Confucius, there existed a complex of philosophical systems based on various symbolism’s. These included the Great Monad (Tai-Chi), the principles of Yang and Yin, The Five Elements (water, fire, wood, metal, earth), the eight Trigrams (Chih), the twelve Ornaments of the Official Ceremonial Robes, the twenty-eight Stellar Mansions and others. Various books of rites and rituals meticulously detailed the requirements for various ceremonies, however, over time, many of the details have become lost.

In the Book of Odes, poems dating back to the eighth century B.C.E. express a masonic mood. One poem depicts a group of officials departing from the morning sacrifice at the court – or, from labour to refreshment.

The grandees from the Court I chanced to meet, serene they seemed, and grave, and self-possessed. As each retired his morning meal to eat, In plain white lambskins or white sheepskins dressed.

In another ancient book, the Book of MAN, there are masonic-like stories and sayings. For example, there is a story of Emperor Shun circa 2317-2208 BCE] who wished to see the emblematic figures of the ancients. Being the Emperor, he was the only person allowed to use all twelve of the Branches. Lesser ranks could use only those branches which their station allowed. In addition, the following expressions are found in that book:’ The officers of government apply the compasses and ‘The man of the level’ which was used when speaking of a judge, and others.

2. In The Great Learning, written in 500 BCE, is a familiar statement:
‘A man should abstain from doing to others what he would not they should do unto him, and this is called the Principle of Acting on the Square.’
Nothing in ancient Chinese times can be directly linked to the present day Ancient Free and Accepted Masons. The Chinese in North America using the symbols of the square and compasses and the letter ‘G’ have no ritual, vows, signs or tokens which can relate them to Western Masonry. Their adoption of these signs and tokens is believed to be due to their desire to gain recognition by regular Freemasonry in countries outside China. Their ritual does not correspond to Western Freemasonry in countries outside China.

The North American Chinese Freemasons may be considered a legal offshoot of the Triad Society of China; especially that of the Yee Hung Society, which was set up to support Dr. Sun Yat Sen and the establishment of a Chinese Republic.

The Compasses, the Square and Level: Professor H.A.Giles, while lecturing on Freemasonry in China, is purported to have stated in part: “What do we mean when we ask if Freemasonry exists in China? Do we confine ourselves to the comparatively modern system in vogue at the present day among western nations, with its ritual of doubtful date, its signs, its passwords, and its Book of Constitutions? If so, then I would affirm that our noble fraternity does not exist now among the Chinese, and has never existed in China at all. . . Or . . Does the question point to that higher and more ethereal scheme of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols drawn from operative Masonry…
He concluded that the Chinese referred to the ‘compasses and square’, (as opposed to the ‘square and compasses’). The compasses and level are referred to in Chinese writings of a known period from the 24th to the 7th centuries B.C.E. Cong Foo Tse (whom we know as Confucius) expounded phrases such as ‘Transgressing the limits of the Square.’
The compasses and square to the Chinese purportedly represent ‘order, regularity and propriety’.

When Confucius reached the age of seventy years, he is purported to have said that he could do anything he pleased: however, it must be in accordance with the square. This emphasized the principle of the ‘measuring square’ to regulate one’s conduct. To emphasize the phrase of rectitude and propriety (that is, correctness and honesty), the level, plumb line, rule and other tools were used by this teacher. Meng-Tse (whom we know as Mencius), a follower of Confucius (born circa 372 B.C.E.), is purported to have made the following statements: = “A master workman, in teaching others, uses the compasses and square; and his pupils do the same; as the compasses and square produce perfect circles and squares, so do the sages exhibit perfect relations with their fellow men; that men would apply the Compasses and Square morally to their lives and the ‘Level and Marking Lines’ besides, if they would walk in the straight and even path of wisdom, and keep themselves within the bounds of honor and virtue. A Master Mason, in teaching his Apprentices makes use of the compasses and the square. Ye who are in the pursuit of wisdom must also make use of the compasses and the square.’

3. Ancient Archaeological Artifacts:

On an ancient stone frieze found in Shantung Province dated around 2000 years ago is a carved depiction of the first mythical man and woman. One figure was holding a carpenter’s square while the other was holding an ancient type of compasses. Twenty other archaeological excavations have brought to light many thousands of artifacts dating back to the second millennium B.C.E. These are literary and pictographic script incised on tortoise shells and animal scapulae as well as ritual vessels dating from 1400 to 1122 B.C.E. For example, one carving is an outline of a kneeling man with flaming fire on his head which is considered to be the original Chinese word for ‘Light’ and is believed to imply the intellectual flaming light which comes to the seeker of truth. There is an old Chinese painting depicting five Buddhas in the form of a Saint Andrew’s Cross. The centre Buddha is the future Buddha, or ‘preserver’, and each Buddha depicts a separate sign each of which has its own symbolic meaning.

Chinese Societies With Similarities to Freemasonry:
As described above, these ancient Chinese teachings have some similarities to masonic teaching. Therefore, it is not surprising that societies have existed in China with signs, symbols and rituals similar to Freemasonry. At a meeting of the District Grand Lodge of Northern China, E.C. held in Shanghai on 22 January, 1914, R.W. Bro. Robert S. Ivy, in his address discussing Chinese Freemasons, quoted a local newspaper having created what he considered an erroneous impression in the minds of some young masons. The article had reported 1,000,000 Freemasons located in Manchuria. Bro. Ivy added that it was not in the best interests of masons to make public contradictions to such irresponsible statements.

While masons recognize landmarks, including first and foremost, the belief in the G.A.O.T.U., and recognize the Volume of the Sacred Law, the ‘Chinese Freemasons’ belonged to another Society which had no connection with the Craft. He also strongly suggested members of the Craft be careful not to permit innovations to masonic landmarks.

Correspondence between the figurative character of Craft Masonry and alleged ‘Secret Religions’ which are referred to in allegorical terms illustrated by symbols, symbolic buildings (such as the Temple of Jerusalem), badges, aprons, signs and other various similarities, have been discovered by Chinese scholars.

The Chinese Sabaeans represent the Supreme Deity as composed of Chang-Ti, the ‘Supreme Sovereign’; Tien, the ‘Heavens’; and Tao, the ‘Universal Supreme Reason’ and ‘Principle of = Faith’.

The Tong of Chinese Freemasonry called the ‘Hung Mung’ or ‘Gate of Heaven’ dates from the early days of trading in the Orient, including the East India Company. The Chinese copied the signs of recognition as well as other work from the foreigners.

4. The Triad

The Triad Society derived its name form the conjunction of the three great powers in nature espoused by Confucius and his followers: heaven earth, and man.

Thus, it has been known as the Society of Heaven and Earth.

It is the most famous society similar to Masonry. Known as the Hung Society, it is called various other names including Th’ien, Ti, or Hoi’h and is commonly referred to as ‘The Triad’.

Its history allegedly dates back, under various names and in an unbroken succession to 386 C.E.

While the Hung Society has many similarities to Freemasonry, it has been considered more akin to the higher degrees. It has a paper ‘chop’ on which a character is written word ‘Keh’ which is purported to mean a pillar and has a further meaning which is ‘to establish firmly.’

This Society has three Great Principles of brotherly love, relief and truth, together with severe penalties for violations. The Oaths are as severe as the requirements of the Ancient Charges. Among the Working Tools used by the Triad are the twelve inch gauge. They call their Worshipful Master, a Great Brother, while the Senior Warden and Junior Warden are referred to as the Second Brother.

A First Point and a Second Point correspond to our Senior and Junior Deacons or Inner and Outer Guard. Their three degrees are known as:-  ‘affiliated younger brother,’ ‘obligated elder brother,’ and ‘obligated uncle.’  The Society has a Book of Constitution, issues certificates and gives badges to each member in the form of a medal to be carried with him. During his initiation, the candidate is given a piece of parchment with thirty-six separate items. These items constitute the obligation he is about to take and must be memorized.

The penalties for each item are severe. Among the penalties are being killed by a tiger; having his eyes bitten out by a snake; being hanged; dying under a hundred knives and being deprived of descendants forever; being eaten by a tiger or bitten by a snake; being punished by seventy-two blows with the Red Staff.

Losing his blood through the seven apertures of the head; being drowned in the ocean and lost forever; that the spirit of his ancestors be cursed and damned; and his progeny exist in the deepest misery and want for a thousand generations.

In 1774, the Grand Master of the Hung Society is alleged to have raised a rebellion which is said to have caused over a hundred thousand deaths before it was quelled.

After 1830, the Hung Society was the most powerful Triad or Secret Society in all of China. In additions to having lodges in China, it has lodges as far away as Java, the Indian Archipelago and Singapore.

Chartered Lodges in China:

In the past, China has been considered ‘open territory.’ Since China did not have its own Grand Lodge, masonic lodges were established from several Grand Jurisdictions. Until 1885 masonic lodges were held at seaport locations only. Thirteen lodges had been warranted by England, four by Scotland and one by the United States. By 1951 however, these had been increased by twenty by England with half in the Colony of Hong Kong; six by the Grand Lodge of Scotland; two by Ireland and three by the State of Massachusetts. By this time lodges were also held in Tiensin, Foochow, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Hangkow, Canton and Peking (now Beijing). In addition other Grand Jurisdictions also desired entry into China, all forming lodges under their own jurisdictions, such as the Grand Lodges of Germany and the Grand Orient of Italy.  Portugal instituted a lodge at Macau.

English: Masonic historians differ on the arrival of Western Freemasonry into China.

Coil writes that military lodges, such as Royal Sussex Lodge, were the first to enter China beginning in 1844. At that time, Royal Sussex was numbered 735. White writes that in 1863, Royal Sussex was located in Shanghai, now numbered 501 under the English Constitution, but once again became dormant. Haffner explains that Royal Sussex still proudly exists in the Colony of Hong Kong.

Despite the history of Royal Sussex Lodge in China, the establishment of English Freemasonry in the Orient may date to the eighteenth century with the first English masonic lodge being constituted in 1767. This Lodge purportedly was formed by members of the East India Company.

Early lodge meetings were, at that time, held in factories and in various warehouses. Upon departure of their ship, a ‘Masonic Club’ was left behind. One author wrote that ‘International Lodge’ was formed in 1915 and consecrated 15 June 1916 in Peking. Among the founders of the lodge, for the first time, were several Chinese names.

Irish Irish Freemasonry may have made its initial appearance in China in 1863. The Second Battalion of the 20th Regiment Lancashire Fusiliers had a travelling Warrant for Sphinx Lodge No. 263 issued on 6 October 1860.

The Fusiliers arrived in Hong Kong in December, 1863 and met numerous times between December, 1863 and June 1864 when they were ordered to active service in Japan. The lodge remained in Hong Kong and met between July 1866 and July 1867.

The Grand Lodge of Ireland warranted Erin Lodge No. 463 at Shanghai on 8 October 1919 which had a successful history until the Japanese invasion of China. When the Japanese joined the Axis against the Allies in World War II, the lodge closed. It removed its archives at this time to a neutral location.

In 1952, Erin Lodge was moved to Hong Kong where Shamrock Lodge No. 712 had been warranted on 3 December 1946. A Warrant was issued for a third Irish lodge, Emerald Lodge No. 833, in Hong Kong, which was consecrated on 29 September, 1981.


The District Grand Lodges of the Grand Lodge of Scotland lists the ‘Far East District’ consisting of ten lodges working under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Scotland. These consist of two lodges in Japan, three in Korea and five in Hong Kong: Lodge. Cosmopolitan No. 428, which was warranted on 7 March 1864 and Lodge Saint Andrew in The Far East No. 493 which was inaugurated on 3 May 1869. Both lodges were active in 1995.

A facsimile of the seal of the Grand Lodge of China is located in the Museum of the Grand Lodge of Scotland at Freemason’s Hall in Edinburgh. Located amongst the crystal, porcelain and other beautiful artifacts, is a magnificent banner of green silk which contains a multi-coated coat of arms in the centre and at the top in a semi-circle reads:

‘District Grand Lodge of Freemsonry’ and at the bottom ‘In Northern China.’

The Square and Compasses are located at the bottom centre of the banner.


During the month of July, 1915 thirteen petitions were received from Master Masons which included three Chinese brethren who had been raised in Washington, D.C. and who wished to establish a lodge in Peking under the Massachusetts Constitution. The stumbling blocks were the religous beliefs together with the non-white attitude. The report stated:

“To those of our friends in China who, of their own free will and accord may seek Masonic light, whatever their religious belief so long as it includes our single dogma, if they be worthy and well

qualified, men freeborn, of good report, and properly vouched for, Freemasonry extends her hand in greeting.”

The report covered the fact that since the Deists do not adhere to the Holy Bible as the V.S.L., it must be determined ‘whether an obligation may be administered upon any other book and the language therein adapted to the religion of the candidate.’ While the Holy Bible must not be removed from the lodge, it was decided that other Volumes of the Sacred Law teach Monotheism. These ‘stumbling blocks’ were eliminated without problem.

Thus, International Lodge on Peking was chartered on 15 June, 1916 and for the first time the petition for a lodge contained a number of Chinese names.

Prior to the First World War, brethren of various jurisdictions established Royal Arch Chapters, a Templar Preceptory and a Rose Croix Chapter with most having now become extinct. The Royal Order of Scotland had a Provincial Grand Chapter established in Hong Kong, and which is still at labor in Hong Kong.

Unfortunately the ‘higher degrees’ met their demise with the start of the sino-Japanese hostilities.

Shanghai was a prosperous port as well as being an international settlement, dispensation was received from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts to open ‘Ancient Landmark Lodge.’ This Lodge met on 9 May, 1864 and received its Charter on 14 December, 1864. It is of interest to note that the public school in Shanghai was founded by masons. Students were recognized by the Square and Compass badge on their uniforms and did so until it was forced to close by the Pacific war. In 1985 the masonic brethren, together with other lodges, established an ‘Ancient Landmark Prize’ in Shanghai.

During World War II, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, as well as in areas occupied by Japanese military forces, masonic lodges operating under American Grand Jurisdictions were in Masonic Darkness. This principally covered the period between 1941 and 1946.

Other Jurisdictions:

A Warrant was granted in 1786 by the Grand Lodge of Sweden for Elisabeth Lodge in Canton. This lodge held thirty-three meetings whenever Swedish East India Company ships were in China.

This lodge closed about 1802. The Lodge of Saint Elizabeth, a lodge also under the Swedish jurisdiction has also been argued as the oldest lodge in existence in China, having been formed in Canton (now Guahgjou) in 1865.

Since the author does not describe the earlier lodges, it must be assumed they were all dormant at this time.

After the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts denied a dispensation to form Chung Hua Lodge, a petition for dispensation was made and granted by the Grand Lodge of the Philippine Islands to form a lodge. This lodge was chartered in 1931 as Amity Lodge No. 106. It was significant, as this lodge was organized largely by Chinese Nationals.

They were later re-chartered under the Grand Lodge of China.

Grand Lodge of China:

On 15-16 January 1949, a Convention of Master Masons was held to organize the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of China.

The Consecration of this Grand Lodge and the Installation of its first Officers was held on

18 March, 1949 in the Lodge Hall of the Masonic Temple in Shanghai.

The Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of China was organized with six lodges in China and warranted by the Grand Lodge of the Philippine Islands. Its first Annual Communication was held on 7 October 1949. The first lodge of China under the Philippino Constitution, which was founded in 1931, was renamed Amity No. 1 under the Grand Lodge of China and was re-constituted in Taipei in 1954.

In October 1955 the Grand Lodge of China registered with the Nationalist Government Ministry of the Interior and was authorized to establish its headquarters in Taepei, Formosa.

As of 1967, the Grand Lodge of China had seventy-six Lodges and 1,262 members.

In 1957 Pearl River Lodge No. 13 was active iin Tainan, Taiwan.

In 1958 the Ali Shan Shrine Club was active at Taipei.

Han Lodge No. 8 became the first masonic lodge to be operated wholly in the Chinese language.

The Grand Lodge of China, although recognized by American Masonry, is not recognized by the Grand Lodge of England. England recognizes the jurisdiction of ‘China’ to be only that of the Island of Taiwan, formerly Formosa.

At present there are no operating lodges of Freemasons on the mainland in the People’s Republic of China. It is interesting to realize an occurrence, or non-occurrence, took place during the reign of the leader, Mao Tse Tung.

It is alleged that at no time did Chairman Mao Tse Tung attempt to stop Freemasonry in his country.

Freemasonry did cease to exist however, because of the political climate on the mainland of China together with the lack of membership, which caused the Charter of the last lodge on the mainland to be moved to the Colony of Hong Kong.

Those lodges now working in Hong Kong under the jurisdiction of England, Scotland and Ireland are considered strong.


China is a land of intrigue. Its history, including its masonic history, is fascinating and unique. Many of the ancient Chinese teachings date to a period prior to the construction of King Solomon’s Temple, yet the symbols and their meanings are similar to the masonic teachings.

Until after the creation of the Grand Lodge of China, lodges in China were conducted in non-Chinese languages, principally English.

As a result, Chinese nationals, who could not speak or understand the ritual language, were excluded from joining a lodge.

Unfortunately, Communism has caused masonic darkness to prevail over the People’s Republic of China; however, it probably has caused masonic light to brighten both in Hong Kong and the Republic of China in Taiwan. Note: a chronological summary of Masonic Lodges in China is available form the writer.

Published in UNITED MASTERS LODGE No. 167;

Lodge of Masonic Instruction; Auckland, New Zealand; June, 1998.


This is probably the longest paper that I have shared over the past 10 years, however, I couldn’t see an easy way to split it up without breaking the information process.

Personally I have found it very very interesting in particular the use of THREE in very ancient ceremonies and other similarities. Hopefully you have enjoyed it as much as myself.

Have a wonderful Day & God Bless


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