Peter and Rose Townsend Archive

Scope and Content

Documents donated by the family of Peter and Rose Townsend, includingbooklets, newspaper cuttings, newsletters, reports and translated articles relating toChina, from the 1940s to the 1990s.

Administrative / Biographical History

The documents include booklets, newspaper cuttings, newsletters, reports andtranslated articles relating to China, including many items dating from the early 1950sconcerning the Cultural Revolution.

Peter Townsend was born on 24th August, 1919 at Canterbury, the son of a Harley Street dentist who was also a Quaker and socialist. His interest in China was awakened at the age of 8 or 9 by a talk given by a visiting Chinese politician. After attending King’s School, Canterbury, he went up to Worcester College, Oxford, to read history. After his first year, he did not return, preferring instead to volunteer for the Friends’ Ambulance Unit in 1939. He hoped to go to China with the Unit, and began to learn Mandarin before setting sail from England in 1941. He arrived in Singapore and then Rangoon in the midst of Japanese air raids, then drove a truck along the Burma Road to Kunming in southwest China.

After a short spell of work in the local hospital, Townsend was invited to become the English secretary at the northwest headquarters of the Chinese Industrial Cooperatives in Baoji, Sha’anxi province. These co-operatives were small-scale industrial units supported by foreign charities but highly unpopular with the Kuomintang government. In 1943, Townsend moved to a post in Chengdu in West China, overseeing the use of foreign relief funds to the co-operatives, then in 1945 herelocated to Shanghai where his work involved advertising the social and economicbenefits of the co-operatives to influential people, who included Chou Enlai and MaoZedong.

In 1947, Townsend married Rose Yardumian, an Armenian American journalist for the English-language daily newspaper People’s China. By then, Peter Townsend was also working as a journalist, sending regular articles about China to the New Statesman. By the end of 1949, the Townsends had become sufficiently concerned about the future for foreigners in the People’s Republic to decide, reluctantly, to leave for London. Initially, Rose trained as teacher while Peter edited the magazine China Monthly and in 1955 published the book China Phoenix giving a favourable view of the revolution.

Between 1964 and 1976, Peter Townsend was editor of the monthly art journal Studio, and later founded two further art periodicals, Art Monthly and Art Monthly Australia.

Rose died in 1990, and Peter in 2006, leaving two daughters.


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Access Information

Available to all researchers, by appointment

Acquisition Information

Donated in June 2007

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Copyright according to document

Related Material

Goddard Papers ; Winnington Papers