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Fette Chinese Rugs

Friday, March 20, 2020 8:06 PM | Ellen Amirkhan

Fette Chinese Rugs

Rug weaving in Tiensin and Peking, China grew into a large industry in the 1920s and 1930s.  Prior to this time, there was very little variety in design and color of Chinese rugs.  This lack of variety changed when Mrs. Helen Fette, her hsuband Franklin and their two children arrived in Peking in 1919.  Mr. Fette, a Wellesley College professor, accepted a two year contract to teach the sister college, Yenching.  Mr. Fette completed his contract but was only paid for 6 months. 

Helen Fette, a Vassar graduate, secured a job at the Methodist Mission School where the family resided until 1922.  After selling several rugs for the Chinese famine relief of 1920-21, she decided to explore the possibility of going into the rug production business. 

Mrs. Fette visited many weaving facilities in search of a Chinese business partner until she found Mr. Li whom she considered trustworthy.  The business partnership lasted until 1948 and a lifelong friendship  established between Helen Fette and Mr. Li Meng Shu.  

The Fetti-Li company employed over 2500 employees at the peak of their production in the 1930s.   Mr. Fette served as secretary-treasurer.   Mrs. Fette served as president for 20 years and implemented her talents for organization, judgment, artistry and human kindness.   Materials used in their rugs were manufactured in China and they built comfortable living quarters for their employees that included a health clinic, recreational areas, classrooms, dining halls, a library and a bank.  In addition to training the rug weaving apprentices, the classrooms provided education to at least the 5th grade.  All of these innovations were startling from the Chinese perspective. 

When the Japanese attacked Shanghai in 1937, the rug business suffered many disruptions.  With attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Fette-Li factories closed for the duration of the war and were not able to be re-opened during the post-war period before the Communist take over.  In 1948, the Communists occupied Peking and the company was officially dissolved and both Mr. Li and Mrs. Fette left with their families.  

My grandfather, H. M. Amirkhan, Sr. sold Fette Chinese rugs in the 1920s and 30s.  He was also a pack rat!  Years ago, while cleaning out 75 years of accumulated paperwork, I came across a packet of photos from the Fette-Li company.  The photos were samples of designs available for purchase.  Five years ago, a customer brought in her Chinese rug for cleaning and repair.  I recognized the rug as being a Fette and found the black and white photograph taken so many years ago that matched her design.  I gave her a copy of the photograph for her records and a short history of the Fette-Li company.  Below are photographs of her rug and the sample photo. 

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