View the H-Asia Discussion Logs by month
View the Prior Message in H-Asia's May 2007 logs by: [date] [author] [thread]
View the Next Message in H-Asia's May 2007 logs by: [date] [author] [thread]
Visit the H-Asia home page.
H-ASIA May 8, 2007 On Joseph Tse-hei Lee, _The Bible and the Gun: Christianity in South China_ *********************************************************************** Ed. note: This post is the fruit of Dr. Welch's search for a copy of Joseph Lee's _The Bible and the Gun: Christianity in South China_. As the book is not a new publication it does not fall within the parameters of the H-Net Review operation. However, given Ian Welch's own research on missionary history in China, his appreciation of the work is well worth sharing. FFC -------------------------------------------------------------- ---------- From: Ian Welch <email@example.com> REVIEW: Lee, Joseph Tse-Hei, (2003), The Bible and the Gun: Christianity in South China, 1860-1900, New York, Routledge. Reviewed by Ian Welch, Australian National University, Canberra. Email firstname.lastname@example.org Readers of H-Asia will recall my search for a copy of this book and the happy outcome. Second hand copies run as high as nearly $500 for a book that originally sold in 2003 for $80. The second-hand price suggests that a paperback edition is overdue. Prof. Lee's book is a detailed study of American Baptist and British Presbyterian local congregations in Chaozhou District, Guangdong Province, China. It relates closely to works such as Sweeten, Alan Richard, (2001), _Christianity in Rural China: Conflict and Accommodation in Jiangxi Province, 1860-1900_, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan and to Constable, Nicole, (1994), _Christian Souls and Chinese Spirits: A Hakka Community in Hong Kong_, Berkeley, University of California Press. A substantial work that deals with many of the questions implicit in trying to come to terms with foreign Christian missions in China is Dunch, Ryan, (2001), _Fuzhou Protestants and the Making of a Modern China_, New Haven, Yale University Press. The title of Prof. Lee's book serves as a reminder that English-speaking students of China have not, dare one say, adequately addressed the impact of 19th century foreign Christian missionaries although the volume and quality of recent work is striking. The fact that Protestant Christianity came, as Lee puts it, with "Bible and gun" within the overall framework of foreign--especially British and by association American--commercial imperialism and thereafter was part of foreign geopolitics in East Asia is well established. Gunboat diplomacy has perhaps been exaggerated and has contributed to dismissing foreign missions to the peripheries of "cultural imperialism." This has been dealt with by Dunch, Ryan, (2002), "Beyond Cultural Imperialism: Cultural Theory, Christian Missions and Global Modernity," pp 301-325 in _History and Theory_, No 41, October 2003. But there can be no denying the fact that Protestant Christianity arrived in China at "the butt-end of a musket"as a 19C Australian Anglican bishop put it. A significant and humiliating by-product of the "unequal treaties" imposed on China by the foreign powers was the intervention of foreign diplomatic and consular officials in matters involving missionaries and Chinese Christians. Prof. Lee presents excellent case studies of this process in action drawing on Chinese and foreign sources. Missionaries did not, as Lee demonstrates, insist on calling in the gunboats at the first sign of difficulty. I might mention in that context that following the 1895 massacre of British missionaries in Gutian District, of Fujian Province, the Protestant missionary leaders issued a Pastoral Letter to Chinese Christians making it clear that foreign intervention was not to be considered a normal response to local difficulties. While acknowledging the "big-picture" issues that have been the major focus of foreign studies of 19th century China, it is important to grasp, as Prof. Lee highlights, that Christianity had its greatest impact away from the foreign commercial centres along the coast (the treaty ports) and foreign commercial enclaves on some of the major inland rivers. The vast majority of Protestant Chinese Christians in 19th century China were country people, generally from low status groups, whose lives rarely touched the political and economic issues involved in China's foreign relations. A former missionary, Ralph Covell, recalls the story of an elderly Chinese woman who asked her Chinese pastor in complete surprise, 'Do you mean to tell us that American and English people also believe in Jesus?' (Covell, Ralph R, (1986), _Confucius, the Buddha, and Christ: A History of the Gospel in Chinese_, Maryknoll, New York, Orbis, p 13). It is striking the impact achieved by one or two foreign missionaries, usually unarmed and living with wives and families in the midst of vast Chinese populations who could drive them out and destroy their property at will. Attacks on missionary properties, denial of access to rental properties and outright denial of residence were everyday matters with which missionaries had to cope. There is overwhelming evidence that when missionaries had to leave, for whatever reasons, as in the case of the American Methodist and British Anglican converts in Gutian District in 1895, few Chinese abandoned their Christianity. While Chinese Christians did recant for varied reasons as discussed by Prof. Lee, many more held their ground, and it is their descendants who provide the background for the present extraordinary expansion of Protestant Christianity in China. Christianity in China has spread, primarily, by Chinese to Chinese activity not always of a purely spiritual kind, and this is very well examined. The initial evangelization of the Chaozhou District was done by Chinese Christians (Baptists) converted in Thailand and returning to their home districts. That is, it must be acknowledged, an exception rather than the rule, although I am currently looking at the efforts by Chinese from the Congregational Missions in California to share their new faith when either visiting their homes in China in between working in California or upon their ultimate return home. I have also found similar stories of the impact of returning Christians in my work on the Chinese converted in Australia who eventually returned to China. But even where foreign missionaries did establish themselves, Lee makes it clear that the work of the missionaries was largely limited to making contacts in key locations, usually market or administrative centres and then relying on itinerant visits to surrounding villages. It is important to note that although Lee does not detail the work of foreign women missionaries, a great deal of itinerant missionary work was done by single foreign women, especially after women became the majority of the foreign missionary workforce in China from the 1880s onwards. Foreign women, and obviously all foreign missionaries, could not have done weeks of travelling, accompanied only by hired Chinese coolies (rarely if ever Christians) and perhaps a Chinese Biblewoman, if the opinion of the local people, and in particular, local literati, had been universally hostile. The occasional presence of foreigners did not ultimately rest upon treaties but on the kindly tolerance of ordinary Chinese and local officials. Indeed, as Lee points out and my own research confirms, the arrival of a foreigner here and there was exciting entertainment that often lifted the boredom of everyday life. Prof. Lee focusses his discussion on lineage issues that necessarily points to male leadership roles in the Baptist and Presbyterian churches of Chaozhou District. His work on senior and junior lineages matches the work done by Sweeten on Catholic lineages in Jiangxi Province. The issue of lineage in influencing membership of Christian denominations in China is at the heart of Prof. Lee's research and it is fascinating reading, particularly for some who might want to ignore basic pragmatism behind religious decisions. The amazing stories that dominate the majority of nineteenth and twentieth century missionary writings occurred against background situations that demand more research of this quality. There is perhaps a pointer for contemporary studies of changing times in China and the advancement of particular lineages and families. The Introduction is important in its own right for a valuable discussion of archives including foreign and Chinese sources. Prof. Lee travelled in the Chaozhou District and examined local Chinese records not readily accessed by foreign scholars and, in addition, through family links, he was able to speak to the descendants of the early Chinese converts. This is in itself, a unique and special dimension that merits special attention to this book. He points, frankly and properly, to the deliberate deceptions that missionaries in the field practised in the information that they provided to their officials and supporters at home. He balances this part of his book by looking closely at the various levels of deception practiced within the Chinese official hierarchy. Disputes between missionaries, and between Chinese and their foreign guests, are rarely discussed in conventional missionary literature and even less are missionary accounts subjected to the kind of rigorous analysis practiced by Prof. Lee. This is an important book in trying to understand the very complex domestic relationships in operation as foreign missionaries sought to make contact with local people and to convince them of the importance and relevance, for them, of a foreign religion. It will, I believe, open doors in scholarship that foreign scholars have found closed and, judging by the copious notes on contemporary Chinese religious research, a vast new domain of research is emerging, with the only need that of systematic translation into English for a wider audience. I stress English because more than 90% of all Protestant missionary enterprise in China was undertaken by English-speaking people. I hope the publisher will bring out a paperback so that this book can reach a wider audience. Ian Welch Canberra ****************************************************************** To post to H-ASIA simply send your message to: <H-ASIA@h-net.msu.edu> For holidays or short absences send post to: <email@example.com> with message: SET H-ASIA NOMAIL Upon return, send post with message SET H-ASIA MAIL H-ASIA WEB HOMEPAGE URL: http://h-net.msu.edu/~asia/