Peacemakers in China: American Missionaries and the Sino-Japanese War, 1937-1941
Craft, Stephen G., Journal of Church and State
Although the importance of the American missionary, once "the invisible man [and woman] of American history,"1 has begun to materialize with the publication of numerous books and articles in recent years, lacuna in the field remain, particularly for the years preceding World War II. As the historian Daniel Bays has commented recently, "The period from mid-1937 until early 1942 is a most interesting one, and much understudied."2 In recent years, historians, in discussing Protestant American missionary activities during the early years of the Sino-Japanese War, have focused on the missionaries' images of China or their attempts to influence public opinion and American foreign policy.3 Scholars, however, have yet to answer some basic questions. Why did the missionaries view China as a victim of aggression? Why did
they brand Japan the aggressor and condemn the United States for its partnership in what they described as a sin? Why did the missionaries urge Christian Americans to boycott Japanese goods and the government to place an embargo on raw materials sold to Japan?
The answer to these questions lies in the fact that the American missionary's view on ethics and public policy were similar to those of Woodrow Wilson, who applied theology to international politics to form what has been termed a "Presbyterian foreign policy."4 According to Harley Notter, a Wilson biographer, Wilson "regarded morality as a guide in foreign policy and thought that moral duties between nations were the same as those within a nation . . . and that all nations were coming to be judged by morality."5 Wilson believed that nations who committed aggression or others acts of immorality had to be punished either with economic sanctions or the use of force.6 The latter step went too far for the missionaries who preferred nonviolent measures. Still, missionary thinking represented "the legalistic-moralistic approach to international problems," as George Kennan disparagingly described it. It was the belief that treaties and other rules of international law could proscribe aggressive state behavior because they represented "the carrying-over into the affairs of states of the concepts of right and wrong, the assumption that state behavior is a fit subject for moral judgment."7
Because they were internationalists, American missionaries in China believed that the sanctity of treaties had been trampled upon by Japanese aggression against China, and that the Japanese lawbreaker had to be punished. Such thinking reflected their Christian worldview, and they must be remembered as heroic peacemakers because their nonviolent measures to end the war angered the Japanese army and put their work and lives at risk. From China and in the United States they waged their peace movement to bring the Sino-Japanese War to a halt in the interest of saving Chinese lives, expanding the Christian enterprise in China and preventing a greater conflagration.
In July 1937, Chinese and Japanese troops clashed near the "Marco Polo Bridge." The incident quickly spun out of control until both sides found themselves engaged in full-scale war. As the war spread to Shanghai and other areas where American missionaries resided, the U.S. State Department and many mission boards called for withdrawal. There was concern for the missionaries' safety, but there was fear as well that the missionaries' work would entangle the United States militarily in the web of the Sino-Japanese War. Polls showed that the American people favored withdrawal of U.S. citizens from China,8 and Christian organizations called for application of the neutrality laws, "in order to keep American business interests and citizens from becoming involved in foreign conflicts in such ways as to drag in the United States."9
While most American missionaries agreed that their wives and children, as well as missionaries about to retire or go on furlough, should return home, nearly half of …
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Publication information: Article title: Peacemakers in China: American Missionaries and the Sino-Japanese War, 1937-1941. Contributors: Craft, Stephen G. - Author. Journal title: Journal of Church and State. Volume: 41. Issue: 3 Publication date: Summer 1999. Page number: 575+. © 1999 J.M. Dawson Studies in Church and State. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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