The Jiangyin Mission Station: An American Missionary Community in China, 1895-1951

The Jiangyin Mission Station: An American Missionary Community in China, 1895-1951

The Jiangyin Mission Station: An American Missionary Community in China, 1895-1951

The Jiangyin Mission Station: An American Missionary Community in China, 1895-1951


Lawrence Kessler uses the Jiangyin mission station in the Shanghai region of China to explore Chinese-American cultural interaction in the first half of the twentieth century. He concludes that the Protestant missionary movement was welcomed by the Chinese not because of the religious message it spread but because of the secular benefits it provided.

Like other missions, the Jiangyin Station, which was sponsored by the First Presbyterian Church of Wilmington, North Carolina, combined evangelism with social welfare programs and enjoyed a respected position within the local community. By 1930, the station supported a hospital and several schools and engaged in anti-opium campaigns and local peacekeeping efforts. In many ways, however, Christianity was a disruptive force in Chinese society, and Kessler examines Chinese ambivalence toward the mission movement, the relationship between missions and imperialism, and Westerners' response to Chinese nationalism. He also addresses the Jiangyin Station's close ties to, and impact upon, its supporting church in Wilmington.


In April 1925, a group of American Protestant missionaries in China erected a large tent in the middle of the city where they were stationed in preparation for celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the beginning of their work in that community. The celebration in itself would not be worthy of much comment. This particular station was not a pioneer in the American mission effort in China; it was, in fact, established fairly late in the game. Nor were any of its personnel well-known members of the mission force in China.

What is significant about this event is the participation in the celebration of the city's notables, including the "mayor" and many prominent businessmen and scholars. They presented the missionaries with a number of gifts and lauded their contributions to the welfare of the city. How had these foreigners earned such praise and esteem from their hosts at a time when nationalistic sentiment was running rampant in China?

The tale is a fascinating one and justifies a careful study of the life of this particular mission station in the city of Jiangyin in the eastern coastal province of Jiangsu. But the history of this station provides more than a good story. An in-depth study of this fairly typical American missionary community can reflect more broadly on the nature of American interaction with China during a half-century of momentous change, from the late nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century, placing local history in the context of national and international history.

Within the limited scope of this study, my central concern is whether and in what ways this missionary community fit in with the local Chinese society. As the opening account indicates, the Jiangyin missionaries at one point had achieved a measure of integration with their Chinese community. But their success, I

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