The Changing Role of the British Protestant Missionaries in China, 1945-1952

The Changing Role of the British Protestant Missionaries in China, 1945-1952

The Changing Role of the British Protestant Missionaries in China, 1945-1952

The Changing Role of the British Protestant Missionaries in China, 1945-1952

Excerpt

The role of the British missionaries in China changed in the period 1945–52. The postwar readjustment of mission policy and the relations of missionaries with the Guomindang and the Chinese Communist Party during the struggle between the two parties helped to illustrate how the missionaries accommodated themselves to the New Democracy and how they responded to the rising tide of nationalism in China.

Studies of the role of missionaries in China have been characteristically reliant on generalizations and stereotypes. Mission lore written by Chinese and Western Christians for purposes of edification emphasized the saintly character of missionaries. These romanticized narrations suffer from a lack of critical analysis. Histories of missionary societies were often produced to celebrate anniversaries, golden and diamond jubilees and centenaries, and accounts written for commemorative purposes were usually aimed at readers who were supporters of the missionary bodies concerned. They inclined to exaggerate the merits of missionaries and add an aura of sanctity to them. Those works by Chinese Christians in Taiwan after 1949 were written for apologetic purposes and tended to emphasize the contribution of Christianity to modern China, offering little in the way of objective assessments of missionary achievements. At the other end of the spectrum Chinese Communist scholarship condemns missionary activities root and branch. The Communist writers see the missionary enterprise as part and parcel of Western aggression, and missionaries are labeled the agents of the imperialist powers. Western missionary activities, preaching, educational work, and philanthropy are said to be aimed at supporting imperialist aggression. These judgements and criticisms are the products of a deterministic, interpretative framework, and as a result too much seems to be taken for granted and subsumed in imperialism. George Hood, an ex-China missionary, remarked that to see the missionary movement as simply one facet of cultural imperialism is a “travesty of history.” Hence there is a need for more balanced assessments of the role of missionaries in China.

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