Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Earthen Vessels and Transcendent Power. American Presbyterians in China, 1837-1952

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Earthen Vessels and Transcendent Power. American Presbyterians in China, 1837-1952

Article excerpt

Earthen Vessels and Transcendent Power:American Presbyterians in China, 1837-1952. By G. Thompson Brown. [American Society of Missiology Series, No. 25.] (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books. 1997. Pp. xiii, 428. $40.00.)

Attempting to write a history of the entire American Presbyterians mission venture in China is a daunting task, particularly at a time when most China scholars are focusing on local history and those working on China missions are concentrating on single missions or stations. The strength of Brown's work is that it provides an overview of the Presbyterian missions and lists all of them, along with lists of all their hospitals, schools, and personnel, in a published work for the first time. However, the book also has many shortcomings which detract considerably from its value. Unfortunately, the author was unable to decide whether he wanted to write a history of China, a history of the Presbyterian missions in China, or a memoir of his childhood experiences at a mission in China. The result is that there is far too much on the history of China, which is better covered in works by China historians-for example, much of the first chapter could have been condensed into a paragraph or two and Brown's account of the Boxers would have benefited from a careful reading of Joseph Esherick's award-winning Origins of the Boxer Uprising. The amount Brown writes on each station is uneven-only two sentences on the Hengyang station (p. 170) but much more on other locales. The personal reminiscences of China appear late in the book and seem curiously out of place, as though the reader somehow slipped into another work. There is virtually no analysis of any of the events described, and sometimes crucial history has been omitted. …

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