Managing God's Higher Learning: U.S.-China Cultural Encounter and Canton Christian College (Lingnan University), 1888-1952

By Clarke, Jeremy | The China Journal, January 2008 | Go to article overview

Managing God's Higher Learning: U.S.-China Cultural Encounter and Canton Christian College (Lingnan University), 1888-1952


Clarke, Jeremy, The China Journal


Managing God's Higher Learning: U.S.-China Cultural Encounter and Canton Christian College (Lingnan University), 1888-1952, by Dong Wang. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2007. xiv + 210 pp. US$85.00 (hardcover), US$34.95 (paperback).

Before 1952 there were eighteen Christian colleges and universities in China, only three of which were run by the Catholic Church. These then ceased to exist as separate institutions and were forced to amalgamate with other universities and colleges, or simply had their names and their administrative structures changed. In the case of Lingnan University, over sixty years of educational endeavor was brought to a close when it merged with Sun Yat-sen (Zhongshan) University in Guangzhou. In December 1987, however, the Chinese Ministry of Education approved the establishment of Lingnan College as an identifiably separate part of Zhongshan University, thereby revivifying the dreams of the Chinese and Western educators who had established Lingnan a century earlier.

The earliest historical studies about these types of institutions were marked by two different types of tone, that of hagiography or of hostility. The educators, be they Christian missionaries, priests, sisters or their lay colleagues (Chinese and otherwise), were either enlightened heroes or imperialist villains. Wang Dong cites the forthcoming work of Daniel H. Bays and Ellen Widmer (China's Christian Colleges: Transpacific Connections, 1900-1950) which argues that historical studies on Christian educational institutions in China can be divided into three different kinds.

The first two kinds of works, from the earliest publications in the years after the closure of these institutions to the end of the 1970s, were either celebratory valedictions or testaments to confrontation and failure (especially as regards the conversion of China to Christianity). A new type of scholarship about these universities and colleges has only come into being in recent times, according to Bays and Widmer. More often than not, these newer works have been produced by scholars affiliated with the Center for Historical Research on the History of the China Christian Colleges (Zhongguo jiaohuishi daxue yanjiu zhongxin) at the Central China Normal University (Huazhong shifan daxue) in Wuhan and the Centre for the Study of Religion and Chinese Society of Chung Chi College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Wang Dong's volume about Lingnan is a welcome and worthy addition to this more recent and less partisan body of scholarship.

Her work is based on extensive research in libraries and archives on both sides of the Pacific Ocean, utilizing Chinese and English language sources, and includes interviews with graduates from the original Lingnan. The monograph is organized thematically. First, Wang Dong examines Lingnan's geographical setting and the influence that its south China location had on its development. Next, she examines the "cultural migration" that took place at Lingnan; that is, the way in which this college functioned as both a foreign and a local institution.

The financial management and governance of the university, an often understudied area, is discussed in Chapter 3. …

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