The Life of Mary Austin Endicott
Publication Year: 2003
Mary Austin was a mayor’s daughter who expected to live an uneventful life in Canada. But when she said “I do” to Jim Endicott she found that she had “married China.”
Thrust into extraordinary circumstances, but undeterred by the political turmoil around her in China, Mary Austin Endicott determined she would achieve the goals she set for herself. She bore and raised four children, ran a one-room school and became the foster mother to three Chinese boys, despite the raised eyebrows of many of her fellow missionaries.
The family moved back to Canada, but it wasn’t long before Jim, who was becoming a well-known peace activist, returned to wartorn China. Mary, by then a school trustee, continued her fight for teachers’ rights and focussed her energy on increased activity in left-wing politics, all the while separated from Jim and grieving for a marriage she felt to be in jeopardy.
Mary and Jim were finally reunited in 1947 in the police state Shanghai had become. She used all her energy and faith in that time to help Jim regain his equilibrium. For thousands of readers her book Five Stars over China countered the common practice during the Cold War of vilifying the Chinese Revolution. Then her greatest crisis came: Jim was accused of treason.
Shirley Jane Endicott has presented us with a fascinating account of her mother’s life, based on Mary Austin Endicott’s private writings and flavoured with Shirley’s memories. She brings to life the story of an exceptional woman whose life was shaped by profound political and historical circumstances.
Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press
Series: Life Writing
List of Illustrations
I am indebted to the National Archives of Canada for access to my mother's letters. A special thanks to Wilma MacDonald who personally retrieved letters on several occasions, saving me an extra trip to Ottawa. When I felt I was truly "drowning in letters," Mary Bird offered support. She became my midwife, and without her I would never have survived the struggle...
Map of China
Introduction: Who Was My Mother?
In the early 1950s my father's name was a household word in Canada. Jim Endicott was either revered as a peace champion or pilloried as a "Communist stooge." The Endicott Uproar, as I call it, began in the United Church of Canada when he resigned as a missionary to China and returned home. He plunged into a one-man crusade urging Christians to stop military aid...
1. From a Background of Privilege
Although we were only a few yards from shore the yellow waters swirled by ominously. I looked at the gap between the ship and the nearest sampan that had hooked on to the side of the steamer and I wondered if I would make it with my precious bundle in my arms. A fellow missionary went first and stood in the sampan with a reassuring smile, while Jim went to the baggage...
2. Prelude to Adventure
The weekend of January 10, 1925 was proceeding like any other--two university friends for dinner and prospects of Mother's superb Saturday night stewed chicken. On the agenda for me: a new dress to try on at Father's store and then bang head-on into a new life! A revolution could hardly have been more drastic. The unconscious herald of this new era was a tall youth with light...
3. Struggling with Culture Shock
Before she actually arrived in the country, Mary's knowledge of China came mainly from a short course she took in Chinese Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York while doing graduate work at Columbia University. I marveled at the delicacy of the paintings...felt the excitement of movement in the swirl of draperies, drawn, carved or embroidered. The same aliveness was conveyed...
4. Spring in the Golden Valley
The Small Dictator who altered all our plans is holding us to a strict schedule of walking from one to two hours a day. For a good brisk walk we prefer to promenade on the verandah each day but on sunny days promptly at four o'clock when the language teacher departs, we set out for a hike in the hills, which look so beautiful on our horizon. Spring is already in bloom in the valleys where the crescent-shaped ricefields,...
5. Chungchow Diary: Living with Uncertainty
Mary's letters during what she later called "that first ghastly year" were valiant efforts at sounding upbeat. When terrifying or painful experiences were over, she called them "adventures." The move to Chungchow, for example, was announced to family and friends as "the beginning of our real adventures as missionaries." After the passage of years, however, there...
6. Hijacked on the Yangtze
The Endicotts received a telegram from Chungking saying that at last their piano would be coming on a steamer set to sail the next morning. Jim went down to the shore to wait for the steamer. It turned out to be a fruitless week-long vigil, but not without incident. The first morning he learned that the night before, some soldiers had fired on a small boat...
7. Shanghai Exile
China's revolutionary history reached a watershed in 1927. The Nationalist Party led by Chiang Kai-shek had recently formed a coalition with the Communist Party. During the year the Endicotts spent in Shanghai, this coalition was secretly (and brutally) sabotaged by Chiang. There was much tension in the air, but most non-Chinese, living in the seclusion of the foreign...
8. Eight Months of Separation
Once again, Mary was travelling with a young baby, vulnerable to anxiety about real and imagined dangers: The uncertainty of when Jim and I would be reunited and all that might happen before that time took the edge off the joy of my first return home. In the previous year, at the time of evacuation, Nan Dickenson, whose husband had stayed with the skeleton staff in Chengtu, had started for...
9. Back to Chungking: Four Months in Purgatory
Mary was ambivalent about returning to China. She confessed to her father-in-law: "I rather dread some of the restrictions of life in China today, but as long as Jim feels this is his field of opportunity, I shall try to adjust myself to it." Her eight-month absence from the country had, of course, undermined her efforts to learn Chinese; when she returned in the...
10. Golden Valley Scrapbook: 1930-33
Mary would later describe herself in the China years as a "little brown bird who sits at home on a nest." The image of passivity conveyed in that phrase, however, does not accurately reflect her life, even during the early years, as this "scrapbook" of anecdotes reveals. While still in Canada, Mary had hatched a plan for her parents to be with her for the birth of her third child. The Austins came to China as...
11. "When Death Threw the Dice"
Eight years after Mary's first encounter with the wild Yeh Tan whirlpool, she and Jim returned to Canada for a year's furlough. This time the steamer would speed down the raging Yangtze Gorges, making this trip the most perilous of any Mary would experience in China. For two weeks before they left, there had been no steamer coming up the Yangtze River. At low water times not even the smallest ship could...
12. Furlough: An Oasis of Opportunity
The Endicotts arrived home in the middle of the worst and most prolonged economic depression in Canadian history. The salaries of all United Church missionaries had been cut in half, but the Mission Board provided a furnished apartment in Toronto, paid half the cost of medical and dental work and arranged for various "perks" such as free lessons at the Conservatory...
13. A Greater Acceptance of the Universe
As I stood on the deck of the steamer, which had brought us up through the gorges to Chungking, one of the Y.M.C.A. secretaries leaned his elbow on the railing beside me and said, "Tell me just how you feel as we come into Chungking." There was a beautiful valley on the south side of the river where we would spend most of our time....But already I could feel the shadow of loneliness...
14. A Time of Transition
1937. A decade since Mary's year in Shanghai, when she made significant reassessments about her life. Now the ground began to shift again in a variety of ways. Norman--her "first fledgling"--went away to the Mission boarding school in Chengtu. He was almost eleven years old and had gone as far in school as she could take him. She grieved being no longer essential to him...
15. Conquering Herself
The Battle of the Playground totally depleted Mary's already flagging energy. The following winter she described how her recovery had become a major turning point in her emotional and spiritual life. Last spring I came as near--or nearer to a breakdown of some kind as I ever want to be....The complete rest at Mount Omei and the chance to get a perspective on my life put me on me feet again, and there I hope to...
16. Creative Writing
In the fall of 1938 Mary was given an opportunity to help produce a special Chungking issue of the West China Missionary News. She worked with two other women, one of whom suggested she contribute an original poem. Entitled "Vignettes of Chungking," the poem reflected her range of experiences on both sides of the Yangtze--in the city and across the river...
17. Wartime in Chungking
Dear Jane, You will all be feeling as we did yesterday: "It's come at last" when you hear or read that Japanese bombers have reached Chungking. I hope you noticed they bombed the military air-field only. That is seven miles east of us, down the river. There's a range of hills between the airfield and us, so we didn't hear the bombs and knew nothing of it till the afternoon. At 9:30...
18. Wedding Anniversary
When the bombings of May 1939 spread to Chengtu, the Mission decided to evacuate the Canadian School, where Norman boarded, to Mount Omei. Jim accompanied Mary and the children (including the three Chinese boys) up to their Omei bungalow and then returned to his war-relief work with the New Life Movement. John Honnor, the young English boy...
19. Wartime Diary: 1939-41
It was assumed that the mountain paradise of Omei was far enough in the interior to be safe from air raids. John Honnor's father flew a small plane and promised that when he came up that way he would swoop low to signal "Hello." One day an aircraft came flying in and everyone rushed to get sheets to wave at the pilot, who may or may not have tipped his wings...
20. The Little Brown Bird Takes Flight
When Mary returned to Canada in 1941, she did not seem aware of how much she had grown during her fifteen years in China. Her first public speech as a returned missionary, for example, began with these words: "I sometimes tell my friends that my husband is the one who does the noble deeds and has exciting adventures, and I am the little brown bird who sits...
21. Eden Rent Asunder
Jim was supposed to have returned to his mission post in the summer of 1942, but conditions became too dangerous because, without warning, on December 7, 1941, Japanese bombers attacked American naval ships at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii. World War II extended to the Pacific. He used his lengthy furlough to generate support for the War of Resistance in China...
22. Deciding to Work with Communists
Although Mary-as-wife felt trapped in a long tunnel that winter of 1945, Mary-the-rebel was expanding her horizons. When her son Norman joined the Communist, or Labour Progressive Party in 1943, she was disturbed. But she read the Party pamphlets he sent her with care and interest. Wanting to be even more informed, she attended LPP...
23. Two Solitudes
The "War in the Pacific" ended shortly after the Americans dropped two atomic bombs--on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, August 6 and 9, 1945. Jim cabled Mary mid-August: he would return home February 1946. Soon, however, he was having second thoughts about leaving China. In September 1945, Mary and a male colleague on the Board of Education agreed,...
24. Heaven and Hell in Shanghai, 1947
We had more of heaven and more of hell in the first six weeks after my return than we had ever expected to experience; the heaven came from a deeper realization of the meaning of our love because of the suffering in our separation, and the hell from the terrible periods of despair into which Jim would be plunged every few days, sometimes lasting for a few hours, sometimes most of the night. We suppose...
25. Life-in the Cold War-with Jim
By April 1947, Mary and Jim had found "safe ground." The harrowing winter in Shanghai--Electra complex and all--became a crucible for a strong partnership that would weather over a decade of severe political persecution back in Canada. In June they sailed for Canada with no plans. The entire family, including Norman's warbride Kathleen and baby...
26. The Winter Years
As premature aging and infirmity began overtaking Mary, her life, nevertheless, exemplified the words of Sean O'Casey: "Even the winter has her many beauties, even for the old who shiver."... One of these came unexpectedly from Jim in early 1960. He had gone to Rome to attend a meet- ing of the World Peace Council. For some reason he arrived a day early and...
By February 1967, my mother suffered severe short-term memory loss, cognitive impairment and a constant sensation of being choked. She asked to be admitted to hospital so she could have round-the-clock care. I arranged for her to go to the psychiatric ward of the Women's College Hospital for observation. The nurses believed she had suffered a mild...
Appendix A: Three Poems
Appendix B: Historical Background