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  • China's Christian Colleges: Cross-Cultural Connections, 1900-1950
  • Franklin J. Woo (bio)
Daniel H. Bays and Ellen Widmer, editors. China's Christian Colleges: Cross-Cultural Connections, 1900-1950. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009. xxii, 405 pp. Paperback $24.95, ISBN 978-0-8047-5949-6.

Daniel Bays and Ellen Widmer dedicate their volume to Jessie G. Lutz, one of the first American scholars to write critically and systematically about Christian colleges in China (China and the Christian Colleges, 1850-1950 [Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1971]). Half a decade after Lutz's book, Philip West's extensive case study of Yenching University was published (Yenching University and Sino-Western Relations, 1916-1952 [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976]). West's book gave us a paradigm for intercultural interaction at institutions of higher learning in China. Yenching University was cooperatively established by Protestant Christian mission agencies in the United States and Canada.

At the time of China's Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and subsequently, most Western scholars who were not specialists in religion, with their tendency to shy away from nonquantifiable subjects, too easily accepted the People's Republic of China's accusations that Christian colleges were institutions of Western (largely North American but also British) cultural imperialism. They dismissed these schools and those involved in them. Following the economic reforms of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in the late 1970s, however, scholars in China (e.g., Zhang Kaiyuan and Jiafeng Liu) and Hong Kong (e.g., Ng Tze Ming) began looking into the Christian colleges for clues to their contribution to China's modernization. Their revisiting of these Christian institutions was belatedly joined by Western scholars in early 2000, as represented by the articles in this volume.

John King Fairbank had long insisted that scholars of China should look into the Christian missionary enterprise, not only for religious understanding but also for insights into intercultural interactions and connections. China's Christian Colleges has finally considered this issue. In an address to a meeting of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in New York City, May 1973, Fairbank claimed that the critical study of the Christian missionary enterprise in China had been "so underdeveloped" that the critical study of the Christian missionary enterprise in China had been "so underdeveloped that we had best throw academic caution to the winds and stake out boldly to periodize it as a necessary first step in discussion" that is acceptable to both Chinese and Western scholars. It was Fairbank's conviction that the American missionary contribution to modern Chinese life in the century from 1830s to 1940s was a fascinating story of cultural-social contact. The influence was plainly "two-way." The missionaries were intermediaries between two peoples, contributing both to Chinese life and to American life, in various direct and indirect ways.1 [End Page 66]

In part 1, "The Call," of China's Christian Colleges, Terrence E. Lautz gives a succinct overview of the missionary motivation at work in college and university youth in the West who were going to China and elsewhere in the world under the dynamic Student Volunteer Movement (SVM). Lautz notes that the aggressive recruiting of the SVM was a manifestation of the progressive era (1890-1914) in America with its growing awareness of place and influence in the world. Organized in 1886, the SVM had a strong confidence in "the evangelization of the world in this generation" (p. 4). Until its decline after World War I, the movement sent tens of thousands of young volunteers into the world. According to the editors, the SVM "never recovered its dynamism after the war, and had declined to a shadow of its former vitality by the mid-1920s" (p. 4). In December 1955, I attended the seventeenth and last SVM Quadrennial Conference in Athens, Ohio, on the theme of "revolution and reconciliation." The movement was incorporated under the umbrella organization the National Student Christian Federation (NSCF) as the latter's Commission on World Mission. Both entities, however, were defunct by 1969.2

Nevertheless, the Christian missionary impulse in America never seemed to die. Old missionary structures such as the SVM may have gone...