Abstract: The American Missionaries’ role in US perception and foreign policy to China during Chinese Civil War, 1945-1949

  • Research Topic:

This summer, I will explore a set of related questions centering on the American missionaries’ role in US perception of and foreign policy to China during the Chinese Civil War from 1945 to 1949, also known as the Chinese Communist Revolution. Below are the specific research questions:

  1. How American missionaries perceived and understood the social unsettlement and political confrontations in China?
  2. How they described the Chinese condition to the US? Why the described China in their ways?
  3.  To what extent they influenced US perception of and/or foreign policy to China? Why they had this level of influence?
  • Background information and the reasons for me to do the research 

In the 19th and first half of 20th century, American missionaries in China were always on the forefront of the China-US communication and relationship. During the Chinese Civil War from 1945 to 1949, thousands of missionaries insisted on staying in China despite the great social upheavals and ideological confrontations. The missionaries kept observing contemporary Chinese social and political situations on a daily basis. At the same time, they regularly provided information of China to the United States by writing letters to their family and friends in the United States and sending reports to church committees, which would publish periodicals based on their reports.[1]  This constant circulation of information was of great potential importance as it potentially contributed to the US image of China which, as John Hamre once wrote, is always central to US understanding, attitude and foreign policy to China. [2]  The missionaries potentially played an important role in this process during the Chinese Civil War, as they were the few Americans who could provide first-hand accounts of China during this period of great confusion, uncertainty and ideological confrontations. Their potential significance, however, has not been fully appreciated. I wish this study could expand on previous studies and to further reveal the complexity of China-US communication and relationship.

  • Methodology 

I will take a historical approach by basing my research on reading, analyzing and synthesizing primary and secondary sources. My primary sources will include, but not limited to, missionary papers (mainly their diaries and letters), microfilm, church reports and church newspapers, mainstream newspapers and archives of the Department of State. My secondary sources will include studies about the missionaries’ roles and experiences in China and in the US, US perception of China and US foreign policy to China.


[1] Based on the Finding Aids of the Missionary Research Library Archive at Columbia University at New York Cities. This archive collected a large number of missionary correspondences, reports and church journals.


[2] John Hamre is the CEO of the center for Strategic and International Study, and this argument is from his article “image revisited.”