Update 3: the reasons for American Protestant Missionaries’ to stay in China: a seedbed for later fears and suspicions?

In the past days I have read American Protestant missionaries’ letters and reports, mostly from mid 1947 to late 1948, about their decisions to leave or stay in China and their comments on Communism in China. It is necessary to look at why missionaries decided to stay when the American Embassy had constantly warned since mid-1947 against the potential difficulties and risks when Communists approached. Unquestionably the willingness to continue the mission and to keep strong in front of a “testing” counted, while other reasons also contributed to their decisions, and these reasons for them to stay was the seedbed for later complexity in their experiences with Chinese Communists. 

Missionaries held a somewhat contrast mentality when they decided to stay in China. I have found something contrast to existing works which depicted missionaries as wishful thinkers: based on my reading of missionary reports and circular materials, many missionaries were indeed aware of the Chinese Communists” ideology, practices and aims. What’s most surprising was that instead of complete opposition as many may imagine, a fairly large number of missionaries thought Communism was an alternative to Kuomintang, and some even thought Communism may be an acceptable, though not desirable, spiritual alternative to Confucianism, Christianity or Anglo-Saxon Liberal-Democracy. They hoped some force would bring a new spiritual strength to China and bind the “a heap of sand” together.

However, they were not prepared that they had to live under an “orthodox” Communism ruling. They realized that “Communism is changing China,” but they hoped, and believed, that the political complexity, the vast territory, and Chinese qualities of practicalness and moderation would also leave enough opportunities for China to “change Communism,” and finally work out some synthesis.(99, China, Twilight or Dawn? Frank W. Price, 1948) This idea, nevertheless, drove them to suspicions when they were under Communism ruling and observed only “Communism was changing China” in a relentless way. Some scholars suggest that missionaries believe that Chinese Communists were more nationalism rather than communism, and thus they were unprepared and fearful when Chinese Communists initiated the communism scheme. This statement is somewhat true, but not entirely accurate. The real fear was not about whether Chinese Communists were communists or nationalists. The real tension here was more like “China, with its long tradition of humanity and moderation, cannot change Communism” which greatly contributed to the fears and suspicions of missionaries in China, and probably to the anti-Communism fevers among Americans.

The sense of unpreparedness of living under an “orthodox” Communism ruling led to further fears and suspicions when missionaries were seeking accommodations with Communists, reflecting the tensions between Communism and Anglo-Saxon Liberal-Democracy. I have read materials about this, but the materials are a mixture of rumors and truths, emotions and facts, and have conflicting reports. Thus, I may need more time to make some summaries. Nevertheless, I found several factor which greatly contributed to all the complexity: missionaries and Chinese Communists were using the same vocabulary, such as “democracy”, “freedom”, and “imperialism”, under two different thought patterns. They had something very different in mind when using the same word, contributing to misunderstanding and suspicions of falsehood. Also, the politicalized daily life under Communism ruling made missionaries hard to fully trust or to communicate with any individual whose attitudes, behaviors and languages may be motivated by politics from above. 

I have also found materials about missionaries’ communications between two worlds, their suggestions to the U.S. Government about foreign policy to China, and their comments on American public opinions. I would include them in my next update about their experiences in Communist China.