"Home and Foreign Fields": The Boundaries of Chinese Christian Respectability

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 8:30 AM
Columbia Hall 6 (Washington Hilton)
Phonshia Nie, Northwestern University

This paper examines the relationship between evangelical missionary work to China during the early 20th century and Chinese American communities in the U.S. South, particularly in the Mississippi Delta and in Augusta, Georgia.  The legacy of mission work to China, and home mission work to Chinese Americans in California informed Southern Baptist outreach to Chinese Americans in the South and greatly altered the local racial dynamics among Chinese Americans, African Americans, and white Southerners.  This paper examines the history of evangelical outreach to Chinese Americans in the South, the establishment of Chinese mission schools, and the link between church and educational opportunities that continued into the 1950s.  Church association with the ‘foreign’ mission of China and self identification as respectable Christian Chinese facilitated the development of a Chinese American community in the South and established the terms of Chinese American racial inclusion and exclusion under Jim Crow.  While the majority of studies locate the importance of transnational ties for Chinese Americans during World War II, this paper argues an earlier history of missionary international connections during the Exclusion Era laid foundation for the formation of a Chinese Christian respectability that informed Chinese American racial identity throughout the 20th century.  

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