Framing Chaos: Contingency, Community, and American Missionary Visual Practices in Wartime China

Friday, January 5, 2018: 11:30 AM
Columbia 10 (Washington Hilton)
Joseph W Ho, University of Michigan
This paper focuses on the visual practices of American Protestant missionaries in China during the Second Sino-Japanese War, examining the transnational visual documentation of regional wartime experiences. I argue that American missionary actors – as religious and political intermediaries already deeply invested in vernacular visual production – were uniquely positioned to produce photographs and film “on the ground” during the war. They visualized the ways in which local Chinese communities were affected by the invasion of 1937–early 1938 as well as forms of resistance, collaboration, and survival during the longer wartime period. I approach this history in three registers, investigating missionary wartime imaging as variously embodying globally-circulated documentation of military atrocities and humanitarian responses (under the rubric of “Christian internationalism”), alignments between missionary visual expertise and Chinese propaganda production, and fragmentary vernacular imaging in Japanese-occupied areas. I will present three hitherto unexplored case studies to frame these approaches, looking at graphic 16mm films produced by an Episcopal priest during the Nanjing Massacre; a propaganda filmstrip program developed by a Presbyterian public health specialist who retreated with the Nationalist government to West China; and family photographs and films shot by missionary medical personnel living - and later imprisoned - in occupied North China. In doing so, I seek to address the following questions: what does wartime national experience look like when visualized by locally-embedded non-state actors? And how do transnational visual practices (and the resulting visual materials) bridge broader histories of the Second Sino-Japanese War and less-visible microhistories of chaos and contingency?
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