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Missionary Work in China

An Unexpected Shift Towards Social Reform

 

Exposing bare, bound feet was unheard of in Chinese society, explaining the look on this young woman's face. Hunter, Jane. (1)
 


Alice Browne Frame, Mount Holyoke class of 1900, reads for the girls of Yenching College.. Courtesy of MHC Archives.

 
 
 

Although the pursuit of conversion is usually first to mind when one thinks of missionary work, such was not the case in China. The spread of Christianity surely played a significant role in the general presence of missionaries in China, however this factor began to diminish at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Instead, missionaries in China began focusing attention more towards social reform and the overall welfare of Chinese citizens—specifically women.

This shift in attention was brought about and influenced by numerous social norms that existed in China at the start of missionary work there.  The tradition of foot binding was still taking place, and the Boxer Rebellion loomed on the horizon.  Both of these circumstances had dramatic influence on the interpersonal relationships between missionaries and the people of China.

The letters of two Mount Holyoke missionaries who served in China lend great information to the understanding of these social reforms.  Alice Browne Frame was a member of the Mount Holyoke class of 1900 and served as a missionary for nearly 30 years in China.  Viette Brown Sprague, Mount Holyoke class of 1871, served in Kalgan, China from 1893-1910. Both of these women were affected by the Boxer Rebellion and held strong opposition to the practice of foot binding.

 

 

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This page was created by Rebekah Dutkiewicz '09 in History 283, Spring Semester 2006 - rsdutkie@mtholyoke.edu