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The Paradox of Gender among West China Missionary Collectors, 1920-1950
Social Sciences and Missions (2012)
  • Cory A. Willmott, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

During the turbulent years between the Chinese nationalist revolution of 1911 and the communist victory of 1949, a group of missionaries lived and worked in West China whose social gospel theologies led to unusual identification with Chinese. Among the regular social actors in their lives were itinerant “curio men” who, amidst the chaos of feuding warlords, gathered up the heirlooms of the deposed Manchurian aristocracy and offered these wares for sale on the quiet and orderly verandahs of the mansions inside the missionary compounds of West China Union University. Although missionary men and women often collected the same types of Chinese antiquities, these became variously specimens, fine arts, commodities and household effects because their collecting practices were framed within different cultural and gendered domains of value. The scientific and connoisseurial male-gendered collecting paradigms often bolstered the anti-imperialist Chinese nationalist modernities of the Republican state. They were therefore paradoxically at odds with female-gendered collecting paradigms that drew in part upon feminist discourses of capitalist consumerism. Coupled with residual ideals of domesticity and philanthropy, these fluid female discourses resonated with emergent Chinese New Woman modernities and inspired missionary women in creative bicultural identity projects.

  • Sichuan,
  • collecting,
  • collectors,
  • gender,
  • missionaries,
  • West China Union University,
  • Carl Schuster,
  • David Graham,
  • Daniel Dye,
  • Soong Mei-ling,
  • Chengdu
Publication Date
Spring 2012
Citation Information
Cory A. Willmott. "The Paradox of Gender among West China Missionary Collectors, 1920-1950" Social Sciences and Missions Vol. 25 Iss. 1 (2012)
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