December 1, 2017 – Friday was the last day of our tour, Yangtze Journey: In the Footsteps of Katharine Hockin. Lao Zhang met us after breakfast and accompanied us on the two-hour drive to Xinchang, the ancient “New Town”, which houses a building with a permanent display of historical photographs of the work of the Canadian West China Mission, “Events – Empathy – Captured Moments: A Love for China Spanning the Ocean”. It gave a helpful overview and summary of the theme of our visit, rich with detail and vision.
The front entrance showed on either side photographs of the first Canadian Methodist Missionaries to arrive in West China in 1892, and the last to leave in 1952, when “almost 100 missionaries came to Sichuan from Canada, giving of their prime, their knowledge and skill, and left their collective memories here.”
We asked ourselves what would have brought foreign missionaries (referred to by the Chinese as “volunteers”) to this obscure and hard to reach place? Perhaps the density of the population in Sichuan, its isolation from the rest of China, the extreme need of the people. Perhaps the heroic initiative of the China Inland Mission, the sense of new frontiers to conquer.
Lily Hockin once famously said to Katharine, “I went to China with a Bible under my arm and a love of the Chinese people, “ to which Katharine replied, “You were the best you could have been.” “I didn’t know about the Unequal Treaties,” Lily added. “You do, so you have to be different.” (She was referring to the humiliation experienced by the Chinese people when European powers imposed land grabs and privileges following the Opium Wars, 1839-1860).
The exhibit featured the individual stories of those who came, their work in founding schools and hospitals, their dedication to the well-being of the people of West China, albeit through the lens of Western values. We learned more about Dr. Omar Kilborn, who founded the Chinese Red Cross Society during the 1911 Revolution, the western hospital in Chengdu, the West China Union University and its faculty of medicine; Dr. Retta Kilborn, who gave up her status as an independent missionary of the Women’s Missionary Society when she married, but continued to work with a reduced salary, and started the Anti-Footbinding Society; Dr. Ashley Woodward Lindsay and Dr. John E. Thompson who co-founded the Dentistry College of WCUU and began modern dentistry in China.
We learned of those “volunteers” from Canada who were considered special friends of China during the Anti-Japanese War and the struggle for Liberation: Jim G. Endicott, Ambassador of World Peace, Earl and Katharine Willmott, who created a safe space for students opposing the tactics of Chiang Kai-Shek, Homer Brown who served as Dean of Education at WCUU, and his daughter Isabel who married David Crook, became a supporter of the Chinese Communist Party, and made “huge contributions to China’s foreign language education.”
The blurb about Katharine Hockin identified her “as one of seven sympathetic observers of the Chinese revolution”. Lao Zhang suggested the others were Jim G. Endicott and Mary Endicott, Earl and Catherine Willmott, Bill Small, and Chester Ronning.
There seems a chapter yet to be written. The stories and photographs of these courageous women and men were fascinating and deeply inspiring, but there were very few Chinese faces to be found, except as patients and recipients of service. With a few notable exceptions, it was hard to get a sense of the kind of relationships the missionaries shared with the Chinese people, whether friendly or conflictual, informal or professional. Mention is made of a Chinese dental student that Dr. John Thompson mentored, and of the historic day in 1924 when eight Chinese women enrolled as regular students at the WCUU, making it the first co-ed school in West China. We know that Lily and Katharine Hockin had close and egalitarian friendships with their students and mentees, but it is hard to tell whether this was the norm.
The caption to this picture reads: “Ms. K.B. Hockin was the daughter of Canadian missionaries in West China… Her mother continued to work in Leshan as a WMS missionary. A farewell picture of K.B. Hockin and her mother.” We noted that Lily Hockin was not mentioned by name!
What Katharine Hockin contributed, I think, to the people of China and the church in Canada, was to give voice to the call for reciprocity, for the transformation of our shared humanity that comes about from mutual listening and learning:
For surely one must listen, and listen, and listen with loving intent to understand, to see our own failures, rather than to engage in the polemics of justification of self and condemnation of others. (Servants of God in People’s China, p. 8)
Continue reading “Day 12 – Missionaries across the Vast Oceans”