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The Social Impact of Missionary Higher Education
Robert D. Woodberry
Robert D. Woodberry. 2007. “The Social Impact of Missionary Higher Education.” pp. 99-120 in Christian
Responses to Asian Challenges: A Glocalization View on Christian Higher Education in East Asia. Philip
Yuen Sang Leung and Peter Tze Ming Ng (eds.). Hong Kong: Centre for the Study of Religion and
Chinese Society, Chung Chi College, Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Christian missionaries were crucial to the development of formal education throughout
much of the world, including East Asia. They generally provided the first Western formal
education, often initially against local resistance. They demonstrated the economic value
of this education – which spurred later demand. They trained many of the teachers who
staffed non-missionary schools. They pioneered education for women and poor people.
They were the major early teachers of European languages, Western science, and
Western medicine. These innovations had a number of important social consequences
around the world, including East Asia (Woodberry 2004; 2006; Woodberry and Shah
2004; Etherington 2005).
For Protestants, mass education was crucial because they wanted people to read
the Bible in their own languages. Thus, wherever Protestant missionaries went they
almost immediately imported printing technology, created fonts, and began printing
Bibles, tracts, newspapers, and other texts for ordinary people. They also rapidly
developed mass literacy programs to teach ordinary people to read. This was true even of
Protestant missionaries with little formal education themselves. In areas where Catholic
missionaries competed with Protestants, they too invested heavily in education and
printing, often developing the best elementary and secondary schools (ibid.).
In the literate cultures of Asia and the Near East, missionaries also invested in
colleges and medical schools. Of course, missionaries founded such institutions in areas
where inhabitants were not literate prior to missionary contact, but not nearly to the same
extent as in Asia. In Africa and the Pacific missionaries could train the children of the
elite by providing elementary schools. However, the dominant cultures of Asia already
had extensive literary traditions and educational systems for elite men. Many Asians
considered their own systems superior to Western ones. Thus, to get Asian elites to
expose themselves to Christian teaching, missionaries had to provide a higher level of
service, such as university education (see for example, Covell 1978).
Protestant missionaries also generally believed that Western science and legal
traditions had developed from Christianity, particularly in its Protestant form, and that
science would undermine “superstition”. Thus, many missionaries felt that teaching
Western science, medicine, law, etc., was a helpful preparation for conversion (Covell
1978; Bohr 2000; Bennett 1983; Drummond 1971; Khalaf 2002).
The chapter is part of a broader project on the social impact of Christian missions “The Project on
Religion and Economic Change” (PREC)
www.prec-online.org. For comments or questions, contact
Robert Woodberry at
email@example.com. This work was funded by the Spiritual Capital
Research Program, sponsored by the Metanexus Institute on Religion and Science, with the generous
support of the John Templeton Foundation.
Mission schools were also distinct in emphasizing critical thinking rather than rote memorizing of texts
(e.g., Khalaf 2002; Sedra 2002; Zirinsky 2002)
Missionary education spurred others to invest as well. As mission school
graduates gained lucrative jobs, others clamored for Western education (Dunch 2001;
Khalaf 2002: 21; Haddad 2002). However, many parents did not want their children to be
exposed to the proselytism in missionary schools, so they pressured their governments
and their own religious leaders to establish comparable schools (Khalaf 2002: 31-2;
Goffman 2002: 98; Kieser 2002: 123; Sedra 2002; Grayson 2002). They also pressured
governments to restrict the religious content of mission schools or shut them down
altogether (e.g., Zirinsky 2002). For example, both Chinese and Japanese nationalist
governments promulgated laws that banned required chapel services and banned religious
content in mandatory courses, even at mission schools (Dunch 2001; Drummond 1971;
Generally missionaries were not hostile to the expansion of government
educational systems; in fact, they often encouraged it. The British East India Company
and the British colonial government expanded their investment in education through
direct missionary pressure (Woodberry 2004; Sundkler and Steed 2000; Ingleby 2000). In
China, Thailand, and elsewhere missionaries actively encouraged local governments to
expand formal educational systems and even to emulate the Japanese educational system
(Lord 1969; Bennett 1983; Bohr 2000; Covell 1978).
However, the priority of Protestant missionary education is clear in country after
country. In India, Persia, the Ottoman Empire, Japan, China, and Korea Protestants
started schools earlier than and had a larger number of schools and students than
Catholics and other religious groups (e.g., Dunch 2001: 3; Drummond 1971: 313;
Grayson 2002: 172-3; Tejirian and Simon 2002). With rare exceptions, such as a military
school in Ottoman Turkey, government schools also began after Protestant schools had
been founded and generally educated fewer students for some time (Korea: Grayson 2001:
159-60; Choi 1997; Japan: Drummond 1971; China: Dunch 2001; Bennett 1983; Covell
1978; India: Ingleby 2000; Sri Lanka: Gombrich and Obeyesekere 1988: 208; Middle
East: Tejirian and Simon 2002;)
For example, in Korea Protestant missionaries founded a school in 1885, which
became a medical college in 1900 and a full university in 1915 (Yonsei). Other Protestant
universities began in 1905 (Sungsil), 1910 (Ehwa) and 1915 (Yonhui). However, the
government did not start a university until 1924 (The Imperial University, now Seoul
National University). Catholics and Buddhists did not found universities until well after
this (Grayson 2002). Similarly, in China the government did not finance higher education
until 1898 (this school later developed into Peking University), well after Protestants had
developed comparable schools, such as the Anglo-Chinese College in 1881.
As more groups invested in education, government schools and religious schools
began competing for the best students, and this increased the quality of education.
However, missionary schools enabled the expansion of other educational systems –
particularly in foreign languages, science, and medicine. Even when governments wanted
to expand formal education in Western subjects (as did Japan), they could not get a
sufficient number of teachers. Few local people were trained in foreign languages or
Western science. Sending students to the West for training was expensive and rarely
In addition, after independence governments throughout Africa and Asia nationalized mission schools and
integrated them into the state educational system.
Thus, governments and others initially staffed their educational institutions with a
disproportionately large number of graduates from missionary schools. Moreover, many
of the initial professors and presidents at government colleges were missionaries (Khalaf
2002: 22; Tejirian and Simon 2002; Drummond 1971; Covell 1978). For example, the
Chinese government formed the T’ung Wen Kuan (Government Foreign Language
Academy), the forerunner of Peking University.
Hiring large numbers of Western scholars without mission connections to staff
local schools also proved impractical.
Many of its faculty members were
missionaries or missionary-trained, as was the president, W.A.P. Martin (Covell 1978: 1,
170-80, 186). Similarly, in Japan missionaries like Guido Verbeck were involved in the
government’s early schools and he was the first president of what became Tokyo
University (Drummond 1971: 154; Iglehart 1959: 49; Lewis 1903: 31).
The impact of this early missionary education was profound. In data from 1870 to
1940, both the number of Protestant missionaries per capita and estimates of the percent
of the population evangelized are powerful predictors of school enrollment rates. In
statistical analysis, they remove the impact of most other factors associated with
educational enrollment during this period (Woodberry 2004; Gallego and Woodberry
It was not that
these governments liked missionaries; there were simply few local alternatives (e.g.,
Covell 1978: 176). Missionaries and their associates also wrote or translated many of the
initial textbooks and journal articles on science, foreign languages, international law and
political economy (Haddad 2002; Covell 1978; Dunch 2001; Drummond 1971; Ross
1999: 48). Such texts were often used or copied at government and other schools and
allowed others to teach these subjects more effectively (e.g., Sedra 2002: 226; Covell
Moreover, this early education has long-term consequences. Just as individuals
who start saving for retirement in their 20s tend to have exponentially more money at
retirement than those who start saving in their 40s (even if the latter put aside more
money each month), so societies that had earlier missionary education tend to have higher
current educational enrollments. If we analyze present day enrollments, the length of
Protestant missionary activity still strongly predicts them even after we control for
multiple intervening and historic factors – such as current GDP, climate, colonial
experience, and so on. The number of students per capita in missionary schools during
the 1920s also predicts current educational enrollment rates (ibid.).
This association between Christian missions and education is confirmed in sub-
national data wherever I have looked. In India, for example, provinces with more
Christians and more historic missionary activity per capita currently have higher literacy
rates. In Nigeria and Kenya this pattern holds as well (Woodberry 2004). In regions of
Africa with similar climactic and colonial heritages, the number of missionaries per
capita is also associated with current enrollment rates (Gallego and Woodberry 2006).
In the 1920s China sent students to Japan for education. Although the Japanese government deserves
much of the credit for the rapid expansion of education there, it would have had a much harder time doing
it without assistance from missionaries.
What is now Peking University integrated the T’ung Wen Kuan (which became the Imperial University)
and YenChing University, a private university founded by missionaries.
What became Tokyo University was formed by joining a medical schools with the school Verbeck helped
Even in Japan the prevalence of private educational resources is strongly correlated with
the historic prevalence of Christian missionaries (James 1989c).
This missionary education spurred a number of social consequences. First,
missionary education fostered social mobility. Traditional educational systems in East
Asia strongly favored existing elites. Although in principle anyone could take part in the
Confucian exam system, generally only elites could afford the books and private tutors
necessary to do well on these exams. However, missionaries wanted mass literacy and
actively subsidized the education of poor students. Many of these students later got jobs
as teachers, pastors, employees of foreign companies, or civil servants and their children
often attained higher social status (Drummond 1971; Sedra 2002; Dunch 2001).
Second, missionary education opened new opportunities for women. The
traditional education systems in Asia focused primarily on men. Educating women was
considered to have little economic benefit and was sometimes even considered morally
dangerous. However, for Protestants educating women was important so that they could
read the Bible. Thus, Protestant missionaries initiated formal education for women
throughout the non-Western world (Woodberry 2004; Etherington 2005; Japan:
Drummond 1982; China: Dunch 2001; Lutz 2002; Korea: Grayson 2002; Choi 1997;
Middle East: Khalaf 2002: 19-20; Goffman 2002; India: Ingleby 2000; Sri Lanka:
Gombrich and Obeyesekere 1988). Initially missionary education of women created
substantial local resistance, and well into the twentieth century missionary schools had a
higher proportion of women then government schools did (e.g., Goffman 2002; Lutz
2002; Etherington 2005). By 1923 about a third of the students in mission schools were
women, and in some types of schools they outnumbered men – for example, industrial
schools and nurses training schools. In East Asia, women also outnumbered men in
teacher training schools or normal colleges, although men still had far higher
representation at mission universities (Beach and Fahs 1925).
Mission institutions also provided opportunities for women to work outside the
home. Although women were seldom ordained as ministers, there were a large number of
“Bible women” who worked with missions by teaching other women. By 1923 there were
1227 such women in Japan, 755 in Korea, and 6846 in China, about a quarter of all
indigenous church staff. Large numbers of women graduates were also hired as teachers,
nurses, and doctors. About a sixth of all local doctors in missionary hospitals were
women, as were more than half of the trained medical assistants (Beach and Fahs 1925).
Third, mission education was also crucial to the proliferation of Western medicine
throughout the world, including East Asia. Missionaries generally brought in the first
Western doctors who treated local people, created the first hospitals, and pioneered
Western medical education (Etherington 2005; China: Dunch 2001; Grundmann 2005;
Korea: Grayson 2002: 157; Japan: Drummond 1972; Middle East Tejirian and Simon
2002: vii; Doumato 2002).
Missionaries also improved health standards by teaching hygiene and public
health, educating women about child birth, nutrition, and infant health, and introducing
new crops and livestock, thereby improving diets (Khalaf 2002; Doumato 2002; Kark
2002: 203; Dunch 2001; Drummond 1972; Grundmann 2005). For example, in China
missionaries introduced apples and pears to Shantung. They also introduced dairy cattle
and brought breading stock for goats and chickens back from missionary conventions to
increase the size and productively of local farm animals. Missionary universities also
developed agricultural programs that tested seeds and growing techniques and that
developed and distributed agricultural technology.
This missionary education seems to have had long-term consequences for
people’s health. In current data for non-Western countries, the historic prevalence of
Protestant missionaries is associated with lower infant mortality. This result is repeated in
the states of India; those with more Christians and missionaries per capita in the early
twentieth century currently have lower infant mortality rates. The lowest rates are in
places like Nagaland, Mizoram, Kerala, and Goa – places that have little in common
other than large numbers of Christians and, historically, of missionaries (Woodberry
2005). Resent unpublished work by Juan Carlos Esparza and Charles H. Wood suggest a
similar pattern in Brazil and Mexico; infant mortality is lower among Protestants and in
areas with more religious diversity.
Missionaries also fostered higher education by spurring mass printing. In most
societies books were mainly something for the elite, including many societies with access
to printing technology. However, for Protestants, books were something for everyone –
particularly Bibles, tracts, and devotional literature. Thus, wherever Protestant
missionaries went, they quickly imported printing technology, created written forms of
languages when none existed, crafted fonts, and began literacy campaigns and printing on
a broad scale. Their religious polemics spurred other groups to react and invest in mass
printing as well. Prior to the advent of Protestant missions, printing presses had been
invented in or introduced to most Asian societies. These presses printed some books, but
were often abandoned for decades or centuries. They did not lead to a sustained
expansion in the availability of reading material.
For example, the Chinese invented printing, and Catholic missionaries exposed
them to Western printed books from the 1500s onward. There was even a press in Macao.
But it was Protestant missionaries and their associates who pioneered mass printing and
journalism (e.g., Dunch 2001: 87; Bennett 1983; Landes 2006). Koreans invented
movable steal type, but it fell out of use. Protestant missionaries reintroduced it in the late
nineteenth century and sparked a major increase in the availability of texts. Missionaries
also reinvigorated the Korean phonetic alphabet (hangul) which had been neglected for
hundreds of years because of the status associated with Chinese characters. Missionaries
preferred hangul because it allowed ordinary people to read (Grayson 2002: 157; Choi
1997: 233). In Thailand, missionaries pioneered printing and started the first newspaper
(Lord 1969: 97; Swanson 1988). In fact, printing was so associated with Christianity that
many monks refused to read printed books because they believed they must contain
Christian teachings (Jory 2000). The Japanese had long been familiar with Chinese
printing technology, Jesuits imported a European press in the seventeenth century, and
Dutch traders in Nagasaki supplied the Japanese elite with copies of European printed
books. But not of this spurred a print revolution until the middle of the nineteenth century.
Similarly, Jews first imported a printing press to the Ottoman Empire in 1493, and
thereafter Jews and Christians used presses in various parts of the Muslim world, but
Muslims did not. For a short period in the eighteenth century a Hungarian convert from
Unitarianism operated a press for Muslims in Turkish, but it only printed 17 books and
then was abandoned for decades. This press spurred no imitators (Lewis 2002). Although
the Ottoman government printed some official publications in the late eighteenth and
early nineteenth centuries, it was again Protestant missionaries who spurred mass printing
early in the nineteenth century (e.g. Haddad 2002; Sedra 2002).
The first newspapers in
the Muslim world were started and run by graduates of missionary schools and people
who had worked at missionary presses, and the fonts missionaries created remained the
standard for decades (Hourani 1983; Khalaf 2002: 36-7; Sharkey 1999: 532)
In India, Catholics imported a printing press to Goa in 1556. Jesuits established
several other presses in southern India, but they fell into disuse in the seventeenth century
(Mattausch 1996: 59). Even after this, Catholic missionaries continued to import printed
books to the Mogul court and the courts of various other Indian empires (both Hindu and
Muslim), but neither these presses nor these books spurred Indian imitation. English,
Dutch, and French trading companies imported, sold, and used printed books in India for
close to 200 years prior to the arrival of Protestant missionaries (ibid.), but this did not
spur imitation either. In the 1780s the British East India Company imported printing
presses and began to print newspapers in English and administrative documents in
English, Persian, Bengali, and some other Indian languages, but this did not spur a single
example of printing by Indians either in British territory or in the many neighboring
During this entire period many Indian trading cities had thriving business
communities with high literacy rates (Indian traders kept written records of transactions).
These traders belonged to various religions with sacred texts: Islam, Hinduism, Jainism,
Zoroastrianism, and Sikhism. India had highly skilled metal craftsmen and Indian
languages have phonetic alphabets, which facilitates printing. Thus, there were no
obvious technical, financial, or literacy barriers to printing. It simply was not a priority.
Again Protestant missionaries spurred the print revolution. Protestant missionaries
imported printing technology soon after they arrived and began mass printing. It was they
who developed the initial fonts for most Indian languages. Even where the British East
India Company had previously developed Indian language fonts, missionary fonts
became the standard throughout the nineteenth century (Ross 1999: 40, 58, 60).
Protestant missionaries were responsible for the first Indian language journal,
Digdarśana and the prototype Bengali newspaper Samārcāra Darpana, which in turn
stimulated the rapid growth of a native press (Ross 1999: 59).
The first Indian-owned papers were printed by Ram Mohan Roy and those in his
circle. He had worked with the Baptist missionary William Carey on the translation of the
Bible into Bengali, and the missionaries originally considered him a convert (Natarajan
1962; Ross 1999: 118). The crucial role of missionaries in spurring this printing is
highlighted by the fact that most of the early printing by Indians focused on reforming
Hinduism and countering missionary propaganda (Natarajan 1962: 27-8).
The multiple examples above suggest that a lack of technology is not the crucial
factor that explains the explosion of printing in Asia in the nineteenth century. Most
Asian societies were aware of movable font type hundreds of years before then, but they
made little use of it. Nor had the technology changed much. When missionaries began the
Initially, even after Protestant introduction of printing, Muslim scholars resisted use of the printing press
(Sedra 2002: 223).
Although Sharkey does not identify the religion of the people who started the first commercial newspaper
in the Sudan, they were Lebanese Christians who had been professors at the Syrian Protestant College
(Hourani 1983: 200, 246).
printing revolution in the Middle East, Persia and India early in the nineteenth century,
printing presses were virtually identical to those used 300 years earlier.
Neither was exposure to the West or the experience of military defeat the crucial
factor. From the sixteenth century onwards Europeans had been capturing various
portions of Asia and increasingly dominated oceangoing trade. This stimulated interest in
European military technology, but not in mass education or mass printing.
Nor was the problem that Asian elites were unwilling to copy Western technology
when it suited their interests. Ottoman, India, and Japanese rulers hired Europeans to
teach them how to make better firearms and forts and to train some of their troops. Indian
artists integrated painting techniques taught them by Jesuit missionaries with local
techniques to develop Mogul miniatures. Japanese artists integrated perspective into their
block prints. The Chinese copied European clocks and used enamel techniques developed
in Europe to decorate porcelain. The Chinese emperors commissioned Catholic
missionaries to forge better cannons and improve the accuracy of their astronomical
But over hundreds of years none of their rulers commissioned missionaries or
hired other Europeans to develop printing presses. Thus, the crucial revolution does not
seem to be technological, but a reconceptualization of who books are for. Protestant
missionaries initiated this revolution.
Catholic missionary printing was in small amounts. Much of it was in Latin, and
the rest was generally intended for elites – who had lots of other books already.
Therefore, although the technology was virtually identical to that used by later Protestant
missionaries; the effect was not the same.
For evangelical Protestants, books were for everyone, including the poor and
women. This made cheap, mass printing necessary. Because Protestant missionaries
wanted people to read the Bible, they had the incentive to import technology, create fonts,
and train personnel when printing was not economically viable and there was little local
demand. By absorbing the major start-up costs, creating a broader literate market through
education, and demonstrating the effectiveness of mass printing, they eased the entry of
others. Moreover, Protestant missionaries printed in the vernacular in large quantities and
distributed tracts, Bibles, and newspapers to ordinary people. This material often had
polemic religious content or advocated social reform and therefore prompted local
reactions. It forced other religious groups to print for mass consumption in order to
compete. However, the rapid explosion of printed material and printing technology also
allowed the wide diffusion of scientific ideas and the rapid expansion of mass and higher
Another social phenomenon widely associated with the rise of higher education
has been nationalist movements. However, a close analysis suggests that missionary
education was more closely associated with the rise of nationalism outside Europe than
were other forms of education. This may sound strange at first, because many nationalists
were highly critical of Western missionaries, but there is a very strong association
between the first wave of nationalism and missionary schools, missionary printing, and
missionary-initiated social organizations.
In Africa, virtually every nationalist leader was a graduate of a missionary school,
and many taught at them (Robert 2002; Sundkler, and Steed. 2000; Maxwell 2005). In the
Middle East, the first wave of Arab nationalists were disproportionately trained at
mission-related schools (particularly what became the American University of Beirut and
the American University of Cairo), or worked at missionary presses (Kaplan 1993;
Hourani 1983; Antonius 1965; Khalaf 2002: 39; Haddad 2002). Other nationalist
movements in the Ottoman Empire and Persia were also closely associated with
Protestant missionaries (Kieser 2002; Salt 2002: 165; Zirinsky 2002).
In India Ram Mohan Roy worked for a while helping missionaries translate the
Bible, and many other nineteenth century reformers were heavily influence by
missionaries, as were numerous early nationalists (Natarajan 1962; Oddie 1968; 1969;
1978; 1999; Frykenberg 1999). In China missionaries like Timothy Richard, Young J.
Allen, W.A.P. Martin, and Gilbert Reid influenced early Chinese reformers and those
active in the “Hundred Days of Reform”. Sun Yatsen was a mission-trained doctor, and a
high proportion of the initial Chinese nationalist leadership where Christians or
associated with Christian schools and social organizations (Dunch 2001; Robert 2002:
Covell 1978; Bohr 1972; 2000; Wong 1999; Bennett 1983; Tsou 1996; Kong 2005).
Although the warlord Yuan Shikai purged many of these Christians and Christian
sympathisizers from the ranks, and although in the 1920s many nationalists became
virulently anti-Christian, this does not negate the earlier association.
There was also a close association between Protestantism and Korean nationalism.
To cite just one example, of those who signed the Korean Declaration of Independence
during the Japanese occupation (March 1, 1919) 15 of the 33 signatories were Protestant
during a period when Protestants made up only about one percent of the population
(Grayson 2002; Choi 1997). In Japan nationalism was more consistently anti-Christian,
but a high proportion of Japanese reformers and social critics were Protestant (Scheiner
1970; Drummond 1971; Phillips 1981).
The strong association between missionaries and early nationalist and/or reform
leaders in such widely different circumstances suggests that missions had some causal
role. Much later nationalism was very anti-Western and anti-Christian and had no
incentive to highlight any missionary roots, but this does not mean there were none. In
fact, whether or not nationalism was anti-Christian seems to have depended far more on
who the colonial threat was and what Western governments did than on what
missionaries did. For Koreans, Japan was the colonial threat during the early twentieth
century, and early nationalism was generally friendly to Christianity. In Japan, however,
Western powers were the colonial threat and much early nationalism was hostile to
In the Middle East, when the Ottoman Turks were the colonizers, Arab
nationalism was not particularly anti-Christian, but after European occupation and the
rise of Israel, it became so (Kaplan 1995; Antonius 1965). In China from 1901 until1919
nationalism was not particularly anti-Christian (Dunch 2001). However, in the wake of
the Versailles Treaty when it became clear that “national self-determination” only applied
to whites and Japan was given German territory in China, the May 4
Movement of 1919
was anti-Western. Soviet sponsorship of the Communist Party and elements of the
Nationalists may have also encouraged an anti-Western, anti-Christian trend.
What is striking about these differences in nationalist attitudes towards
Christianity is that missionaries in Korea were not more culturally sensitive than those in
Japan, nor were missionaries prior to World War I more culturally sensitive than those
after the war. If anything the reverse is true. Thus, whether nationalism was anti- or pro-
Christian seems to have more to do with the political context than missionary behavior.
Why then this association between missions and nationalism? Part of the impact
could be through education itself, but the Middle East, India, China, Japan, and Korea
had alternative educational systems, and Christians were a small minority during the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Another factor may be the content of missionary teaching. Many missionaries,
particularly at elite educational institutions, taught students ideas about self-determination,
democracy, science, and social reform. They wrote early histories of the United States
and of Western institutions that emphasized democracy and the role of Christianity in
promoting it. They wrote and translated early books on Western and international law and
on political economy (e.g., Robert 2002; Goffman 2002; Zirinsky 2002; Covell 1978;
Tsou 1996; Drummond 1971; Dunch 2001). Missionaries like Timothy Richard traveled
the world promoting the idea of a League of Nations (Bohr 2000). Woodrow Wilson was
the son of a Presbyterian minister and was in close contact with missionaries (Zirinsky
2002; Tejirian 2002: 301). Missionaries raised expectations about the West in general,
and the U.S. and Woodrow Wilson in particular, that were dashed when the Versailles
Treaty demonstrated that self-determination was for whites only (Zirinsky 2002; Kieser
2002; Robert 2002; Dunch 2001: 185). Ho Chi Min went to Paris to try to meet Woodrow
Wilson. At the time he was a democrat, he left disillusioned and became a Marxist. The
importance of this event is also symbolized by the contrast between the two most famous
student protest movements in East Asia during the early twentieth century, both of them
in 1919: the Korean March 1
movement (before the announcement of Versailles) which
was not anti-Western, and the Chinese May 4
Movement (right after the announcement
of the Versailles Treaty) which was strongly anti-Western.
Second, missionary higher education gave students foreign languages which
allowed them to read and translate books on nationalism, democracy, Marxism, and the
Enlightenment. Marxism and segments of the European Enlightenment were extremely
critical of Christianity and may have helped supply rhetorical ammunition when
nationalism took an anti-Western turn. Third, missionaries spurred mass printing which
Jürgen Habermas and Benedict Anderson argue is central to the development of a public
sphere and nationalism (Habermas 1996; Anderson 1991).
Fourth, missionaries introduced new organizational forms, tactics for propagating
messages and social reforms. This repertoire was borrowed and augmented by nationalist
leaders for their own ends (Woodberry 2004). In India, missionaries mobilized social
pressure to fight sati (burning widows on the funeral pyre of their dead husbands), to
change land tenure rules that exploited landless peasants, to allow dalits (untouchables)
to use public roads, and wells, and wear clothing above the waist, and to raise the
minimum age for the consummation of a marriage to age 12. These social movements
created powerful reactions in Indian society (Oddie 1969; 1978; 1996b;1999; van der
Veer 2001; Natarajan 1962; Woodberry 2004). Some non-Christian Indians mobilized to
fight these reforms, others to support them. But the organizations they created, such as
Brahmo Samaj, Aria Samaj, and Calcutta Dharma Sabha, copied the organizational
structures and tactics of their missionary predecessors (ibid.). Because missionary
supporters had forced the British East India Company (BEIC) to allow religious liberty
by blocking passage of the BEIC charter in 1813, the government was forced to allow
these religious-based reform and anti-missionary organizations to develop. Over time, not
only did these religious organizations promulgate reforms, create schools, publish
newspapers, they also became the foundation of later Indian nationalism and provided
leaders for early Indian political parties.
A similar pattern is clear in the Middle East, Sri Lanka, China, Korea, and Japan
(Tejirian and Simon 2002; Sedra 2002; Haddad 2002; Gombrich and Obeyesekere 1988;
Dunch 2001; Grayson 2002; Drummond 1971). Missionaries introduced new
organizational forms and social movement tactics to fight foot-binding, opium use,
female slavery/prostitution, and other social issues. In response, local people created their
own organizations, often adopting the organizational forms and tactics missionaries had
introduced. Often these new social organizations even copied the names of missionary
organizations; for example, the Young Men’s Buddhist Association, and the Young
Men’s Muslim Association were obviously inspired by the YMCA. These new
organizations, Christian and non-Christian, became central to the mobilization of later
nationalist movements and the development of political parties (Woodberry 2004; Dunch
2001; Grayson 2002; Tejirian and Simon 2002).
However, regardless of why there was a strong association between Protestant
missionaries and the rise of nationalism, missionary education and printing had important
consequences for East Asia and the world in general. The importance of these missionary
investments becomes clearer when we compare the places where they worked, with the
places they did not. Although this contribution is seldom recognized, it still shapes the
societies we live in.
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