2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 321

[ China and Inner Asia Sessions, Table of Contents | Panels by World Area Main Menu ]


The YMCA in China as Transnational History

Organizer: John E. Heavens, University of Cambridge, England

Chair: Ryan Dunch, University of Alberta, Canada

Discussant: John E. Heavens, University of Cambridge, England

While the North American YMCA’s nurturing of a Chinese Association movement during the early twentieth century has been interpreted in the past as a manifestation of Western cultural imperialism, the lens of transnational history offers a fresh perspective through its focus upon the networks of intercultural relations that Chinese and Americans developed through their Association work. If in theory, this perspective traces the movement of non-state organizations, people, ideas and goods across national boundaries, then the history of the YMCA in China makes for an excellent case-study. However, transnational history is about practice as well as theory and this is reflected by the cultural, professional and disciplinary diversity of this formal panel. Chaired by Dr. Ryan Dunch (U. Alberta), the panelists are drawn from Chinese, American and British academies and include a librarian, an archivist, two associate professors and two doctoral students. Each panelist will give a short presentation on aspects of the history of the YMCA in China and these papers will be reviewed through the analytical lens of transnational history by the discussant. The audience will then be invited to participate in the panelists’ responses to this interpretation of their work. This approach, which examines the theory of intercultural exchange through the practice of intercultural exchange, seeks to foster a better understanding not only of the history of the YMCA’s work in China but also of how that history will be discussed in future.

The Institutional Transformation of Moral Governance: The YMCA and State Making in Revolutionary China
Xiaohong Xu, Yale University, USA

Scholars of state formation tend to privilege aspects that are explicitly associated with state power and common to all modern states, such as taxation and military institutions. Yet auxiliary organizations are also critical to the building of state legitimacy in modern authoritarian states. In this paper, I examine the building of revolutionary state in China through the prism of the transformation of the Chinese YMCA from an independent civil organization engineered by foreign missionaries to an auxiliary organization under the Communist state. Originally an evangelical project informed by American social gospel, the YMCA, as the biggest civil organization in China, actively created and engaged with social programs that were gradually appropriated by the Nationalist state in 1927-1935. As the national crisis deepened in early 1930s, the radical wing of the YMCA also emerged to engage with the Communist approach which culminated in the partnership of the YMCA and YWCA with the Communist Youth League in 1949 and the launching of the Three-Self Movement in 1950.

YMCA and the Anti-illiteracy Movement for the Chinese Labor in France
Donghua Zhou, Hangzhou Normal University, China

During WWI, there were 175,000 Chinese Laborers working for the Allied troops in Europe. 80% of them were illiterate, and they knew nothing about Europe and its languages and customs. The misunderstandings between the Chinese Laborers and their Army officers who directed them caused numerous conflicts, strikes, and even riots. Under these circumstances, some members of the North America YMCA came to France to work for Chinese Laborers. YMCA secretary James Yen and his colleagues taught these laborers to read and write basic Chinese characters. His Chinese Laborer’s Weekly was a very useful instrument in not only arousing the laborers’ interest in the study of Chinese but also in teaching them how to be a truly patriotic citizen of China and in developing their understanding of the modern world. Many of those laborers felt themselves to have been reborn through Yen’s anti-illiteracy movement.

Revolutionary Christianity: The YMCA , YWCA of Shanghai and the Communist Party during the Anti-Japanese War
Xiaoyang Zhao, China Academy of Social Sciences, China

As the Japanese invaded in 1937 and more and more Chinese territory was occupied, the young men and women of the YMCA and YWCA in Shanghai devoted themselves to do more to save their nation. The Communist Party of China (CPC) focused on these young students of Christianity, aiming to influence them. A group of CPC was set up secretly in the YMCA of Shanghai in August 1938, and the following December, a Committee of Students’ Movement in Christianity Schools was organized by the Communist Party of Jiangsu Province. Under its direction, the young men and women of the YMCA joined a number of anti-Japanese movements, appealing to Chinese people at home and overseas to support the anti-Japanese war, through songs and speeches that inspired patriotism, through aid to refugees, and through the writing of papers and articles. Some of these Christian students came to recognize the function and meaning of communism and joined the CPC, becoming communist and Christian at the same time, so discovering common ground between their political and religious beliefs.

Lyon and his comrades: Indigenizing YMCA in China 1895-1925
Su Chen, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

During the 54 years from 1895 to 1949, the International Committee of the Young Men’s Christian Association of North America sent a total of 245 men to the China field as YMCA Foreign Secretaries to further expand the YMCA endeavor in Asia. The Foreign Secretaries worked in 40 city associations crossed China, from Haerbin in the north to Hong Kong in south and from Shanghai in east to Lanchow in west. However, while there are some studies on individual secretaries, no comprehensive study has been made of the foreign secretaries as a group. This presentation will focus on the Foreign Secretaries collectively, tracing their social and educational backgrounds, the cities in which they worked, and the impact they had on the development of a modern China.

Taking Care of History: The Kautz Family YMCA Archives
Ryan Bean, University of Minnesota, USA

Prior to 1980, the records of the North American YMCA movement were largely unavailable to all but the most motivated of researchers. However, since being relocated to the University of Minnesota, the Kautz Family YMCA Archives has experienced year over year an increase in demand and a greater sophistication in the nature of the academic inquiry. In particular, research into the Association movement’s activities in China is revealing the significance of the role that China played in the YMCA’s plans to spread Christianity around the world. Just as China was key to the YMCA’s international expansion, the YMCA also played an important role in the development of modern China, a contribution which is still recognized today by the Chinese National Committee. The Tientsin Association and Nankai University have for many years hosted symposia where representatives from the YMCA Archives can deliver academic papers and cultivate those transnational networks which were so important to the Associations’ world service during the early twentieth century. The Archives are committed to a reciprocal relationship with its users, thereby maintaining the spirit of cultural exchange which has always been fundamental to the YMCA ethos.