Fieldwork Notes: Before 2018
I have collected a variety of reports on the urban, rural and borderlands reform activities of various West China Union University units during visits to the Sichuan Provincial Archives, the Sichuan Provincial Library and the Sichuan University Library. Most of these reports were originally published in university-affiliated journals.
These reports, such as I have read thus far, present (not-surprisingly) a largely positive view of the work of the faculty and students of the University. They also, notably, strike a modernizing tone, and fit with the general tendency of reformers at the time to see modern social science as a means to break through staid tradition in Sichuan.
Some use Protestant verbiage to explain their activities, others do not. My plan for 2019 is to visit archives of in the northeastern U.S. (most notably the Yale Divinity School Library), which house documents related to operational aspects of the university, with a goal to understand more clearly how the evangelical imperative impacted practices in Chengdu.
Fieldwork Notes: 2018-2019
Thanks to the generosity of the Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation and the Mapping Religious Diversity in Modern Sichuan project, I was able to spend eight full week days this summer working at the Yale Divinity School Library and Archives, in New Haven, Connecticut. Although I missed the perks of doing research in Chengdu, particularly the ample opportunities to eat delicious food with friends (though, New Haven’s Taste of China wasn’t too shabby), I was able to access archival collections that had long been on my radar, but which until now I had not had the chance to visit.
At the recommendation of the Archives, I stayed in a reasonably-priced room at the Overseas Ministries Study Center only a few blocks away. The Center was quite quiet over the summer, but I share the space with a biologist from Hong Kong working with Connecticut’s state mental health unit, and a pastor from Cambridge visiting Yale to research theologian and fantasy writer George MacDonald.
I spent most of the time, as is to be expected, paging through documents looking for material relevant to the religious work of West China Union University. If I encountered only passing references, I took notes on the spot, if I came across lengthy documents I would photograph or scan the entire document. I have not yet had the chance to process through the majority of what I collected.
The resources at Yale were rich. I found much material related to the religious activities of the University. In particular, as I expected, there were many documents explaining the regular religious life of faculty and students, religious coursework for the various majors, plans for outreach in Chengdu and around the province. Several items that surprised me were: evidence of conflict between the leaders of campus religious life and Guomindang student leaders, an effort to claim a site on Buddhist Emei mountain for church work, and (not as surprising, but still interesting) the continued emphasis on the religiosity of the campus past 1949.
In the next weeks/months, I will sort through the archival material, continue to gather material from other sources (such as the school newspaper, which I have photocopied from a previous trip to Sichuan), and begin to organize the data for presentation.
Although I cannot yet say with certainty my conclusions, it does appear that the protestant college remained a major player in the religious life of Christians throughout Sichuan for the entirety of its existence, though also that WCUU’s religion had within it elements of secularization, which would come to full fruition after 1949.
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