Lars Peter Laamann


Fieldwork Notes 1st year: 2017-2018

In September 2018 I followed the invitation by the Centre for East-Western Cultural Exchange 中西方文化交流研究中心 at Central China Normal University 華中師範大學 in Wuhan. There I had ample opportunity to inspect archival collections, consult with historians engaged in research on Christianity in central China (including Sichuan), deliver a lecture on missionary sources in central China to historians from CCNU and other institutions and visit sites of Christian activity, past and present, in and around Wuhan.

My hosts explained how after the fall of Nanjing in the Second World War entire missionary congregations moved westwards along the Yangtse River to Chongqing, where they tried to escape warfare and reprisals by the Japanese forces. After the war, many of the rural Christians (as well as their writings and ritual objects) returned not to the countryside but to the industrial city of Wuhan.

In terms of documentary collections I managed to take a closer look at the archives within the library of Central China Normal University, which is relatively small in size but goes back to the very beginnings of the institution as a missionary high school (Boon College, founded 1903), subsequently transforming itself into the most significant Christian university of central China (known as University of Central China 華中大學).

Contacts of Wuhan-based Christians and missionaries with Christian centres in other parts of China – first and foremost with Hunan and Sichuan – were particularly intense, which is visible from the archival collections in the city’s universities.

From the very beginning of my stay, I had the opportunity to explain the purpose of my research interest in the Christian communities of central China to a wide variety of scholars.

The nodal point of research into China’s Christian past in Wuhan is the Centre for East-Western Cultural Exchange 中西方文化交流研究中心 at Central China Normal University (CCNU), currently coordinated by Prof. Ma Min 馬敏, who is originally from Chongqing and has a research interest in Christianity in central China.

Crucially, I gave a lecture on the relevance of the SOAS missionary collections to Wuhan and the central Chinese region between Chengdu, Chongqing and the historical Huguang double-province to an audience of around one hundred historians and religious study scholars from both CCNU and Wuhan University. A highlight was to be able to speak at length with Prof. Zhang Kaiyuan 章開沅, the nonagenarian doyen of the Centre for East-Western Cultural Exchange and internationally respected authority in the history of Christianity in China.

Fieldwork Notes 1st year: 2018-2019

The main objective of this fieldwork visit was to firstly locate primary sources at archives in Chengdu and, secondly, to follow up on invitations by academic contacts during previous visits to Wuhan and to Chongqing. These contacts enabled me to gain access, and find material, faster than it would otherwise have been possible, thus contributing directly to my research and to my involvement in our Chiang Ching-Kuo Foundation project.

I managed to gather an amount of relevant material which took me by surprise – firstly because I encountered none of the difficulties reported to me by other researchers, and secondly because I managed to collect great quantities of archival material. This would not have been possible without the concrete help by supportive colleagues at Sichuan Normal University 四川師范大學 and the University of Sichuan 四川大學, both in Chengdu.

The material I hoped to find at the Sichuan Provincial Archives 省立四川檔案館 was fully available. Two acquaintances, fellow historians from CCNU 華中師范大學 (Wuhan) and SNU 四川師范大學 (Chengdu), helped me maximise the number of documents which readers are allowed to retrieve and to have some of these (forty sides) printed off from the dataform and microfîche readers.

The staff within the archives did adhere to the internal regulations (e.g. no pictures taken off digitised images) but were otherwise very helpful. Reproductions which are usually provided within two working days were delivered to me within half an hour, at no charge.

The documents which I consulted mostly belonged to the Ba-Xian Archives 巴縣檔案, a district from the Chongqing region and one of the most complete local archives in China for the Qing period. Except for a handful of documents from the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong periods, I was given access to all documents relating to the local Catholic church in Ba-Xian. Since the documents were official in nature, they dealt with legal cases, the provision of health care and pharmaceutical items, as well as reports on visiting Westerners (esp. for the 1860s onwards), including missionaries.

Even more material presented itself to me in two locations within the library of Sichuan University 四川大學. The main collection has a sizeable array of journals and books from the Republican period – specific for Sichuan, Chengdu and Chongqing – of which I selected more than I could possibly deal with during my stay.

Once again, the emphasis of my search was on medical and pharmaceutical contributions by missionary organisations, as well as on the role of the local churches and clerics as “healers” in a wider sense. This was even more the case when I was given access to a “closed collection” which is normally reserved for research students from their own History department.

Ping’an Bridge Church (平安橋教堂)

One of the core pieces there is a full imprint of the local archives for Nanbu District (南部縣) north of Chengdu, in three hundred volumes, from the Kangxi period to the Chinese Republic. Concerning Christianity, the Nanbu-Xian documents reveal an intriguing degree of integration into local life, particularly when the role of the church as a calling point for social and medical problems is concerned.

On a single outing accompanied by Stefania Travagnin, I visited the Ping’an Bridge Church (平安橋教堂), which is the main Catholic place of worship of central Chengdu. As a three-self church it is protected by the government authorities and has recently undergone a thorough renovation. Encouragingly, a local cleric assured us that the big church was filled with great numbers of Catholics coming for Mass.

Added to the Ba-Xian collections, the possibility of further research arising from the sources at Sichuan University is very encouraging. This is not merely the case because of the well catalogued and plentiful provision of archival materials, but also because of the useful contacts I managed to make at the two universities in Chengdu, as well as in Chongqing. My ambition for the next visit would be to gain access to the church-internal archives of the Ping’an Bridge Church.

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