Thursday, 10 December 2009

Missionary memoirs

One of the books that I'm reading at the moment is Cyling Home From Siberia, Rob Lilwall's tale of his epic 30,000 mile cycle ride back to the UK via Siberia, Japan, Australia and Europe. There'll be more on the book in a future postingbut I was interested by some comments he makes about Christianity in China, while cycling down the eastern side of the country.

Prior to communism (1949), China was a popular destination for Western missionaries. This was something that became apparent as I started sifting through the Guardian/Observer archives for
Those Who Dared. Books by missionaries recounting their attempts at converting the heathens of the world were regularly reviewed, at least in the early part of the 20th Century.

Forget about the modern misery memoir - these tales make seriously depressing reading. Take With the Tibetans in Tent and Temple (1902), the 'pathetic story' of Susie Carson Rijnhart and her missionary husband in Tibet. On the long road a journey to Llasa, their child died, transport beasts broke down, they were abandoned by guides and finally Mr Rijnhart was murdered by robbers. At least it resulted in a book that, as the reviewer put it, was 'above the average of missionary narratives'.

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