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Sharing the social gospel

The Story


Building medical clinics and treating disease doesn't leave much time for spreading the word of God. But for generations of missionaries in China, it was all part of their Christian duty and their faith in the social gospel. Canadians working in China were inspired by this movement which sought to address societal problems through social change. In this CBC Radio clip, missionaries from the 1940s and earlier remember the challenges of working in China. The social gospel movement also afforded a place for women who wanted to contribute in the missions. No longer was missionary work solely a man's job; wives, nuns and single career women also had a role to play. In China they worked for the emancipation of women in a culture where foot-binding was still the norm. Anne Story, the first social worker sent to China by a Canadian church, says the missions created generations of women who saw themselves as equals. 

Medium: Radio
Program: IDEAS
Broadcast Date: Feb. 3, 1985
Guest(s): Roy Bonisteel, Robert McClure, Peter Mitchell, Helen Mitchell, Anne Story, Barbara Ward
Narrator: Alvyn Austin
Duration: 17:19

Did You know?


• The social gospel was a popular movement in North American churches beginning in the late 19th century. Its central belief was that God worked through social change, creating social justice and moral order.
• The Methodist Church (later the United Church) was most closely associated with the social gospel in Canada. Canadians inspired by the social gospel founded such organizations as the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, the Women's Christian Temperance Union and numerous provincial farmers' unions.

• According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, the Methodist mission in west China at the turn of the century was one of the biggest Protestant missions anywhere. In 1925 there were 350 Canadians and 1,000 Chinese staff at four mission stations in Sichuan province.
• All missionary efforts in China were cut off in 1949 when the communists took over. Those who remained in the country were arrested and expelled.

• One of the more prominent Canadians in China was United Church missionary James Endicott of Toronto. In his later years in China he became more politically involved. Endicott was an advisor to the New Life Movement spearheaded by Chinese leader Chiang Kai-Shek and, in 1944-45, was part of a U.S. intelligence unit keeping tabs on the Communist Party. Upon his return to Canada he edited a communist newspaper, having come to know and respect communists in China.

• Another early Canadian missionary in China was Bishop W.C. White, who was stationed in Henan province from 1901 to 1934. He started collecting Chinese artifacts in about 1925 and sent so many back to Canada that upon his return he was made the first keeper of the Chinese collections at the Royal Ontario Museum. He is memorialized in a permanent exhibition at the ROM - the Bishop White Gallery of Chinese Temple Art.

• Foot-binding was the practise of permanently tying a young girl's toes under her foot, often breaking the bones. The result, a dainty, tiny foot, was thought to resemble the lotus flower and was the pinnacle of Chinese femininity for 1,000 years. Women with bound feet often suffered great pain and, in extreme cases, could not walk or stand without support. The practise was formally outlawed in 1911 after the revolution of leader Sun Yat-sen, who wanted to modernize China.


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