Garrett Washington, ed., Christianity and the Modern Woman in East Asia.
The edited volume Christianity and the Modern Woman in East Asia narrates how the idea of the "New Woman" emerged. The image developed and was sustained in the interaction between local people and Western Christian missionaries in China, Japan, and Korea over the course of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Consensus has it that "Christianity played a crucial role in the emergence of perspectives that helped catalyze the rise of the New Woman in East Asia" (p. 5). The volume also demonstrates how the ways of a New Woman were not a mere reproduction of Western European womanhood. Each article shows that local women's actual ways of practising the New Woman were de facto byproducts of Indigenous people's engagement with Western Christian missionaries in social conditions that were shifting under the rubric of modernity.
The first three chapters discuss the original tropes of the emergence of the New Woman (xin nuxing) in China from the 1890s to 1930s. In chapter 1, Connie Shemo explores how China adopted Western medicine, such as surgery for the blind, and introduced women's medical education to train women missionary physicians. As Chinese elite women and their families pioneered in those areas, the status of Chinese women in the field of medicine became more advanced than that of their Western counterparts, such as the American Southern Methodist women who were more constrained by denominational backgrounds. In chapter 2, Aihua Zhang examines the case of YWCA China, which was already turning into an independent, international, transnational organization under the female leadership of Ding Shujing. Adopting the then emerging Social Gospel, YWCA China enhanced a unique socio-political sense of "Christian feminism" that was distinct from both Western feminism and Chinese secular Marxist feminism (pp. 47-48). In chapter 3, Anthony E. Clark comprehensively discusses another unique social reforming process led by the Chinese Catholic nuns who advocated for and empowered peasant women and children.
The next three chapters discuss the New Women (shin fujin) in Japan, roughly from the 1860s to 1920s. In Chapter 4, Rui Kohiyama surveys how ideologies related to romantic love, chastity, and monogamy evolved during the Meiji Restoration period in encounter with Western missionaries. The National Woman's Christian Educational Association, under the leadership of missionary women such as Mary E. Kiddler, would create a guidebook for courtly conduct without much understanding of the Japanese culture of love and its culturally charged language, such as "koi," yearning, and "it," household (pp. 85-87, 89-90). In chapter 5, Elizabeth D. Lublin further illustrates how Western missionaries implemented monogamous marriage in Japanese legal reform as the Women's Christian Temperance Union promoted the campaign to legitimize monogamy and criminalize concubinage. In chapter 6, Garrett L. Washington delves into the specific case of the understated Yasui Tetsu, a pioneer who blended Christian theology into modern Japanese philosophy and advocated for radically equal "true education" for Japanese women (pp. 149, 154).
The last three chapters illustrate the New Woman's (sin yosong) movement in Korea over the same historical period. Haeseong Park in chapter 7 locates the power dynamic seen in the Korean women's way of practising the New Woman. She highlights the achievements of Esther Park and her female contemporaries. Their medical and public sphere engagement stood out as distinct from the assumed modes of Victorian womanhood and missionary women's domesticity. In chapter 8, Heejeong Sohn surveys representations of the Western missionary "gaze" by exploring the photography of Korean nurses who were at Pokuyokwan, a short-lived nursing school in Korea (p. 188). In chapter 9, Lee Ellen-Strawn explores how the ideology of the Christian New Woman emerged among grassroots Bible Women gathering in their private "inner room of women" known as anpang. This later evolved as a public campaign of the Christian New Woman through the YWCA Korea, EWHA University, and the leadership of notable women such as Helen Kim.
To sum up, Christianity provided a new door of alternative opportunities, networks, and new "public spheres" for the women in East Asia (p. 8). Their gender norms evolved not necessarily by copying Western missionaries, but in negotiation between Christianity and their evolving circumstances. As much as the phrase of the New Woman is pronounced differently as shin fujin in Japanese, xin nuxing in Chinese, and sin yosong in Korean, each of the authors demonstrates that the notion of the New Woman evolved at that historical juncture around East Asia, simultaneously yet distinctly, to raise the profile of the woman. It was largely Japanese, Chinese, and Korean women associated with Christianity who framed the contours of that debate and crafted original responses. Appropriating belief, but also knowledge networks and institutions related to Christianity, East Asian women sought new opportunities for women's self-realization and access to the public sphere, education, and health. Armed with increased visibility and resources, these women cultivated distinct yet emboldened identities that they used to address the situations of women in their respective countries.
That said, a geo-cultural binding of the "East Asia Woman" under the umbrella of the "New Woman" or "Modern Woman" can be questioned. A brief historical background for how the geographical definition of East Asia emerged, along with the modern national identities of the three countries, would have been appreciated. The comprehensive information provided in each chapter may hold better if it could succinctly demonstrate how the West crafted the notion of East Asia. Such intuition is implied in each chapter though, for example, in Sohn's discussion of representation and gaze, without reducing the historical research into those theoretically charged terms. Undoubtedly, each author and chapter displays in-depth, profound, historical expertise in their areas. If readers can utilize each chapter as a reference point to their specific research topics, the value of this book as an encyclopedic, academic resource is undeniable.
So Jung Kim
Divinity School, University of Chicago
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|Author:||Kim, So Jung|
|Publication:||International Review of Mission|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2019|
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