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Havoc in Hunan: The Sisters of Charity in Western Hunan, 1924-1951.

The now familiar phrase of John Fairbank that "the missionary is the invisible man of American history" is gradually becoming untrue. With Sr. Carita Pendergast's detailed account of her congregation's life and work in two western Hunan areas, Yuanling and Wuki, we have a clearer picture of China during these years of banditry, the Sino-Japanese conflict, and the subsequent civil war whose end brought the expulsion of most foreign missioners from China.

Sr. Carita herself spent eighteen years in western Hunan and she tells her story with clarity and wit. Particularly notable are the many vignettes of the human relationships formed between the Sisters and Chinese, young and old. This reviewer found their efforts to educate Chinese girls and to welcome young Chinese women to their local communites very heartening. Their "constant ideal was not to Americanize Chinese Christians but to help them become better Chinese citizens; and the Sisters depended on their Chinese members for guidance" (p. 82).

Despite their very obvious concern for orphans, schoolchildren, and hospital patients, the Sisters were challenged by Communist male teachers in their Tsen Tseui School in 1944. This led to an eventual forfeiture of the teachers' contracts but not before some disillusioned teenagers fearing reprisals had transferred to other schools. Like so many missioners the Sisters of Charity in Hunan did not anticipate the communist victory over the Nationalists in 1949, and when they themselves were forced out in 1951, they sensed that they were failures. The author's return to this region in 1989 served to change these feelings. Like many other Chinese Christians, those of Yuanling and Wuki traveled sometimes sixty and more miles to greet their now elderly teacher and friend.

Havoc in Hunan is a highly personal account of a very complex period in the history of China. Reading it would be rewarding for anyone planning to teach in this area or for the student or scholar who is trying to understand China in microcosm during a turbulent period. There was one reference made to seeing "eye-to-eye on mission policy" (pg. 151), whose further explanation would have lent strength to the text. However, this is a book that makes a fine contribution to the still unfinished personal and congregational accounts of mission life in twentieth-century China.

Sr. Virginia Unsworth is Director of the Humanities Division at the College of Mount Saint Vincent and Associate Professor of history. She was a Maryknoll associate in Hong Kong from 1979 to 1982.
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Author:Unsworth, Virginia
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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