EXC 2060 A3-35 - News from China? – Knowledge-ressources, Knowledge-acquisition and Knowledge-transfer of Missionaries in China in the 19./20. Century

Basic data for this project

Type of project: Subproject in DFG-joint project hosted at University of Münster
Duration: 01/04/2023 - 31/03/2026 | 1st Funding period


Ever since the earliest enterprises by christian missionaries in China, the European public was able to access a large corpus of publications about the Chinese empire written by Missionaries of different denominations, who described their missionary-field meticulously: Travel descriptions, translations of classical Chinese literature, dictionaries, botanical essays, historiographies and much more found their way through different channels to „the west“ and formed for many centuries a particular image of China. The so called old Mission, i.e. the big roman catholic orders of the Jesuits, the Franciscan friars, the Dominicans and the Augustinians, has received wide attention in the field of mission studies as well as in sinological circles. The missionary-societies of the „long 19th century“ however have been neglected far too long and have not been as thoroughly analysed as their earlier counterparts. Therefore this project takes as its object of study the christian mission in China of the 19./20. century and takes a closer look at the phenomenon of knowledge-transfer under the main question of how and for what purpose christian missionaries generated so called „China-knowledge“, what kind of references they were able to use and how they transfered this kind of knowledge to individuals, groups or institutions. With the examples of two missionary-societies – the Swiss pietist Basel Evangelical Society and the roman catholic Steyl Society of the Divine Word – we aim to present the societies contribution to the contemporary China-knowledge of Europe, how it was produced, on what grounds it was created and in what form it was transferred. Trough the comparison of the two societies the study aims to show the reciprocal relationship between knowledge-transfer and denominational differences, that are most obvious in terms of method, different recruiting-styles and especially the different educational backgrounds of the personnel of the respective societies. The study is based upon rich archive-materials that will be gathered, analysed and conceptualised in their respective historical context in a number of case studies. Including for example a quarterly report by the missionary Karl Michel, dating to 1928, comparing the two state-philosophers Mencius (about 300 B.C.) and Sun Yat-sen (1866–1925). This report does not only show the complex intertextual references, that the missionary used, but also a salvation-historical thinking: Michel ultimately interprets classical Chinese literature in a theistic way. Within the structure of the Cluster of Excellency „Religion and Politics“ this project lies in the field of study A „transcultural entanglements and disentanglements“. With its focus on the accumulation of knowledge on China of german-speaking personnel of missionary-societies and the question of knowledge-production and the transfer of knowledge, this study is able to contribute greatly to the research programme of the Cluster.

Keywords: Chinamission; Knowledge-Networks; Christianity in China; China-Knowledge; Basel Mission Society; Steyl Mission Society; China in the 19./20. Century; Republican China; Knowledge-Transfer; Sources of Knowledge; Knowledge-Production; Missionary-Scholar; Missionary-Sinologist; Cross-Cultural Intermediary; Archive-Sources; Sinology; History of Missions; History of Knowledge; Missionstudies