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The Limits of the Civilizing Mission: A Comparative Analysis of British Protestant Missionary Campaigns to End Footbinding and Female Circumcision

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Drawing on international relations theory, this article examines why a British missionary campaign against footbinding in China at the turn of the 20 th century succeeded, while a similar campaign against female circumcision in Kenya in the 1920s failed. It argues that the diff erent outcomes can be explained by the incentives new elites had in swiftly changing political climates to adopt, adapt or reject foreign norms promoted by missionaries. Whereas Chinese reformers recast footbinding as a source of China's weakness, the emerging nationalist elite among the Kikuyu in Kenya argued for the continuation of female circumcision as part of anti-colonial resistance. Cette contribution interroge, à l'aide de la théorie de relations internationales, les raisons pour lesquelles une campagne dirigée par des missionnaires britanniques en Chine, à la veille du XXe siècle, contre les pieds bandés réussit, alors qu'une campagne similaire menée durant les années 1920 contre l'excision féminine au Kenya échoua. Ces résultats opposés s'expliquent par le choix que fi rent les nouvelles élites locales d'adopter, d'adapter ou de rejeter les normes étrangères introduites par les missionnaires. Alors que les réformateurs chinois réinterprétèrent les pieds bandés comme une source de l'impuissance de la Chine, la nouvelle élite nationaliste kikuyu au Kenya vit dans la pratique de l'excision féminine un moyen de résistance contre le colonialisme.


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