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After the Missionaries: Churches and Human Rights NGOs in Canadian relations with China *

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Canadian relations with China, historically, have been driven by missionary work and the search for expanded trade. Missionary work drew on the search for souls to save, but morphed into development (building schools and hospitals). Trade promotion, meanwhile, drew on age-old tropes of “Oriental riches” and “the China market.” The missionary and merchant impulses have intertwined in Sino-Canadian relations. This article examines the post-missionary engagement of Canadian churches and human rights advocacy of Canadian non-governmental organizations with China since the 1970s. The focus is on two ecumenical coalitions the Canadian churches sponsored: the Canada China Programme and the Canada Asia Working Group. The former emphasized themes of partnership with Chinese Christian networks as the People’s Republic of China began to open up to the world; the latter stressed advocacy for human rights and economic justice. The tensions within these coalitions illustrate the larger tension between engagement and trade on the one hand, and rights advocacy on the other, in Sino-Canadian relations. These case studies also show the importance of non-state actors in trans-Pacific relations.

Affiliations: 1: Bishop’s University, Email:


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