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Reframing the Yenching Story

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image of Journal of American-East Asian Relations

One way to revisit and reframe the Yenching story is to imagine with a few bold strokes how the conflicting threads in that story are woven into the ironic twists and turns in twentieth-century Chinese-Western relations. Had it not been for the political collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911 and the cultural and spiritual vacuum created in its wake, core Chinese faculty at Yenching and many of the Yenching students might never have been attracted to liberal Christianity and the liberal arts. Had it not been for the extraterritorial protection under the unequal treaties going back to the days of the Opium War, it would not have been possible for the missionary educators to lead in introducing the liberal arts into China. Had it not been for the war with Japan and events leading up to it since World War I, followed later by the Chinese civil war, it would be difficult to explain to Western liberal ears how the patriotic passions of Yenching faculty and students could lead them to adapt as readily as they did to the Communist revolution.


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