Seventh-day Adventists were late entrants to the China mission field, arriving in China in the first decade of the 20th century. Despite this late start however, by the 1920s the Seventh-day Adventist church had established a large network of schools and hospitals across China. In addition to providing educational and medical services free (or at low cost) to the poor, the medical institutions also serviced wealthy fee paying patients. Much of the initial contact between Seventh-day Adventist missionaries and prominent Guomindang officials and other members of the societal elite originated at the Adventist Shanghai Sanitarium and Hospital. Seventh-day Adventist medical centres in other cities also served this function. As a result Adventist missionaries became acquainted with numerous Guomindang officials and other members of the political elite.
Although there is a wealth of popular literature produced by Seventh-day Adventists relating to the activities of the denomination in China, as noted above, there has been little academic study. Specifically, the personal relationships between Western Seventh-day Adventist missionaries and members of the Nationalist government, and the denomination’s representation of Chiang Kai-shek and the Guomindang have not been studies by historians. This thesis is the first scholarly work to focus on the Seventh-day Adventist church’s work in Nationalist China and the first to examine the impact which the church’s writings about China had on the global Seventh-day Adventist community. A contributing factor to this neglect of the Seventh-day Adventist church by historians, including those of the Seventh-day Adventist church itself, is due to the concentration by Seventh-day Adventists on the narrative of mission rather than on the academic study of the denomination’s experience in China. The writings of Seventh-day Adventists about China are important because they are little studied source giving insight into China during a critical point of its history. These writings also provide insight into the development of the Seventh-day Adventist church during the twentieth century, particularly in regards to the denomination’s self-perception and its theology.
This thesis examines the intersections between the Seventh-day Adventist church and China. The portrayals of times of difficulty in China in denominational literature were used to bolster church members’ belief in the distinctive eschatological theology of the denomination; and this distinctive theology also influenced the response of the denomination to the situation in China itself. Unlike many other Protestant denominations the Seventh-day Adventist church did not withdraw its missionaries or slow down the building of institutions following the Anti-Christian Movement of the early 1920s, but rather increased the amount of funds and personnel to the country. Discussion of China was also used as a fund-raiser for missions more generally.
The political connections which individual missionaries formed with members of the Guomindang elite were publicised initially in the Church’s most widely distributed and important periodical, The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald (Review) and later in biographies of these missionaries’ lives. The formation of political connections served to raise the profiles of these missionaries within the denomination. The 1960s and ‘70s saw a resurgence of publishing about the church’s experience China by Seventh-day Adventist. Writing about China at this time took the form of missionary biographies and autobiographies and these works placed great emphasis on past connections with the Guomindang elite. This was due to the relocation of church resources and missionaries to Taiwan following the Chinese Revolution and was also an attempt to reassure church members that despite the loss of institutions and property in China the mission of the denomination remained the same.