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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Tracing Faith, Making History: Materializing Transnational Christianities in Modern China and Taiwan
2: Crafting Voices in a Chinese Village: Faith and Privacy in Early Twentieth-Century Manchuria
Thursday, March 25, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Alfred Marie Caubrière (1876-1948) was a French missionary who worked in Manchuria for about half a century from 1899 to 1948. During his stay in Manchuria, Caubrière left us two sets of manuscripts: 1) Over 600 family letters to his parents, including over 100 illustrations depicting the daily life of Chinese villagers, kids, local houses and objects, churches and rituals, and village scenes during the social chaos. 2) A 13-volume Chinese language study notes that record over 2000 entries of Chinese Catholics’ everyday conversions, word-by-word in the French Romanization of a local dialect. A striking feature of the conversations lies in their extremely private and intimate contents, which contain the topics of pregnancy, childbirth, midwife and delivery, postpartum confinement, quarrels between husband and wife, complaints about in-laws, and family break-ups. A dutiful missionary and a meticulous ethnographer, Caubrière used his pen to open up a window for us to hear the private voices of Chinese villagers. Focusing on this fascinating and intimate world constructed by Caubrière’s record of vernacular language and everyday rural life, this paper examines the ways in which both the missionary and Chinese Catholic villagers appropriated traditions, languages, discourses, and symbols that make up religion and local culture. Examination of these documents also allows us to rethink the historical process of indigenization, the impact of Christianity in China on grassroots level, and the intricate relationship between private writing, community memory, and the construction of local culture in a global religious context.