Document 2: Susan Rowena Bird to
Susan Bowen Bird, 18991

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This passage comes from a letter written by Susan Rowena Bird to her mother in 1899, just a year before her death in 1900. She wrote from Taigu, the missionary settlement in Shanxi province where she spent most of her time in China. It describes, in detail, many of the daily activities in Bird's missionary life in China. Working as a single woman, Bird was involved with women's prayer meeting, responding to the needs of individuals in the villages around the missionary settlement, and participating in the education of boys at the missionary school. This letter stands out for its first-hand account of Bird's missionary pursuits, while simultaneously revealing the problematic relationship between missionaries and native peoples, particularly the missionaries' ignorance towards native cultures.

Document Text:

Evening-This afternoon we had prayer meeting at Mrs. Williams'2 although there were so few of us. There was only Mrs. Williams, Mrs. Clapp3 and myself besides the children and the Chinese woman who cannot understand English, but was there to keep the children quiet. The children have been very good since their mother went away. The nurse woman was full of praises of their good conduct and compared them with Chinese children who will not let their mothers go out of their sight...[letter ripped]...I quite forgot that tomorrow afternoon I am to go to two villages which will take the whole afternoon. I should not have time to visit two only one is right on the way to the other. One of the places is a new one where missionaries have never been, and I do not know whether it will develop into a permanent place or not.4 The man of the house often comes here to church and has asked that I go to see his family, so I am going; perhaps I can tell later whether they really wish to be taught or not. I wrote you about the courier coming in without any American mail two weeks ago. This week we really had a mail that amounted to something. It did not seem to be a double mail however for there was only one letter from you. If you see Lizzie Tower5 please tell her that I received her letter in the mail and will answer it as soon as possible. I was very glad to hear from her and hope that she will write more often. I am writing to Miss Whitemare this mail. This evening I have got a Chinese letter written the easiest I ever did. I have been trying for some time to get a letter written to one Tongzhou boy, Hsiang Hsi,6 but it does take so much time and thought. His letters show that he is homesick and in need of some encouragement and advise, and I had in mind about what I wanted to write but had not formulated it...[letter ripped]... Fei7 if he would be willing to write for me and told him in quite general terms what I wanted written. This evening he brought the letter all written and he has done it so nicely, that is, he has said just what I wanted said, and just as I wanted it said. He signed my name to it but wrote below, what literally translated would be "By the pen of Fei Chi. He with Greetings" The Chinese letter forms, and greetings often make me think of Paul's Epistles, I suppose because they are both Oriental. I am going to send to Shanghai this mail for some story books in Chinese. I have had the boys with the help of their teacher pick out a few from a list we had and though not many we can call it the beginning of a library. The teacher has read most of these and says they are very good, and were most helpful to him. We have no fund for any such thing but we are going to have the books any way.8

[1] Transcribed by Lara Griffin.

[2] Alice Moon Williams (1860-1952) arrived at the missionary center of Taigu with her husband George Williams in 1892. Williams grew up on a farm and attended both Ashland and Oberlin colleges. Following her education, she spent nine years teaching public schools before joining the Oberlin Band in Shanxi province. She returned to the United States before the Boxer rebellion in 1900 (Ellsworth C. Carlson, The Oberlin Band: The Christian Mission in Shanxi, 1882-1900. [Oberlin, OH: Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association, 2001], 82).

[3] Mary Jane Clapp (1845-1900) arrived in Shanxi province with her husband, the Rev. Dwight H. Clapp in 1885. Clapp also had experience as a teacher in the United States before coming to China and played an important role in the development of the schools at the missionary settlement. Clapp headed one of the most successful boy's boarding schools in Taigu (Carlson, 23).

[4] Villages were an important source of converts for the missionaries. They achieved more success in small, rural villages than in urban areas with people of the more elite classes (Carlson, 84).

[5] Lizzie and the following Mrs. Whitemare were not identifiable and were likely acquaintances of the Bird family.

[6] Kung F(1880-1967) was a son of well-to-do banking family in Taigu. He was enrolled in missionary school after having been treated for boils by the missionaries. He enrolled against the wishes of his parents and exemplified the tension between members of the Chinese elite and the missionaries (Carlson, 116).

[7] Fei Qihao was hired in 1897 to augment the staff of the missionary school. He was educated at the American Board's North China Mission School at Tungzhou before coming to Taigu and was later a teacher at the Fenzhou missionary settlement school as well. He would become the first Chinese person, along with Kung Hsiang-hsi to attend Oberlin College (Carlson, 95).

[8] English was not a mandatory part of the curriculum at the missionary school until 1900 so the boys were taught using Chinese texts. The school encountered the problem of adequate funding throughout its existence and was always struggling to maintain adequate resources for its students (Carlson, 95).