SANACS: Book Review: Jiwu Wang, “His Dominion” and the “Yellow Peril”

The fourth journal issue of the Society of Asian North American Christian Studies (SANACS) is out. The issue features some very interesting pieces, with contributions from Esther Chung-Kim, Amos Yong, Charlene Jin Lee, Richard Mouw, Miyoung Yoon Hammer, Andrew Sung Park, Annie Tsai, Jeney Park-Hearn, Andrew Lee, and Henry Kuo. During the course of my fieldwork in the San Francisco Bay Area and Metro Vancouver, I heard some of these pieces presented live, and my humble opinion is that some of them will become classics in the field of Asian North American Christian studies.

My small contribution (p. 153-6) is a book review of Jiwu Wang’s (2006) “His Dominion” and the “Yellow Peril”: Protestant Missions to Chinese Immigrants in Canada, 1859-1967. Wang’s general argument is that the racializing attitudes of Protestant missionaries in various Canadian Chinatowns led to the rejection of their Christian message even as it crystallized prevailing ‘Chinese’ cultural frameworks. The book also draws on an extensive array of archival sources, which makes it fairly valuable as a record of sources for further research.

Unfortunately, I also had to pan the book for its theoretical framework. As you will see in the review, Wang’s approach relies a little too much on what he calls ‘sociological conflict theory,’ in which two groups–in his case, the Anglo-Canadian Protestant missionaries and the Chinatown communities–reinforce each other’s cultural frameworks by conflicting with each other. There are two problems that I unfold in this review. The first is that Wang’s idea of what ‘white missionaries’ and ‘Chinese communities’ were is a bit too static, even drawing from traditional Chinese texts to explain ‘Chinese culture’ for these southern Chinese rural migrants. Second, this sociological conflict model fails to take into account the rich literature in Asian Canadian studies that also explores white missionary movements among Chinatown communities in Canada. In other words, while this book bills itself as the first of its kind, it really isn’t, and he really needs to engage the ones that came beforehand.

You’ll find the details of my critique in the review, and you will find articles in the main section of the journal issue that are destined to become classics. My hope is that this issue will begin to fill the hiatus in Asian North American Christian research and will point out ways that one should–and should not!–conduct this kind of research as we develop this field together.

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