Songs of courage and compassion: missionaries in occupied China during WWII

Document Type


Publication Date



Chinese Studies | History


In April 1938, under the roaring Japanese bombers, hundreds of Chinese nationalist soldiers were singing patriotic army songs at Kaifeng railway station in Henan Province, China. This was the only way left for the wounded Chinese soldiers to show their gratitude to the approximately seventy missionaries from the U.S. and Europe, who were treating their wounded, burying their dead and caring for their weak. Among these international missionaries were six sisters from St. Benedict’s Convent of St. Joseph, Minnesota. From April to June 1938, the missionaries helped 50,000 to 55,000 wounded Chinese soldiers. After Kaifeng fell into the hands of the Japanese army in June 1938, these missionaries took 15,406 women and children into their refugee camps, hastily converted from convents or mission schools, to prevent tragedies like the Nanjing Massacre. Inside these temporary sanctuaries, hymns echoed in the sky of Kaifeng. In the winter of 1941, these missionaries became “enemy nationals” themselves and were put into concentration camps. From 1941 to 1945, over 2000 missionaries from north China were grouped into a concentration camp in Weixian town of Shandong Province. Here, every Mass and each hymn voiced their courage to survive occupation and their hope for the ending of the war. Among all the sounds of occupation, these international missionaries struck a unique tone that transcended the boundaries of personal welfare, political entanglements and nation states. This research project uses the missionaries’ correspondence, personal letters, memoirs, and oral histories to recreate the multifaceted sounds of occupation in different geographic and temporal contexts from the West to Beijing, Kaifeng, Weixian and then to Taiwan and Tokyo.


The slides for this presentation are not available.