Civil Religion, Human Rights and International Relations

Civil Religion, Human Rights and International Relations

Connecting People Across Cultures and Traditions

Edited by Helle Porsdam

This ground breaking book discusses whether human rights can be forged into a common set of transcendent principles against which actions of every nation can be judged and whether such a common understanding, or civil religion, could one day become a vehicle for global peace.

Chapter 6: Faith and Empire: American Missionaries, Humanitarianism, and the Spread of Human Rights

Andrew Preston

Subjects: law - academic, human rights, politics and public policy, human rights, international relations


Andrew Preston Charles Wesley and Eva Jane Price were typical American Protestant missionaries. Raised in Des Moines, Iowa, and educated at Oberlin College in Ohio, they exhibited the steadfast, well-intentioned earnestness of the evangelicalism that predominated their era, especially in the Midwest. In 1889, the Boston-based American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions sent the Prices to Shanxi province in northern China, where the existing ABCFM mission was languishing after several years of poor leadership, apostasy, and sexual scandal. They packed what belongings they could and, with two young sons in tow, began the 15,000 mile journey from Ohio to Shanxi. It was a vast distance geographically from middle America to the Chinese interior, but an even greater separation culturally. Nonetheless, the Prices worked hard to bring education and medical treatment to the people of Shanxi, for whom they felt genuine affection. There is a large amount of paternal condescension in Eva’s journal and letters home, but an equal amount of love. Their objectives were to spread the Christian gospel, to uplift the lives of ordinary Chinese, and to make these improvements a permanent part of Chinese life, just as they were in America. The Prices were horrified by the common use of opium, by the lack of education and basic health care except for the wealthy, and, especially, by the practice of foot-binding. ‘How can these women suffer so, then make their little girls suffer the same, and all for fashion!’ Eva lamented in a journal...

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