China Interrupted is the story of the richly interwoven lives of Canadian missionaries and their China-born children (mishkids), whose lives and mission were irreversibly altered by their internment as 'enemy aliens' of Japan from 1941 to 1945. Over three hundred Canadians were among the 13,000 civilians interned by the Japanese in China. China Interrupted explores the experiences of a small community of Canadian missionaries who worked in Japanese-occupied China and were profoundly affected by Canada's entry into the Pacific War. It critically examines the fading years of the missionary movement, beginning with the perspective of Betty Gale and other mishkid nurses whose childhood socialization in China, decision to return during wartime, choice to stay in occupied regions against consular advice, and response to four years of internment reflect the resilience, fragility, and eventual demise of the China missions as a whole. China Interrupted provides insight into the many ways in which health care efforts in wartime China extended out of the tight-knit missionary community that had been established there decades earlier. Urging readers past a thesis of missions as a tool of imperialism, it offers a more nuanced way of thinking about the relationships among people, institutions, and nations during one of the most important intercultural experiments in Canada's history.
Sonya Grypma is a leading scholar in the history of nursing and global health and an associate professor of nursing at Trinity Western University. She has gained an international reputation for her work on missionary nursing in China, particularly through her groundbreaking book Healing Henan: Canadian Nurses at the North China Mission, 1888-1947.
Developing a Mishkid Elite (1910-1934)
We must both have China blood right in us, I think.
-Canadian missionary nurse Mary Boyd Stanley,
letter, January 1941
Theirs was an unconventional childhood. To Canadian missionary children born in early-twentieth-century China, rickshaws, chopsticks, and "amahs" (nursemaids) were as familiar as Brontë novels, piano lessons, and Christmas plays. While their parents immersed themselves in the Christian service they came to China to fulfill, North China mishkids immersed themselves in "everything dusty and heavenly"-not realizing that riding donkeys on the beach at Beidaihe, absorbing the work songs of "coolies" (unskilled labourers-hereafter "labourers"), poling up the Wei River on barges, and purchasing Chinese delicacies from the street vendors outside the mission gates were unusual activities for Canadian children.1
Between 1923 and 1939 six daughters of Canadian North China missionaries returned to China to join their parents as missionary nurses. Each of these six mishkid nurses was born in Henan province to long-serving Canadian missionaries. Jean Menzies (b. 1898) and her sister Georgina Menzies (1906) were born to James R. and Davina Menzies. Florence Mackenzie (1911) was born to Hugh and Agnes Mackenzie. Betty Thomson (1911) was born to Andrew and Margaret Thomson. Dorothy Boyd (1913) and her sister Mary Boyd (1916) were born to H.A. and Jessie Boyd.2 These six mishkid nurses were bound by similar world views, difficult circumstances, and a genuine need for each other. They shared formative years at the North China Mission which bred in them a unique bicultural, bilingual understanding of the world. They also shared formative nursing years at the Toronto General Hospital Training School for Nurses, where each had studied before returning to China. Their lives were inextricably linked. It was during their childhood that nursing shifted from the margins to the centre of missionary interest at the North China Mission. Their decisions to return to China were part of this shift.
The North China Mission did not always value nursing. In the earlier years of the mission, some of the most influential Canadian missionaries viewed medicine (and by extension, nursing) as little more than a means to an evangelical end. That is, because the primary purpose of missionaries was understood as bringing Chinese people to a belief in the Christian gospel message, pioneer missionaries only reluctantly accepted the treatment of patients as part of the Canadian mission to China. In this context, medical care was viewed primarily as a way to win the trust of potential converts; healing bodies was a means to saving souls. It took the vision and persuasive powers of missionary physicians to catalyze nursing and move it onto a modern and organized pathway. Although a missionary nurse was among the first group of Canadian missionaries (then Presbyterian) commissioned to work in Henan in 1888, it was not until 1911-the year of Betty Gale and Florence Mackenzie's birth-that the North China Mission began strategically to include missionary nurses in their overall plans.
Three socio-political factors converged in 1911 to provide a favourable climate for the development of nursing at the North China Mission: a widespread acceptance of Western ideas in China after Sun Yat-sen came to power, publicity by the Christian Medical Association of China for better nursing services, and the vision and persuasive power of North China missionary Dr. Fred Auld. In 1911, China was in the midst of a national crisis. Ever since foreign powers had defeated a violent movement against non-Chinese commercial, religious, and political influence in China (the 1900 "Boxer Uprising"), the Chinese government under the Manchu Qing dynasty had been considered hopelessly feeble and out of step with the rest of the world. The Empress Dowager and her nephew, the Kuang-hsu Emperor, had died in 1908, leaving two-year-old Aisin-Gioro Puyi to ascend the Qing throne. A series of anti-dynastic movements in 1911 culminated in the overthrow of Qing dynasty, and Dr. Sun Yat-sen was elected first president of the new Republic of China. That same year a pneumonic plague was raging in northern China. Medical missionaries from all over North China offered their services to the new government and, according to historian Yuet-wah Cheung, helped to get the plague under control.3 Western medicine, Cheung asserts, was officially recognized in China after its worth was proved during the pneumonic plague of 1911.
The successful treatment of the pneumonic plague opened up new opportunities for medical missions in general, and for nursing in particular, since medical missionaries across China were starting to recognize a need for nurses to staff the new Western-style hospitals they were developing.4 The Christian Medical Association of China, in an article on "The Work of Medical Missions in 1911" that identified nursing as the "weakest side of Medical Mission work," reported that only one in two hospitals in China had even one nurse.5 Foreign nurses were needed to teach Chinese nurses and to oversee the nursing work at men's and women's hospitals. In Henan, Dr. Fred Auld considered the recommendations of the Christian Medical Association of China and, after making a careful study of what was going on in the large hospitals of other missions, concluded that Henan needed to move beyond what was largely an outpatient practice, to organized inpatient services. He recommended the appointment of Mrs. Jeannette Ratcliffe, a widowed graduate nurse who was already living in Henan, as superintendent of the new North China Mission hospital at Weihui once it was built.6
Although Jeannette Ratcliffe's position would not officially start until the hospital was ready (in 1922), she was, in the meantime, meticulous in her preparation for her new role. While she waited for the construction of the hospital to be completed, she undertook postgraduate education in Toronto, as well as hands on experience as the Acting Matron at the University Hospital in Jinan. She also studied the Chinese language. She was joined by a second nurse, Janet Brydon. Their plans were interrupted by the First World War when most of the male missionaries at the North China Mission went to France to help with the war effort between 1918 and 1919. When the men returned, the North China Mission was finally poised to move forward with nursing development. Meanwhile, the vision for medical and nursing services had grown. Plans included opening new hospitals at three of the mission sites, one of which would also serve as the first training school for Chinese nurses in Henan, at Weihui. Together with the (Chinese) Church of Christ in China, the Canadians initiated plans to recruit Christian nursing students from local Chinese congregations. Once again, however, the plans to advance hospital-based care in Henan were interrupted-this time by the murder of Dr. James R. Menzies, in 1920.
Pioneer Canadian missionary James Menzies was shot by "bandits" while coming to the aid of Janet Brydon and her housemate Sadie Lethbridge, who had called out for help from their balconies when their house was being stormed. The tragedy devastated the small North China missionary community. Although the community had experienced its share of violence and illness-related death in its thirty-year history, this was the first violent death. Sadie Lethbridge who, it was said, never fully recovered from the shock, died a few months later of dysentery. Janet Brydon remained at Henan, working at the mission hospital at Huaiqing while assisting with plans to open the new hospital and nursing school at nearby Weihui. Three years later she and Jeannette Ratcliffe were joined by three new nursing recruits, including the first North China mishkid nurse, Jean Menzies-daughter of the slain James Menzies.
The Phenomenon of Mishkid Nurses
The phenomenon of mishkid nurses can be best traced back to the year of James Menzies' death.7 Menzies' wife, Davina R. Robb Menzies, was living temporarily in Toronto with her three daughters when the telegram bearing the tragic news arrived on 26 March 1920. Twenty-two-year-old Jean Menzies, the oldest daughter, had just started nurse's training at the Toronto General Hospital nursing school. Fourteen-year-old Georgina Menzies was in secondary school. Although we do not know why Jean Menzies made the remarkable decision to return to Huaiqing to work at the newly named Menzies Memorial Hospital where her father had laboured for thirty years, we do know that her decision was received with unmitigated delight by the missionary community in China and Canada. Through Jean Menzies and fellow mishkid Dr. Bob McClure-who agreed to return to take James Menzies' place-Jean's beloved father's work would live on.
When Jean Menzies arrived at the North China Mission in 1923 with her mother and sisters, the five girls who would later follow in her footsteps would have been well aware of the excitement caused by her arrival. At the time, Jean's sister Georgina was seventeen, Florence Mackenzie and Betty Thomson were twelve, and Mary and Dorothy Boyd were ten and seven years old respectively. Having borne witness to the outpouring of grief at the "martyrdom" of James Menzies, these young girls were doubtlessly caught up in the enthusiastic reception of the first "one of our...