Louisiana Tech Vice President for Academic Affairs and professor of East Asian history Ken Rea was one of eight China scholars invited to present a paper recently at the Yale-Edinburgh International Mission History Conference held in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Joining scholars from Europe, Asia and the United States, Rea presented, “Heroes and Villains in Early American Missionary Writings from Shanghai.”

Dr. Kenneth Rea

“It was certainly an honor,” Rea said. “It was an excellent trip and afforded me a great chance to interact with other academicians from Europe and elsewhere.

“My presentation was on China and Shanghai, but others dealt with places like Africa and India. It was a very informative and interesting conference.”

Rea’s paper focused on Shanghai, one of five treaty ports opened by China after losing the Opium War (1839-42) to Great Britain. Rea’s research looks at Shanghai from 1845, when the first American missionary arrived, to 1856 and examines how missionaries viewed the city, its culture and the Shanghainese people.

Rea said that missionaries conveyed negative images through their letters and reports sent to their mission boards and supporters in the United States and that board presses often published excerpts from these sources to gain support and funding for mission work. He said that while missionaries were at first highly optimistic about their ability to convert large numbers of Shanghainese, that optimism faded quickly.

“As they faced growing criticism from their home boards over the lack of Christian converts they were bringing in, the missionaries’ writings became defensive and leaned toward stressing the negative aspects of Shanghai’s culture and people as a reason converts were so hard to come by.”

Rea, a specialist in Chinese/American relations, has published extensively in the field. His publications include four books and numerous articles in national and international journals.

By T. Scott Boatright, News Bureau Writer

Written by Judith Roberts