University of Virginia, College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Trans-National Ties: Formation Between the Episcopal Mission of Hankow and the Chinese Bible Church of Greater Boston (w/ Natasha Heller & Emily Yen)

May 4, 2021

While there is extensive scholarship on protestant missions in China prior to 1950 and the emergence of Chinese American protestant churches in the United States during the second half of the 20th Century, there is a limited understanding of the mechanisms that allowed the former to shape the growth of the latter.  There is little empirical research on the relationships between the recalled missionaries in China and the Chinese student migrants fleeing to the United States during the McCarthy Era. This case study traces how the social ties formed between a missionary and congregants at the Episcopal Mission of Hankow shaped the emergence of the Chinese Bible Church of Greater Boston.  These pre-migration ties significantly shaped the Chinese Christian community in Boston and complicate our understanding of the mechanisms facilitating Boston’s Quiet Revival and Chinese American church planting.  More broadly, this case study provides insight into how recalled missionaries can shape immigrant communities.


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Natasha Heller studies Chinese Buddhism in the context of cultural and intellectual history. Her research includes both the pre-modern period (10th through 14th c.) and the contemporary era. Heller's study of an eminent monk of the Yuan dynasty, Illusory Abiding: The Cultural Construction of the Chan Monk Zhongfeng Mingben, was published by Harvard University Asia Center in 2014.  This monograph examines Mingben’s use of poetry, calligraphy, and gong’an commentary in the context of his distinctive Chan (Zen) teachings. Heller’s current book project concerns picture books published by Buddhist organizations in Taiwan, and how such children’s fiction not only teaches young people about the Buddhist tradition, but also addresses how to relate to clergy, family members, and society. She has published in journals such as History of Religions, the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, and Material Religion.


Emily H. A. Yen is a Visiting Faculty Scholar at the Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures at the University of Virginia. She earned a doctorate in Sociology at UCLA and was Kelter Postdoctoral Fellow in Urban Studies at Trinity College.

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