The Missionary Roots of Nationalism: Evidence from China

Daniel Mattingly, Ting Chen

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

    3 Citations (Scopus)


    What explains the origins of nationalism? In this article, we trace the origins of an important early twentieth-century nationalist movement to Christian missionary activity. A growing literature credits missionaries with spreading schooling and democracy. Yet missionary activity often led to a political backlash and to antiforeign, nationalist mobilization. Drawing on evidence from China, we show how missionary activity sparked nationalist mobilization in the early 1900s. We gather new data on early nationalist secret societies, missionary activity, and antimissionary violence. Qualitative and quantitative evidence shows how missionaries threatened the political power of local elites, who responded by mobilizing violent antiforeign protests and participating in nationalist political societies. The findings challenge the idea that Christian missionaries influenced long-run political development primarily because they spread schooling and literacy. Instead, we show that missionaries also sparked early nationalist mobilization.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1638-1651
    Number of pages14
    JournalJournal of Politics
    Issue number3
    Early online date5 May 2022
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022

    Scopus Subject Areas

    • Sociology and Political Science

    User-Defined Keywords

    • China
    • Nationalism
    • missionaries
    • religion
    • revolutions


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