Bishop in Honan: Mission and Museum in the Life of William C. White
Published: December 1974© 1974
280 Pages, 5.50 x 8.50 x 1.00 in
William C. White (1873-1960) had two great careers, first as a missionary in China, and then as a collector and curator of one of the world’s greatest museum collections of Chinese archaeology. In 1897, he sailed to China, a precursor by some years of the great flood of missionaries after the Boxer Rebellion. There he adopted the Chinese way of life – their dress (including hair in a queue), language, and local customs. This account of White’s years in China is fascinating: he worked with lepers, sailed in sampans, organized flood relief, raised a family, dealt with bandits, and exchanged knowledge with scholars – impelled forward by his evangelical faith.
In 1909 White was consecrated Bishop in Honan, head of the first mission in China established by the Church of England in Canada. In this post he displayed a genius for organization that resulted in the construction of a church, residence, boys’ and girls’ schools, an orphanage, and a hospital.
In 1924, while on furlough, he met Charles T. Currelly, curator of archaeology at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. This marked the beginning of the second phase of his career. Entranced by China’s past, White proved a discerning and active collector exploiting to the utmost a rare opportunity in his field, and his contributions to the ROM’s Chinese collection have made it world famous. Among the objects he sent back were tomb furniture, bronzes, and most strikingly, the largest of three enormous wall paintings which stand in the museum gallery now named in his honour.
When he returned to Toronto in 1934, he became Keeper of the Museum’s Far Eastern Galleries, and founded the School of Chinese Studies at the University of Toronto. In both these capacities he proved a diligent and productive scholar.
This volume recounts the history of a rich life that bridged two diverse cultures.