By Justin Doan
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The history of China is rich with connections between the Western world and China. However, the modern narratives surrounding these interactions often overlook the importance of missionaries in establishing these relationships during the imperial period of China and medicine as a pivotal tool of these missionaries to this end. A broad overview of Chinese history with the West provides three distinct periods of medical missionaries making significant advances in diplomacy with Imperial China: the mission of William of Rubruck to Möngke Khan in 1253, the Jesuit mission to the Qing Court of the Kangxi Emperor in the 17th& 18th centuries, and the Protestant missions to the Qing Empire during the 19th century. This paper argues that medicine played an indispensable role in advancing the cause of Western diplomacy in China during these missions, ultimately facilitating the entrenchment of Christianity within China and the subsequent encroachment by Western Imperial powers upon China during the latter half of the 19th century.
Utilizing primary sources, contemporary secondary sources, and academic literature about these periods of missionary activities in China, this paper analyzes the contributions of Western medicine in empowering the diplomatic efforts of Christian missionaries to China during the imperial period. This paper finds that Western medicine was pivotal in the diplomatic efforts of the Jesuit mission to the Kangxi court and the Protestant missions to the Qing empire but only played a minor role in supporting diplomacy in Rubruck’s mission to the court of Möngke Khan. Western medicine was used by medical missionaries to win over Chinese rulers and establish inroads with a traditionally restrictive China, essentially opening it up to the West. Ultimately, this paper aims to contribute to the broad historiography of the relationship of diplomatic contact between the West and China by highlighting how medical missionaries leveraged medicine as a diplomatic tool.
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