The Missionary as Cultural Mediator: Alexander Don and the Chinese and European Communities in New Zealand
Missionaries to China, by virtue of their positions and knowledge, frequently became important channels of information between cultures. They transmitted Christianity and Western learning to Chinese people while simultaneously describing China to home audiences through their writings and public speaking. This thesis examines how Alexander Don, Presbyterian missionary to the New Zealand Chinese in Otago from 1879 to 1913, performed similar functions as a "cultural mediator". For most of his career, Don was one of the most significant links between Chinese and European people in New Zealand. He developed a relationship with the Chinese community while simultaneously describing Chinese culture to Europeans in his published reports. While Don's missionary career has been extensively documented, there have been no studies of his significance from the perspective of cross-cultural dialogue and exchange. In this thesis I will discuss the ways that Don acted as a cultural mediator, as well as the factors that impelled him to do so. I will make an in-depth investigation of Don's presentation of Chinese culture to European readers through his mission reports, and how this image changed over the course of his career. The picture Don painted was both motivated and influenced by his mission aims, his growing understanding of Chinese culture, and his developing rapport with Chinese people. In order to demonstrate that Don was unique as a cultural mediator in New Zealand, I will compare him to other sources of information on Chinese culture. It will be shown that he provided very different data and opinions from those conveyed by secular writers and authors, and that his descriptions were generally more detailed than those of other missionaries to the New Zealand Chinese and New Zealand missionaries in China. Don will also be compared to more well-known China missionaries, in order to show that he was similar to them in terms of educating Westerners about the East. Finally, I will weigh the impact of Don's cultural mediation activities. Although he gained few converts, he played a crucial role in improving Sino-European understanding and relations. In the final analysis, Don had a greater impact in these areas than he did in the field of evangelism.