Friday, August 11, 2000

Book Review: American Goddess at the Rape of Nanking, The Courage of Minnie Vautrin

In 2014, I posted this review on Amazon.

Some people live their lives at the water's edge, footprints of their passage on earth quickly erased by the rising tide. Others acquire a bit of immortality by converting their wealth into libraries, monuments and endowment funds. Then there are still others like Minnie Vautrin, who devote their entire life to helping others and hardly thought about the next day much less their place in history. Thanks to Ms. Hua-ling Hu and her tireless effort to uncover the facts obscured by the dust of time, Ms. Vautrin is, at least, one unsung heroine that will not be forgotten.

Author Hu manages to open the thin volume of under 150 pages with a most informative review of China's history of uneasy and ambivalent relationship with missionaries from the West and sets the stage for Ms. Hua Chuan's (Minnie Vautrin's Chinese name) arrival in China.

When Ms. Vautrin first went to China, she knew nothing about the country. At the time, the beginning of the 20th century, teaching in missionary service was one of the more attractive career options for women. Yet, she was to devote 28 of her 55 years in China and came to call China her home.

Despite her extensive research, the author never quite explained why Ms. Vautrin came to adopt China as her country. Perhaps because she shared the esteem Chinese hold for education. Perhaps she saw that the women in China, shackled by male dominated feudalism, needed her as their champion.

By the time the Japanese imperial troops marched into Nanjing in December 1937, Ms. Vautrin had already spent a quarter of a century at the Ginling College in Nanjing. She not only administered the training of female students; she also organized schooling for children of destitute families living nearby. Women were taught to read and acquire skills that would provide them a livelihood.

Most of the book, of course, is devoted to describing the atrocities committed by the Japanese troops and Ms. Vautrin's valiant effort to confront and face down the brutal soldiers and their arms. She was not always successful in protecting the women seeking sanctuary inside the college, but she earned the eternal gratitude of the people of Nanjing who canonized her as a living Buddha.

This book looks at the Rape of Nanjing from yet another perspective and complements those recently published about this subject. At the same time, this book tells the story of a selfless woman of compassion and courage. Minnie Vautrin is surely one of China's and America's earliest advocates for women's right to equal access to education. Hers is a story that should inspire all.

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