Harry Caldwell

This photograph shows Harry Caldwell’s father, Lisle B. Caldwell (second row, center) and his older brother, Ernest Caldwell (sitting on the edge of the raised floor, on the left) with other missionaries in Fujian. Image courtesy of Gail Harris.

Harry Caldwell (1876-1970) grew up in the Appalachian mountains around Athens, Tennessee, where he learned to hunt, among other outdoor pastimes. As an adult, inspired by his brother’s missionary work in China and disillusioned with his own career in business, Caldwell moved with his family to Fujian Province in southeast China to work as a Methodist missionary. Though Caldwell initially encountered resistance, he won over many Fujianese through unconventional missionary methods, namely, hunting tigers that threatened locals’ lives and livelihoods. Caldwell was one of many Western missionaries working in China during the first half of the 20th century, but what distinguishes his work from other missionaries (in addition to the tiger hunting) are the films he made during the 1930s. These hours of footage not only show agricultural, military, and daily scenes from Republican-era (1911-1949) Fujian, they also show several religious practices that incorporate elements of Buddhism, Daoism, local religion, and Christianity.

UTK’s Chinese Religions class in Fall 2019 wrote abstracts and extended explanations of ten relevant clips to give a more complete picture of the religious worlds of early 20th-century Fujian. We are grateful to Gail Harris for donating Caldwell’s films, the Knox County Public Library’s Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound (TAMIS), and especially Eric Dawson, for making this footage available, and to the National Film Preservation Foundation for their work in restoring the footage excerpted here. Many of these clips also appear in Harry Caldwell’s documentary, Methodist Missions in China, where he provides some information about the practices depicted.

— Prof. Megan Bryson

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