China Mission: A Personal History From the Last Imperial Dynasty to the People’s Republic

In This Review

China Mission: A Personal History from the Last Imperial Dynasty to the People's Republic
by Audrey Ronning Topping
Louisiana State University Press, 2013
364 pp. $36.00

Three generations of Ronnings have been involved with China, beginning with Topping’s grandparents, Halvor and Hannah Ronning, who worked as missionaries in Hubei Province, in China’s deep interior, from 1891 to 1908. Their letters, diaries, and family photos allow Topping to tell their stories in moving detail. She shifts skillfully back and forth from the intimate canvas of family love stories and tragedies, to the complex dynamics of rural Chinese society, to the wide frame of Chinese politics during the Boxer Rebellion. Her account brings to life an unfamiliar society that was primitive and cruel and a missionary enterprise that was dangerous and almost insanely ambitious. Yet Halvor and Hannah saved many lives, taught many children, and won many converts. The story continues with China-related episodes from the life of one of Halvor and Hannah’s sons, Chester Ronning, a distinguished Canadian diplomat and Topping’s father, and from the lives of Topping herself and her husband, Seymour Topping, both journalists who have been involved with China on and off since 1946. All three generations fought against the mutual contempt felt by many Westerners and Chinese for each other’s cultures. This empathetic book continues that mission.