Preface: In Permanent Gratitude to R.G. Tiedemann

In: The Church as Safe Haven
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This volume is dedicated to Prof. Rolf Gerhard (Gary) Tiedemann, as an undisputed font of knowledge on the history of Christianity in China. Over the decades, Gary Tiedemann has contributed to our insight into the dissemination of Christian thought in China by both indigenous and Western missionaries, as well as into the reception of Christian ideas and socio-cultural practice by local communities. In particular his research on the Boxer Uprising (義和團運動) and the Western perceptions of the Taiping Uprising (太平天國) has stimulated the academic discourse concerning the nature and political role of the Christian missions during the late Qing.

Gary’s encyclopaedic grasp of missionary organizations and personalities has been appreciated by generations of students at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, and more recently at Shandong University in China. Amongst the former, the academic lives of both editors and of several contributors to this volume have been greatly influenced by Gary’s example as a fine scholar, chiefly by his attention to archival detail but also by his enthusiasm for analysing complex historical conditions. Thus, his role went significantly beyond the usual relationship in academic supervision, imbuing the search for empirical facts with a Confucian sense of Seeking Truth (實事求是).

Though professionally focused on late imperial China, Gary has always had a passion for the history of the localities he has a strong personal affinity with: the German-Danish borderlands of his ancestry, the Wisconsin of his own emigrant family, the Buenos Aires of his wife Liliana, in addition to the China of the missionaries who formed the object of his studies. Truthful to his universal mind, an unhurried conversation with Gary can easily take the interlocutor from the rice paddies of Xiamen to the ovine meadows around Lübeck, without the slightest cultural contradiction. In fact, the recognition that people from all over the world, in particular the simple peasant, share the same experiences and awareness is one of the most Tiedemannesque revelations the patient listener will take away from an encounter with his mind.

These observations also extend to his fruitful publication record, which includes a panoply of review essays, journal articles, book chapters, monographs and edited volumes on Christianity around the time of the Boxer movement, and not least the Handbook of Christianity in China, Volume Two: 1800–Present, published by E.J. Brill in 2010. Gary has also left his imprint on the Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History, University of San Francisco, for which he served as a “digital pioneer.” All of this is but a fraction of the encyclopaedic historical knowledge stored in his memory—a resource far too voluminous and detailed to ever be published, but which a generation of researchers has benefited from. In this sense, the editors of the present volume hope that the following chapters will convey an impression of the academic spirit which Gary Tiedemann’s life-time project represents.

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