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David Andrews

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I hope scholars and teachers of twentieth-century China will discover and appreciate the narrative poetry of missionary William Angus. I edited his collection, South Fukien: Missionary Poems, 1925-1951 (2015, MerwinAsia Publishing / University of Hawaii Press). Below is an Angus poem plus a précis from the book's Amazon.com page. -- David Andrews



The An-hai launch capsized. Some bandits aboard

Murdered a man. As soon as the shooting started,

The passengers all rushed to the opposite rail

And the loaded boat went over. It was near shore

And many small boats put out to rescue the people,

But not indiscriminately. They bargained with them --

"How much will you give me if I save you?"

Some agreed to anything and climbed into a boat.

Others backed off and looked for another rescuer.

And others gave up and drowned; the price was too high.

-- William Angus

This is pointedly not A Nice Missionary's Poetry. Over three decades as a China missionary for the Reformed Church in America, William Angus saw civil war between Nationalists and Communists, Japanese occupation in WW II, and finally Communist takeover and the expulsion of missionaries. Angus wrote over 600 poems recording mankind at its depths and in its glory, and men and women at their heroic best. His work is humane but hard-edged, combining historical reportage and folktale with a sharp edge of moral ambiguity.

Written from actual incidents, with an ear for the voices of the storytellers, the verse is as vital as are the Chinese people. The Fukienese - and not Western missionaries - are Angus's true subject. Their voices and experiences, their spiritual strength and moral failings, present unique perspectives into a people's behavior and mores under crisis, temptation and change.

"South Fukien by William Angus is a valuable addition to interdisciplinary world history and religious studies courses, and to transnational and Pacific Rim history. Through the edition's deft arrangement of the material, Angus is a keen witness to events that most readers know superficially. His poems evoke daily life and politics in the Chinese countryside and provide a glimpse of local mentalité rarely possible in more traditional sources of the period." -- Dr. Ann Kuzdale, Associate Professor of History, Chicago State University

"[C]areful readers will be drawn into Angus's narratives in South Fukien by their directness, by the boldness and delicacy of their vision, by their masterful restraint, telling detail, and lyrical cadences, and by the large heart and critical intelligence that inform every line. [...] There are lessons in this book, as there are poetic images, deft turns of phrase, ironic commentary, heartbreaking pathos, and stories of stupendous courage that repay rereading again and again. [...] And because South Fukien is so close a record and so intimate a testimony it has unique value in preserving not only important insights into Chinese culture but also the down-to-earth, poignant, lyrical, subtle, and often trenchant qualities of William Angus's poetic expression." -- William G. Marx, PhD, Senior Specialist Emeritus, Michigan State University

Edited by David Andrews
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