Daniel Mattingly: The Missionary Roots of Nationalism: Evidence from China

Daniel Mattingly
May 10, 2022

Assistant Professor Daniel Mattingly has a new article in the Journal of Politics entitled “The Missionary Roots of Nationalism: Evidence from China.”


What explains the origins of nationalism? In this article, we trace the origins of an important early twentieth-century nationalist movement to Christian missionary activity. A growing literature credits missionaries with spreading schooling and democracy. Yet missionary activity often led to a political backlash and to antiforeign, nationalist mobilization. Drawing on evidence from China, we show how missionary activity sparked nationalist mobilization in the early 1900s. We gather new data on early nationalist secret societies, missionary activity, and antimissionary violence. Qualitative and quantitative evidence shows how missionaries threatened the political power of local elites, who responded by mobilizing violent antiforeign protests and participating in nationalist political societies. The findings challenge the idea that Christian missionaries influenced long-run political development primarily because they spread schooling and literacy. Instead, we show that missionaries also sparked early nationalist mobilization.