[Archive of letters by an American missionary on the Chinese Civil War.]. Edward R. Dyer.
[Archive of letters by an American missionary on the Chinese Civil War.]
[Archive of letters by an American missionary on the Chinese Civil War.]

[Archive of letters by an American missionary on the Chinese Civil War.]

Wusih (Wuxi) and Shanghai, China, 21 Aug.–17 Dec. 1928. 22 autograph letters (8.25” x 5.5”), 120 pp. One letter written on the illustrated letterhead of the ship S.S. President Lincoln.

A compelling archive of twenty-two letters written by clergyman Edward R. Dyer from Shanghai and Wusih, China where he worked as an Episcopal missionary. The heart of this archive is its substantial content on the early Chinese Civil War, Chinese politics, graphic and disturbing accounts of police attacks on Communist “bandits,” and more.

Rev. Edward Ryant Dyer appears to have worked as a missionary in China for at least several decades. In 1913, Dyer met his future wife Dr. Ann Humphreys, who had earned a degree in medicine, while they were both working as missionaries in China. These letters are addressed to her in Frederick, Maryland. Their son Edward R. "Ned" Dyer, Jr. (1918–1999) was born in Wuxi and in his youth developed an interest in astronomy from books in his father’s library, which led to his illustrious career at NASA where he worked over several decades.

Dyer’s letters were written during the first phase of the Chinese Civil War (Aug. 1927–1937), when the alliance between the Kuomintang-led government of the Republic of China and forces of the Chinese Communist Party collapsed during the Northern Expedition (1926–28). During the early period of the war—as reflected in these letters—the Nationalists controlled most of China. The Chinese Civil War took place intermittently between 1927 and 1949; hostilities were put on hold from 1937 to 1945 (the Second United Front fought Japan’s invasion of China with later help from WWII allies). The civil war resumed after Japan’s defeat in WWII, and in the final phase of the war the Chinese Communist Party gained the upper hand (from 1945 to 1949). The Communists took control of mainland China and established the People's Republic of China in 1949—forcing the leadership of the Republic of China to retreat to Taiwan.

Dyer’s letters cover some of the following subjects: the inner-workings of Chinese politics (which are run, according to him, by “military men”); a military operation that took place near Bahaz-chiao “to arrest a lot of Communists against whom information had been secured”; the relations and struggles between the reigning Kuomintang government and the Communist Party (the latter he thinks may “come out on top in the struggle”); the beating of an Englishman by four Chinese soldiers; the Kuomintang government banning schools from observing the birthday of Confucious and forbidding public sacrifices to him; a botched Water Police raid on some 100 Communist “bandits” who split a police captain’s head with a battle ax, as told by an ex-water policeman; the presence of marauding bands of Communists near Kiangyin and Patzekiao, China; the Communists’ attempts to organize peasants and have them sign a declaration stating that they will pay neither rent nor debts; the sins (and coming excommunication) of one Mr. Chu who keeps two wives in his house and attends to Dyer’s church; the case of a woman who was ‘possessed by a devil’ for five years, and more. (Nb: The present Edward Dyer is not to be confused with the Sulpician Edward R. Dyer (1854–1925).)

REPRESENTATIVE PASSAGES

[China, 1928] "Dr. Worth is spending the night here. He left his houseboat over by the New World when he went to Shanghai and when he got back today he found that it had been commandeered last night by some soldiers who were starting off for a place near Bahaz-chiao to arrest a lot of Communists against whom information had been secured. They brought back the boat tonight but not in time for him to catch a tow by the afternoon launch to Kiangying.”

“As you can probably guess the state of China is far from what the leaders of Kuamingtang represent it to be. The so called government at Nanking can collect revenue from only two provinces. The rest of China is in the control of other military men who although they fly the famous flag with the star on it, will remit no revenue to Nanking and take no orders from Nanking. I have yet to hear any Chinese say anything good of the Kuomintang but I have heard plenty of them say much against it. It is claimed on all sides that the taxes are many times higher than they have ever been and that the money is all going to the private enrichment of the members of the Kuomintang.”

“Foreigners are all hoping that it will manage to somehow set up a government because the other organized body is the Communist Party and if the Kuomintang goes down it might and probably would come out on top in the struggle.”

“It has just come out that about a week ago an Englishman, the customs commissioner in Nanking, was out walking one afternoon by himself when four Chinese soldiers set on him from behind and beat him into unconsciousness and robbed him of everything he had. He was found later and has now recovered. The North China interviewed him and it was all published today. The North China had heard that it was waiting to see whether the Kuomintang government would apprehend and punish these men.”

“The Kuomintang government has ordered that the schools shall not keep Confucious’ birthday any more and that there shall be no public sacrifices to him. It seems that Confucious is against a peoples’ government and opposed to the Kuomintang’s principles.”

“You will remember that Ho Gn joined the Water Police after he resigned or when he resigned his “Captaincy” of our house boat. I asked him when he was no longer in the Water Police and he said that it was too dangerous to suit him. He said that seven boats of them making about forty five men were sent over the A-Hsing to put down the bandits who are too thick over there. They made an attack on the bandits who were about one hundred strong at the time and many of whom were armed with battle axes. The place found that the bandits had in some way probably by incantations rendered themselves impervious to bullets. Ho Gn seems to believe this. He said that he knew it was so because the captain of the police fired a rifle point blank at a bandit without doing the bandit the least injury. The bandit on the hand split the captain’s head with a battle ax. After that the place all took to their boats and came away as rapidly as possible pursued for some distance by the bandits.”

“The whole country around Kiangyin and the part of the country northeast of Patzekiao is infested by people who call themselves communists and who maraud almost daily setting fire to villages and killing people and robbing. some of the towns have put up barbed wire entanglements around them and have volunteers to defend them. An old man came yesterday to the hospital, who said that his town had been attacked by Communists about one hundred strong but that the volunteers had fought them from behind barricades and had driven them off after hitting twenty of them in the fight with no casualties among the volunteers.”

“The Communists have gone around to the peasants and forced many of them to sign a declaration stating that they will neither pay any rent or any debts… There was a good congregation of peasants at H this morning. Neither of the troublesome Chu brothers came. The younger one is one who has possessed himself of two women at once. The Chinese clergy had neglected to excommunicate him in my absence but it has been formally attended to now…I shall never see him again unless he thoroughly repents himself of all his evil deeds.”

“The people at H. turned out to service very well indeed this morning and three were baptized. That younger Chu who is the proud possesser of two wives in one house had the brazen affrontery to present himself for communion at the rail this morning. I simply went by him. His face was very red but he said nothing to me after the service. In fact he simply went away… The catechist at H told me a strange thing today…he said that the mother-in-law of one of the Christians, a heathen herself, was possessed of a devil for about five years. She is about forty years old. This devil used to come to her in the night and face her, it was something like a nightmare but she could sleep, though she couldn’t call out if he could get his mother-in-law to believe in Christianity that the devil would be exorcised and would not come back anymore. And that is what they did and the devil has not come back any more at all and it is about a year ago since that happened.”

REFERENCES: Li, Xiaobing, Ed. China at War : An Encyclopedia (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2012)

CONDITION: Very good, no losses to the letters; wear to envelopes.

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