God's Little Daughters

Catholic Women in Nineteenth-Century Manchuria

Ji Li

  • Published: 2015. Paperback March 2017
  • Subject Listing: Asian Studies / China; History
  • Bibliographic information: 232 pp., 11 photos, 2 maps, 5 charts, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Contents

God's Little Daughters examines a set of letters written by Chinese Catholic women from a small village in Manchuria to their French missionary, "Father Lin," or Dominique Maurice Pourquié, who in 1870 had returned to France in poor health after spending twenty-three years at the local mission of the Société des Missions Etrangères de Paris (MEP).

The letters were from three sisters of the Du family, who had taken religious vows and committed themselves to a life of contemplation and worship that allowed them rare privacy and the opportunity to learn to read and write. Inspired by a close reading of the letters, Ji Li explores how French Catholic missionaries of the MEP translated and disseminated their Christian message in northeast China from the mid-19th to the early 20th centuries, and how these converts interpreted and transformed their Catholic faith to articulate an awareness of self. The interplay of religious experience, rhetorical skill, and gender relations revealed in the letters allow us to reconstruct the neglected voices of Catholic women in rural China.
Ji Li is assistant professor of history at the University of Hong Kong.

"God's Little Daughters is an interesting historical study based on an examination of the documents of the MEP in Manchuria. These documents may arouse the curiosity and passion of the researcher."
-R. Po-chia Hsia, author of A Jesuit in the Forbidden City

"This work contributes to the study of women and gender in modern China, the expansion of literacy and educational access for women, and the role of the Catholic Church as it relates to these themes. It furthers our understanding of public and private spheres in China and the development of a new sense of privacy."
-Robert Entenmann, professor of history and Asian studies, St. Olaf College


1. Christianity, Gender, and Literacy in Northeast China
2. Religion, Women, and Writing in Rural China
3. Religious Knowledge and Behavior
4. Establishing Faith in Local Society
5. Institutionalization and Indigenization
6. Faith, Gender, and a New Female Literacy in Modern China


"Li's discussion of the ways Catholic literacy created for rural women a separate and often private world, an image that contrasts with the easy assumption of oppressive hierarchy within Catholic communities. . . . Li shows that for lay Catholics such as the letter writers, catechistic literacy provided a forum for the exploration not only of identity, but also of faith."
-Thomas David DuBois, Nan Nu

"This meticulously researched book . . . [demonstrates] how Catholicism became a tool for rural Chinese women to empower themselves and break away from the social restrictions imposed by traditional Chinese society."
-Hongyan Xiang, China Review International

"As a novel work on the MEP and Catholic women from rural Northeast China, this contributes to an enriched understanding on gender and religion in an Asian context. This book is certainly a noteworthy work that will capture the interest of many scholars."
-El-Lim Kim, Asian Journal of Women's Studies