Professor Daniel H. Bays (1942-2019)

Dong Wang's picture

Dr. Daniel H. Bays (1942-2019) in Memoriam

It is my sad duty to report that Dr. Daniel H. Bays, B.A. Stanford 1964 and M.A. 1967 and Ph.D. 1971 Michigan, passed away on May 9, 2019. Dan was a most widely quoted scholar and good person in the fields of Chinese Christian history, modern China and the history of U.S.-China relations. I join many colleagues and students around the world who are mourning his death. As his doctoral student at the University of Kansas from 1993 to 1998, I wish to share some fond memories of Dan.

I first met Dan in autumn 1990 at the International Symposium on the Boxer Movement and Modern Chinese Society hosted by Shandong University. At the time, I was pursuing my first doctorate at the Institute of Modern History at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and had the privilege to consult Dan and other China historians including Paul Cohen, Joseph Esherick, and David Buck. At one meeting in Beijing, Dan even handwrote me the outline for the history of Christianity in China, which laid the cornerstone for my work in English on Canton Christian College, higher education, philanthropy and U.S.-China relations.

Dan played an instrumental role in shaping my teaching and research skills in the English speaking world. In the mid-1990s, Dan was working on his edited and extremely influential book, Christianity in China, the Eighteenth Century to the Present. He patiently made rounds of corrections to the errors that I made in the glossary of this book so I learned that one should handle all details with care in the profession. Dan’s generosity in sharing his ideas on the indigenization of Christianity and mutual influence opened up frontier topics for me to write about Lingnan University from the perspective of institutions, management, missions and cultural exchange. Early in 2008, he inspired me to contribute a long article, “Portraying Chinese Christianity: The American Press and U.S.-China Relations since the 1920s,” to The Journal of American-East Asian Relations.

In 2014-15, we joined forces to apply and successfully direct a National Endowment for the Humanities program, “America and China: 150 Years of Aspirations and Encounters,” at Calvin College. Despite his physical handicaps, Dan was as sharp as ever. At Dan’s suggestion, we used in our NEH seminar Trudeau’s Doonesbury strips on Nixon and his China trip, which brought a good laugh to our seminar group. Most importantly, Dan broadened and deepened the study of missionaries and Chinese Christianity within the context of world and American history.

Dan taught me to embrace life with a purpose, humility and optimism. Eighteen years ago, I told him that I did not do much research during the first two-year life of my daughter. Dan responded: “You did not lose anything, at most a published paper.”

The above painting hangs in my study, and I can think of no better personal aide-mémoire to commemorate Dan. The painter, Franz Maria Jansen, an important exponent of German expressionism, called it “Die Verkündung an die Hirten” [The announcement to the shepherds]. Dan showed the way to what is of real value. We shall miss you, Dan!          

Some of Dr. Dan Bays’ publications:

China Enters the Twentieth Century:  Chang Chih-tung and the Issues of a  New Age, 1895-1909. Ann Arbor:  University of Michigan Press, 1978; U.S.-China Trade Relations, 1983: Six Essays (editor). Lawrence:  Center for East Asian Studies, University of Kansas, 1983; Foreigners in Areas of China under Communist Jurisdiction Before 1949, by Margaret Stanley (editor).  Lawrence: Center for East Asian Studies, University of Kansas, 1987; Christianity in China, the Eighteenth Century to the Present (editor). Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996; The Foreign Missionary Movement at Home: Explorations in North American Cultural History (co-edited with Grant Wacker). Tuscaloosa and London: University of Alabama Press, 2003; China’s Christian Colleges: Cross-Cultural Connections, 1900-1950 (co-edited with Ellen Widmer). Stanford:  Stanford U. Press, 2009; A New History of Christianity in China. Oxford and New York: Wiley-Blackwell Publishers, 2011. 


(Dr. Dong WANG is director of the Wellington Koo Institute for Modern China in World History, distinguished university professor of history at Shanghai University, and research associate at the Fairbank Center of Harvard University since 2002. Her single-authored books in English include China’s Unequal Treaties: Narrating National History (2005), Managing God’s Higher Learning: U.S.-China Cultural Encounter and Canton Christian College (Lingnan University), 1888-1952 (2007), and The United States and China: A History from the Eighteenth Century to the Present (2013). She has just completed a new book manuscript in English focusing on UNESCO’s world heritage site, the Buddhist Longmen Grottoes, as a window on modern and contemporary China in global affairs.)

I'd like to add a personal note to Dr. Dong Wang's obituary for Daniel Bays, and also to ensure it comes to the attention of H-Asia readers, since it was published as a "contribution" so would not have appeared in your inboxes.

Like Dong, I met Dan around 1990, when I was a Master's student at UBC. Although I did not become his PhD student, I learned a great deal from him over many years, and always valued his generous mentorship.

Daniel Bays was a pioneer in moving the study of Chinese Christianity beyond a focus on missionaries, foreignness, and hoary generalizations about "Confucian society." A seminal early contribution was his article "Christianity and the Chinese Sectarian Tradition," which appeared in Ch'ing-shih wen-t'i in 1982 (vol. 4.7, June 1982, pp. 33-55). In pointing out connections between Christian conversion and Chinese sectarian movements, Dan built on and contributed to the rediscovery of the complexity and variety of historical China that came with the new historiography of the 1970s and the concurrent end of the Maoist era. His insights continued to develop and inspire new work from others, in the study of Chinese Christianity, Chinese religions, and modern Chinese history more generally. I and many others are in his debt.

Ryan Dunch
University of Alberta