Minor Heresies, Major Departures: A China Mission Boyhood

by John Jenkins Espey

Hardcover, 1994




Berkeley, Calif. : University of California Press, c1994.


An American boy, son of Presbyterian missionaries, was born in Shanghai early in this century. The boy lived two lives, one within the pious church compound, the other along the canal and in the alleys of a traditional Chinese city. There he faced the alley brats' Lady Bandit, heard the shrill screams of a child's foot-binding, learned rank obscenities from passing boatmen, and, while still in short pants, chewed Sen-Sen and ogled snake-charmers in the old Native City. He sailed up the Yangtze to attend boarding school, and along with his Boy Scout patrol, met Chiang Kai-shek. And when John Espey grew up, he wrote about his years in China. This memoir is the story of those years, and while it is a wry, affectionate account, it also conveys an often overlooked picture of China in the years before communism. Seen through the eyes of a child, the interplay of religion, commerce, and American colonialism that took place during this period is revealed more tellingly--and more lightheartedly--than in many an analysis by an "old China hand." Espey's bent is to use a "Chinese" approach to his subject, that is, to hide a second meaning within his words, to speak in parables. This he learned from both his single-minded missionary father and the family's Chinese cook. The result is that the reader of Minor Heresies, Major Departures will learn a great deal about the Pacific Rim while having a rollicking good time.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member tippycanoegal
Oh, I am so pleased to see that this fantastic book is once again in print. I stumbled upon my copy at our local used book store with no idea of the delights waiting for me. My copy, just called Minor Heresies, presumably the first section of this currently available omnibus, is dated 1947. I cannot put it down. I would not have guessed that a memoir about life as a missionary's child in Shanghai in the period between WWI and WWII could be so fun. I was not surprised at all that several chapters of this memoir were first published in the New Yorker in the 1940s. The book is written with that kind of amused and intelligent voice that you often find there. But the story is a singular one. I am thrilled that I picked up two of Espey's books this weekend because I am almost finished with this one and don't want to put it down. How can it be that I had not heard of this author before? Definitely an under-rated classic!… (more)



Page: 0.1815 seconds