I was never interested in China until I visited the torture museum in Wisconsin Dells. I know that sounds strange, right? I didn’t want to go by myself, but my family refused to go, so I begged my daughter to come, but she would only go if I promised to take her to the outlet mall and give her a high spending limit. Okay. What the heck?
She bolted after five minutes. The first exhibit was the Chinese death cage. The executioner put a prisoner in a bamboo cage that enclosed his neck; then he removed stones stacked under the prisoner’s feet until he slowly suffocated because his tongue would swell from water deprivation. Death could take days.
Afterward, I went back to my hotel and googled China, and lo and behold, I found a journal from a missionary dating from the 1880s, the time period of The Preacher’s Daughters. It was quite a lengthy journal, so I read it, completely fascinated. Later, I realized Pearl S. Buck introduced the West to China.
The Chinese, considered pagan by the West, were far from ignorant. Admiral Zheng He (pronounced Chang Ha) served the Ming Dynasty in the early 1400s. China was the superpower of its day, an advanced civilization that traveled around India and the west coast of Africa; some say they even reached North America, though this is hotly contested. After China left the Indian Ocean, this power vacuum was filled by the Portuguese, the Dutch, and later the British.
Naturally, the British wanted ports for their navy and for trade. In exchange for Chinese tea, silk, and porcelain, the British smuggled in opium. (This article isn’t meant to bash the British. Every country has done good and bad.) Sadly, the Chinese became hopelessly addicted to opium. You could find opium rooms in banks, restaurants, and shops. At the same time, Europeans and Americans sent missionaries to evangelize China. As you can surmise, the Chinese mistrusted foreigners.
On the bright side, missionaries taught the Chinese proper agriculture, childcare, hygiene, mathematics, science, modern medicine, and famine relief. But mistrust of the West was still prevalent because opium addiction was at an all-time high.
In 1900, the Boxer Rebellion tried to expel foreigners from China. Missionaries and Chinese Christians were tortured and killed. The Rebellion was put down by the West, but you can’t blame the Chinese for taking their country back.
The Preacher’s Daughters is written against this background. I wanted to give Kathleen Sanderson a past. At first, she seems wild and rebellious until we learn what happened to her in China. Kathleen’s past is the reason she stays with Wayne Sanderson as long as she does. Breaking away from him is a drastic step, a brave move. Chinese missionary history gave me the backstory I needed to make my novel work. Kathleen is a brave woman. A true survivor.
By the way, my daughter got her trip to the outlet mall.by