Agatha R Crawford : letters from China 1945-1949




Agatha Randal Crawford 1913 - 1999

In 1945 Agatha Crawford, who had graduated in medicine from Queen's University of Belfast in 1940 went to China. She was a medical missionary with the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and was going to "Manchuria" - the northeastern region of China where her parents (Alexander and Anna) had been missionaries from 1895 to 1913, just before her birth. She was going to teach pathology at the Mukden Medical College (often spelled as Moukden) in what is now called Shenyang.

The second world war was still going on and the situation in China was 'fluid'. As is seen in the letters that follow, she travelled there through India and reached China just as the civil war in north-east China was becoming open conflict and at a time when the defeated Japanese, who had occupied the area in 1931, were returning home. It was a difficult time to be in Mukden, particularly for a person who had not travelled much and who spoke virtually no Chinese. The MMC itself was just recovering from over a decade under Japanese control and many of its long-serving staff (who had been interned by the Japanese) were preparing to retire, or at least go on leave. As can be seen, she was there at a time when the College was re-opening and being impacted by the revolution (or liberation) around it. She left China in 1949 and heard little or nothing from Chinese friends and colleagues for almost 40 years. Though she was invited to return to MMC (then known as the China Medical University) in the early 1980s, she was unable to travel.

After her return to Ireland in 1949 she worked in Belfast for about 8 years and then, when her mother died she went, again as a pathology professor, to the Christian Medical College in Ludhiana, Punjab. On her return to Ireland in the mid-1960s she worked as a pathologist at the South Tyrone Hospital in Dungannon until she retired. Agatha Crawford died in May 1999.

Several generations of Crawfords had been missionaries and their letters home had been carefully preserved - they are now in the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland. Following this family tradition, her letters home were preserved and in the late 1980s she decided to type these up and the letters that follow were scanned and OCRed from these typescripts. (In fact. some letters had been typed several years earlier but these were retyped.) During the typing and retyping a certain amount of editing was done by ARC - partly to remove personal family references and partly to leave out things that appeared, in retrospect, to be untrue or inflammatory. Though most of the original letters no longer exist, it is fair to say that the typescripts are a reasonably complete and accurate transcription, though the letters in the Prologue and Postscript, which were typed in the early 1990s were 'censored' more strictly and were often sent to the compiler with personal names physically cut out - some looked somewhat like paper doilies! (By this time Agatha was increasingly paranoid and worried that any comments made by her, in the 1940s, would somehow be used against Chinese friends whom she quoted.) Often the person(s) involved can be quite easily identified and in these cases the excised names have been re-inserted.

Extracts from Letters 78 – 107 were edited and written out in long-hand by her in 1991; they have not been retyped as they do not have much of general interest in them. A few additional snippets extracted from them and from a few personal letters follow:

The Preface to the 1990 edition reads:

"Most letters were sent to her mother, Mrs Anna M. Crawford (Dear Mother), while a few were sent to her brother, Dr. J.C.C. Crawford, (Dear Jack), her sister-in-law, Marjorie and her nephew, David Crawford. Her brother and his family were collectively known as "The Roywoods", from the name of their house. Other people frequently mentioned in the letters are "Dor" (Miss Dorothy Crawford, a cousin, who had been a missionary in Japan, and had been interned there), her young niece, Christine Crawford and her mother's housekeeper, Margaret Alcorn."

The spelling of place-names has, as far as possible, been standardised but has been left in the Wade-Giles form that was standard in 1946. (Ch'ang ch'un rather than the modern, Pinyin, Changchun, for example.) Mukden (the present city of Shenyang) is spelled Moukden, as was common at the time.

The letters are accessible as a (large) pdf file.

A pdf of later memories and 'snippets' is here.



Agatha Crawford, 1990