China Gadabouts
356 pages, 6 x 9
34 photos, 11 maps
Release Date:01 Jul 2018
Release Date:01 Dec 2017
Release Date:01 Dec 2017
Release Date:15 Nov 2017

China Gadabouts

New Frontiers of Humanitarian Nursing, 1941–51

UBC Press

The Sino-Japanese War (1937–45) had a devastating impact on China’s civilian population. Braving bandits, disease, and dangerous roads, the China Convoy – a Quaker-sponsored humanitarian unit and a forerunner of Médicins Sans Frontières – delivered medical supplies and provided famine relief at a hinge point in the development of the modern Chinese nation and humanitarian system.

China Gadabouts examines the contested roles played by Western and Chinese nurses in the Convoy’s humanitarian efforts from 1941 to 1951. In so doing, it re-examines the quandaries of Quakers’ purportedly apolitical global engagement that remain salient for contemporary humanitarians. Susan Armstrong-Reid explores how this work gave meaning to the women’s lives and how they attempted to carve out personal and professional space despite a chaotic, unfamiliar, and occasionally hostile environment. Despite their contributions in challenging wartime conditions, these women’s role in the global humanitarian enterprise has been undervalued. Through an array of letters, diary entries, and other materials, this book provides first-hand perspectives on the intersections of power with faith, gender, class, race, and nation that shaped the nurses’ work and life in the field.

China Gadabouts illuminates the ethical dilemmas, professional challenges, and opportunities presented by humanitarian nursing within a Western-based relief organization, while acknowledging its contentious imperial role. It also spotlights an understudied area of global nursing – its role within INGOs, now more active than ever, in global health care.

This book will find an audience with practitioners as well as students and scholars of global nursing history, humanitarian history, the history of medicine, and the Sino-Japanese War and the Chinese civil war.


  • 2018, Winner - Lavina L. Dock Award, American Association for the History of Nursing
The book contributes in an interesting and valuable way to the history of nursing by women in faith. Charmaine Robson, University of New South Wales, Health and History, Vol. 20, No. 2
Armstrong-Reid finds the ‘silenced’ voices of nurses, both women and men, Western and Chinese, in a variety of sources and texts – diaries, memoirs, letters, and more. I know of no other book on the history of humanitarian nursing in China that does this. Nursing history needs more like China Gadabouts. Barbra Mann Wall, Thomas A. Saunders III Professor in Nursing at the University of Virginia and director of The Eleanor Crowder Bjoring Center for Nursing Historical Inquiry
Susan Armstrong-Reid is an adjunct professor in the Department of History at the University of Guelph. She is the author of Lyle Creelman: The Frontiers of Global Nursing (2014) and coauthor, with David Murray, of Armies of Peace: Canada and the UNRRA Years (2008). In 2016, she was the recipient of the H-15 Grant from the American Association for the History of Nursing, and in 2012–13 of the Lillian Sholtis Brunner Fellowship from the Barbara Bates Centre for the History of Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania. A member of the Executive Committee of the Canadian Association for the History of Nursing, she also serves on the Leadership Advisory Board at the University of Guelph.


Part 1: From Regional War to Global War, 1941–45

Introduction to Part 1

1 Trial by Fire: Early Field Operations, 1941–42

2 A Marriage of Convenience: Courting the Chinese Nurses, 1942–43

3 The Salween Campaign: Humanitarian Diplomacy, 1944–45

4 “China Needs Good Men, and Still Better Women,” British Nurses, 1943–44

5 Baoshan: Professionalism, Pacifism, and Proposals, 1944–45

Part 2: Navigating New Humanitarian Frontiers, 1945–51

Introduction to Part 2

6 The Road to Honan: Plagues, Cholera, and Devilish Devolutions, 1944–45

7 Henan: Hope and Despair, 1945–47

8 “Early Team”: Guerrilla Warfare Nursing, 1946–47

Part 3: Unwelcome Visitors: Negotiating Access with The Communists, 1947–51

Introduction to Part 3

9 Nursing beyond the Trenches, 1947–50

Conclusion: Nurse Warriors without Weapons

Notes; Bibliography; Index

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