Authors: Allene Carter
Fabled in the nineteenth century for its opium dens and prostitution, and as the unsought destination of many a hapless sailor, Shanghai in 1927 was a thriving commercial and financial center whose busy port connected China to Europe and North America. It was the most cosmopolitan and westernized city in China, with a large resident European population. Sections of Shanghai, especially along the Bund, its famous waterfront thoroughfare and location of many hotels, banks, and other
commercial establishments, looked more like a European capital than a Chinese city. Fortunately for Evangelist Carter, the large European population meant the presence of a general hospital where William could be treated.
Carter settled his family in a hotel to wait and pray. “My son Edward did not think William was going to die,” he wrote to the church in Los Angeles. William remained in serious condition; the doctors said that he might need to be hospitalized for forty to sixty days. “Daddy, maybe God wants you to stay in Shanghai,” Eddie said to his father. “Would you if he wanted you to?” The elder Carter decided that “God was trying to speak to me but I had a hard fight to say
to Jesus, but William never began to get well until I did say
Shortly after arriving in Shanghai, Evangelist Carter met a Chinese Christian who helped him find a home for his family, and he began preaching to Chinese people through a translator and any Europeans who would listen. As William's health began to improve, Carter befriended other missionaries and was invited to preach at various meetings, including a series of evangelistic meetings held at the Chinese YMCA.
For five weeks I labored at the Chinese Y.M.C.A. to a packed house; many times the people could not get into the auditorium. From there I went into the London Mission Church and then to the Christian
Alliance Church. Wherever I was people flocked by the hundreds, and standing room was always at a premium.
Despite his troubles in Calcutta, Carter had not lost his fervor or brilliance as an evangelist. Holiness Church officials in Los Angeles continued to support him financially as he established a missionary venture in China that would become astonishingly successful. Enrolling the children in an American Holiness school, he threw himself wholeheartedly into this new calling, traveling to other cities and taking his message into the Chinese countryside. He based himself in Shanghai, where, by 1928, three Holiness missions had been established. He wrote home that souls were being saved by the hundreds and thousands.
Evangelist Carter attributed his success in part to being a black missionary in China. He recounted a visit to the northwest where a local Chinese commander told him, “We are glad you came to China. We need a man like you.” Carter commented: “This is the time
I can go where the white missionaries cannot go. I am trying to show them the oneness of God's people and hundreds have accepted Jesus Christ.” With antiforeign (meaning primarily anti-European) sentiment growing in China, Evangelist Carter was not identified with the “foreign devils.” In many areas he was hailed as the “Black Evangelist.” His success, however, was not always well received by white missionaries. “The foreign missionaries
are unable to go into the places where God has given your humble servant an open door,” he reported. “Some of them say they have been here thirty or forty years and have not been able to do the things reported to you. Some have even said I should go to America. It seems they are becoming envious.”
Other observers confirmed Evangelist Carter's success. A “white businessman” writing in the
said that “great crowds were assembled to hear this man.” Carter won praise from Jennie V. Hughes of Bethel Mission, who wrote to the
that “The Chinese from the first opened their hearts to him.” Once when Evangelist Carter protested that he was also a foreigner, an American, she wrote that a Chinese convert “put his arms around [Carter] and replied, âOh, no, you are not a foreigner. You are just our brother.'”
Carter happily reported that Eddie and William were involved in the mission work. “Edward and William are saved and sanctified,” he wrote, “and are a great help in the singing in our evening prayer meetings, and how they do pray for the people!” He said people sometimes called Eddie “the young preacher.”
Beyond his reputation as a powerful orator, even through an interpreter, Carter also became known for having the gift of healing through prayer. He acknowledged the importance of healing when he wrote that “God is not only saving and sanctifying souls here in China, but He is also healing, and because of this, many
souls are accepting Him as their personal Savior.” Healing the sick through prayer was a common practice at meetings, and Carter was sometimes called by wealthy families to pray for a sick relative. In one report home he described how he was called by a Chinese family to pray for their teenage daughter, Myrtle, who was suffering with typhoid fever. The doctors had described her case as very dangerous. Her situation did not look hopeful, and an intense bedside prayer meeting was held, led by Carter. “We surely prayed a hole right through the skies to the throne of God. The doctor was dismissed, and thank God we can say, Myrtle is healed, and they are planning a thanksgiving service at the Cantonese church just as soon as Myrtle is stronger.”
Although Evangelist Carter's reputation was growing, it was a difficult and dangerous time to be in China. China was burdened by a legacy of European and American imperialist intervention dating back to the nineteenth century. After China's humiliating defeat in the Opium Warsâstemming from attempts by the Chinese government to stop the British from importing opium into ChinaâEuropeans gained control of key Chinese cities, including Hong Kong and Shanghai. Shanghai was divided into a number of “concessions,” international settlements of resident foreigners (and a few wealthy Chinese) protected by troops of their own governments. Added to this was a growing civil war in the 1920s between communist forces led by Mao Tse-tung and a
right-wing Nationalist Army under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, combined with continuing violence by gangs and warlords and the ever-present threat of famine, all of which caused widespread death and destruction and tore Chinese society apart. The elder Carter and his children arrived in Shanghai not long after a bloody massacre of communists by the Nationalist forces, and the fighting continued in other areas throughout the countryside. It was a time of enormous suffering for the Chinese people. To the Chinese Nationalists and wealthy classes, Carter's success among ordinary Chineseâwhere so many foreign missionaries had failedâand his status as an American connected with an American Christian church made him a man of some interest.
It was only a matter of months after his arrival in China that Evangelist Carter was introduced to a wealthy Chinese family that was linked to both American Christianity and the Chinese Nationalists. “We were invited to the home of a very rich Chinese to dinner,” he reported. “I could scarcely find a more accomplished family. The children had studied in America, and came out of school with high honors.” Carter did not name the family, but his description suggests this may have been his first meeting with the Soong family, a wealthy and influential Christian family in Shanghai. He would have been introduced to them by other missionaries, as the family was well known in the missionary community and active in spreading the gospel.
Sterling Seagrave's fascinating and best-selling book
The Soong Dynasty
(1985) brought this family to the attention of a new generation of U.S. readers, and in 1997
The Soong Sisters,
a fictionalized film about the three sisters, was released. Charlie Soong, the patriarch of the family, whose Chinese name was Han Chiao-shun, was born into a merchant family in China's Kwangtung Province. In 1879, Charlie, like many Chinese, emigrated to the United States in search of a better life. Unlike most Chinese immigrants, however, he succeeded, with the aid of white Christian benefactors, in gaining an education at Trinity College in Durham, North Carolina, and Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. His chief benefactor was Julian Carr, who made his money in tobacco and was a founder of Duke University. Under the influence of a Methodist minister, Charlie also converted to Christianity. Along the way he dropped his Chinese name. Returning to China, Charlie worked for a time as a Methodist missionary and teacher, then he launched his first business, a Bible-publishing business in Shanghai, set up with financial assistance from wealthy Chinese Christians and the help of Julian Carr. His business ventures became enormously successful, making Charlie rich and powerful. He used his wealth to support the growing nationalist movement in China, and his Bible-publishing business became a cover for printing nationalist literature.
In 1887, Charlie Soong married Ni Kwei-tseng, the daughter of a wealthy Chinese Christian family. The cou
ple had three daughters and three sons. The children established the Soong “dynasty.” Two of his sons became financiers, and the oldest, T. V. Soong, was at various times finance minister, foreign minister, and prime minister in the government of Chiang Kai-shek. The daughters were even more interesting. Educated, shrewd women, they were powerful individuals, although in China their power had to be expressed through their connection with men. The oldest, Ai-ling, considered the family mastermind, was educated at Wesleyan College, a Methodist college for women in Macon, Georgia. Known for her financial cunning, she married the wealthy H. H. Kung and helped him become finance minister and minister of industry, commerce, and labor in Chiang Kai-shek's government. Ai-ling was also linked with the dark side of Chinese society, the powerful gangs that were involved in the opium trade and other criminal activity.
The second daughter, Ching-ling, also educated at Wesleyan, married Sun Yat-sen, the father of the Chinese nationalist movement and hero to the Chinese people. After Sun's death, Ching-ling joined forces with Mao Tse-tung and became vice-chairman of the People's Republic of China after the communist victory in 1949. The youngest daughter, Mei-ling, also attended Wesleyan, graduated from Wellesley College, and married Chiang Kai-shek in December 1927. She was China's first lady until the communist victory, when she and her husband and their supporters fled to Taiwan. Known as the power behind the
throne of Nationalist China, Madame Chiang, elegant and charming, became extremely popular in the American media and helped solidify U.S. support for the repressive regime of her husband.
Also in the Soong household, employed as a German language tutor, was Marie Adele Westerhold, a pretty young German woman with bright red hair. In February 1928, Westerhold and Carter married.
knew from Eddie's family that there was a second “Mary” Carter. We had received news of her death in 1987 in Germany from Elsa Schulz, who cared for her in her last years. Marie Westerhold had been born in Bremen, Germany, in 1906. With the help of an aunt in China, she had left her home in Germany to serve as a missionary in China. She supported herself by working as a tutor. When she married Carter, she was twenty-one years old; he was fifty-one. What brought them together I can only surmise, but they worked together in China as missionaries until the Japanese invaded in 1937, and she remained devoted to Carterâwhom she called “Daddy”âuntil he died in 1966.
What became of the first Mary Carter? A registration application filed by Carter on November 1, 1927, with the U.S. Consulate General in Shanghai only deepened the mystery. The form had a line for indicating when the applicant's prior marital relation was terminated. The date,
February 1927, was entered on that line. Elsewhere the form asked for the date of the prior marriage and spouse's name, and this was followed by the notation that “Mary Wilhelmina is now deceased.” When and how the first Mary Carter died has never been explained.
For Eddie, his father's sudden marriage to Mary Westerhold must have been very disturbing. It was only a year since Eddie had experienced the traumatic separation from his mother. He never saw his mother again, and apparently she died in India. Now he was expected to accept a white stranger, who was hardly more than a girl herself, as a replacement for his mother. It was an impossible situation. Mary Westerhold's presence only further deepened Eddie's alienation from his father.
Meanwhile, the military situation in China, the civil war between warlords, Nationalists, and communists, was growing ever more dangerous. Writing in May 1928, Carter said, “They are still fighting a few hundred miles north of us, and there have within the last few days been killed twenty to thirty thousand soldiers, and those that are taken prisoners are being put in the front ranks of the battle line and shot down, while some of the officers are taken and their heads cut off. Two more missionaries have paid the price of their lives.” He said that twice a month he visited the Chinese Red Cross hospital to minister to the nurses and wounded soldiers. Shanghai, for the moment spared from the fighting, was a center of “sin and filth” that waylaid American Marines and even some
missionaries. Writing in the September 26, 1928, issue of the
Standard Bearer of Bible Holiness
(the new name of the
), Carter said he believed that despite the worsening conditions, the Nationalist government in power was trying to establish a “real government” for China.
In the summer of 1929, Evangelist Carter moved his family into the French concession in Shanghai. Living in the international community was considered safer than living in the Chinese part of the city, and Carter may have been urged by some of his Chinese Christian friends who also lived there to move. He settled in a residence on Route de Sieyes. According to Seagrave's book,
The Soong Dynasty,
this is the same street on which the Kung family had a house. The Chiang and Kung families were very close.