Reading Emily Georgiana Kemp’s Books

The Author as Chinese 'Female Travelling Scholar'

E.G.Kemp's self-portrait, from the frontispiece of 'The Face of China'

The donor of Somerville College Chapel, Emily Georgiana Kemp, wrote a number of books over her lifetime. By reading these it is possible to learn much about her experiences, and their role in forming her unique vision for Somerville College Chapel.

Emily travelled extensively and documented her adventures with her own watercolours. These are reproduced as colour plates in the following travel books: The Face of China (1909), The Face of Manchuria, Korea and Russian Turkestan (1910), Wanderings in Chinese Turkestan (1914), and Chinese Mettle (1921). Each of these books follows the format of a travel journal or diary, often demonstrating Emily’s fascination in the various religions and places of worship she encountered. They also show her continued preoccupation with the welfare and education of women.

Emily wrote two books about the work of missionaries: a biography of her sister, Reminiscences of a Sister, S. Florence Edwards (1919), and a general account of the work of women Baptist missionaries, There followed Him, women (1927). In these she expresses her belief in the importance of women in Christianity, a theme expounded most overtly in her last book, Mary, with her son, Jesus (1930).

Emily, unlike her sisters, was never a missionary, but she loved exploring and encountering different people and places. She writes in Reminiscences of a Sister that her ‘imagination was fired with stories of adventure’ by accounts of missionary work she heard as a child at her parents’ home.  It is because of her love for travel, and the countries she visited, particularly China, that her memorial plaque in the Chapel reads ‘friend of China’ as opposed to ‘missionary’, and why her books are given over to documenting her travels rather than giving an account of evangelisation. An unfavourable review of her first book published in the Burlington Magazine in 1909, states:

‘Slightly attached to sundry evangelising bodies, she shows a moderate interest in the Christianising of the Chinese, and a much livelier interest in their country, manners and customs. On these she chatters shrewdly and agreeably, according to her own fancies.’

According to our College records, Emily also published a book on Buddhism in 1910 which she translated from German. Unfortunately, I have so far not found any corroboration of this, or the text itself.

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