David Crockett Graham, The West China Border Research Society, and Orientalism



This site examines the life and work of David Crockett Graham, a missionary, anthropologist, educator and collector who worked in China’s Sichuan province between the years of 1911 and 1948. As a Westerner working in China during an extremely tumultuous period – his career there was bookended by two revolutions – Graham provides an interesting view into the encounter between the cultures of the “East” and “West.” Graham created representations of China’s people through his work, as both a scientist and a missionary, and this study seeks to determine the extent to which Graham’s images fit the pattern of “Orientalism.” This terms refers to the way Western culture was able to exert power over the Orient by producing the “Oriental” – a idealized figure with essential qualities inferior to the Westerner and his culture. How did the work of Graham and his colleagues conceive of the East for Western readers? To what extent did their representations support Western power?





Graham in Brief

  • An outline of Graham’s childhood, education, and work in missions, research, collecting and teaching


Orientalism and Western Power

  • How did the West traditionally study and represent the East?
  • What was the political and cultural significance of these representations?

Research for the People, God, and Power

  • This section looks at the West China Border Research Society, a scientific organization in which Graham was active
  • What ideology guided these “missionary-researchers”? How did Graham’s intellectual milieu reflect Orientalist motivations and assumptions?

Life in the Menagerie

  • This section looks directly at the research published by Graham and other Society members and identifies patterns of Orientalism in the researchers’ attitudes and methods

Beyond Orientalism

  • In what ways did Graham differ from our standard conception of an Orientalist scholar?
  • What other cultural and ideological influences competed and conflicted with Orientalism to shape Graham’s work?


  • A daughter returns to China




 [a1]This photo appeared in D.C. Graham’s article, “An Excavation at Suifu,” which appeared in the eighth issue of Journal West China Border Research Society (1936). Graham is standing third from the left.