Mary Austin was a mayor’s daughter who expected to live an uneventful life in Canada. But when she said “I do” to Jim Endicott she found that she had “married China.”
Thrust into extraordinary circumstances, but undeterred by the political turmoil around her in China, Mary Austin Endicott determined she would achieve the goals she set for herself. She bore and raised four children, ran a one-room school and became the foster mother to three Chinese boys, despite the raised eyebrows of many of her fellow missionaries.
The family moved back to Canada, but it wasn’t long before Jim, who was becoming a well-known peace activist, returned to wartorn China. Mary, by then a school trustee, continued her fight for teachers’ rights and focussed her energy on increased activity in left-wing politics, all the while separated from Jim and grieving for a marriage she felt to be in jeopardy.
Mary and Jim were finally reunited in 1947 in the police state Shanghai had become. She used all her energy and faith in that time to help Jim regain his equilibrium. For thousands of readers her book Five Stars over China countered the common practice during the Cold War of vilifying the Chinese Revolution. Then her greatest crisis came: Jim was accused of treason.
Shirley Jane Endicott has presented us with a fascinating account of her mother’s life, based on Mary Austin Endicott’s private writings and flavoured with Shirley’s memories. She brings to life the story of an exceptional woman whose life was shaped by profound political and historical circumstances.
About the author
Shirley Jane Endicott grew up in China, where her parents were missionaries. She taught sociology at the University of Toronto for thirteen years until 1978, when she became involved in educating the community about wife assault.
"This is an interesting portrayal of a talented and intelligent woman trying hard to negotiate a profession as treacherous as the Yangtse Gorges."
Canadian Ethnic Studies
"While China Diary is about the life of a missionary wife in China, one doesn't need an interest in Chinese history or in the experiences of Canadian missionaries to thoroughly enjoy this biography of Mary Austin Endicott. During her life, Endicott was overshadowed by her husband, James (Jim) Endicott—a household name in 1950s Canada, when he was accused of treason for his anti-war, pro-Communist sympathies. This book pays homage to a woman who was an intellectual force in her own right.... Endicott was an accomplished storyteller, but her daughter has done a wonderful job of weaving her mother's letters with her unfinished memoir to create a well-organized and very readable book.... That her biography is also a fascinating window on the turbulence of early 20th-century China is icing on the cake."
Canadian Book Review Annual, 2006
"China Diary is a gripping story of a courageous woman in tumultuous times. It gives keen analysis and intimate personal details of a largely unknown story in Canadian history. It is well written, informative, and touches both heart and mind."
"A rich psychological portrait of a complicated inner life and a difficult relationship."
University of Toronto Quarterly—Letters in Canada 2003, Volume 74, number 1
"China Diary is an engrossing, extraordinarily well-written account of a life with both personal and historical significance. For anyone who follows Canada's relations with China, or who is interested in the 'wives of,' this is essential reading."
"China Diary is a daring book.... Mary Austin Endicott's early years couldn't prepare her for life with a missionary in China during the era of warlords and the invasion by the Japanese. The most satisfying sections are the harrowing stories of Mary establishing a home...and staying in love while birthing four children, starting a school, and living with the terrors of war, disease, poverty and beheadings. Mary's account of the bombing of Chungking is hair-raising...The author once wrote, 'Within the family, stories about my father abound, while the life of my mother has faded like an old photograph.' She has restored the photo, and added colour. China Diary is a courageous book. I admire the author's compassion and honesty. I am glad she has provided Canadians with the story of a strong woman who worked for peace in all aspects of her life."