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RG 30/49 - Paul Leaton Corbin (1875-1936)
Scope and Content

The papers of Paul Leaton Corbin constitute a small portion of Corbin's research collection on China, assembled over the course of Corbin's 29 years as a missionary in Shansi Province. Consisting almost entirely of printed materials, these files document the educational and evangelical work of the American Board in North China from 1900 to 1936. The papers also provide evidence of the activities of several foreign missionary organizations headquartered in Shanghai. Notably absent from this collection are Paul Corbin's personal papers and a complete set of his writings on missionary work.

The collection is arranged into eight records series: I. Correspondence; II. Annual Reports; III, Minutes; IV. Miscellaneous Reports; V. Publications Relating to Missionary Work in China; and VI. Publications Relating to Missionary Work (General); VII. Photographs; and VIII. Late Accretion. Within series, files are further divided into subseries by type of material. Featured prominently are Paul Corbin's correspondence with other missionaries and his administrative files covering the North China and Shansi missions. Publications are separated into two groups: those directed to foreign missionaries living in China (mainly published in China), and those of a general nature directed to domestic and foreign missionaries (mainly published in the United States).

Paul Corbin's correspondence (1908-35), consisting largely of letters received (ribbon copies), offers little indication of the scope of Corbin's missionary activities. Letters are concentrated during the years 1911 and 1918. In a series of letters (1911) from Peking, Wynn C. Fairfield (1886-1961; A.B. Oberlin 1907) voices concern over the safety of the Shansi missionaries in view of nearby clashes between imperialist and rebel troops. The 1918 letters pertain to an outbreak of pneumonic plague and the efforts of missionaries to coordinate medical relief for the afflicted in their regions. Corbin's correspondents include Enoch F. Bell of the American Board, missionary Mary P. Ament (1856-1930; Oberlin A.B. 1875), A. Sowerby of the International Anti-Opium Association, Francis M. Price, brother of the martyred missionary C. W. Price (1847-1900), E. T. Williams of the U.S. Legation at Peking, and William F. Bohn (1878-1947; A.B. Oberlin 1900), member of the Board of Trustees, Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association.

A more detailed picture of missionary life in China is provided by the circular letters (1908-35) sent by missionaries to each other, housed in Series I, Subseries 2. Letters received by Paul Corbin cover a range of topics, including various missionary conferences, the anti-opium campaign, public health work, drought, flood, and famine relief for Shansi Province, and the Rural Reconstruction Movement. Missionaries comment extensively on contemporary political events in China, notably the 1927 Rape of Nanking by the Japanese and the 1931 Japanese invasion of South Manchuria. Correspondents include John Wherry of the North China Tract Society, Eva F. French of the China Inland Mission, A. L. Warnshuis of the China Continuation Committee, Amy A. Metcalf of Tientsin, Alice R. Kellogg and Lucy P. Bement of the Shaowu mission in Fukien Province, Dr. Will Hemingway (1874-1932; A.B. Oberlin 1898), Logan H. Roots, Bishop of Hankow, Gene L. Ch'iao of the Shansi schools, Philip D. Dutton of Taigu (1891-1975; B.D. Oberlin 1916), and T. Z. Koo of the national Y.M.C.A. and Peiping mission.

Administrative files of missionary organizations, with which Paul Corbin and other missionaries were associated, provide an official account of mission activities and administration from 1904 to 1935. Incomplete runs of annual reports (1904-15) and minutes (1908-35), housed in Series II and III, exist for the two most important missions: the North China and Shansi Missions of the American Board. Annual reports for the Shaowu and Taigu stations (1913-15), as well as minutes of the North China Mission's local districts, councils, boards, and committees, reveal the multi-layered administrative structure of the American Board presence in China.

The annual reports, conference proceedings, periodicals, reports, and miscellaneous printed materials housed in Series V offer a record of the activities of numerous independent missionary organizations based in Shanghai, including those of Baptist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and Methodist Episcopal denominations. Incomplete runs of annual reports exist for the following organizations: the American Bible Society in China, the British and Foreign Bible Society, the Central China, North China, North and Central China, and Chinese Tract Societies, the International Anti-Opium Association, the American Presbyterian Mission, and the Y.M.C.A. of China, Korea, and Hong Kong.

While the missionary periodicals are available in complete sets at other repositories, their presence in this collection indicates the range of Corbin's professional interests. Corbin's collection of periodicals includes a complete run (1907-18) of the American Presbyterian Press' publication, Woman's Work in the Far East; eleven issues (1934-35) of the monthly advertiser The Missionary Supplier, twenty-three issues (1907-27) of the China Inland Mission's List of Missionaries, eleven issues (1909-19) of the Educational Association of China's quarterly The Educational Review, and thirteen issues (1919-25) of the National Christian Council's monthly Bulletin. Together, these periodicals create a vivid impression of the vitality of the second phase of missionary activities in China.

Corbin also collected reports and articles relating to Chinese culture and history and to Christian work in China.Among the loose reports housed in Series IV are four of Corbin's own articles relating mainly to his famine relief work in North Shensi in 1925. These are the only writings of Corbin in this collection. Additional published reports (collected) cover such subjects as anti-opium, famine and flood relief, medical missions, and missionary education; these are housed in Series V with other printed materials.

Additional publications relating to missionary work in China are of a miscellaneous character. Of special interest are several instruction booklets (1886, 1889, 1897, 1920, 1928) for foreign missionaries containing guidelines for shipping goods to China, choosing sailing dates, calculating costs, assembling clothing and furniture, and other practical information. Filed with these booklets are several brief histories of the American Board's missions in China (1900-35) and numerous pocket-size evangelical tracts. Materials in Chinese include a scroll presented to Paul Corbin in 1920 and clippings from Chinese newspapers. Also present are census figures (1910, 1915) for Shanghai's foreign and native populations.

Publications relating to mission work in general document American support for domestic missions and for missions in Africa, Bulgaria, India, Japan, and Turkey. It is possible that these materials were collected by Corbin while on furlough or sent to him from America. Files include several incomplete runs and single issues of missionary periodicals, including three issues of the American Board Yearbook of Missions (1912, 1919, 1920) and seven issues of the American Board Quarterly News Bulletin (1907-34). Also housed here are several programs of annual meetings of the American Board (1903, 1906, 1912, 1922, 1928), various reports of the Board's Prudential Committee and Treasurer (1911-12, 1919-20), and surveys of Board missionaries in the field. For the complete annual reports of the Board, the researcher is advised to consult the Annual Reports of the American Board (1810- ), which are available on microfilm and in hard copy in the Oberlin College Library.

In 2011, oversize materials from Paul Corbinís papers previously filed in Special Collections were accessioned and placed in Series VIII. These include a political poster ca. 1930s, 20 issues of a Taigu newspaper, 1931, 1934-36, a printed map of Taigu and Shanxi Province, n.d., a hand-annotated map indicating locations of plague victims ca. 1918, two Chinese calendars, 1934, 1936, and a pair of paper scrolls honoring Corbin, n.d.  

Series Descriptions

Series I. Correspondence, 1908-35 .2 l.f.

Correspondence of Paul Corbin, organized into two subseries by type of correspondence.

Subseries 1. Correspondence of Paul Corbin, 1911-18, 1926, 1929 (3f)

Letters sent and received, with enclosed and related matter. Includes mainly incoming letters, which are often ribbon copies. Organized chronologically. (See the index for the names of the correspondents.)

Subseries 2. Circular letters (received), 1908-35 (5f)

Circular letters of China missionaries received by Paul Corbin, in file copy and printed formats. Organized chronologically.

Series II. Annual Reports, 1901-30 .2 l.f.

Annual reports of American Board missions and mission stations, organized into three subseries by author of publication.

Subseries 1. Annual Reports of the North China Mission of the American Board, 1901-15, 1923, 1930 (2f)
Incomplete run of annual reports (1904-14) chronologically arranged, with five pamphlets (1901-30) of the Standing Rules of the North China Mission.

Subseries 2. Annual Reports of the Shansi Mission of the American Board, 1906-07, 1911-14

Incomplete run of annual reports chronologically arranged.

Subseries 3. Annual Reports of American Board Mission Stations, 1913-15

Annual reports for the Shaowu (Fukien Province) and Taigu (Shansi Province) mission stations, arranged alphabetically by mission name and thereunder chronologically.

Series III. Minutes, 1908-35 .4 l.f.

Minutes of meetings of American Board missions, mission districts and local bodies. Organized into three subseries in order of administrative importance.

Subseries 1. Minutes of the Meetings of the North China Mission, 1910-35 (2f)

Incomplete run of minutes of the annual meetings, chronologically arranged.

Subseries 2. Minutes of District meetings of the North China Mission, 1908-26 (2f)

Incomplete runs of minutes of the Chihli and Shansi District annual meetings, arranged alphabetically by district name and thereunder chronologically.

Subseries 3. Minutes of Councils, Boards, and Committees, 1908-35 (5f)

Incomplete runs of minutes for several organizations, arranged alphabetically by organization and thereunder chronologically. One folder contains minutes for single meetings of various organizations.

Series IV. Miscellaneous Reports (loose) Relating to Mission Work in Shansi Province, 1907-31, n.d. .2 l.f.

Manuscript, printed, and micrograph reports on a variety of subjects, arranged alphabetically by topic and thereunder chronologically. Folders entitled "Various Reports" contain item-level listings of their contents which were created in 1970 upon receipt of the records.

Series V. Publications Relating to Missionary Work in China, 1886-1935 4.6 l.f.

Various publications, mainly printed in China for the foreign missionary community. Organized into five subseries by type of material.

Subseries 1. Annual Reports of Missionary Organizations Based in China, 1904-27, n.d. .8 l.f.

Includes the annual reports of numerous smaller missionary organizations, either headquartered in China or with branches in China. Arranged alphabetically by name of organization and chronologically thereunder. For annual reports of the American Board's China mission, see Series II above.

Subseries 2. Proceedings of Various Conferences (Held in China), 1905-26, n.d. .4 l.f.

Published proceedings of missionary conferences held in China, arranged alphabetically by conference name and thereunder chronologically. For proceedings of missionary conferences held in the United States, see Series VI, Subseries 1, below.

Subseries 3. Periodicals, 1892-1935 1.4 l.f.

Includes incomplete runs of various periodicals, single issues, and paper-bound reprints published for the American missionary community in China. Arranged alphabetically by title,with single issues placed last. For missionary periodicals published in America, see Series VI, Subseries 2, below.

Subseries 4. Miscellany, 1886-1937, n.d. 1.2 l.f.

A Chinese scroll, census charts, missionary handbooks, architectural drawings, book dealers' catalogs, tracts, leaflets, invitations, Christmas cards, ships' menus, tracts, and clippings, some in Chinese. Arranged alphabetically by type of material.

Subseries 5. Various articles on the Far East, 1893-1933, n.d. .8 l.f.

Printed articles and reports relating to China in general and to missionary and relief work in particular. Arranged alphabetically by topic.

Series VI. Publications Relating to Missionary Work (General), 1897-1934 2.2 l.f.

Various publications, mainly printed in the United Statesfor both foreign and domestic missionaries. Organized into three subseries by type of material.

Subseries 1. Proceedings of Various Meetings and Conferences, 1903-28 .6 l.f.

Printed program booklets and conference reports relating to conferences and annual meetings of various missionary organizations; arranged alphabetically by organization and conference title. Most meetings were held in the U.S. For proceedings of conferences held in China, see Series V, Subseries 2, above.

Subseries 2. Periodicals, 1900-34 .6 l.f.

Incomplete runs and single issues of various periodicals, all published in the United States. Most relate to missionary work. Arranged alphabetically by title, with single issues placed last.

Subseries 3. Miscellany, 1897-1930 1 l.f.

Church bulletins, pamphlets, directories, tracts, and occasional publications of the Student Volunteer Movement and the Woman's Board of Missions. Arranged alphabetically by type of material.

Series VII. Photographs, 1918 (0.2 l.f.)

Consists of a photograph album, titled "Shansi 1918," depicting the 1918 pneumonic plague epidemic in Shansi Province, China, and the work of the Shansi Plague Prevention Bureau.

Series VIII. Late Accretion, ca. 1918, 1931, 1934-36, n.d. (3.8 l.f.)

Oversize materials consisting of a political poster, 20 issues of a Taigu newspaper, a printed map of Taigu and Shanxi Province, a hand-annotated map indicating locations of plague victims ca. 1918, two Chinese calendars, and a pair of paper scrolls honoring Corbin.


The papers of Paul Leaton Corbin were transferred to the Oberlin College Archives from the Oberlin College Library in 1970, 1974, and 1979. They came to the Library through the Paul Corbin Bequest in 1937. The photograph album of the 1918 pneumonic plague epidemic was transferred from the Oberlin College Library, Special Collections, in 2001. A map indicating locations of plague victims, a Shanxi map, two calendars, a pair of scrolls, a poster, and 20 issues of a Chinese Taigu newspaper were transferred from Special Collections in 2011. Some of these materials were encapsulated along with explanatory notes by Grace Wu and dated February 20,1976.

Related Materials

The following collections in the Oberlin College Archives contain materials relating to missionary work in China:

0/2 College General: Class Letters
15 Records of the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association
21 Oberlin File, Section II
30/21 George Frederick Wright
30/26 Margaret Portia Mickey
30/58 Alice Moon Williams
30/67 George Nelson Allen
30/76 Willard L. Beard
30/80 Lydia Lord Davis
30/130 Everett D. Hawkins
30/145 A. Clair Siddall, M.D.
30/209 Dutton Family Papers
38/1 Miscellaneous Missionary Records


Holdings in Special Collections, Oberlin College Library

Bequest of the Rev. Paul L. Corbin, September 1937. [Oberlin, 1938], [ms. typescript; 45 leaves]. A listing of the books donated under the Bequest.

Corbin, Paul. Rimes rough-hewn (Oberlin: Kinney, 1902), 48 pp.

Holdings in the Oberlin College Library

The Library holds 1,500 volumes of Paul Corbin's library on China.

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