Religion and Beliefs
The popularity of youth conventions that were organized by the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) in their Asian missions at the turn of the 20th-century corresponds with a larger political and cultural transformation that ushered in an era of democratization, rising nationalism, and the increasing influence of cosmopolitanism and internationalism. Often organized by its members and held away from traditional places of worship, these conventions allowed young Asians to demonstrate their knowledge and independence to play an active role in the organization. This expression of agency translates into a greater sense of mission, not only as Christians but also as young citizens who are called upon to play important roles in nation-building and social transformation. Using a comparative historical analysis of reports, correspondence, and other documents from American YMCA missionaries in Japan, China, and the Philippines (1895-1915), the paper argues that the conventions served as “technologies of proximitization” (proxetechs) that not only promoted youth empowerment but also allowed the YMCA to entrench its influence in the region. These events provided a coterie of engaging activities (e.g. sports competitions) and captivating spectacles (e.g. lantern shows) that enabled the YMCA to present itself not only as a radical Christian organization but also as a bearer of modernity.