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Archive for July 26th, 2010

I hope I can do this topic justice – I don’t know much about Chinese history.

Over the course of the 19th century, foreign powers controlled more and more of China. They carved the country into “spheres of influence” and claimed exclusive trading rights in regions. The interests of the Chinese were largely ignored as countries like Russia, Italy, Japan, and the United States argued amongst themselves about China’s future. Simultaneously, a significant population of Christian missionaries attempted to convert the Chinese people. Olivia and Per Alfred Ogren, a young Swedish couple, were part of the Chinese Inland Mission.

In 1898, a group of Chinese peasants organized into an organization called I-ho ch’√ľan (“Righteous and Harmonious Fists,” called “Boxers” by the Europeans and Americans). They were opposed to the foreign involvement in China and the ruling Dynasty, fearing that Chinese culture was being lost due to imperialism. Beginning in Shanxi (Shantung) province, they killed Westerners and Chinese Christian converts and destroyed their institutions and businesses. They gained even more power when the Empress Dowager endorsed their movement and condoned the killing and expulsion of foreigners. By 1900, the uprising had reached Beijing, and the foreign powers sent troops to quell it.

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Unfortunately for the Ogrens, the intervention came too late. According to accounts of their experience, the local magistrate initially helped the Ogrens escape by the river, but they were captured and sold to the Boxers when they docked. Alfred escaped and Olivia and baby Samuel were released (possibly through bribery or a kindly official). The magistrate’s secretary found them hiding in caves and brought them (and a few other surviving missionaries) to the local jail for their own safety, where Alfred died of starvation or his wounds or both. Olivia gave birth to a baby girl named Ruth while in the jail. Olivia and her babies finally departed China by way of the port city of Hankou in February of 1901. Mrs. Ogren write a book about their ordeal, and son Samuel edited it. This story is pieced together from multiple Google books that mention the subject, none of which fully agree with one another.

But all of the stories end with Olivia Ogren returning to Sweden, two small children in tow. None of them give any hint that her grave would be found in Ashtabula, Ohio, in the United States.

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