Guan Gong

Guan Gong
Painted plaster over wood, hair.
Sanmiao Temple in Changxing, China
Gift of Rev. and Mrs. Hubert L. Sone, 1925

This processional figure, as identified by the donor, duplicated a permanent portrayal of Guan Yu (206 BCE–220 CE), the Han Dynasty general known as a national protector who continued to appear at battlefronts after his death and was deified as Guan Gong. The figure, discarded after thirty years of use in the Sanmiao Temple in Changxing near the Yangzi delta, was given to Methodist missionary Hubert L. Sone (1892–1970) and his wife Helen Jackson Sone (1893–1982).

A member of the inaugural class of SMU, Hubert Lafayette Sone graduated in 1916, and following duty in the U. S. Army was granted, in 1918, a license to preach by the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. He and Helen married that same year. In 1920 with support from Highland Park Methodist Church Hubert was assigned by the MECS Board of Missions to build a mission station in Huzchou, and to study the Chinese language at the university in Suzhou. The work was interrupted a year later as Sone responded to the famine in northern China that affected up to thirty million people by delivering provisions from village to village in a truck.

In 1925 the Sones returned to Dallas and SMU allowing Hubert the opportunity to earn Bachelor of Divinity and Master of Arts degrees. It was during that visit that they presented Guan Gong and a number of other articles they had been given in China to SMU. Hubert was named Superintendent of the Huzchou Institutional Church, and appointed to the faculty of the Methodist-sponsored Nanking (Nanjing) Theological Seminary by Bp. Paul Kern (1882–1953) who had been dean of the SMU School of Theology from 1920 to 1926. In 1934 the Sones returned to China. Hubert was soon teaching languages and Old Testament at the seminary while Helen taught elementary grades at the American School.

The Sino-Japanese War began in June 1937. Japanese planes bombed Nanjing beginning in August. Hubert sent his family to safety in Moganshan, while he remained in Nanjing and became a witness to the brutality of the Nanking Massacre in December 1937. Three hundred thousand city residents were killed violently and some twenty thousand girls and women were raped. Sone was beaten by Imperial Japanese soldiers at the seminary and was forced to relinquish seminary property to their use. The group of twenty-two non-nationals who had not fled Nanjing established the International Committee for the Nanking Safety Zone, following a model that had been successful in Shanghai, in order to set up refugee camps. Elected as chair was a German employee of the Siemens Corporation, chosen in part due to his affiliation with the Nazi party in light of the German-Japanese anti-communist pact which had been signed the previous year. Hubert served as Associate Food Commissioner of the Committee, again delivering rice to refugees, driving the truck to the zone camps himself. In February the Committee was renamed the Nanking International Relief Committee and Hubert was appointed Administrative Director.

Hubert’s efforts to protect Nanjing citizens from assaults, the protests he issued to the Japanese and American embassies, and urgent communications he sent to the outside world were acknowledged in 1939 by the Chinese government as the war with Japan reached a stalemate. He, along with other Americans who had responded heroically to the atrocities, was elected into the Order of the Blue Jade. Hubert continued as Director of the Nanking International Relief Committee until 1941 when he and his family returned to the United States. He engaged in doctoral studies at the University of Chicago and remained with his family in Chicago during the involvement of the United States in World War II. The Sones returned to Nanjing in 1946 to resume their commitment to teaching, preaching, and relief work.

American diplomacy with China ended in 1949 as Mao Zedong came to power. The Sones returned to the United States, the last American missionaries to leave Nanjing. In 1952 they departed for a new assignment, Trinity Theological College in Singapore where Hubert taught, served as administrator, and preached to local congregations. They remained until ending their foreign missionary activity in 1961. Back in the United States Hubert travelled widely, preaching and lecturing about Methodist missionary endeavors in Asia until his death in 1970.

Hubert Sones’ archives were given to Bridwell Library in 2020 where they are available to researchers.

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