Chapter 3 Christians in China
By P. Lane Williams
Every 76 years a cosmic spectacle shows itself to the inhabitants of earth. Named for British astronomer Edmund Halley who first correctly calculated its orbit, the visit of Halley's comet has been recorded 30 times since B.C. 240. Edmund Halley, a friend of Isaac Newton, predicted the comet to return in 1758 but he died before he saw his prediction come true. The comet appeared on Christmas Eve 1758.
Another of Halley's prediction was the passing of the planet Venus in front of the sun on June 6, 1769. Halley's accurate prediction of the comet prompted the Royal Geographic Society to send observers to various locations around the globe to observe the Venus phenomenon. To a little island in the Pacific, Captain James Cook sailed aboard his ship the Endeavor to record the astronomical event.
Several voyages and hundreds of discoveries later, including the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), Captain Cook had sailed more distance than anyone to that time. Then, in 1778 trouble erupted on the Sandwich Islands between the natives and Cook's company of men. Violence ensued and Cook was struck down and killed, at the age of fifty-one, in one of the skirmishes. Present was Cook's young navigation officer, Henry Bligh who years later became known around the world for the mutiny that took place on his ship, the Bounty. Fortunately, Cook's journeys were well documented and gave as accurate and thorough description of the Pacific region as was possible in those days.
In 1793, William Carey set sail from England bound for India. Inspired years earlier by his readings of Captain Cook's around the world voyages and the different people groups encountered, Carey determined to take the Biblical message to "heathen nations."
Undaunted by older church leaders who told him, "When God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid or mine", Carey learned the dialect of India and set out to proclaim the gospel to that immense populace. Because Protestant missionaries were virtually non-existent up to that point, William Carey became known as the "Father of Modern Missions." Other Protestants soon followed in Carey's steps and missionaries journeyed to other foreign lands including China.
The first Methodist missionaries from the United States reached China on September 4, 1847 arriving in the city of Fuchau. Moses White, Robert Maclay and Henry Hickok labored in the city of 600,000 people for ten years before they baptized their first Chinese convert, Ting Ang.
Ten more years added another 450 people to the small church in Fuchau. Such was the experience of many missionaries to China, long hours, sickness and apparent fruitless labor mix.
In 1829, the first Protestant missionary to Thailand arrived in Bangkok and began translating the New Testament into Siamese. Twenty-five year old Karl Gutzlaff of the Netherlands Missionary Society then turned his eyes toward China.
First exposed to Christianity as early as the 5th century followed by other unsuccessful attempts over a period of near 1000 years, China remained a closed country with no known Chinese Christians when Gutzlaff first looked toward her. Westerners were only allowed into specific port cities along China's coast and as he visited Macao and Hong Kong Gutzlaff pondered how he could get the Christian message to the interior of China.
Meanwhile, Gutzlaff because of his knowledge of the Chinese people and their language, the English government appointed Gutzlaff Joint Chinese Secretary to the English Commission in Hong Kong. Then with the outbreak of the first Opium War in 1840 and subsequent treaty in 1842, Gutzlaff was called upon to help in negotiations. Apparently it was this participation outside the realm of mission work created less than endearing attitudes toward Gutzlaff from the Chinese government.
With the war over, Gutzlaff focuses on his vision to send missionaries into the interior of China and hitting upon the idea to circumvent the closed status of China, he determined to send Chinese convert. Thus in 1844 he founded an institute to train Chinese converts to be missionaries to their own land. Gutzlaff also began translating the New Testament into the Chinese language.
By 1848 over 200 Chinese missionaries sent out by Gutzlaff from Hong Kong reported over two thousand Chinese people converted and 1000 Bibles distributed. However, missionaries in Hong Kong, dubious over Gutzlaff's glowing statistics carefully investigated his claims and found the vast majority of his missionary's "converts" to be opium addicts who never intended to preach the Christian message but instead happily took their salaries from Gutzlaff and sold the Bibles for additional money, then concocted stories about their successes on the mission field. Those reports were received in Europe at the same time Gutzlaff was there with touring and telling of the "openness" of the Chinese people to the Gospel. Apparently Gutzlaff was aware of the hoax perpetrated by many of his missionaries and shattered by humiliation he returned to China where he died in 1851.
However not only of Gutzlaff's labors were deemed fruitless. During his life
in China, he wrote several books on the history of China that were published in
both English and German as well as an earlier work that outlined his several
voyages along the China coast. Before his death Gutzlaff founded the Chinese
Evangelization Society from which one of the most famous of Protestants was sent
Journeying to China eleven different times and spending fifty years there, by the time of his death Taylor was credited with the founding of 200 missions manned by 800 missionaries influencing 125,000 Chinese converts. In addition, Taylor spent 5 years translating the New Testament of the Bible into the Ningpo dialect.
Other Protestant leaders oft ridiculed Taylor for his then unorthodox methods of adopting Chinese dress, language and food. But to Taylor there seemed no better way to approach Chinese people other than accepting their own culture. He did not believe requisite to be a Christian a person had to adopt Anglo-American tradition. Surviving storms at sea, sickness, battles during the Taiping and other rebellions, ridicule and scorn, Taylor labored on for the passion he held since his teenage years, the people of China. As a result of his methods, Taylor and his associates reached more Chinese people with Christianity than any missionary to that time. The famed "Cambridge Seven", seven intelligent and athletic young men from England joined in Taylor's Inland Mission and labored there for most of their lives, one of the seven attempted, unsuccessfully multiple times to enter Tibet.
Taylor's China Inland Mission became the largest Protestant missionary agency in the world. Taylor died in 1905 in a village north of Canton.
In the 1860's Protestant women in America started a movement that became known as the "Women's Missionary Movement." In 1878, Hudson Taylor making an unprecedented and widely criticized move began allowing single women, and later married ones, to join his mission agency and travel to China in teams preaching and ministering to the Chinese. Earlier, Taylor and other male missionaries had discovered the only practical way to reach Chinese women with the Bible message was through other women. Barred for decades from active participation in ministry, a flood of women streamed out of America into China and later on other countries.
Breaking the bonds of accepted norms, which expected Christian women to marry
and attend to their husbands and children, those women of the China Inland
Mission helped to weaken gender barriers and blaze a trail for women all over
the world to pursue their inner passion for missions. By the turn of the century
Christian women outnumbered men in the missionary ranks both overseas and at
Born in 1840 to a tobacco farmer and his wife in Virginia, Lottie Moon was high-spirited and considered "wild" for a girl in her day. Then in her later teen years she experienced a conversion and became deeply committed to God and her Southern Baptist roots. It is unknown whether Lottie Moon renounced the pro-slavery stance of the Southern Baptists at that time but she became determined to travel to China as she "accepted a call" in 1873. One of Lottie's younger sisters, Edmonia, traveled to China in 1972 so Lottie joined her the following year. Edmonia did not last long as a missionary in China and later returned to the United States; Lottie however, remained in China working there for almost 40 years.
Well educated with both bachelor and master degrees, Lottie considered the Chinese people to be an inferior race; no doubt a by-product of her Southern slave heritage. However as she adopted Chinese dress and customs as she ministered in China her views changed and she grew to admire the Chinese people who in turn reciprocated with great love for her.
In terms of converts, Lottie Moon was not a great success but through her outspoken character and indefatigable urgings to people back in America, many Southern Baptists gained a heart for China and sent and supported more missionaries to China and other countries.
Laboring through famine, disease, rebellion and war, Lottie Moon lived in China until the end of her life, which came in 1912. Famine and war raged in China as Lottie Moon shared her food and money to those around here in need. By 1912, sick and weighing only fifty pounds, Lottie Moon was put aboard a ship to carry her to the United States for more intensive care, so her fellow missionaries hoped. However, while the ship stopped in Kobe Japan, Lottie Moon passed away on Christmas Eve 1912. Her cremated remains were returned to relatives in Virginia.
The annual "Lottie Moon Christmas Offering", which immortalizes Lottie Moon by the Southern Baptist Convention, has raised over 1.5 billion dollars for foreign missions since 1888. Many Southern Baptists missionaries continue to take inspiration from Lottie Moon recalling her words, "If I had a thousand lives I would give them all for the women of China."
Unfortunately, some missionaries, both men and women, along with merchants
and diplomats despised the Chinese, their culture and their systems. It should
be noted the Chinese reciprocated with equal contempt for Westerners. The
Chinese elite considered the foreigner an uncivilized barbarian and "devil"
One of the stipulations in the treaty that ended the opium wars allowed for unrestricted propagation of the Christian gospel in China. Thus with more freedom to move into the interior of China, many missionaries left the coast and ventured farther into the heart of China. Unfortunately, some of those "missionaries" were actually merchants or political operatives working to open up more trade with hope of increasing their own personal wealth and that of their benefactors. As noted earlier, during the Taiping Rebellion, some western leaders supported the Taiping in order to force political and economic concessions from the Imperial government in Peking (Beijing). Thus, as seen time and again in the history of "Christian" nations, the spiritual work of sincere believers is overshadowed by the incessant pursuit of wealth from more aggressive and temporal elements.
By 1900 many Chinese had enough. The already noted Boxer Rebellion ensued and many foreigners including missionaries were slaughtered in addition it is estimated that the Boxers killed 30,000 Chinese converts to Christianity. The combined military might of several nations put down the rebellion with many innocent non-combatant Chinese killed in the process by the foreign armies as they swept over the Boxers in the cities and the country. In retrospect, the whole affair was of course shameful but when disaster strikes, good people and corrupt people alike respond and react to survive the crisis. Sadly, the corrupt element is always present in human affairs.
The crisis over, Chinese Christians increased in numbers threefold in the decades following the rebellion and continued to rise for the next fifty years. At that time the communists expelled all "foreign devils" and the Christian church was forced underground.
One of the most famous of Chinese Christians was Watchman Nee. For 30 years he traveled China preaching the Christian message. He wrote several books, which are still read by Christians today the world-over. Arrested by Communists in China in 1952 Lee died in prison in 1972. Nee's disciple Witness Lee traveled the world in the 60's and 70's starting churches and sharing Nee's vision of a worldwide community of believers.
The Catholic branch of Christianity has a much longer history in China than does the Protestant branch. In 1522, Francis Xavier, famed Jesuit missionary to Japan, sailed for China and began negotiations with authorities for entry into the country. Learning that the Japanese considered China the "mother of all civilization" Xavier reasoned if China could become Christian then Japan would easily follow. However, before he could gain entry to China he died after being overcome with a fever. It would be left to others to try and "Christianize" the vast land of China.
After 18 years of attempts, in 1601 Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci was allowed into the court of the emperor in 1601. From that first contact Catholic influence in China grew. Introducing not only Christianity but also advances in mathematics and astronomy the group of European Jesuits believed the key strategy to winning the Chinese was to influence the Confucians intelligentsia. The Jesuits had a high regard for Chinese tradition and experienced some success incorporating Christianity into the Chinese framework. They also translated Chinese classic literature into Latin.
A papal bull in 1704 condemning the Jesuits for their tolerance of Confucian rites weakened the Christian movement. By 1744, the hostilities of the Chinese government cut the numbers of Chinese Christians in half from a previously known high of over half a million. Nevertheless, Catholic presence persisted in China. Therefore, when Protestants arrived in China during the great mission movement of the 19th century, their Christian kin, Catholics, were there to greet them, although the meetings were not always cordial on both sides; one of the sad truths of fallible people with noble beliefs.
The Communist rise to power in China brought its religious intolerance and persecution once more forcing the Church underground for decades. As was the case in Communist Russia, thousands of church buildings were destroyed or turned into civil facilities such as schools, warehoused and factories. And as in Russia, Communist China hostility targeted traditional religions particularly Christianity.
However, Communism itself is a "religion." It replaces a divine God with a divine State. Marxist themselves admit the religious nature of their faith, "Marxism is the most religious of all religions and the Marxist the most deeply religious of men."
The demise of the "Cultural Revolution" in China began with Mao's death in 1976, and as in the former Soviet Union religions restrictions have eased and in some cases disappeared. There is reportedly a thriving Christian Church in China today.
When the Communists took over in 1949 the reported number of Christians in
the country was 700,000. Today the statistics vary according to the reporting
entity however; official government statistics put the number at 25-30 million,
an incredible increase since 1949 making Christianity the second largest
religious affiliation in China next to Buddhism.