Project Canterbury

North China Mission of S.P.G.

By Charles John Corfe

From Mission Life, Vol. VIII, Part 1 (1877), pages 58-65.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2006


Letter to the Rev. G. H. Wilkinson, M.A., Vicar of St. Peter's, Eaton Square, London.

"H.M.S. Audacious,
"CHEFOO, N. CHINA, Sept. 9th, 1876.

"REV. AND DEAR SIR,--Knowing that you and your parish are much interested in the S.P.G. Mission established within the last two years at Chefoo, in North China, I am taking the liberty of addressing a few words to you on the subject, in the hope that an outsider's view of the work going on here may suggest new possibilities to which you will best know how to give a practical shape. I am aware of the important share which the guild of St. Peter's take in Mr. Scott's work, and of the letters to the parish magazine by which he keeps the guild au courant with his efforts. And although personally a stranger to yourself, I know that in putting before you, dear Sir, the few points which have occurred to me in connection with this Mission, I am taking perhaps the best means of getting them urged and weighed in influential quarters. This ship paid her first visit to the port of Chefoo in the month of August, 1875, when I made the acquaintance of Messrs. Scott and Greenwood. There is no need for me to refer more to this visit, further than to say that I found them already settled down, and in earnest with their difficult task of mastering the Chinese language. On our arrival here last month I found considerable changes. The Mission, though the same in point of numbers, was evidently developing. Of the progress made by Messrs. Greenwood and Scott in their adopted language I am not competent to speak, but the comparative ease with which they addressed and understood the native servants, the labourers, passers-by, &c., was, to my mind, very reassuring. As I daresay you know, they never have allowed themselves to speak to any of their house servants except it the vernacular. The mongrel composition, known as 'Pidjin English', has never found a place in their Missionary training. This will be at once seen to be an immense advantage, though it involves an amount of patience at first starting, which Europeans in China, as a rule, do not exercise. Now, however, they seemed to have but little difficulty in conveying their ideas to their domestics on every-day matters Indeed, they would fare badly if it were not so now that they have an establishment of their own. Last year, as you know, they were with Dr. Nevins, and I expect that of all the many services which that most excellent man has rendered them, the fact of his having been, unto lately, their ordinary interpreter, is not the least. Two more items in [58/59] connection with this branch of the subject will interest you. (a) Mr. Greenwood has just retired with his teacher and servant to the native city of Fu-San, a walled town of some size and importance, ten miles from Chefoo. His object is to get clear for a time of all temptation to speak English, by living where absolutely no one understands a word of it. The arrival of an 'outside man' or foreigner is always sufficient to bring as many gazers and questioners to the door as is desirable. In return, therefore, for consenting to 'exhibit' himself, Mr. Greenwood intends to make himself master of all the colloquial phrases and words which may be addressed to him. It is a brave thing to do, and seemed to me a singular proof of his sincerity and devotion. He had been there a week when, a few days ago, Mr. Scott suggested that he and I should surprise him with a visit. This we accordingly did, and, as I could see, made him very happy as we rode into the courtyard of the rude inn where he has taken up his quarters. There were now three 'outside men' to be gazed at, and I can answer for it that whilst I was in the room the townsfolk made very little ceremony in crowding into the doorway, examining and criticising freely, though not in the least rudely. One man came, to whom I suppose Mr. Greenwood had shown a magnetic compass on a previous occasion, for he brought a native compass with him. The two were duly compared and commented on, the result apparently being mutual satisfaction. Mr. Greenwood assured us that he had met with nothing but kindness and civility; that the people who came from day to day to observe and question gave him just what he wanted of the language that, in a word, he intended staying there a long time. It increased my admiration of the man to see him so delighted in the midst of the squalor and offensiveness of a Chinese town. To my fastidious taste it seemed that nothing but intense earnestness could make a man happy under such circumstances. I need not describe a Chinese town, you are familiar enough with such descriptions. But this I will say that the suburbs of Fu-San form no exception to the general rule. Every sense is offended--every taste is disgusted. Mr. Greenwood, however, is there to learn Chinese, and although he had been only a week absent from Chefoo, the progress he has made in conversation was marked, for I heard Mr. Scott complimenting him upon it.

"(b) The other circumstance to which I alluded is, the completion by Mr. Scott of his first Chinese book which he showed me with evident delight. It is a little book of family prayers, written most neatly in the Chinese character. The prayers, as well as the translation, are, I believe, his own. They are a compilation rather than a composition, and are intended for those Chinese, neither Christians nor catechumens, who are nevertheless well disposed towards Christianity. He uses this book at family prayers which, I am glad to say, he has been able to [59/60] establish lately. The Chinese about the Mission-house attend, and join in these prayers reverently, though they can scarcely be called Christians in any sense.

"One remark only occurs to me to say on the opposite side with reference to the language. The enormous difficulty of mastering it may be seen from the fact that with all their eagerness to begin Missionary work, and with all their diligence in the daily study of the language, they have not even attempted to preach. The utmost they have done is to make use of an empty room in Yentai, the native town of Chefoo, where they have encouraged people to come and ask them questions.

"It is very evident, however, that this initiatory state of things is passing away--in fact, has passed away. They are rightly making arrangements for a day which they see cannot now be far distant; a day when they will begin in earnest the work for which they have been so arduously and patiently preparing themselves. Questions have now to be asked which require the greatest tact and wisdom to answer. It is no longer the difficult question, How to learn Chinese? but the no less difficult question, Having learnt Chinese, how best to apply for the purposes of working the first S.P.G. Mission in China ? No doubt they will receive full instructions from the Society how to act. I know that they are in the habit of receiving such instructions, and the simple loyalty with which they seek to fulfil them amidst difficulties of all sorts, from European as well as from Chinese points of view, is to me a very sweet and touching thing to witness. There are so many questions which no letters from secretaries can help where one must act upon one's own responsibility. There are so many questions which no letters from secretaries can touch, which nevertheless have to be answered somehow on the spot. There are so many matters which are in their measure of vital importance, but which it is impossible to explain adequately, and sometimes impossible to explain at all to the Society at home. Bishop Russell, the amiable and able diocesan of our Missions in North China, has, I believe, strongly backed up a scheme of Missionary labour in this province submitted to him by Messrs. Scott and Greenwood. It is no part of my intention to discuss this scheme, and I am quite incompetent to pass an opinion upon it, but I believe I am right in saying that it is under the consideration of the S.P.G. It has also been carefully elaborated on paper, and is the result, not of the crude ideas of Messrs. Scott and Greenwood, but of the matured experience of Dr. Nevins and Bishop Russell combined. There is only one point in it to which I am anxious to draw your attention, and which forms, indeed, the main object of my letter. It one which is common to all Missionary schemes--the need of men. I know how many have, of late years responded to the call from the [60/61] Mission field. I know in how many parishes in England there are organisations connected with special Missions--like that in your parish, for instance, to help this Mission and Bloemfontein. I know that these parochial organisations furnish distant Missions with something besides their funds, which are, indeed, valuable, namely, their prayers, which are invaluable. By their instrumentality, men have come to know the needs of a Mission field, and hearing the voice of God calling them to it, have been led to obey the call, and either permanently or for a time, to offer themselves for the work.

"But how few, after all, are the labourers, compared with the vastness of the field! And how many more there are who perhaps would offer themselves, were the actual nature of the work brought to their notice. I am quite sure, for example, that if the opening afforded to them by the recent establishment of the S.P.G. Mission at Chefoo were put plainly before the English clergy and laity, there would be very little difficulty in obtaining the six or eight additional men required to put this Mission on a perfect and, as far as China is concerned, unique footing. The nature of the language, the distance from England, the precarious state of Mission work in China, and the climate, combine to produce a deterrent effect on men. It is felt that there are drawbacks from which Missions in many other parts of the world are comparatively free. I do not deny the force of these objections. It would be idle to attempt such a thing. But nevertheless I do not hesitate to affirm that, did Englishmen really know the peculiar advantages of the Chefoo Mission, they would see abundant reason why Chefoo should even be preferred as a field of Missionary labour. I have chiefly University men in my mind. A visit to the Mission-house at Chefoo is as like a visit to an English clergy house as it can be under the circumstances. But let me attempt to say a few words on the objections mentioned above. (1) How stands the case? The S.P.G. has established its first Mission in China. It has chosen North China for a variety of considerations into which it is needless to enter here. But the fact of its having selected Chefoo as the basis of its operations reduces the objection on the score of climate to a minimum. Chefoo is not in any sense tropical. For nine months in the year the climate varies from temperate to extreme cold. This is very important, for when it is put to people at a Missionary meeting, for instance, or in an advertisement in the Guardian, that the S.P.G. wants so many men for China, almost the first thing that occurs to them is, that the climate of China is proverbially bad. The summer heat is doubtless great, but it does not last long, and it is, moreover, generally lessened by cool and refreshing sea breezes. That it is regarded as a desirable place of residence, even during the summer months, is proved by the constant succession of visitors from Shanghai and other northern ports, [61/62] a circumstance which has gained for it the name of the Brighton of North China. And there are at least two Missionary Societies which possess large houses here for the express convenience of ministers who come to recruit their health after prolonged stays in the less healthy parts of the country. The autumn, winter, and spring are most enjoyable. Let those, then, who fear to trust their constitutions to the intense heat of India and Burmah, or Zanzibar, reflect that the climate of Chefoo would possibly suit them even better than that of England. The objection from climate, then, almost disappears.

"(2) Next, as to the question of distance. It cannot be denied that Chefoo is a long way from home. But a mail from England every week goes far towards bridging over the gulf. This is no small matter in the first years of a Missionary's life. To be banished into the interior of some distant country, and to be cut off from all but occasional glimpses at home news and home faces, make many men shrink from taking what they feel will be a dreadful plunge. But a residence for one or two years in a Mission-house amidst European surroundings, in the companionship of brother priests, and with frequent communications from England, surely puts a new and even pleasant aspect on what most men fear so much--the opening years of Mission life. Chinese teachers are to be had in plenty, and it would be no life of idleness, nor will it be a life of pleasure and worldliness, if the tone of the Mission-house remains what it is. Neither theology nor the spiritual life is neglected, and so long as Messrs. Scott and Greenwood have anything to do with the house, I think you know better than I, they are never likely to be neglected. The English society in Chefoo is very limited, but I cannot help saying that in one respect this is a great advantage. There is no call for a Missionary to enter into society in the sense in which that word is usually understood. And there is no bond whatever--beyond the bond of charity--between the Missionaries and the foreign community. Messrs. Scott and Greenwood have acted with the greatest wisdom in this matter. I can testify that they have not thereby lost a particle of respect. On the contrary, it is felt that they have no time for the demands of ordinary society--that they do not perhaps find them altogether congenial to their new life--and that they were sent out to mix, not so much with their fellow-countrymen, as with their future spiritual children the Chinese.

"(3) It is perhaps unnecessary here to touch, except most lightly, upon the question of the future prospect of Missions in China. Whether the Missionaries are to be protected by the Governments of their respective nationalities, whether they are to be left to act upon their own responsibility and to be dealt with by the Chinese authorities, or whether some kind of compromise is to be effected between these two courses, are questions which perhaps time only can solve. But this difficulty need not [62/63] enter largely into the calculations of those who would come and spend their noviciate in Chinese Mission life out here. Chefoo is a treaty port, and as such is never likely to be disturbed by such questions as long as the European policy as regards China does not recede from its resent position. There is, therefore, no more fear of molestations being offered to the S.P.G. Mission in Chefoo than to the various merchants, some of whom have lived here for many years.

"(4) Nor will I enlarge upon the difficulty arising from the language. What I have said before of the experience of Messrs. Scott and Greenwood will be quite sufficient. The language must be learnt. Here is as good a school for learning as can be found, and a school, moreover, which involves the sacrifice of scarcely anything English, except residence in England.

"And now let me attempt to describe what is wanted, and what may very reasonably be hoped to be attained. The Mission-house in which Messrs. Scott and Greenwood have recently established themselves is built and furnished in English style. The furniture is truly of a simple description, but so the furniture of a Mission-house ought to be, and so is the furniture of many an English clergy house at home. Their earnest desire is to distribute the seven rooms of this house amongst six clergy, the seventh being used as the common dining-room. The rooms are large and airy, and no Missionary will really need more than one if it be of this description. There being two clergy already living in the house, Messrs. Scott and Greenwood are anxious that four more should offer themselves to the S.P.G. for the Chefoo Mission. And, as an outsider, who has seen the advantage of this part of their scheme, I want to give all possible force to their invitation. I certainly write without the authority of the Society, but I cannot doubt that were you to be able to find four such men, priests, or deacons, or for the matter of that, laymen intending to take holy orders, the Society would gladly accept them. Once out here and working together under an organisation, however simple, I am convinced that a nucleus of Mission work would be formed capable of indefinite development. It would give an impetus to the whole of the Anglican Missions in China. No doubt many things would have to done before such a novelty in our Missions (in China at all events) could be fairly established and in working order. But they consist of details which the Society would speedily arrange.

"The difficulty lies in getting sufficient men to make a fair start. Let the men be provided, and I know no better chance of beginning a well-organised Mission at once. Everything is ready out here. The house is complete. Messrs. Scott and Greenwood are in it, with a two years' start in the language, in experience and, if I may presume to say it, in zeal and devotion. Never could Missionaries hope to begin [63/64] work in China under better auspices. They would be guided and directed in the novelties of their position by these two, as they in their turn have been guided and directed for nearly two years past by good Dr. Nevins, to whom, let me say in passing, the Society owes a debt of deep gratitude. The journeys into the interior which form such an important part of a Missionary training, would be organised under a regular system, and, as one outlying post after another presented its opportunities, men would be gradually trained to remain in it either for a-time or permanently. The house at Chefoo would always be at once a point d'appui and a home to which they might return in seasons of sickness and trial, or for periods of spiritual retirement and counsel. Need I enlarge either on what would be the gain to the Mission and therefore to Christianity by the mutual sympathy which such a centre of operations would create? I well know, from personal acquaintance, how much these two devoted servants of God stand in need of sympathy even now. The wisdom of the S.P.G. in sending out labourers after the Divine example 'two and two' has been abundantly justified already in this case. And I wish there were more who had seen what I have seen of the good fruit it has borne in Chefoo, even in this short time. But it must be remembered that they are the only clerical representatives of the English Church in this province; that they have to initiate everything, and that, as yet, they have had no experience in such difficult matters. I am very far from meaning that they are not the men to initiate such a work; on the contrary, as far as I can judge, they seem eminently qualified to act as pioneers, possessing, as they do, singular tact and gentleness combined with unflagging energy. But I know they feel the responsibility weighing heavily upon them, and they long for fellow-workers who will support them in the position they have taken up here, and secure the ground which they have now fairly surveyed. If they are left to work here alone they will work hard and cheerfully, I am sure, but the work will be diffuse and weakened through want of effective organisation and a continuous current of active sympathy. 'It is not good for man to be alone,' and, though the Society has acted most wisely in opening its work in China with two of its Missionaries, the Mission can never flourish, humanly speaking, unless this principle is logically carried out, and a regular centre is formed with branches radiating from it into different parts of the province, and a regular circulation promoted between them and it. Now, if ever, is the time when, as it seems to me the Society should be in a position to write to Messrs. Scott and Greenwood and say, 'We send you four more men who will share the Mission-house with you. See that they are provided with teachers. Give them the benefit of your experiences. Such and such are to be the rules by which the establishment is to be conducted, and a large [64/65] margin is allowed you for making such others as, from your superior knowledge, you shall deem necessary. We do not wish these additions to cripple your work among the Chinese; but we do consider that it will be better for the future of the Mission if your Missionary labours for the next year or so can be made to go as far as possible pari passu with your supervision of the new comers.' If something of this sort were to be done, what an instantaneous change would come over the Mission! The principle of isolation at the outset of Mission life would be gone for ever, and with it the young Missionary's severest trial would be gone too. There would be nothing to fear on the score of inexperience, for the simple reason that nothing could be attempted until the language had been to a certain extent mastered. The present little oratory would develope into a Mission chapel (the building and furniture are already there), and the privileges of our holy faith would be as free and as regular as in the most favoured parish in England.

"You, dear Sir, can paint this picture better than I. Please fill in my outlines which your knowledge of Messrs. Scott and Greenwood and your love of our Foreign Missions will enable you to do so well. Make what use you like of my letter, which, I fear, is rambling and much too lengthy. But use it in the way which seems to you best calculated to induce three or four others to throw in their lot with the two already here. What I have written has been from personal observation, and if I have written somewhat enthusiastically, it is because I feel strongly that 'a great and effectual door is being opened' to us by OUR BLESSED LORD.--Believe me, Rev. and dear Sir, with great respect, yours very faithfully in HIM,

"Chaplain, R.N."

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