Project Canterbury

Handbooks of English Church Expansion


By Frank L. Norris

London and Oxford: A. R. Mowbray, 1908.

Chapter III. The English Church Enters China

HARDLY had the news of the Treaty of Nanking reached England, ere the Church Missionary Society began to move. In March, 1843, one who called himself "less than the least" contributed £6,000 to start a China Mission, and a year later the two first missionaries sailed. Their instructions were to visit the newly-opened treaty-ports, and to report to the Society where it might best begin its work. Great Britain--characteristically--had ignored the missionary question in her treaty: but the United States, whence, as we have seen, the American Church had some years previously sent missionaries to the Far East to learn the Chinese language, as a preliminary step to the commencement of actual mission work in China, no less characteristically secured the insertion in her treaty of the right of missionaries to build churches and hospitals in the newly-opened [27/28] ports. The American Church immediately took steps to consecrate the first Missionary Bishop of the Anglican communion in China, William Jones Boone; and he took up his residence at Shanghai in 1845.

Nor had that other arm of the Church, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, been altogether idle. In 1843 the Rev. Vincent Stanton was appointed chaplain to the English colony in Hong Kong, and a portion of his stipend was provided through the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. The same Society set itself with some success to raise funds for the endowment of a bishopric, of which the seat should be in the British colony, but the work should include from the very first the oversight of Church Missions in China.

The first English Bishop, George Smith, one of the two pioneer missionaries of the Church Missionary Society, was consecrated Bishop of Victoria, Hong Kong, in 1849. But that Society, with its admirable enterprise, had not delayed to strengthen the work it had begun. Mr. Smith's companion, Mr. McLatchie, had settled in Shanghai in 1845; and two years later three more missionaries had followed, while five more accompanied the Bishop in 1849. Work was at [28/29] once begun in Hong Kong, Fuhchow, Ningpo, and Shanghai. In Hong Kong Mr. Stanton's energy and zeal had founded S. Paul's College as a place of training for native catechists and teachers. In the other ports the missionaries settled down to the study of the language. Canton and Amoy were thus the only ports left unoccupied, the neglect of the former being the more regrettable, because there was a considerable English settlement, and a church dating from the time when the East India Company had maintained a chaplain there.

It is worthy of remark to-day that of these first China missionaries Cambridge provided three, Oxford one, and Dublin four: some of them men with brilliant degrees, and one of them a fully qualified doctor.

It is no less worthy of remark that, from the first, the two great Missionary Societies of the English Church, each on her own lines, worked hand in hand in China. The Church Missionary Society was the first to send out missionaries, directly for work among the heathen: the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel was the first to find funds for the chaplain at Hong Kong, whose work lay primarily among the [29/30] English residents, and to help in the endowment of the first English bishopric. Some thirty years afterwards, the same corporate spirit marked the withdrawal of the Church Missionary Society from Peking, and the transference of one of their missionaries to the roll of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, when Bishop Scott was consecrated to the new see of North China. Such early indications of harmonious working are surely of good augury for the day when both Societies, and all who are interested in the Church's work in China, may be called upon to promote the welfare of one National Church, embracing all their Missions, including all their converts, and enduing with new life and strength and unsuspected energy all efforts for the expansion of the Church in China.

In later chapters of this book an attempt will be made to follow the growth of Church work in the various districts which have become parts of, if not conterminous with, episcopal jurisdictions or dioceses. In the present chapter we may content ourselves with glancing briefly at the first beginnings of the Church's work, under the auspices of the Church Missionary Society, in the ports already mentioned, all of them for the time [30/31] being under the jurisdiction of Bishop Smith of Victoria.

In Hong Kong, where the efforts of Mr. Stanton had led to the erection of S. John's Cathedral, the English work was in good hands. On Easter Day, 1850, Bishop Smith "administered the Holy Communion to seventy merchants, Government officials, and naval and military officers." S. Paul's College, part of which was and has always been the Bishop's residence, was duly opened, and an attempt at least was made to put it to its proper use. But it found its immediate usefulness in another direction, as the home of translation work; and from it issued the first Chinese version of the English Liturgy, of which Mr. Cobbold made the translation, securing the help of Dr. Medhurst, of the London Missionary Society, in its revision. [Parts of the Prayer Book had already been translated by Morrison himself.] But, as a College, it was for the time a failure; and its day of real usefulness in that direction was postponed for nearly half a century, when Bishop Hoare arrived to fill it with new life and inspiration, and to leave upon it in a few short years the impress of his own great character.

[32] In Foochow, where Welton, a qualified medical man, and Jackson were stationed, premises were secured in the native city, and the medical work at once proved popular. But Welton's death and Jackson's removal, though the latter's work was taken up by others, served to hinder progress, so much so, indeed, that in 1859 the C.M.S. Committee at home proposed to abandon the work there. The faith, or the obstinacy, of the one missionary there at the time, George Smith, succeeded in preventing this withdrawal; and a visit from another missionary, W. H. Collins, from Shanghai, who chanced to be a doctor as well as a priest, led to a few inquirers coming forward, of whom four were baptized in the summer of 1861. Three of the four fell away afterwards, and in 1863 George Smith himself died, leaving a young and inexperienced colleague, J. R. Wolfe, with but a few baptized Christians as the result of more than ten years of missionary effort. From that day to this Archdeacon Wolfe has remained at his post, his handful of converts have become twelve thousand, and in no other part of China is the Church so firmly planted.

In Ningpo things moved faster. The first two [32/33] converts were baptized at Easter, 185 1, and one of them, named Bas, became a zealous evangelist, though he was never able to be ordained. In the next four years some sixty converts were enrolled, and the two missionaries, Messrs. Cobbold and Russell, did some successful itinerating work in the neighbourhood. In 1859, the year in which the home Committee of the Church Missionary Society were proposing to abandon Fuhchow, no less than sixteen baptisms took place in Ningpo.

In 1860 a small neighbouring city, rejoicing in the name of "Stream of mercy," was successfully occupied, and at the same time in Ningpo itself one of the missionaries was enabled to open as an adjunct to the work there the first opium refuge, with funds provided from a striking source. "A Government official in India, an inspector of the opium manufactory at Malwa, pricked in his conscience, had resolved to cleanse himself from all share in the traffic; he resigned his office, and dedicated the savings of his official career, more than £3,000, to the relief of opium victims in China." [History of the Church Missionary Society, ii. 307.] With this money Mr. Gough was able to open the Ningpo Refuge.

In a previous chapter we have seen how large [33/34] a part the opium traffic played in giving an impetus to the starting of the Missions of the Church in China, by its effect on the consciences of godly men at home. In this instance we see how it affected an Indian Government official. A few years later, it led directly to the establishment of a Mission in North China. The opposition to the opium trade is often denounced as hysterical, having no basis in common sense. But it has shown a curious persistency, if that is so; and bears testimony to a widespread conviction and a genuine earnestness which seem to be strangely inconsistent with the character ascribed to it by newspaper criticism.

In Shanghai, where Mr. McLatchie had been joined by reinforcements, the progress of mission work resembled that at Fuhchow in its slow development. Three blind men were baptized in 1851, but the work grew very gradually. Mr. Hobson took up the position of chaplain to the English community, but his place was taken in 1853 by two new men from England. One of them speedily won for himself a name as an intrepid evangelist, the Rev. J. S. Burdon, afterwards Bishop of Victoria, and a first-rate Chinese scholar. Among the causes of this slow progress, [34/35] one was, if not peculiar to Shanghai, at least felt there in a special degree. The Taiping rebellion reached Shanghai at the beginning of its most successful period; and the city and surrounding district became for some time the scene of military operations and still more disturbing devastation. In 1853, while Bishop Smith was giving his primary charge in the settlement church, a cannon-ball actually struck the building; and this interruption was typical of that which for several years interfered with missionary work. The native city fell into the hands of the rebels, only to be retaken by the Imperial troops, and it became afterwards the base of the Imperialist operations. In spite, however, of this great hindrance, Mr. Burdon was indefatigable in preaching and itineration; and in 1863, twelve years after the first baptisms had taken place, Bishop Smith ordained his first Chinese deacon, Dzaw Tsang-lae, for work in Shanghai.

But no record of the first beginnings of the work of our Church in Shanghai would be complete without notice of the work done by the American Church. That Church belongs to our own communion, its work has been blessed and prospered in no small degree, and in a later [35/36] chapter we shall have to record its development in detail.

William Jones Boone, who may be called the pioneer of the American Church Mission in China, had, as we have seen, come out to the Far East as far back as 1837, going at first to Java to study the Chinese language. Directly on the opening of the treaty-ports in 1842, he established himself at Amoy; but two years later he returned to the United States, and in October, 1844, he was consecrated as Missionary Bishop in China. In 1845 he reached Shanghai, with a band of eight other missionaries, and took up his residence there. The civil war in America naturally hindered the Mission in its early years, but the Bishop held to his work and was rewarded by its rapid progress.

The first convert to be baptized illustrates something of the difference in method between the American and English Missions. The former, owing partly to the greater nearness of the United States, partly to national characteristics, has always sought to carry on its work on what, in contrast to the methods of the English missionaries, may fairly be called more radical lines, especially in the matter of education. When [36/37] Mr. Boone went home to be consecrated, he had taken with him a promising heathen lad named Wong Kong-chai, and on the return voyage in 1845 the boy asked to be allowed to be baptized. His request was granted, and in 1851 he was ordained deacon. Twelve years later, just before the Bishop's death, he had the joy of admitting Mr. Wong to the priesthood, and his confidence was abundantly justified. For twenty odd years, till his death in 1886, Mr. Wong was a pillar of the Church, and his children have all taken their share in the work of the Mission.

Another of the most striking fruits of these early years was a boy named Yen Yung-kiung. At the age of fourteen he was taken to the United States to be educated, and graduated with honours at Kenyon College in Ohio. On his return to China he nobly justified the experiment which had been made, rejecting all offers of more lucrative employment and devoting his life to the Church's service. For twelve years he worked at Wuchang on the Yangtse River, for eight more he was on the staff of S. John's College at Shanghai, and for another twelve years he was in charge of the Church of Our Saviour in Hong-kew, part of the American settlement at Shanghai. [37/38] He passed to his rest at length in 1898, after thirty years of devoted work, full of years and honour.

One other personality of these early years may be mentioned here. Miss Lydia Fay came out from America to China in 185 1, and for twenty-seven years she laboured in Shanghai. It is interesting to recall that for part of the time she was lent by her own Mission to help the sister Mission of the English Church, a debt which has been indirectly repaid by the Englishmen who have since then worked in the American Mission. Her chief work in Shanghai, however, was in connection with the Boys' School, out of which has grown the present S. John's College; and her early prayers were abundantly answered when, mainly as the result of her own work and influence, ten of her Chinese boys had been admitted to the sacred ministry before her death.

With this brief notice of a few of the personalities connected with the early years of the American Church Mission, we must be content for the moment. We shall return to its later development hereafter. But as English Churchmen we cannot but rejoice that a Church in full [38/39] communion with ourselves came into the field so early, with such devoted labourers, and with such striking results. The Holy Catholic Church from America realized what our own branch of the Church at the time seemed unable to grasp, and planted its first Mission in China on truly Catholic lines, under the control of a Bishop on the spot, sent out not by a Society but by the Church in her corporate capacity. The Church of England is only now struggling towards a like ideal, and is not always sufficiently alive to the need of Missionary Bishops from the outset in the mission-field. Yet, surely, the example of the Church of America is fully in accord with the traditions of the New Testament and of the Church of the first centuries.

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