Project Canterbury

Handbooks of English Church Expansion


By Frank L. Norris

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

Chapter V. The English Church Enters Peking

JUST as twenty years before, the signing of the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 had been taken as a summons to missionary enterprise, so in 1860 the ratification of the Treaty of Tientsin was the occasion of a stirring appeal from the one English Bishop on the coast of China, Bishop Smith of Victoria, for reinforcements for the work. There were at the time six missionaries actually engaged in work in China itself: three at Ningpo, two at Shanghai, and one at Fuhchow. Bitterly and justly does the historian of the Church Missionary Society record the failure of the Church to make any adequate response: "The Church at this time, torn by intestine divisions, totally neglected its duty to China, more so even than its duty to Africa and India."

However, we are more concerned now with what [56/57] was done than with what was left undone, and we may turn thankfully from the failure of the Church at home to record the enterprise of the men on the spot. The American Church sent Mr. Schereschewsky (pronounced Sherry-sheffsky) from Shanghai to Peking, and the scanty ranks of the English Mission were depleted to enable Mr. Burdon to proceed thither; while shortly afterwards Mr. Collins, the doctor-priest whose visit to Fuhchow a year or two previously had been the turning-point in the history of that struggling Mission, joined him in 1863. Mr. Burdon "bought a house near the Legation, the site of which is now part of the Legation area, and the members of the Legation secured his services as chaplain, thereby starting an arrangement which has been of great benefit to the English-speaking community in Peking." [Historical Sketch of North China, p. 45.]

In the same year, 1863, Dr. J. A. Stewart, the first missionary sent out through the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel to China, and the only doctor sent thither in connection with the Society for forty years, arrived in Peking, and at first found hospitality in Mr. Burdon's house. In the autumn he was joined [57/58] by a colleague, a young clergyman named Mitchell. But, in the words of the Society's own record, "while the Society was seeking a qualified superintendent for the Mission, Dr. Stewart showed such a lack of discretion" (by purchasing without due authority from home "a fine palatial site" for the Mission's future premises) "that his bills on the Society were dishonoured, and he himself was recalled in January, 1864." [Two Hundred Years of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, p. 705.] Mr. Mitchell, we are hardly surprised to learn, in the following March "accepted an engagement at Shanghai, and operations in China were suspended for ten years." [Ibid.] Comment is superfluous, and it is some consolation to think that Mr. Mitchell afterwards did excellent work elsewhere, becoming Archdeacon of Calcutta in 1889; while the Society which was really, on its own confession, responsible for the fiasco, has at length atoned for its mistake by the purchase, in 1906, of its first property in Peking, which includes accommodation for a doctor and his work, as well as for a Bishop (the "qualified superintendent" so much needed before), for several missionaries, and for a church and schools.

One offshoot of the Peking work must be [58/59] mentioned here, because it opened up a place which was to prove in after years the nursery of the leading members of the North China Mission, as well as the principal station for native work in the Province of Chihli. One of the twelve Christians confirmed by Bishop Alford was a man named Chang Fu, the father of Chang Ch'ing-lan, who was afterwards the first, and for many years the only, deacon of the Church in North China. He took Mr. Collins down to his native place, a country town called Yungch'ing, some fifty miles south of Peking; and an admirable instance of the kind of difficulty which in those and later days often beset the foreign missionary is recorded in connection with that visit.

"Chang Fu conducted Mr. Collins to Yungch'ing, where, on November 13, 1868, they found lodging at a small inn inside the south gate. They spent several days preaching the Gospel and healing the sick, looking in the meanwhile for a house. At length they found one and paid a year's rent in advance. But neighbours threatened to burn the shop of the would-be landlord if he let his house to a foreigner; so eventually, in the interests of peace, Mr. Collins consented to receive back the rent. The magistrate sent him [59/60] a civil message, hoping that he would soon find another house, and at the same time Chang Fu received a threatening order to take Mr. Collins away from the district at once." [Historical Sketch of North China, p. 5.]

The actual growth of the work at Yungch'ing was slow enough, partly because several of the best Christians belonging to the place were employed by the Mission in Peking as teachers or preachers. In fact, as we shall see in a later chapter, the work in Peking was for many years exotic rather than native; and the Church, though it entered the city in two-fold force, both English and American, for one reason or another, has failed hitherto to strike root in the capital as firmly as elsewhere in China.

This seems to be a fitting place to try to summarize the results of the first beginnings of the Church's missionary work. In the next few chapters we shall trace it in its expansion; but before we do so it will be well to realize how very small was the seed which was destined by God's grace to grow into such a goodly tree to-day.

Englishmen, and English Churchmen, are proverbially fond of grumbling, perhaps of [60/61] fault-finding; and it may seem that the pages of this little book have already been overfilled with both the one and the other. But it is impossible to look back on the political and commercial transactions which led to missionary work being undertaken in China without a sense of their grave injustice. And in any record of human efforts to carry out divine commands, it is well to endeavour to speak the plain truth, not only about successes, but also as regards mistakes.

Politically, England's record was certainly based on motives more than merely open to suspicion. Gladstone, who had opposed the undertaking of the second China War, but who v as Palmerston's Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1859, constrained as he was to support the policy of sending an expedition to avenge the Peiho disaster in the spring of that year, sounded in the House of Commons a note of warning. His official position made it necessarily guarded in its terms, but its utterance was characteristic of the man. "I trust," he said, referring to the whole course of events since the outbreak of the war, "that we shall listen to the lesson taught us by these transactions." The Conservative leader, Sir John Pakington, put the truth more bluntly. [61/62] "Beyond all question, serious doubts have long been entertained, and are at this moment entertained, with regard to the whole justice and propriety of our policy." The Church Missionary Intelligencer, in a series of articles by Mr. Ridge-way, spoke more strongly still. "Our whole course upon the coast of China has been one of injustice and of unsound policy, in which for the sake of present gain we have sacrificed our future prospects, prejudicing against us a vast multitude of people, and, so far as their sympathies and good will are concerned, closing against ourselves a boundless field of operation, which will eventually prove to be one of the finest openings for philanthropic efforts and commercial intercourse which the world has ever known." [Church Missionary Intelligencer, 1860, p. 98.] These are strong words, from a far-sighted Christian man; but they are undeniably as true in their condemnation of the past as they have proved to be in their forecast of the future. But, at any rate, something had been done to plant the Church in China by both branches of the Anglican communion: little enough, if compared with what the London Missionary Society had done, or with what American Societies were doing, but still enough [62/63] to show the Church her duty, to pave the way for future effort, to be the seed of a wonderfully rich harvest.

Let it be remembered that this first period of mission work in China covers but some thirty years, or a single generation; that the resources of Church Missions in men and means were much more limited than they are to-day; that the difficulties of new-comers, especially in regard to the language, were much more formidable then than now. And let it be remembered that, in spite of all these drawbacks, the Church had been planted at Hong Kong, Fuhchow, Ningpo, Shanghai, and Peking, by a band of men who would be thought but a small staff for a single diocese today, and by means of a language of which the dialect varied so widely in every one of those places as to be unintelligible in any other. Each of those places had become centres of work for the country immediately around them, the tiny nucleus of a native ministry had already been obtained, and schools started which were destined to train many more candidates for the same high calling. A beginning had been made at Medical Missions, which were found to exercise a great influence in breaking down prejudice and in getting [63/64] into touch with inquirers. And the missionaries had borne their part, and that a splendid part, in the translation of the Bible and the Prayer Book, as well as of tracts and hymns.

On the other hand, there was, in the English Missions at least, a serious lack of Episcopal oversight, but partially remedied by the consecration of a second Bishop in 1873; and there was another omission, less noticeable perhaps at the time, but one which might then have been more easily repaired than afterwards, the absence of any real cohesion between the English and American Missions of the Anglican communion.

Yet if, as we look back on this first period of work, there is much to sadden, much to humiliate, much that needs to be atoned for, there is likewise much for which we may thank God. Humility and penitence are a good foundation for effort, and the reward vouchsafed to those early labours, so lamentably circumscribed and yet so resolutely undertaken, not only proved an immediate encouragement and led in the next generation, under God's providence, to great expansion, but may also serve to quicken our enthusiasm and our faith to-day.

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