Project Canterbury

Handbooks of English Church Expansion


By Frank L. Norris

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

Chapter VII. The Church in Fuhkien

BISHOP Lightfoot, of Durham, once said that the study of history was the best cordial for drooping spirits; and the history of the Church in Fuhkien might well be recommended to the attention of any one tempted to despair of the ultimate success of the Church's Missions. Eleven years without a single convert, two missionaries dying in the interval, a third as the firstfruits were being gathered, and a fourth almost immediately afterwards, bitter and repeated persecutions, grave difficulties from within and from without, and yet growth! Growth from the days of early struggle to the days of later organization: growth in the force employed, from one or two lonely workers to a great band of men and women, foreigners and natives: growth in the converts won, from the first four to the twelve thousand on the roll to-day: growth in the nature of the work, from the introduction of a foreign [81/82] faith by foreigners to the spread of a native Church by a native ministry--such is the result of little more than half a century of work and effort, of which the first decade had passed away without a sign of hope! "It is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes."

Let us glance briefly at a few of the more remarkable steps in this great development. They will serve to illustrate one or two of the principles of successful missionary work, even if we notice at the same time certain features that are regrettable but no less instructive.

When George Smith died in 1863 he left thirteen Christians and five catechumens to the care of the Rev. J. R. Wolfe, who had only been in China eighteen months. Five years later Bishop Alford paid his first visit to the province, and found ninety candidates waiting to be confirmed, one man ready to be ordained deacon, and some ten out-stations to the north of Fuhchow already occupied by catechists. That the work had grown thus rapidly seems to have been due partly to the personality of Mr. Wolfe, partly to his method. The history of the Church's work in Fuhkien is bound up with Mr. Wolfe's lifelong labours so closely that we need not dwell further [82/83] on them now. But his method calls for further notice. In those early years he received but small help from other English missionaries. In fact he had but one colleague to assist him for some years to come. But he realized, as few have done, how much help could be derived from native workers rightly used and adequately trusted. The case most parallel to that of Fuhkien is that of the Russian Mission in Japan, where a single Russian Bishop, Bishop Nikolai, practically without any other European help, has succeeded in building up a Church of over ten thousand Japanese Christians, shepherded by Japanese priests. On the other hand, we cannot but notice the delay in administering the rite of Confirmation to the Christians already baptized. No blame can rightly be attached to a Bishop whose work extended from Hong Kong to Peking, still less to the priest who had done his part so faithfully and successfully. But as we shall have occasion to notice this lack of episcopal oversight again in another connection later on, it seems right to draw attention to it here at the outset of the work.

The growth of missionary work, however, is often followed by a period of trial; and this was certainly true of the work in Fuhkien. In 1869 [83/84] there was an outbreak of local persecution in the town of Lo-ngwong, and in the following year a more general outbreak through what was called the Shan-sin-fan or Genii-powders' plot. But thus the infant Church was purified, to emerge the stronger from its trial.

The Lo-ngwong persecution is thus described: "Some were beaten, some robbed of their all, some dragged before the magistrate upon false charges and compelled to purchase their liberty by heavy payments. One man had a dying thief laid at his door by a policeman, who then accused him of murder: another was kept in prison for many months and died there. . . . We cannot wonder under these circumstances that halfhearted disciples, and especially those who joined the Church to get some personal advantage, fell away. Inquirers drew back in alarm, and some even of the baptized kept aloof, not daring to suffer shame for the Name of Christ. Yet the majority of the little flock stood firm, and more than a hundred met Sunday by Sunday at the village of Kipo, three miles from the city, for common prayer and praise, an old convert there lending his house for the purpose." [For Christ in Fuhkien, pp. 63, 64.]

[85] In 1875, again through the agency of native preachers, the Gospel spread even further north and west, to the districts of Fuhning and Kien-ning; and in the following year, seven years after the visit of Bishop Alford referred to above, Bishop Burdon paid his first visit to the Mission in Fuhkien, confirming over five hundred Christians, and admitting four more men to the diaconate. One of these, Mr. Ling, had just been expelled from Kienning after a year's residence there, and his wife, who had learned English in a mission school in Singapore, wrote the following interesting account of the sufferings endured by her husband:--

"They caught Sieng-sing [i.e. Mr. Ling], his nephew, and two students; took their jackets off, and brought them to a tree, and hanged them with their tails [i.e. queues] tied up to the tree and their feet lifted up from the earth. Sieng-sing's nephew was quite afraid, so he said to him, 'To-day you must have great faith.' Sieng-sing says he did not feel a bit pain when they beaten him, he was able to sing and praise GOD. In about two hours they brought down those catechists from the tree and gave them vinegar mixed with hair. . . . They beat these men and [85/86] said, 'Now what can your God do?' Sieng-sing said, 'I quite pity you all because you do not know the way of salvation.' They said, 'You are in great trouble to-day because you wish to work for the English and be their soldiers.' Sieng-sing said, 'I am not working for the English, I am working for my Saviour, Whom you do not know. That is the reason I am teaching you now." [For Christ in Fuhkien, p. 113.]

The year 1878 was a marked year in the progress of the Mission. In the previous autumn reinforcements had at last arrived--Mr. Lloyd, who is still in the field at the present time supervising the up-country work in the districts north of Fuhchow, and Mr. Stewart, whose name will always be remembered in connection with the Hwasang massacre of 1895, taking charge of the Theological College in Fuhchow itself. The latter at once proceeded to erect some new buildings in connection with the college, obtaining a written consent from the British consul, who inspected both the plans and the site. Hardly, however, were the buildings finished--in fact a party of Chinese officials were actually being shown over them--when a mob collected and burned them to the ground.

[87] This is not the place to record in detail the difficulties which were experienced in securing a new site when, owing to the action of the consul, leave was refused to the Mission to continue in occupation of the old site. A full, though possibly somewhat one-sided, account will be found in Miss Gordon-Cumming's Wanderings in China. [Quoted in the History of the Church Missionary Society.] It is a pleasanter task to put on record that at the close of this year there were a hundred out-stations, containing as many churches and chapels, while the native Christians, adults and children, numbered over three thousand. So "the Word of GOD grew and multiplied."

For the same year (1878) had witnessed a remarkable development at Hokchiang, to the south of Fuhchow, as well as amongst the places to the north of that city. The Christians in this place were a considerable body, the fruits direct or indirect of the American Methodist Mission; but they had been for several years desirous of joining the Church through the Church Missionary Society. It is always difficult in such cases for missionaries to be sure that the converts are actuated by proper motives, and that is one of the [87/88] reasons which operate in favour of the Church keeping in closer touch with other missionary bodies in the field than would be considered natural or even wise at home in England. For similar cases have occurred not infrequently elsewhere in China in the past, and they are likely to occur with even greater frequency in the future, if the Church of China becomes, as GOD grant it may, a visible reality.

In the case of the Hokchiang Christians, as far back as 1870 they had made overtures to the Church, but in vain. However, in 1872, Mr. Mahood of the Church Missionary Society, who was alone at that time (Mr. Wolfe being on furlough), visited them and baptized some sixty people. But his action seems to have met with disapproval from his senior colleague, for on the latter's return in the following year "the catechists who had been sent were withdrawn, and the converts counselled to accept the ministrations of the American Mission. This, however, they declined to do, and for some years they were left to themselves. At length, in 1878, their earnest appeals being continually renewed, Mr. Wolfe and Mr. Lloyd visited them, to ascertain if possible the reasons for their wishing to join the English [88/89] Church; and the result was that, with the acquiescence of the American brethren, steps were taken for their recognition by the C.M.S. Mission." [For Christ in Fuhkien, p. 133.]

We cannot help wondering what the critics of Missions, who are so fond of asserting that all converts are rice-Christians, would make of some of these Fuhkien districts. In the very next district to Hokchiang, that of Hinghwa, the same thing was happening, and that among Christians who had never "learnt republicanism at the same time as they imbibed the Gospel" from American teachers. "The work begun there by one of the early C.M.S. catechists had been largely self-developing, the converts themselves spreading the light with little or no guidance from any European missionary during the earlier years of its history. . . . The native Christians were entirely responsible for the pay of their catechists and teachers, the C.M.S. Committee limiting their help to a grant for the salary of the native clergymen." [Ibid., p. 152.] So far did the spirit of independence reach, that when in 1887 it was resolved to withdraw the Chinese agents paid by the Church Missionary Society from the Hinghwa district, and the decision was [89/90] made known to the converts, "they followed the men, brought back their luggage, and compelled them to return with them, promising themselves to provide their entire salaries if we would only allow the men to remain." [For Christ in Fuhkien, p. 147.]

But we have somewhat anticipated the order of events in treating of the Hinghwa Church, and we must now return to the year 1882 and the extension of the northern work.

The city of Fuhning lies not far from the northern boundary of the Fuhkien Province. It had been visited as early as 1866, and ten years later a native deacon had been sent to live there. But the real growth of the work dates from the arrival of resident European missionaries in 1882, and especially from the time (1896) when the district was put in charge of workers supported by Dublin University. In twenty-five years the roll of Christians in this one district has increased from half-a-dozen to six hundred and fifty. The opening up in force of so distant a station as Fuhning, as well as the development of the work in the districts lying between that place and Fuhchow, led to the adoption in the same year of a native Church organization on the same plan as that [90/91] which had been adopted in Tinnevelly and elsewhere in India. Each pastorate or group of congregations organized its own local "Church Committee," and each district its own "Native Church Council," composed of delegates from the different pastorates. Finally, the whole province was represented at the Native Church Conference, or "Provincial Council," as it came to be afterwards called.

Some three years later, in 1885, this native organization gave striking proof of the significance of thus helping forward the esprit de corps of the native Church. At a meeting of the Provincial Council Mr. Wolfe gave an account of a visit he had recently paid to Korea, which greatly touched the meeting. One of the Chinese clergy and three lay evangelists volunteered to go and start a Korean Mission. The attempt was actually made in the autumn, Mr. Wolfe taking over with him two of the four laymen who had volunteered, and the Korean Mission continued to exist, if it met with no striking success, until Bishop Corfe's consecration in 1889 made such a change in the conditions that "it was felt that the presence of the Chinese was not necessary." [For Christ in Fuhkien, p. 39.]

[92] But we must now return to the work in Fuhkien itself, and its development. Space forbids us to chronicle that development in detail, but certain aspects of it demand consideration. In the year 1888 the northern station of Ning-taik was opened by native workers, and since then it has shown remarkable growth. This work is peculiar in one respect. Never since the opening of the station have any English missionaries, other than ladies, resided there. The work has been in the hands of native clergy entirely; and yet in less than twenty years the number of Christians have reached some thirteen hundred, of whom five hundred are communicants. The record of this station is no small testimony to the principle, to which we have already alluded, of working through Chinese agents rather than through foreign missionaries. At the same time, strong as the work at Ning-taik undoubtedly is, the proportion of Christians to communicants is markedly weak. The reason for this is no doubt in part the lack of episcopal oversight during the earlier years of the Church's work, and we may confidently expect that one of the results of the establishment of the Fuhkien bishopric will be to remedy what has hitherto been a grave blot on the wonderful growth of the [92/93] Church in that province. In the statistical returns for the Diocese of West China occurs a phrase which all the Missions of the Church would do well to bear in mind: "Full members" (i.e., confirmed communicants), as distinct from Christians who have been baptized but not confirmed. But if S. Paul could ask, "How shall they hear without a preacher?" may not we ask to-day, "How shall baptized Christians receive the manifold gifts of the Spirit, where no Bishop of the Church is able to visit them for the laying on of hands in the rite of Confirmation?"

In the same year Mr. Stewart, one of the oldest missionaries in Fuhkien, returnd to take up work in the Kucheng station, until in the Providence of GOD he was called to his rest. For a year or two, in spite of symptoms of trouble from a sect known as the Vegetarians, Mr. and Mrs. Stewart and a number of ladies and children were able to live and work in comparative peace. In 1895 they went for a short holiday to a hill-station known as Hwasang, and there on August 1st Mr. Stewart and seven ladies were brutally murdered, two of the Stewart children also dying afterwards from the injuries they received at the same time. Here we need only mention two points in connection [93/94] with the outbreak. It had nothing to do with any provocation offered by the missionaries themselves: they were quietly resting in the little hillside village, and their death was resolved on by lot as one of three plans, any one of which would, it was thought, strengthen the position of the Vegetarian sect as against the Chinese authorities. And secondly, it was followed not by any defection amongst the Christians, but by a large ingathering of converts in the following year.

Bishop Burdon was succeeded by Bishop Hoare, and the latter at once set himself to secure the division of the unwieldy diocese. Meantime, however, during the few years that elapsed between his own consecration and that of the first Bishop in Fuhkien, he did his best for the work in that province, and, as many of his letters showed, thoroughly enjoyed his visits thither. To one who was so whole-heartedly in favour of building up a native Church, the growth of the native ministry in Fuhkien and the independent spirit shown by the native Christians there, were things full of interest and joy. The actual stations occupied by the Mission were not much increased in number; though Sieng-in, to the south of Hinghwa, was occupied in 1901 for the [94/95] first time by European missionaries. But the work all through the province was gradually strengthened, and thus made ready for the advent of the first Bishop of Fuhkien.

In Fuhchow itself there is a considerable educational plant, consisting of a Divinity School, High School, and Union School, on the one hand, and the Stewart Memorial School for training women-workers on the other; while the Girls' Boarding School has deservedly won for itself a very high reputation. This school is the lineal successor of a girls' school carried on from 1875 by the "Female Education Society," which remained for ten years the only agency for women's work in the province. In 1887, however, unmarried women workers in connection with the Church Missionary Society were for the first time sent out: and some years previously the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society was induced to extend its operations to China. In the last twenty years women's work has grown enormously, and now a Women's Conference, at which both the C.E.Z.M.S. and the C.M.S. women-workers are represented, "gives unity and as far as possible uniformity" to that side of the work. In no diocese in China has it proved more fruitful or [95/96] embraced a wider field. The training of Bible-women, the opening of station-classes, and the organization of large and successful schools, are features shared also by other dioceses: but house-to-house visiting and village itineration have been, if not peculiar to, at least a marked feature of, the work in Fuhkien.

Even the above brief record of Church expansion in the district where it has reached far larger dimensions than anywhere else in China, reveals mingled reasons for satisfaction and anxiety. On the one hand we have the wonderful growth of later years, resulting from the no less wonderful patient perseverance of the earlier; and we have the success that attended the bold use both of native helpers, and of European women-workers. On the other hand there is the lack of episcopal oversight during the first stages of the work, which is largely responsible for the low proportion of communicants to baptized adults, still observable; and the consequent call for us to strengthen our episcopate still further, if the noble spirit of independence and self-support evinced by so many of our Mission stations is to be saved from developing into mere Congregationalism, inconsistent with membership in the Catholic Church.

[97] We may well rejoice, then, that Rishop Hoare's efforts were at length crowned with success, by the consecration of Horace McCartie Eyre Price, a missionary of nearly twenty years' experience, first in Sierra Leone and then for fifteen years in Japan, as the first Bishop of Fuhkien. The task before him is in some ways one of peculiar difficult}-, owing to the very strength of the Church over which he is called to rule, in enthusiasm, and in numbers, and in traditions in which episcopal control has not hitherto had its rightful place. On the other hand, his experience in Japan peculiarly qualifies the new Bishop to evolve diocesan order out of the abundant material existing in Fuhkien; and his work will be not fruitless if he so commends his office to his flock that they may learn by a happy experience the value of that episcopate on which the Anglican communion rightly lays so great a stress. Bishop Iloare sometimes had visions of a native Bishop or Bishops working in the Fuhkien province, but assuredly the Church in that province must first learn the full meaning and value of the episcopate before such visions can be realized.

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