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Handbooks of English Church Expansion


By Frank L. Norris

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

Chapter X. The Church in Western China

FOUNDED by the genius and inspired by the enthusiasm of Mr. Hudson Taylor, the great China Inland Mission may be said to have sprung into fame only when it was joined by the "Cambridge Seven," of whom two at least were already famous. From 1865 to 1872 it had sent out but thirty missionaries, and during the next ten years its numbers continued to grow comparatively slowly, for the Mission was having a hard struggle to maintain its existence. Nothing but indomitable faith supported its founder under the storm of criticism his methods evoked from without, and the harrowing anxiety as to funds which must have been a heavy burden from within, even to so unworldly a man as Mr. Taylor.

However, in November, 1882, Mr. Moody paid his memorable visit to Cambridge, and in the autumn of 1884 it was announced that the captain [131/132] of the Cambridge cricket eleven, and the stroke-oar of the Cambridge boat were going out as missionaries to China. This decision on the part of men so well known as C. T. Studd and Stanley Smith naturally had important results. Five other Cambridge men joined them; and, the China Inland Mission being confessedly open to members of all denominations, it is perhaps not surprising that amongst the Cambridge volunteers were a London curate, the Rev. W. W. Cassels, Montagu Beauchamp, a nephew of Lord Radstock, and a Churchman, and Arthur Polhill, a Ridley Hall student, who had intended to offer himself to the Church Missionary Society. The other two members of the band were both officers in the Army, D. E. Hoste, of the Royal Artillery, and Cecil Polhill, of the 6th Dragoon Guards.

The Churchman who holds most strongly the divine ideal of the Church, will naturally seek an outlet for his enthusiasm in supporting definitely Church work; the more nominal Churchman, and the Churchman who claims to hold "wider views," are as naturally repelled by anything which looks like narrowness or selfishness. But they will be moved to help Church work, as readily or even more readily than any other work, when the [132/133] appeal in its behalf is made to their Christianity rather than to their Churchmanship, when it is recognized that Churchmen are the brethren and not the rivals of other GOD-fearing Christians. It is not one of the least results of missionary work, that it has a clear tendency to promote Christian unity. If the friends of Missions will bear in mind that such unity does not mean and need not mean necessarily outward uniformity, they will find in this wider basis of appeal, in this CHRIST-like breadth of view, an inspiration for themselves and others which shall not in the providence of GOD prove barren of great results.

The subject of this chapter, as has been said, has seemed to justify this digression from the record of work to the consideration of the principles of work. But we must now turn back to explain how the Church in Western China came into being as a separate diocese, under a Bishop drawn from the ranks of the China Inland Mission.

As we have seen, one member of the "Cambridge Seven," the Rev. W. W. Cassels, was already in Holy Orders; and another, Mr. Arthur Polhill, was reading for Orders when he volunteered for China. On their arrival in China both [133/134] these men and Mr. Montagu Beauchamp were sent up by the China Inland Mission into the Western Province of Ssuch'uan, where others of the same Mission were already located. Mr. Cassels held Bishop Moule's licence, the district being within the Mid-China jurisdiction, and Mr. Polhill was before long ordained both deacon and priest by the same Bishop. It naturally followed that the work was in some measure conducted on Church lines, at least where the C.I.M. missionaries belonged to the Church of England.

Not long after the arrival of these C.I.M. Churchmen, the Rev. J. H. Horsburgh, of the C.M.S. Mission in Mid-China, was enabled to put into execution a plan formed by himself in 1888 after a pioneer tour in Ssuch'uan. At the close of 1891 Mr. and Mrs. Horsburgh, the Rev. O. M. Jackson, three laymen, and six single women missionaries, entered Ssuch'uan as the first band of C.M.S. missionaries to take up work in that province. By a friendly arrangement with the China Inland Mission, aided by the influence possessed by the latter with other Missions that were or might be desirous of opening work in the district, a large part of the province was set apart for work on Church of England lines, and [134/135] a definite district was assigned to the C.M.S. workers as well as to those of the China Inland Mission. The former district lies mainly to the north of the capital, Chengtu, the latter lies to the east of the C.M.S. district. In this respect the diocese is in some ways beginning under conditions almost unique. When it is remembered that the denominations, including the non-Church members of the China Inland Mission, are practically leaving this part of the field to the Church, the urgency of giving the Bishop whole-hearted support will become more evident.

When Mr. Horsburgh's party first arrived, they were unable to secure or rent any houses in the principal towns of what was to be the Church's district of the future; and they were at first the welcome guests of their fellow-workers of the China Inland Mission. However, they did not wait long before beginning itinerating work, staying for days or weeks in native inns; and even such short sojourns were by no means fruitless. One of the leaders in this work was a woman possessed of exceptional gifts, Miss Entwistle, to whom the opening of the important town of Miencheo was mainly due. She resided there in an inn alone for some time before she [135/136] was joined by another missionary; and her companion had not been with her long before an attack of smallpox cut short Miss Entwistle's work just as it seemed about to bear fruit. But, as is so often the case, this apparent loss was at once followed by corresponding gains. Town after town was occupied successfully, sometimes only after much opposition and misunderstanding, and the Church Missionary Society alone can now claim eight stations in a district about one hundred and fifty miles square.

Meanwhile the C.I.M. workers were also breaking ground to the east, from Paoming, where the Bishop now has his headquarters, eastward to Kurifu on the Yangtse, not far above Ichang. But the very fact that the work was spreading so rapidly filled some of the workers with a longing to see the Church's organization completed by the consecration of a Bishop who should live amongst them. Bishop Moule, of Mid-China, living some 1,600 miles away, could hardly be expected to be able to visit a district so far distant from Chehkiang, and yet Christians were being baptized without any prospect of being confirmed; and the natural results of the lack of a common leader were being aggravated [136/137] by the fact that the Church was represented by two Societies on the field.

Consequently, steps were taken for the formation of a new diocese; and when Archbishop Benson, after consulting with both the Societies interested, announced his intention of consecrating Mr. Casscls as the first Bishop in Western China, it was felt to be an admirable choice. The Church Missionary Society came forward with an offer to guarantee the Bishop's support, and Mr. Cassels was consecrated on October 18, 1895, "coming on to the roll of C.M.S. missionaries while fully retaining his position in the China Inland Mission." [History of the Church Missionary Society, iii. 579.]

Very touching is the account of his first message to his diocese, sent from Shanghai at the end of the year. "I am but a little child. JESUS called a little child unto Him, and set him in the midst. A little child shall lead them." [The Bishop's feeling may be compared also to that of the Emperor Ching, as given in two Odes in the "Shi-King" (see "The Wisdom of the East" series, published by John Murray, Book of Odes, pp. 25-27). The following lines may be quoted as a specimen:--"It is but as a little child I ask, / Without intelligence to do my task, / Yet learning month by month, and day by day, / I will hold fast some gleams of knowledge bright; / Help me to bear my heavy burden right, / And show me how to walk in wisdom's way. / A little child, / Only a little child, I am too frail / To cope with the anxieties of state / And cares of king-craft." The whole of the two short Odes would be well worth quoting if space allowed: they are admirably translated by Mr. Allen Upward.] And very striking has been the result of the Archbishop's courage in consecrating a priest connected for some years with a Society confessedly "undenominational"; for his work has [137/138] been done from the first with a child's confidence in his Father, and with a child's single-minded-ness, if with a strong man's tenacity and power. Gradually the whole work has been drawn together and organized on common lines: the "C.I.M. missionary" has proved himself a staunch Churchman where Churchmanship has been needed, and a no less liberal-minded Christian where there was room for sympathy and breadth of view. As a proof of the confidence he has inspired, the fact that the C.M.S. staff was strengthened during the four years subsequent to his consecration by as many as eighteen recruits is no less striking than the fact that the China [138/139] Inland Mission has continued to repose implicit confidence in him as the effective leader of their work in a district so far removed from Shanghai, where they have their headquarters.

The diocese, however, suffered a blow in the retirement of the Rev. J. H. Horsburgh, who had been the first pioneer of the Church. But the strengthening of its staff from home, and the ordination of several laymen working in the field, have more than made up its losses. It is worthy of note that yet another member of the famous Seven has at length seen his way to be ordained, in the person of Mr. Beauchamp, who, after twenty years' service as a layman, was ordained while at home on furlough, in 1906, by Bishop Moule of Durham.

The spread of the work in the diocese has been remarkable. A glance at the map will show a fairly compact area more or less covered with Mission stations. If the course of the Yangtse River is traced a short distance above Ichang, the city of Kurifu will be seen on its northern bank. Some six hundred miles west-north-west, on the edge of the province, is the important frontier city of Sang-pan, formerly occupied by the China Inland Mission, but made over by them to the [139/140] Church Missionary Society in 1899. South again of Sang-pan, some two hundred miles, is the provincial capital of Cheng-tu, which lies just outside the sphere of the Bishop's work. But within these three points, which form, as it were, the angles of a triangle, there are some score or more of stations occupied by Churchmen and Churchwomen, sent out under the auspices of one or other of the two Societies. The Church Missionary Society, as has been said, work the western portion: the China Inland Mission the larger eastern portion. But the whole work is now being more and more co-ordinated under the guidance of the Bishop.

Probably no part of the Church's work in China can show greater results in proportion to the money spent. In the last chapter we were viewing the work of the American Church, and the contrast between the two districts is significant. The lines on which the great work of the American Church is conducted presuppose the resources which have not been, and are never likely to be, at the disposal of the Diocese of Western China. But there is surely room for both methods; and if the Western China work can boast no great educational institutions as yet, [140/141] it must be remembered that the Gospel has been spread with a zeal and a success which many financially more prosperous Missions might well envy. That there is pressing need for further support is evidenced by the testimony of the Bishop himself, no less than by the abundance of the opportunity to which all who are at work there bear witness.

Bishop Cassels' headquarters are at Paoningfu, right in the centre of the work; and in 1905, at the annual meeting in London of the China Inland Mission, he spoke of his needs as follows: "In my own district, i.e., around Paoningfu, in the last seven years our central stations have increased threefold, our out-stations more than tenfold, and our opportunities certainly more than a hundredfold. But what increase of workers have we had? a net increase of three men to work three stations, to look after all these out-stations, and to seek to avail themselves of the scores of opportunities." [China's Millions, June 1905, p. 79.]

The above quotation leads us irresistibly to quote another passage from the immediate context in the same speech. "It is sometimes said, 'I have no guidance.' . . . Now God guides the [141/142] going man as you guide a boat. You cannot steer a boat that has not got any way on it. Make a move, make an effort; step forth in some way or another, and God will certainly give you guidance." These words contain a truth which is applicable not only to individuals but to the missionary policy and work of the Church as a whole. Whether in the mission-field or at home, we need God's guidance, and the Bishop's words remind us of a primary condition for receiving it, namely, that we should "get some way upon us," not only as individuals, but as a Church.

Let us close this chapter with a brief notice of one or two points connected with the work in Western China.

We said just now that there were no great educational institutions connected with the Mission. A proposal has, however, been made which merits the attention of Churchmen at home. There is in existence in Western China an interdenominational Board, called the "West China Advisory Board." This Board has proposed the foundation in Cheng-tu of a University on Christian lines, made up of colleges founded by various denominations. If such a proposal is carried into [142/143] effect, is there not a definite call to the Church to take its part? It need not be supposed that any extravagant scheme is contemplated. The Church college might be the humblest of all, little more than a "hostel" under the guidance of two or three men. But it would be essential that such men should be able to hold their proper place on the staff of the University, and that they should be wholly free to devote themselves to this work. The present staff of the diocese is, as we have pointed out, inadequate for its evangelistic work, and there are as yet no funds that can be applied to this object. But it would seem to be a great opportunity for Churchmen at home, and one that must not be lost, to strengthen the Bishop's hands so that the Church may do her part, and the diocese reap the benefits of a share in this educational scheme.

At Paoningfu there is also a hospital, and schools for both boys and girls. The work has taken strong hold there, not only in the city itself, but also in the surrounding district.

It is partly in the hands of Mr. Ku, the first Chinese deacon ordained in the diocese, and remarkable as a convert from Mohammedanism. Such converts have hitherto been few, although [143/144] the number of Mohammedans in China amounts to many millions.

But, without doubt, the most striking feature of Western China to-day is the abundance of the opportunity. Elsewhere in China missionaries are feeling that there is a critical time before them, that openings unknown and unsuspected heretofore are presenting themselves daily. But it is even more than true of this far inland diocese than of those on the coast which began to open up while Ssuch'uan was practically a closed province. We have already quoted Bishop Cassels' testimony on this point, that opportunities are multiplying a hundredfold. We will only add that of another missionary of equal experience, Mr. Montagu Beauchamp, who ended a stirring speech at the same annual meeting of the China Inland Mission, in 1905, with the words: "There are encouragements and there are dangers. But the greatest danger of all is that we do not make use of the opportunity--for now is the time."

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