Project Canterbury

Handbooks of English Church Expansion


By Frank L. Norris

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

Chapter XI. The Church in Shantung

WE have already noticed in an earlier chapter the part played by the opium traffic in rousing the consciences of Churchmen to efforts for the evangelization of China. As we shall see, the same cause was responsible for the opening of Church work in Shantung, and for the establishment of the Diocese of North China in 1880. But it is pleasanter to remark on the part played by another cause, as good in every way as the opium traffic was evil. In 1872 the Day of Intercession for Foreign Missions was first instituted, to call the Church to prayer for men rather than for means: for those who supported it most heartily felt that the great marvel is the subjection of man's will to the Will of God, and that, when this has been accomplished, all else will follow. That first Day of Intercession was observed with whole-hearted earnestness in the great [145/146] parish of S. Peter's, Eaton Square, then under the inspiring guidance of George Wilkinson, who was afterwards Bishop of S. Andrews and Primus of the Scottish Church. [At rest December 11, 1907.] It bore immediate fruit in an unconditional offer for foreign service from one of the assistant clergy, Charles Perry Scott, nephew of Bishop Perry of Melbourne, and in an offer of support for two missionaries to China from a layman who owed part of his large means to a past share in the opium trade.

As a result, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel were enabled to send out two missionaries in 1874 to Chefoo, a treaty-port in the Province of Shantung, and thus to make some amends for the fiasco of 1863 in Peking. Unfortunately, the Society felt obliged to require its missionaries to reside at the treaty-port--only one of many instances where one cannot help thinking its claim to a semi-official character has hindered rather than helped its missionary work--and in consequence, Messrs. Scott and Greenwood were obliged to begin their work in a little seaport town where American missionaries had already been long established, and where the dialect had peculiarities so often noticeable at the coast. [146/147] Dr. Nevius, of the American Presbyterian Mission, was, however, the last man to be jealous of newcomers, and from the first he did all in his power to help the English clergy. Hospitality, advice, companionship in evangelistic tours, were freely offered and gladly accepted; and it was under his guidance that first one and then the other made acquaintance with the interior of the province.

If the selection of Chefoo as their headquarters was in some ways unfortunate as regards work amongst the Chinese, at least it enabled the missionaries to be true to the first principle of the Society which they represented, and to begin at once ministrations to the English residents, which have been carried on for more than thirty years without intermission. The services were at first held in the "Union Church" (or undenominational chapel for English services), and afterwards, pending the building of a church, in a rented warehouse. Meanwhile, the missionaries set themselves to struggle with the language; and, either with Dr. Nevius or alone, made long tours in the interior of the province, prospecting for a future sphere of work unoccupied by others.

Such a sphere was found in the western part of the province, in the city of Taianfu, at the foot [147/148] of the sacred mountain of T'ai-shan. But hardly had this been decided on, before Mr. Scott (who had been made an Honorary Canon of Shanghai by Bishop Russell) was called away to take part in famine-relief work. Accompanied by Mr. Capel, a new arrival, he made a long and arduous journey through the Provinces of Honan and Shansi, leaving Mr. Greenwood alone at Chefoo. On his return from this tour he had only time to pay one brief visit to Taianfu before he was summoned to England to be consecrated first Bishop of the new Diocese of North China. The Church Missionary Society were withdrawing from Peking, as the American Church had already withdrawn; and the new Bishop's jurisdiction embraced the six northern provinces of China, Shantung, Chihli, Honan, Shansi, Shensi, and Kansu.

It might have been thought that the decision to create a new missionary bishopric, for which the funds had been mainly provided by the same munificent layman who had so far found the money for the Shantung Mission, would have been the signal for fresh efforts on the part of the Church at home to develop the work in North China. Few things in the history of the Church in China, or indeed elsewhere, are sadder than this [148/149] failure of the Church to rise to her opportunity. Leaving out of consideration the needs of Peking, and of Chihli--not to mention the four provinces in which work had not yet been begun--what did Shantung gain by Bishop Scott's consecration? Mr. Capel had been invalided home, not to return. Mr. Greenwood, who had come out in 1874, was hoping to go home on furlough; and yet nothing was done to supply the place of either. Was it the fault of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, or of the Church, or of the Church's almost haphazard way of creating a new diocese in response to an isolated if generous offer, without taking any adequate steps to arouse public interest and thus secure support for the new diocese?

Again, we cannot but ask whether the capital sum set apart for the endowment of the new bishopric might not have been better employed, if part of it had been available to support the work for the first few years, leaving the question of a permanent endowment to a later day. For it is hard to see why the Missionary Bishop should be more assured of his income than the clergy who work under him; or why the money which might be used to strengthen the Bishop's staff of clergy at the outset, should be tied up to provide [149/150] the income of a see which will one day, it is to be hoped, be filled by a Chinese Bishop of a Chinese Church.

Above all, why should the Church at home be content to leave the decision as to the founding of new missionary bishoprics to any individual or Society, and not entrust such questions to a representative Board of Missions? And, if there is no prospect of the Bishop being adequately supported with men and means, ought he to be consecrated? Is it fair to him, to the Church at home, or to those amongst whom his work will lie? Such questions as these cannot be answered in these pages: but they are inevitably suggested by the story of the Church's work in North China, and therein lies the justification for raising them.

Fortunately for Bishop Scott, he had in his former Vicar, Mr. Wilkinson, and in his brother, Canon John Scott, then Vicar of S. Mary's, Hull, two allies at home who were bent on securing for him such help as they could. The formation of another separate Missionary Association for the North China Mission may seem now to have been a mistake in policy: at the time it appeared [150/151] the only means of ensuring that the new diocese should not be left to starve. [The Association had been formed originally in 1874; but it was reorganized after Bishop Scott's consecration.]

The immediate result of the reorganization of the North China Missionary Association was, that funds were forthcoming to enable the Rev. C. J. Corfe, R.N. (afterwards Bishop in Korea) to try the same experiment at Chefoo, which had been tried by Mr. Davys in Hong Kong a few years before. Mr. Corfe arrived in Chefoo soon after the Bishop got back thither, at the end of 1881, and he and his students were established at S. Peter's Mission House, to which, in the following year, a little chapel was added, and which is now the home of the Diocesan Training College and Clergy School. We need not linger over this effort to train young English students on the spot. It failed, as Mr. Davys' effort in South China had failed: but that it was fruitless, none dare say. Mr. Corfe served his apprenticeship to missionary work, and learnt, partly perhaps by the failure of that first attempt, lessons which were to bear fruit afterwards in Mr. Kelly's work in Kennington, and at Kelham. But for that experience at Chefoo, Mr. Kelly might have brought his first students out to Korea, and the [151/152] Society of the Sacred Mission might never have come into existence.

For years afterwards the work at Chefoo was practically confined to the carrying on of English services, the reinforcements sent out through the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel proving wholly inadequate. Mr. Greenwood, was, however, set free for several long visits to the interior, where his self-denial and patient prayerful waiting laid the seeds of future development. From 1891 to 1900 various efforts were made to establish native work in Chefoo, but the work was always rather exotic, and there were never proper resources for pushing it to a successful issue on any permanent lines. [Especially by the Rev. H. J. Benham-Brown and the Rev. H. Mathews.] At the other end of the province, however, greater encouragement rewarded the labours of the missionaries, and we may pause for a moment to recall its first beginnings.

Miles Greenwood was a man whom illness and delicate health had robbed of much of his natural ability as well as of his strength; but he retained that single-mindedness which is so near akin to the poverty in spirit to which our LORD attached [152/153] His blessing. He felt the call to missionary work while still a curate at Padiham, near Burnley, and having put his hand to the plough he never looked back. Whether in what was to him the peculiarly ungrateful task of struggling to master the difficulties of the language, or in long spells of lonely sojourn in the interior of the country amid all the discomforts of a native inn, he was always constant to his task, while his loyalty to the Bishop and even to younger colleagues knew no bounds. During the latter years of his life his usefulness, as men count usefulness, was very limited; but his one interest was the welfare of the Mission, and when in 1899 he passed to his rest at Chefoo, he left behind him twenty-five years of service, during which, with single-minded devotion, he had truly "done what he could."

Those lonely visits to Taianfu and P'ing-yin were not to be without fruit. Fifty miles to the west of Taianfu, close to the south bank of the Yellow River, lies P'ing-yin, the City of Peaceful Shade; and here, in an inn, Mr. Greenwood spent several winters. It was here that he won the first two converts, who, unlike the earliest converts in Fuhchow, remained for many a long year earnest members of the Church. It was not till 1887 that [153/154] the work could be taken up by resident missionaries, when the Rev. F. H. Sprent and the Rev. H. J. Benham-Brown went to live at Taianfu. Mr. Sprent had come out as a young layman from S. Boniface's College, Warminster, in 1883. He had a wonderful facility in acquiring Chinese, and great enthusiasm; and, when a student from S. Paul's College, Burgh, arrived, in the person of Mr. Benham-Brown, the Bishop ordained Mr. Sprent priest, and Mr. Benham-Brown deacon, and sent them together to Taianfu to take up their residence. Premises were secured after much patience and some trials, and a small school, composed chiefly of orphan boys, was started. The missionaries owed a good deal in those first years to the help of Chinese Christians from Peking, especially to an old Peking schoolboy named Shih, of whom we shall hear more hereafter. He was almost from the first put in charge at P'ing-yin, and he remained there for ten years, doing excellent work.

In 1890 the arrival of Mr. Iliff (afterwards consecrated as the first Bishop in Shantung) was the signal for enlisting the help of medical work, in breaking down prejudice, and winning the sympathy of the local people; and Mr. Iliff soon [154/155] acquired considerable renown as a "foreign doctor," though his medical training had been anything but thorough before he left England. A few years later, after Mr. Benham-Brown had been transferred to Chefoo, the work was divided into two districts, Mr. Sprent remaining at Taianfu, and Mr. Iliff going to live at P'ing-yin, from each of which places the Church gradually spread to various outlying villages.

Shantung was for so long within the jurisdiction of the Bishop in North China that it is natural to compare the conditions of work there with those obtaining in Chihli. The mountainous region of West Shantung contains a population second to none in China as regards physique and independent spirit. The discontented populace of a country town has been known to seat its newly-arrived magistrate in his own sedan-chair, and carry him straight back to the capital, Chinanfu, as "not wanted"; and many other stories of a like nature could be told of the Shantung peasantry. Whereas the lazier rustic of the great plain of Chihli is apt to lean on any one but himself--petitioning the missionary or the authorities for relief whenever threatened with a poor harvest, and pleading poverty as an excuse for [155/156] utterly neglecting the education of his children--the Shantung farmer, with poorer soil and scantier crops, will struggle to hold his own by hard work, and take a pride in enduring hardness, sooner than incur obligations which he sees no likelihood of discharging. It is this which has made the Church's work there so peculiarly attractive, and, in spite of difficulties, so successful (as compared with the work in Chihli), and it is this which has made Shantung the nursery of more than one secret society.

In 1899 the Taianfu station was occupied by the Rev. H. J. Bcnham-Brown and his wife, with the Rev. F. Jones; P'ing-yin being worked by the Rev. H. Mathews, and a brother of Mrs. Benham-Brown, Sidney Brooks, a deacon of some two years' standing. The Governor of the Province, Yü-hsien, was a bigoted anti-foreign official, violently opposed to the foreign encroachments in China. To such a man, the formation of a secret society which might be used, for example, against the Germans, was more than welcome, however illegal it might be. Certainly the conduct of the German Roman Catholic Mission, no less than the outrageous action of the German Government in seizing Tsing-tau, gave very strong provocation. [156/157] The murder of two German priests--as a protest against the seizure of certain land for a cathedral--had been made the excuse for the seizure of Tsing-tau, and for the extortion of rather nebulous " rights " throughout the whole of the Shantung province. Parties of Germans started on tours of investigation, and by their overbearing conduct fanned the flame of discontent to a dangerous point. The removal of the Governor, at the demand of the German Minister--to be given another post in Shansi, where he speedily attained an infamous notoriety--was the signal for the first dramatic coup of the "Big Knife Society."

Sidney Brooks had been spending Christmas with his sister in Taianfu, and was on his way back to P'ing-yin, where he had promised to rejoin Mr. Mathews before the end of the year. A small band of "Big Knives " were out on a marauding tour, when they fell in with the unarmed and unattended foreigner. It was nothing to them that he was not a German nor an official. The calamitous association of the Roman missionaries with politics--recently so frankly illustrated by the seizure of Tsing-tau--has often been responsible for the vicarious sufferings of non-political missionaries, and this was a case in point. Sidney [157/158] Brooks was set upon and killed, simply because he was a foreigner, in revenge for injuries received at the hands of other foreigners. The new Governor, Yuan-Shih-kai, who has since become famous as the great Viceroy of Chihli, a man of a very different stamp from his predecessor, made short work of the disturbance, drove the "Big Knives" into hiding or else across the border into Chihli, and arrested and executed the actual murderers.

But the energetic action of a single official could not arrest a movement which had behind it the smouldering discontent of years, and considerable reasonableness. Shantung peasants used to go to Manchuria every summer to work, and they brought back wonderful tales of Russian aggression in the North: German aggression in their own province had served to drive the lesson home: and Great Britain's assumption of the lease of Weihai-wei appeared to corroborate the general suspicion that the Manchu Government was betraying China to the foreigner. After all, the Manchus were really foreigners themselves; so that, however lamentable, their action was considered not unnatural; and the cure was easy to find, if the existing regime could be ended. "Down with [158/159] the Manchu, and up with the Ming" (i.e. the old Chinese dynasty which came to an end in 1644) accordingly was adopted as the motto of the Big Knife Society, and was inscribed upon its banners, as it developed its organization in the southern borders of Chihli. It was necessary, however, to change its name, and a new name was found which expressed the objects of the Society in the approved Chinese fashion. As the fingers of the hand are gathered for action in the closed fist, so the members of the "Fist of Righteous Harmony" gathered themselves together to promote the restoration of the old Chinese rule. [The Chinese title was I-ho-ch'uan, pronounced Ee-her-chwann: the last word was altered after the troubles began to t'uan, which means a ball, or lump.] A witty newspaper correspondent promptly nicknamed them "Boxers," and by that name they will apparently be known to history.

Their influence on the development of the Church's work in Shantung was comparatively small, thanks to the Governor's energetic action; but the year 1900 saw the enforced withdrawal of all missionaries from the interior to the coast, and the churches at Taianfu and P'ing-yin were left unshepherded for many a weary month, during [159/160] which the Christians suffered much anxiety and some persecution. A year or so later Mr. Jones was able to return; and, single-handed, undertook the task of reorganizing the scattered work.

The Bishop in North China's visit to England at the end of 1900 was the signal for a further step in Church organization, the Province of Shantung being made a separate diocese, to which the Rev. G. D. Iliff was consecrated in 1903. Mr. Iliff had laboured in West Shantung from 1890 to 1897, and had done a great deal of work at Tientsin from the end of 1898. During the few years of his episcopate he has already laid the foundations of considerable advance: and we may well close this chapter with a brief survey of the work as it is to-day.

The control of Weihaiwei by Great Britain called for the establishment of an English church there, and in 1906 a parsonage and little church (dedicated to S. John the Baptist) were erected. The work includes an Anglo-Chinese school under the patronage of the Governmentt; [Successfully started during the incumbency of the Rev. H. J. Benham-Brown.] and though it has suffered from frequent changes in the incumbency, it is to-day well maintained by the [160/161] Rev. A. E. Burne, who was formerly for some years at Chefoo.

At Chefoo an important step has been taken. The English work is still maintained, though the decreasing number of English residents has made it of less importance; but it has been found possible to combine the Incumbency of S. Andrew's [A pretty little stone church on the beach in the centre of the settlement.] with the Principalship of the Diocesan Training College and Clergy School which has been started at S. Peter's at the other end of the beach. The Rev. F. Jones gives his Sundays mainly to the former, while he works throughout the week at S. Peter's. Here students, no longer, as in 1881, Englishmen, but Chinese, gathered from the stations at the other end of the province, are free from all distraction and able to give themselves whole-heartedly to their studies.

S. Peter's College is laying the foundation for a staff of trained native workers and clergy: but the Bishop has also been able to add considerable reinforcements to his English staff. The work in the interior still centres round Taianfu and P'ing-yin, but it will not be long before more stations will have to be opened.

[162] At P'ing-yin, where an English lady-doctor is at work with her hands fairly full, a large stone memorial church has been erected in memory of Sidney Brooks. The funds for its erection were supplied by Yuan-Shih-k'ai, when he was Governor of the Province; but the task of erecting such a church, of simple but stately design, in a small country town in the interior, where no such building had ever been erected before, was one to appal a less enthusiastic master-builder than Mr. Brooks' former colleague, the Rev. Henry Mathews. Three years of constant toil, embracing the elaboration of all working drawings, the purchase of all materials, and the supervision of every carpenter and mason employed, have raised a monument to the skill and devotion of the builder no less than to the memory of him whose early death has sanctified the P'ing-yin Mission.

But the future of the diocese, which has laid such good foundations for prosecuting its work as far as the workers are concerned, is full of anxiety financially. It will perhaps astonish our readers to know that the amount of the S.P.G. block grant does not amount to £1,000 a year, and does not even suffice to pay the staff of missionary clergy. Fortunately the North China and Shantung [162/163] Missionary Association is able to supplement this to some extent (about £500 a year), but it is surely not right to expect a Bishop to develop new fields of work, to organize fresh departures, and to extend the Church's responsibilities in the mission-field, when the Church at home leaves him under the load of financial anxiety. And yet he cannot sit still: work makes work; and self-support is yet a long way off. To a great extent the blame for this state of things must lie not with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, but with the Church on whose behalf the Society acts. It is often said that the Society starves its Missions. That they are starved is obvious to any one who knows the facts. But the blame cannot be put off from the Church on to any Society. Missions are the responsibility, not of Societies, but of the Church; and whatever the faults of Societies may be, they are usually only the reflection of the failures of the Church. In a word, the responsibility for financing a missionary diocese ought not to rest upon its Bishop, or on a Society or an Association, because it essentially belongs to the Church herself.

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