Project Canterbury

Handbooks of English Church Expansion


By Frank L. Norris

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

Chapter XII. The Church in Chihli

IN 1880, when Bishop Scott was consecrated Bishop with jurisdiction over the six northern provinces of China, the only Church work existing in that vast area, besides the English work at Chefoo, was the former C.M.S. Mission at Peking and its two tiny out-stations. For twenty-three years the Bishop was responsible for the work in Shantung, and the growth recorded in the last chapter owes much to the loving care of one who had during his first years in China himself been a missionary in Shantung. It might have been expected that during these years the work in Chihli would have grown and developed even more than in Shantung, even if it did not spread to some of the other provinces; especially since the Bishop, after taking the advice of those best qualified to judge, determined to make Peking his headquarters. [164/165] But for reasons which we shall make clear in the following pages, the Church's work amongst the Chinese in Chihli has shown less growth than anywhere else in China.

It is but the bare truth to state once more what has already been said in writing of Shantung, viz.: that the first reason for this slow development has been lack of men and of means. When the Bishop arrived in his diocese he found the Rev. W. Brereton in Peking, a former C.M.S. missionary who had volunteered to remain, and whose offer had been gratefully accepted. Between 1883 and 1887 Mr. Sprent was able to give a little help at intervals; but except for that, Mr. Brereton remained alone until 1889. Between 1889 and 1900 five recruits were forthcoming, two of whom laid down their lives in the latter year. From 1900 to 1905 one man was added to the staff. The bare recital of these figures will be sufficient to justify the statement made above as to the lack of men, especially when it is realized that four of the six who joined since 1889 have died or retired. Of the lack of means we need say no more than that this part of the diocese has suffered at least pari passu with Shantung.

[166] It is a pleasanter task to turn to the second reason. Just as in 1874 the English work at Chefoo had been the first care of the S.P.G. missionaries, so when the Bishop arrived in Peking and found himself with but one priest to help him, he felt that the work at the Legation Chapel must not be neglected, but rather be better done than before. Many a member of the Diplomatic and Consular services looks back with affectionate remembrance on the converted Chinese hall in the Legation, which has served as its chapel almost from the very first, but which owes so much of its reverent adornment to the Bishop's skill and taste. It has been a pleasure to more than one of H.B.M. Ministers to afford material help, especially to the late Sir John Walsham and to Sir Claude Macdonald; but they would have been the first to acknowledge how much time and care the Bishop spent upon it as his share in the work.

Again, no sooner had the staff been strengthened by the new-comers in 1889 and 1890, than the Bishop felt that he was justified in detaching his one experienced priest, Mr. Brereton, to undertake the difficult work of building up the Church in the treaty-port of Tientsin. Here the first [166/167] services were held in a converted stable. But in 1894 a parsonage and church-room were built, and nine years later the first half of a really noble church was consecrated, just before Mr. Iliff, who had held the incumbency for nearly five years, went home for his own consecration. A great deal of money has been spent at Tientsin, on the land (which was originally a pond granted free to the Church on condition that it was filled in), on the parsonage house, and on the church. But it is satisfactory to know that with the exception of the £1,000 from the Marriott Bequest towards the church, and the annual salary of the incumbent, the money has all been provided locally; and the greater part, if not the whole, of the salary will shortly be provided also from the same source.

Connected with Tientsin by the railway are several places where one or more English families reside, such as Tangku, Tangshan, Peitaiho (the seaside summer resort of Tientsin residents), and Shanhai-kwan, and at all these places efforts are made to provide occasional ministrations, while at the last two there are church-rooms in the possession of the Church.

Further along the railway, outside the borders [167/168] of Chihli, is the now well-known port of New-chwang, in Manchuria, which was within the jurisdiction of the Bishop in Korea until 1901, when it passed under that of the Bishop in North China. Here there has been a church and parsonage, with a resident incumbent, ever since 1890; and for the last six years it has absorbed, and will presumably continue to absorb (until the Manchurian Bishopric is founded), one of the clergy of the North China Diocese.

It is on the whole a good record for the diocese, to be able to say that wherever English Church people have gone to reside within its borders, thither the Church has followed them, and at least done its best to provide them with the means of grace. But it will be recognized how heavy a drain upon the Bishop's staff this English work has been. Perhaps it has never been felt quite so severely as since 1900, when the only missionary available, besides the Bishop himself, for the native work was necessarily also in charge of the Legation Chapel services, and the rest of the staff were tied to the treaty-ports. Under such circumstances it is perhaps not wonderful that the native work has made but a slow recovery from the events of 1900. To the [168/169] history of that work we must now turn our attention.

For convenience sake it will be well to divide it into three periods, which may be called the period of waiting, the period of growth, and the period of trial: extending roughly from 1880 to 1890, from 1890 to 1900, and from 1900 to the present time.

The first period was one in which the burden of the work lay, as we have seen, very largely on the shoulders of one man, the Rev. William Brereton. At the outset, in Peking itself, and in its out-stations at Yungch'ing and Lung-hua-tien, there were less than a hundred Christians, many of them communicants, but none of them confirmed. So far had Church order been forgotten, that, for years previous to the Bishop's arrival, "joint communions" shared with other non-Roman missions had been a regular feature of the Peking Church! There was, therefore, much need for the Bishop's presence, to set in order the things that were wanting, and to correct some which were amiss. He was also able to pay flying visits to the out-stations, or to enable Mr. Brereton to do so from time to time. But the real fruit of this period is to be found in a few [169/170] of the old students of the Peking Boys' School. When Mr. Sprent first went to Taianfu he had the help, in one capacity or another, of three such Peking boys; and two or three others did useful work afterwards in Peking and Chihli. We shall have occasion afterwards to speak of some of these; but the work that they have done adds one more testimony, if such were needed, to the importance of schools in the mission-field.

The Church owed a great deal also to the two leading men amongst the Peking Christians in 1880, Chang Ch'ing-lan, and Ch'en Pao-kun. The former was an exceptionally able man, and a good preacher; and though his six years' diaconate was overshadowed at the end by an unproved accusation of a very serious kind, he was a real help in Taianfu during his visits there, as well as for longer periods in Peking itself. The latter was a man whom to know was to love. Full of faults, of which he himself was almost pathetically conscious, he was by nature a gentleman; and his genuine humility, his unfailing courtesy, no less than his obvious sincerity, endeared him to every one. He had no idea of the value of money, and lived and died in debt; [170/171] he could not rule his own house, and his son still lives as a reproach to the Church in his native town of Yungch'ing; he was not at all a remarkable preacher, and he was quite unable to teach successfully. But with all these drawbacks, his death, in 1905, came as a great sorrow to the Mission as a whole, and not least to its oldest members, both English and Chinese. [See Land of Sinim for 1905, for further details.]

But yet this period was at best but a time of waiting. Occasional visits from Mr. Sprent to Yungch'ing did something to increase the number of Christians there, but the growth was very small; and in Peking itself the Church wholly failed to strike any effective root. There was hardly a single Christian, of those who worshipped Sunday by Sunday in Peking in 1889, who was not in some way dependent on the Mission, and there was hardly one who did not belong to Yungch'ing or to Lung-hua-tien.

In 1888 the Bishop went home to attend the Lambeth Conference, and at the end of the following year he was able to return with some small reinforcements, a priest, a layman, a lady doctor, and a lady teacher. Another layman also from S. Augustine's, Canterbury, followed in the [171/172] spring of 1890, and remained in Peking, whereas Mr. Iliff, who came in 1889, was transferred to Taianfu. Mr. Brereton, as we have already noticed, left Peking to take up work at Tientsin, and his loss was a greater one than was perhaps suspected at the time. For as we look back on the history of the Mission, one thing seems to stand out conspicuous by its absence, namely, an indigenous native congregation in Peking; such congregations have been successfully gathered by every other Mission, and of course the Romans, with their four large cathedrals, have a very numerous body of Christians, some of whom have been Christians for many generations. But in the Church of England Mission as yet no such success has been attained, possibly because no very persistent effort has been made. Practically speaking, since 1890 there has never been a missionary in Peking able to devote himself wholly to the Peking work. The Legation Chapel, or the engrossing claims of teaching work either in school or college, or the necessity of visiting country stations fifty or a hundred and fifty miles away, have all shared in the one man whom it has hitherto been possible to retain in Peking. The old preaching-rooms, of [172/173] Church Missionary Society days, were carried on for a time and then for one reason or another closed, mainly owing to the lack of preachers; the school, which continued until 1896, consisted almost entirely of scholars from the country; and Dr. Alice Marston's medical work, though a step in the right direction, was not likely to be very effective by itself.

But while Peking was in a sense only a depot station where Christian boys and girls from the country came to be taught, and that in no great numbers, the same lack of funds which operated to keep Peking understaffed was bearing some fruit in the two country stations at Yungch'ing and Lung-hua-tien. If the Mission had possessed well-trained native workers, the work up-country might have grown in spite of the non-residence of an English missionary; but that not being the case, a marked difference was felt when in 1891 the Bishop sent one of his priests to Yungch'ing to live, though the growth was more rapid later on.

In 1895, after a somewhat troublous year owing to the China-Japan War, the diocese received two notable recruits; and one missionary, already in the field for some years, "found himself," i.e. had attained a working knowledge of the language. [173/174] The recruits were the Rev. Roland Allen, a former scholar of S. John's College, Oxford, and Miss Jessie Molyneux Ransome, a woman who had held responsible educational positions at home, and who possessed not only great devotion, but exceptional abilities. The work before Miss Ransome, or as she was afterwards better known, Deaconess Jessie, was the organization of S. Faith's Home as the centre of all the women's work in the diocese. The work before Mr. Allen, as soon as he had acquired some knowledge of Chinese, was the establishment of a Training College and Clergy School in Peking, to take the place (and the best scholars) of the Peking Boys' School. The man who "found himself" was the Rev. H. V. Norman, whose memory will live long with the men and boys who came under his influence, as well with those whose privilege it was to work with him.

While the deaconess and Mr. Allen were still studying Chinese, Mr. Norman was getting more out of the Peking School than ever before; teaching this boy to play the harmonium in church, that one to be a carpenter, and two or three more to master the intricacies of a foreign printing press. Like Bishop Iliff, in those days [174/175] Mr. Norman was a natural doctor, if the expression may be allowed; and in Peking, as well as on his visits up-country, he saw and treated successfully a large number of patients. He tried--with wholly inadequate means--to reopen a preaching-room in Peking itself; and if he had been able to remain there, the old reproach to which we have already referred might perhaps have been soon rolled away. But the claims of Yungch'ing and Lung-hua-tien were urgent; and consequently Peking was once more sacrificed. The school was rightly converted into a training-class under Mr. Allen, and Mr. Norman in 1897 went with a young colleague to take up his residence at Yungch'ing.

It was now that the growth began which, small in comparison with that elsewhere, was yet remarkable in the history of the Church's work in Chihli.

S. Faith's Home in Peking became a real power on the side of women's work. The girls' school was improved and developed, and women from the country were brought in for teaching, and to be prepared for baptism or confirmation. Mr. Allen's class of students, though small in numbers, began to do excellent work under their [175/176] able and devoted teacher; and under the same guidance a small day school was started, and efforts made to reach the heathen around. It was, of course, regrettable that no second priest could be spared to help Mr. Allen, on whose shoulders rested the Legation Chapel and the English congregation there, as well as the supervision of the printing press. But things were certainly looking better than at any previous time, when the course of events was rudely interrupted by the troubles of 1900.

Before we come, however, to record the events of that fateful year, we must for a moment pause to note the results of Mr. Norman's three years' residence at Yungch'ing. These may really be summed up as growth; growth which events seem perhaps to have marked as less sound than it really was, and in God's providence would have proved to be, had Mr. Norman been spared to foster it for a few more years. Where a man of such marked personality was concerned, it was natural that, suddenly deprived of the inspiration of his presence, those whom he had gathered round him should waver under the stress of persecution, and fail to do justice to his work or to themselves and their own sincerity.

[177] His last journey in April, 1900, was made to visit with the Bishop a place named Ch'i-chou, where he hoped to begin regular work, some one hundred and fifty miles to the south-west of Yungch'ing.

Man however, only proposes, and the good GOD sometimes disposes very differently.

We have already said something, in the previous chapter, of the origin and causes of the "Boxer" movement, which was destined for a time to paralyse all the work in Chihli. However blundering and short-sighted the policy of the Manchu Government had been in the past, however foolhardy it was destined to prove in the actual event, no one can rightly assume that the suppression of the Boxer movement would have been a very easy matter. It has to be remembered that the motto of the Boxers was originally revolutionary--"Down with the Manchus and up with the Mings." It was a bold step, and one based on crass ignorance of the strength of Western nations, to convert that motto into one which contained no threat against the dynasty; but it is possible that the Manchu rule was--for some years at least--preserved thereby, even if it seemed at one time to have been jeopardized far [177/178] more seriously at the hands of the foreigner than at those of the Boxer leaders.

What happened was this: Prince Tuan, the father of the heir-apparent, a strong but ignorant man, persuaded some of the leading Manchus in Peking, and a Mohammedan general named Tung-fu-hsiang, to join him in making common cause with the Boxers. The price of this support was an agreement on the part of the Boxers to substitute the "foreigner" for the Manchu, and "China" for the name of the old Chinese dynasty. It was artfully pointed out that the objects of the movement would be fully safeguarded if the foreigner--Russian, German, Roman Catholic, and, for that matter, every one else of all creeds and nationalities--were either massacred or "driven into the sea"; and certain incidental advantages in the way of prospective plunder, and Government patronage and favour, rendered the change by no means unpopular.

This is not the place to try and fathom the depths of mystery which even now surround the development of the movement. But to avoid misconception one or two further remarks may be made. First, the movement was in no real sense religious; it was, or became, anti-foreign, [178/179] and Christians suffered primarily as "secondary devils"--i.e., followers of the doomed "foreign devils." Secondly, the movement was not only not general throughout China, but its forces, even in the northern provinces, were immensely increased by terrorism, and for the most part called out little enthusiasm except where plunder was in question. Thirdly, in a great many cases in Chihli--the province with which we are immediately concerned--it afforded an opportunity for wreaking private vengeance, and on the other hand for shielding friends and relations by what may be called almost "going bail for their good behaviour," i.e., for their nominal adherence to the movement.

Bearing these things in mind, we may try to sum up the effect of the movement on the handful of Christians belonging to the Anglican Church in Chihli.

In Peking, after a time of great anxiety, in May the Christians were gradually dispersed to their homes; and the Mission staff, consisting at the moment of two priests and three ladies, with one or two homeless Chinese women and girls, took refuge in the British Legation early in June. The whole of the Mission premises, bought and [179/180] built with funds provided by the North China Missionary Association, were utterly destroyed and their contents plundered. About eight or ten of the Christians lost their lives sooner or later; but there were, as we have seen, very few actual Pekingese Christians connected with the Church.

At Yungch'ing, Messrs. Norman and Robinson had been spending several months of anxiety before the storm actually broke. Mr. Norman's principle in remaining at his post was a perfectly sound one: viz., that, if he left it, his Christians would be at once persecuted, if not worse; while it was possible, by remaining, at least to postpone if not to avert, the evil day. He could not, as events proved, postpone it very long. On the 1st of June the Mission premises were attacked, Mr. Robinson was killed at once, [June 1, 1900.] and Mr. Norman himself was only spared for twenty-four hours of cruel suffering, before he was done to death in the Boxer headquarters a mile or so from the town. [June 2, 1900.] Out of a hundred Christian families very few individuals suffered death, almost all escaped with their lives on payment of various sums of money and a nominal compliance with Boxer regulations.

[181] At Lung-hua-tien the same thing happened a little later. Two things, however, deserve to be recorded in connection with this little Christian station of the Church. The one is that the local Boxers began by promising protection to the Christians and to the Mission premises, on the ground that the Roman Catholics alone were to be the object of attack. They even went so far as to execute two Boxers from elsewhere who attempted to plunder the little church. Later on, when the movement assumed larger proportions, this protection failed; but the fact that it was offered proves at least the endeavour of our Christians to live blamelessly in the eyes of their heathen neighbours. The other point is that when all the other Christians were saving themselves by compromise, a Christian girl with her two young cousins, all three children of our Christians, though she herself owed her religion to the Presbyterian school where she had been educated, refused to have any share in such compromise, and preferred to take refuge in the fields and trust in God for safety--a trust which was not in vain.

Such were the experiences of the Church during the crisis of 1900. The "plant" of the Mission [181/182] in Peking, at Yungch'ing, and at Lung-hua-tien, was almost wholly destroyed; the staff, or such of it as had been engaged in Chinese work, was for the moment reduced to one priest, remaining in Peking, whose time was almost wholly taken up by his temporary duties as chaplain to the forces of occupation. Two of the clergy had been killed; Dr. Alice Marston and Mrs Scott had died, the one in May, the other in September, on their way home to England; the Bishop, Mr. Allen, and Deaconess Jessie had gone home on furlough; Deaconess Edith and Miss Lambert had gone to Chefoo and Fuhchow to recruit. Further, the political outlook was full of uncertainty as to whether the Chinese Court would ever return to a desecrated Peking, or establish itself elsewhere; and the conditions of life in Peking were such that it would have been a serious mistake to attempt to reorganize work on the old lines immediately.

Another grave difficulty in the situation lay in the position of the surviving Christians. As we have said, in most cases, either personally or by deputy, they had compromised themselves by money payments, and by at least a nominal adhesion to Boxer regulations, including in many [182/183] cases some form of incense-burning. Were they to be treated rigidly as apostates, or were they to be regarded as men who had at least suffered--for suffered they had, in many cases very severely--for their following of the foreigner, if not exactly for their faith in JESUS CHRIST?

It is impossible here to discuss at any length the arguments which presented themselves on the one side and on the other. The situation was not a little complicated by the treatment accorded to other Christians; and still more by the impossibility of getting into touch with our own Christians at once. Eventually a kind of compromise was adopted, very faulty, and often very unsatisfactory. The fines paid by the Christians were repaid in the form of compensation; and the Holy Communion was generally withheld for a period of eighteen months.

If what has been said seems to reflect very gravely on the character of the Christians, there is at least something to be said in fairness on the other side. Almost without exception, if they had sinned, they had also suffered; and when the tide turned, and not a few of their Protestant brethren, and the great mass of Roman Christians, were enriching themselves unlawfully, the Christians [183/184] of our own Mission with very few exceptions abstained from all retaliation. Moreover, it must be remembered that when the storm broke they were as sheep without a shepherd; not only were they cut off from their foreign leaders, but they possessed practically no Chinese leaders. Before we dare pass a rash judgment upon their conduct, it is well to remember these things; they may make us diffident, if not humble.

But sooner or later the work of reconstruction had to be faced, and on January 1, 1902, the Bishop, back in Peking, took counsel with his clergy. Plans were not lacking; but the power to carry them out was sadly wanting. During the last five years, apart from S. Faith's Home, the staff in Peking has consisted of one man, responsible for the Legation chaplaincy, the Chinese work in Peking, and, except for a short period, for all the native work up country. One recruit joined the Mission at the end of 1903 in time to let the Incumbent of All Saints', Tientsin, go home on furlough early in 1904; but no one came to take the place of Messrs. Norman and Robinson until 1905, five years after their deaths.

A timely grant of £2,500 from the S.P.G. Bicentenary Fund enabled the Bishop to buy [184/185] premises in Peking sufficient for the present needs, the cost of rebuilding on the old site being altogether prohibitive. And the return of the Rev. R. Allen at the end of 1902, though his health only allowed him to stay a few months, did great things for Yungch'ing. Mr. Allen's keen enthusiasm to some extent infected the Christians, and the results were immediately apparent in several directions. First, there was a real revival of personal religion; secondly, a beginning at least was made in the direction of self-government by the establishment of a district council; and thirdly, an effort was made by the Christians themselves to take up the work at Ch'i-chon which Mr. Norman had just begun before his death.

The year 1905 was a marked period in the Mission's annals. Mr. Benham-Brown, of whom we have heard at Taianfu, at Chefoo, and at Weihaiwei, reached Peking in June to take charge of the native work there, without any distraction in the way of English or country work; and he brought with him a Warminster recruit, the first to take Mr. Norman's place--for both Mr. Norman and Mr. Robinson had been Warminster men. Dr. Graham, as planned, had arrived a month or [185/186] two earlier to take charge of the medical work, the first doctor the Mission had ever had, except Dr. Alice Marston. In the autumn of the same year two former students under Mr. Allen in Peking were ordained to the diaconate, as also was Mr. Shih, of whom we heard in the last chapter as having clone ten years' good work at P'ing-yin, but who had returned to his own home at Yungch'ing in 1901. Hardly had the joy of this great event--for the only previous ordination had been that of Mr. Chang in 1887--come to encourage the diocese, before it suffered an almost irreparable loss in the sudden death of Deaconess Jessie Ransome. Space forbids us to dwell on her work or on her character. The one is being continued by her sister, Deaconess Edith, and the members of S. Faith's Home, which owes its existence to her courage and devotion; the other remains as an abiding memory to all who were privileged to know her.

At the present moment the diocese may almost be said to be waiting for developments. We must be pardoned if we have devoted undue space to the record of what is still, if judged by results, the smallest part of the Church's work in China. Hut we have to remember how miserably inadequate [186/187] has been the support afforded to Bishop Scott through all the years of his episcopate.

The object of this little book is not to appeal for money, nor even for men. Hut no record of the Church's work abroad can be fairly judged by the Church at home unless the limitations imposed by the Church's apathy be borne in mind. The opportunity in Chihli is at least as great as anywhere else in China. It rests with the Church at home to seize it, or to let it pass into other hands.

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