Project Canterbury

Handbooks of English Church Expansion


By Frank L. Norris

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

Chapter XIV. The "Open Door"

THE heading of this chapter has been a catchword in the mouths of politicians speaking or writing about China for more than ten years past, in reference to trade. As regards the Gospel, the door has opened gradually, until to-day it stands wider for the Gospel than for trade; and were there only the same eagerness to press in, the Chinese nation would at least be not without preachers, though all her many millions would not necessarily be amongst those that "have cars to hear." But our present concern is not simply with the Gospel, but with the Church, i.e., the Anglican communion, and the opportunity which awaits her to-day in China.

In trying to estimate the reality of this opportunity and its urgency, and to suggest the most obvious steps which may be taken towards meeting it, we shall do well to bear certain points in mind. These points fall under two heads, the one [197/198] political, the other religious. Under the former, we must take into consideration the internal and external conditions of the Chinese Empire at the present time: under the latter, we must take note of the position and prospects of other missionary bodies as well as of our own communion. It is, of course, impossible in these pages to treat these questions at any length: but any attempt, such as has been made in the foregoing pages, to review the past inevitably leads on to thought and questionings about the present and the future; and this is especially true in connection with a country such as China, at a time like the present. A few words seem, therefore, called for on the points which, as we have said, need to be borne in mind.

What, then, is the internal condition of China to-day? There are those whose expectations of progress, reform, and development have been so often disappointed in the last half-century that they have grown sceptical of any signs which point in that direction; and they are certainly not without grounds for such scepticism. But there are signs to-day which have always hitherto been wanting, which make strongly for the opposite view. Let us, if we will, give all possible weight to the reactionary tendencies which are constantly [198/199] making themselves felt as a check to reform: let us rate the difficulties in the reformers' path as high as possible: let us take, as, alas! there is much reason to take, a very low estimate of the Government's sincerity, and of its efforts at education, at the suppression of opium smoking, at the reform of the penal code. It nevertheless remains an incontestable fact that there is a spirit of reform working like leaven in what may be called " Young China," and an advance in education sufficiently real, and sufficiently widespread, to make checks only temporary, to attack and eventually somehow to surmount difficulties, and to supply from the main body of the nation the sincerity and the vigour which may be lacking in the existing Government. Reform from above may be out of the question: but it may be confidently asserted that there are signs to-day that it will come, somehow and sometime, and that at no very distant date, by the irresistible pressure from below.

Again, though it is proverbially unsafe to prophecy in China, the life of the present dynasty seems to be drawing to its close. The Empress-Dowager is old, and, if rumour is at all credible, often seriously ill: the reigning Emperor is childless: and since 1900 there has been no recognized [199/200] heir to the throne. The Manchus are obviously nervous, and yet have shown no signs of being able to strengthen their position: the Chinese are apparently waiting for the hour and the man, as they have waited before without being disappointed. And, lastly, not only are the famous secret societies in full activity, but the people are openly comparing the signs of the times to-day with those that preceded the fall of the Ming dynasty.

If the internal conditions of China are ominous of change, her external position full)- corroborates their significance. The upheaval of 1900, instead of completing the disruption of the Empire, as was confidently expected, put an end to all talk of "spheres of influence"; and the sudden rise of Japan, with the consequent influence which that country gained in China, has not only set an example to which the Chinese are not blind, but has rendered the rise of China in some form and degree an almost inevitable corollary. The point needs no emphasis here: every student of Far Eastern politics will corroborate it.

But these things constitute a crisis, not only political but religious. As was pointed out in an article on "The real Yellow Peril" in a recent [200/201] number of the Church Quarterly Review, the menace of Asiatic power to European Christendom lies not in its power but in its heathenism. [For January, 1907.] It is hard to see how Europe and America could, harder still to see on what Christian or even moral ground they should, attempt to hold down the awakening energies, the nascent resources of the Chinese Empire. But it is not (at least for Christians), hard to see that if Christendom allows such a force to develop itself, without straining every nerve to make it Christian, the results to Christendom may be as fateful as they will have been deserved.

But crisis spells opportunity; and obviously that opportunity is temporary, in proportion to the imminence of the crisis. The powers of the world, Japan especially, are alive to this in the field of politics: the merchants of the great trading countries are alive to it as far as commerce is concerned. How far are the forces of Christendom alive to it on its religious side?

Let us consider first the position and policy of the Church of Rome in China to-day. She is vigorously extending in every province her already-widespread organizations: and she is adopting [201/202] new methods to secure rapidity of extension. The Roman Church in China has been not inaptly termed the largest "secret society" now in existence. We have more than once referred to certain aspects of her work which correspond with that description, such as the hold she maintains over converts who are often in no sense converted, and the protection she offers, and often successfully affords, to her members when engaged in law-suits. This last feature is perhaps a little less in evidence than it was: but it remains an ominous fact. The Roman Missions have no great colleges or educational centres, they have no preaching-rooms or hospitals, save here and there, though dispensaries are carried on in connection with many of their sisterhoods. But their Church adds to its members constantly, if unobtrusively; and of late they seem to have been making special efforts by means of winter schools for adults. The most remarkable feature in the latter, and quite a novel feature, in one part of China at least, is the practice of baptizing those attending such schools after only forty days instruction, before dismissing them to their homes. And lastly, in Chihli at least, they make no secret of this boast that when, if ever, the time comes, they will be strong enough to make [202/203] themselves felt, or to defend themselves against attack.

We are not asserting that there is no Christianity, no religion, behind this movement. The congregations in their great cathedrals, and the constant presence of individual worshippers at all hours and seasons in their little country churches, refute any such assertion almost as strongly as the known piety and zeal of many of their Bishops and clergy, and of their great sisterhoods. Rather, what we are trying to make clear is that they are putting forth efforts to seize the opportunity which they recognize, but that those efforts are in great measure on lines other than those which our own Missions could feel justified in following.

Let us glance next at the Protestant societies, English or American, at work in China, where the latter very largely preponderate, and inquire whether they are recognizing any such opportunity, and what efforts they are making to meet it.

The recent Centenary Conference at Shanghai was deeply impressed with the necessity of making heroic efforts at once. [Held at the end of April, 1907.] Schemes of vast magnitude, such as the establishment of a great common [203/204] University, were discussed at some length. Stress was laid on making the whole educational plant of the various Missions more up-to-date, and the education itself more efficient: the claims of the already-existing medical work to largely increased support were earnestly pressed: and in many other ways the critical importance of the present time was emphasized. These things in themselves serve to indicate the lines on which the Protestant bodies propose to advance. There is not to be less preaching, but more: but it is to be done more and more by Chinese preachers, whom the foreign missionary will devote himself to training. Education is to be no less Christian than before, but it is to be on a vastly wider scale: the old village school, where the Bible and a few hymns and catechisms were taught side by side with the repetition of the Chinese classics, is to be replaced by a school under teachers trained in modern "pedagogy" (a strange and awesome word which one only learns to value because it expresses so real a need in China!), and the Christian teaching is to be made more effective, while the general curriculum is based on that of the Middle or High School. The latter in like manner is to prepare scholars for an Arts course in Christian [204/205] colleges; and to all this teaching heathen as well as Christian scholars are to be admitted. Lastly, there is to be far more co-operation than heretofore, because only so can the needs of this critical time be adequately met. Such co-operation is to be effected, if possible, between the missions and Chinese churches of various denominations; but especially between the several missions of each several denomination.

And so we come back to the subject of the last chapter, the organization of the Anglican communion in China. As was shown there, the Bishops in China and their clergy are strongly in favour of such organization, and there is good reason to suppose that it will be welcomed by our Anglican Christians with at least as much enthusiasm. How is this organized Anglican communion in China going to avail itself of the present opportunity?

Before we attempt to answer the question, let us realize the present position, and that first geographically. The Diocese of South China has driven a wedge, however weak as yet, into Kwang-tung and Kwangsi, its base a line from Pakhoi on the west to Canton on the east, its apex at Kneilin in Kwangsi or Yungchow, just over the [205/206] Hunan border. The Diocese of Fuhkien is coterminous with that province. But four large, and some of them important, provinces are practically almost untouched--Yunnan, Kueichow, Hunan, and Kiangsi.

The Diocese of Mid-China, like that of North China, bears a title lamentably out of proportion to its practical extent; for its work is almost confined to Chehkiang. Away to the west, in Ssuch'uan, there is a fairly compact area under the Bishop in Western China; while the energetic Mission of the American Church serves to link Chehkiang and Ssuch'uan together along the line of the Yangtse. In a sense we may say, then, that the Provinces of Hupeh, Nganhui, and Kiangsu are touched by Anglican work, though far from being occupied.

It is when we get to the North that we find a repetition of the great blank spaces still left in the South. Of the six northern provinces which were originally assigned to Bishop Scott, only Shantung and Chihli have so far been entered; and how weakly the Church is represented there, we have already made plain. But Kansu, Shensi, Shansi, and Ilonan are still untouched; Shansi, one of the richest, if not the richest province, in [206/207] the Empire, and Honan, a province of considerable importance. Last, but not least, there is the great Viceroyalty of Manchuria awaiting its Bishop and a Mission of the Anglican communion

Secondly, let us examine the position as regards the possible development of existing resources. It is no want of faith which makes us feel that the three great blanks already described can never be filled, or even attacked, from the existing dioceses. Assuming for the moment that a great impetus is given in the near future to the Mission work of the Church in China, the share that may fall to the existing dioceses will but make them a little more able to do their duty where they are already at work. It is conceivable that Fuhkien might overflow into Kiangsi; but even that is exceedingly unlikely.

And yet the opportunity waits! Let us try to define its nature. The Anglican communion holds, as has been often said, a position as it were between the Church of Rome and the many Protestant bodies; circumstances not altogether of its own choosing have attracted it in China rather to the latter than to the former, but its position really is unchanged. We are tempted [207/208] to think that position one of great importance at home; surely in a country like China, under the probable conditions of the future (i.e., of the development of the Missions of the Church of Rome and of the Protestant bodies side by side), the importance of the Anglican position can hardly be overestimated. Circumstances have led to the relations between the two bodies of Christians just specified being already far from harmonious. Rivalry perhaps is not the right word, but mutual dislike and suspicion are often sadly in evidence; and these feelings are likely to grow rather than to pass away when the Chinese Christians become more independent of foreign restraint. For the sake of the future Christianity of China, Chinese Christians brought up in the Anglican obedience should be scattered far and wide throughout the country, should be at least as well educated as their Protestant brethren, and as conscious of their historical position as their Roman brethren, that they may make their influence felt, in the direction of mutual tolerance and Christian charity.

This means first the creation of more dioceses, and much increased support for existing dioceses. [208/209] But the Church at home should avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. The Church of China through its Synod must define the relative importance of different spheres of work, and new dioceses should be founded only where it calls for them, and in the order of which it has approved. Secondly, the founding of new dioceses, while not necessarily calling for endowment, perhaps rather deliberately rejecting such, must be accompanied and followed up by adequate support. This may sound a truism; but it is not meant to refer to actual supplies of men and money so much as to the real support of the Church at home as a whole; a new diocese must be in more than name a colony founded by the Church, and not by a society within the Church, though such a society may be the direct means of supplying its needs.

Thirdly, the existing English dioceses must be strengthened, on lines already suggested. South China would certainly be the better if severed from the British colony of Hong Kong. [See the suggestion referred to in the previous chapter, page 195.] Fuhkien and Chehkiang need more independence, side by side with undiminished or even increased [209/210] support from the home Church; and the Bishops' incomes, wherever endowments are non-existent, should be paid to them not by any society, but by the Boards of Missions, however the money may be raised. We have already defined a great need in Western China, viz.: the establishment of a Church college. In North China and Shantung the most urgent need is to free the Bishops from financial anxiety, and to develop the educational side of the work with a view to a better educated native ministry. But any development in these two dioceses means men and means; and these must be forthcoming somehow, if the Anglican communion in the North is to take its rightful place.

Such are some of the thoughts which the history of Anglican Missions in China suggests in view of the critical opportunity now before us. May God grant to the great branches of the Anglican communion, and especially to our own English Church, such wisdom, zeal, and a spirit of obedience, that the branch of that communion in the Chinese Empire may be securely, strongly, and speedily established.

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