Project Canterbury

Letter by Ernest H. Forster from Yangchow, China

No place: no publisher, 1934.

Yangchow, China.
February 9, 1934.

Dear Friends:

This letter is intended to bring to you some report of my activities since my return to China. I reached Shanghai on last August 18 after a very pleasant and restful trip across the Pacific. Enroute we had a one and one-half days' stop at Honolulu which gave us an opportunity to visit friends, go bathing at Waikiki Beach, and see some of the many interesting things in that beautiful place. At the Japanese ports of Yokohama and Kobe I had brief visits with the Rev. Messrs. Takase and Nakao whom I had known at the Divinity School in Philadelphia, and with several other friends.

Shanghai was having its usual spell of very humid weather when we arrived and 'thereby helped us to get rid of some of the surplus avoirdupois we had gathered during our journey. After a few days I came up to Yangchow where I received a warm welcome from Chinese and foreign friends. Dr. and Mrs. Ancell had arranged a garden party for the Yangchow branch of the Mahan School Alumni Association which was a very happy occasion since it gave me an opportunity to meet former students and them a chance to inspect the school buildings whose repairs and reconditioning were made possible by their splendid financial response. Perhaps you remember that Mahan School was occupied by soldiers for more than a year during the political upheavals of 1927-1928. Nearly all of the equipment was stolen or ' destroyed, and the buildings were in a sad condition when we finally regained possession of them. For several years there seemed to be no prospect of reopening the school; but alumni and public opinion in favor of reopening became stronger and stronger because of the important place the school had held in the community. Finally when the alumni undertook to raise the sum of $4000. (Chinese currency) for repairs, and the local educational authorities urged the matter on our own terms, the school was reopened last September with an enrolment of 80 guaranteed boys in three classes. Mr. Green arrived back in Yangchow early in October, after an absence of several years from China, to assist Dr. Ancell with the school.

You will be glad to know that when I returned to my work at Holy Trinity Chapel I found, on every hand, evidences of the faithfulness and devotion of my Chinese colleagues who carried on during my one and one-half years' absence in America. Not only could all of our old members be accounted for but several new ones as well. There were numerous indications of the progress our small congregation had made. For all we are profoundly thankful to Almighty God.

[2] Our premises, like those of Mahan School, had been occupied and damaged by soldiers in 1927-1928 but not to such a serious degree. In 1930 we undertook certain repairs in our Chapel which made it a more comfortable and dignified place of worship, Last fall we decided to repair and improve some of the other buildings in order to make them more suitable for our work. It is marvellous what paint and plaster can do! For instance, we now have a beautiful, white-painted room which we use for a library during the daytime and for a preaching chapel at night. One gains access to it through a newly-constructed 'moon' gate. Over the gate is a stone slab on which are engraved two Chinese ideographs meaning 'to cleanse the heart.' They were written for us by a Chinese gentleman who enjoys the enviable reputation of being the best calligraphist in our city. Although he is not a Christian he has been most friendly and sympathetic. He insisted that this classical Chinese phrase was the most appropriate to describe our work. Over the slab hangs a plain wooden cross signifying to all who come the real and only way by which the human heart can be cleansed. The moon gate leads into a small Chinese rock garden. Beyond this lies the library.

The latter is assuming an increasingly important position in our work because of the possibilities which it is opening up. There is a small public library in the city but in such an out-of-the-way place that few persons patronize it. Our premises, on the other hand, are on a very busy street and centrally located. We have not yet acquired a very large number of Chinese books but we have tried to get those which will be helpful and instructive. We also hope to come to an arrangement with the public library by which the latter will lend us some of its books for several months at a time. It is surprising to see how many persons have patronized us and expressed sincere gratitude for the opportunity we have made possible. They have come every day this winter, in considerable numbers, despite the cold weather, to read or borrow books. In this way we are obtaining opportunities for mutual acquaintance which we could not get in any other way. Even the local newspapers, usually only too ready to publish anything that reflects discredit upon foreigners and their works, have commented favorably upon our action. Through the library we have also been able to discover several persons who became interested in Christianity elsewhere but have not tried to establish a church connection since their removal to Yangchow.

We find also that this room is much better than any arrangement we have had hitherto for preaching to non-Christians. Because it is an inside room, and therefore more private than our 'preaching hall' immediately on the street, people are willing to come in and sit down and hear us through. Those who come seem to do so not just from curiosity but because they really want to listen. This is a most hopeful sign.

[3] In the court behind the library is another newly improved room for the use of our women members. It serves as a rest room where they can sit and chat before and after services, and also as a place for special women's meetings. In the court behind our chapel are three classrooms formerly used by a day school for boys. We have repaired these rooms also, and by making the partitions between them removable we have created an excellent parish hall with a seating capacity of 250 which we can use for large meetings, lectures, or other gatherings not conveniently held in the Chapel. Superintending these repairs occupied a large part of my time last fall; but it has been very worth-while.

St. Faith's is our school for girls. It opened last fall with an enrolment of about 70 students. Miss Bremer is the principal, and devotes every ounce of energy she possesses to it. How sorely she needs a helper from America to relieve her somewhat of the heavy burden she is now carrying!

Things started very auspiciously for us last fall. However, early in October, Dr. Ancell was taken seriously ill. As soon as he was strong enough to travel we took him to Shanghai for the hospital care which his case demanded. An operation was considered necessary and was successfully performed; but about twelve days later a heart complication set in and on Thanksgiving Day morning he passed into glory. He had been so thoroughly identified with our work in Yangchow which he started about 25 years ago, that. it is hard to realize that he is no longer with us in body. It seems as though one ought to meet him just around the next corner. Our loss, however, is his gain. It was granted him not only to see the restoration of the beloved school to which he and Mrs. Ancell have given so much of their lives, but also to enjoy the loyalty and affection of the alumni in a rare degree. They have undertaken to raise, before Easter, a further sum of $4000. (Chinese currency) for the school as a memorial to Dr. Ancell. Mr. Green has been appointed principal, and I have been given oversight of all our Church work in Yangchow, Paoying, and Chinkiang.

The work in Paoying, a city 60 miles north of us on the Grand Canal, has been established almost 20 years. Hitherto we have been in rented quarters which long ago outgrew their suitability. Last week it was possible for us to make the down-payment on a new piece of property located on the main street, and almost in the center, of the city. It already contains buildings which, with a small amount of adaptation, can be made ready for our use. I am sincerely grateful, however, that the acquiring of property in China is not a thing necessary to be done every day or every year! Our native Christians worked liked Trojans to get all the necessary papers, inventories, etc. ready, so that there would be no hitch in the proceedings. Every tree and stick of wood on the premises had to be inventoried and recorded in the deed so that the former [3/4] owners can find no possible excuse to lay future claim to anything on the property. We went through the same sort of experience Abraham had when he bought the cave and field of Machpelah from the Children of Heth. (Genesis 23) There was, however, a sad as well as an amusing side to the transaction, for the family from whom we purchased the property is, alas, like so many genteel families in China, far gone in opium, and it was therefore compelled to sell in order to meet its creditors. The owner, during the signing and witnessing of the new deed was pathetic beyond words to describe, because he seemed so helplessly enslaved to the habit that was bringing ruin for himself and his family nearer with every hour.

These larger quarters ought to enable our work to advance as never before. The Rev. Mr. Wang is splendid. He has done a great deal among the men to win their confidence and interest in the Church but one of the greatest weaknesses in the Paoying work is the sparseness of women Christians. This can be remedied only by having a woman evangelist for work among the women. They cannot be won in any other way. Are there any young women in the Church at home willing to do this sort of work, and are there any willing to provide their support so that the Board of Missions could send them if they applied?

Chinkiang, our newest station, is about 12 miles south of Yangchow but on the other side of the Yangtse River. Since Nanking has become the national capital, Chinkiang has been made the provincial capital. This fact has brought about new life and activity in that old city where Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission, lies buried. Wide roads are being constructed, the city is being re-zoned, the centers of population, business, and government are being shifted. For these and many other reasons it is desirable that we should develop a church there. Even though other Missions are already at work, I feel that we have a contribution to make which is a peculiarly 'Church' contribution. Without it the expression of the Christian life of a community cannot be complete. The reason for this is that we take our stand on the broad catholic basis of truth, and not upon the religious vagaries and whims of some individual. We are experiencing in China what the early Church went through as sect after sect arose emphasising one element of truth perhaps to the exclusion, and denial often, of other very important elements. Therefore our work is not to be regarded as competition with other Missions but as an attempt at fulfilling or completing the Body of Christ in human society. The Rev. Mr. Ma's work and influence are highly commended by missionaries of other societies. He has the happy faculty of being able to mix well with people and has already got into touch with persons in government, military, naval, medical, and educational circles. We are now prospecting for a new location for our work as our present one, in rented quarters, is not satisfactory.

[5] During my furlough in the United States I had many occasions to speak about China, and I received from time to time various contributions for our work. You may be interested to read how some of this money was used. In the first part of 1932 the flood situation was very serious so I remitted all gifts I received to our Christian Flood Relief Committee. These amounted to $232.08 in United States currency or nearly $1000. in Chinese currency. Another $100. went to Bishop Graves for his Emergency Fund to help Chinese Christians who suffered in the hostilities between the Chinese and Japanese in Shanghai. Another $25. went toward helping two Chinese boys with their education. The gifts which I received during the latter part of my sojourn in the United States ware allowed to accumulate until I returned to China. They have enabled me to do the following things: 1) To buy in Shanghai, at a bargain price, a reflectoscope and a stereoptican lantern which we use in connection with our preaching for non-Christians and in giving educational lectures. 2) lantern slides. 3) To rescue from destruction a beautiful carved wooden screen. It formed a doorway in a large Chinese house which is being razed, and it was being exposed to wind and weather awaiting a buyer. We accidentally discovered it in Yangchow one day, and after several months' negotiations secured it for a mere song. We have now placed it in Holy Trinity Chapel in such a way that it forms a beautiful reredos for our altar. The piece is a work of art and would be coveted by many a museum in America. It is said to be several hundreds of years old and I can well believe it. An elaborate design of intertwined bamboos, pine trees, and plum blossoms, representing the Chinese virtues of loyalty, faithfulness, and constancy, is exquisitely carved from a rare kind of hardwood. Now this beautiful thing is placed where it can be enjoyed by all who come to worship and may help to inspire them with a sense of the beauty of holiness. 4) To purchase soma books for our library. 5) To erect a beautiful carved stone name-plate over our main entrance to replace a wooden one that had become very dilapidated. And there is still some money left which I am reserving for use as occasion demands. Because these gifts were consecrated to the service of God they have accomplished far more than we had dared to expect; and their usefulness continues. To all who have helped to make this possible, again many many thanks and a sincere God bless you!

In closing let me tell you a few of the things that have impressed me since my return:

In the first place, I am amazed at the strides which the idea of the individual or small family, as opposed to the idea of the clan or large family, is making. One sees evidences of it in most unexpected places and among people whom one has always regarded as most conservative. The clan system is undergoing a tremendous change and may eventually even be superseded. Young people are demanding the right to be themselves rather than just so many [5/6] numbers in a clan register. This movement is very hopeful for Christianity since it means greater opportunities for whole families, instead of only isolated individuals in large clans, to become Christians. It is providing a much larger independence and therefore a much freer scope for the development and practise of modern life in all its best phases.

In the second place, the thinking Chinese are coming to realize as never before that education, science, a new social and political economy are not sufficient in themselves to meet China's needs. There is an ever-growing conviction that these needs lie in the realm of moral character, first, last, and always; and that this deficiency cannot be adequately met by any of the agencies in which they have put their trust hitherto. You can imagine how grateful to God I felt when these very convictions were stated to me in no uncertain terms by the principal of a large government school. He himself had received his scientific education in America and had been quite hostile to religion ever since, believing that he was being really scientific in taking that point of view. He asked me to come to his school next semester to lecture to his students on moral and social subjects!

In the third place, there is a growing realization that the development of moral character and the practice of religion are very intimately connected. False beliefs give birth to false actions. By the same law truth begets goodness. It is for this reason that Christianity is being scrutinized as never before. The people really seem to be developing an inquiring spirit which is something new in our experience in China. Despite the shortcomings of those who have come to present the Gospel, despite the deficiencies of those who have taken upon themselves the name of Jesus Christ, the fact remain; that Christianity has created and is creating a new type of character in China to such an extent that it is commanding attention among all classes of people. Not reform, but a re-birth--a new creation--is the essential requirement for China as for the whole of human society. And this can come only through Him Who not only SAID 'Ye must be born again' but by His life and death PROVED Himself to be The Way, The Truth, The Life.

Strengthen our hands in these golden days of opportunity through your prayers. The fields are white unto the harvest; alas, the laborers so few!

With greetings and all good wishes, I am,

Your comrade in the Fellowship,


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