Project Canterbury

Forward in Western China

By Deaconess Emily Lily Stewart
C.M.S. Missionary in Szechwan

Foreword by the Archbishop of Sydney

London: Church Missionary Society, 1934.

Chapter VI. The Outlook of a Student

AS we have seen, the greater part of the Church in Szechwan is made up of working people. It has been thus in almost every land. It was cited by our Lord as one of the signs of His Messiahship that the poor had the Gospel preached to them. "Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good tidings preached to them." The common folk in Galilee formed those friendly crowds who thronged the Master wherever He went; and they were common, simple men who, filled with the Holy Ghost, overturned their little world in the first days of the Church. Nevertheless, when Christ wanted a man to lead that Church far out beyond the narrow limits of Judaism, He chose the brilliant and cultured Saul of Tarsus.

Missionaries in this province have realized from the first the need of reaching the higher intellects of China with the Christian message, and educational work has formed a considerable part of the missionary campaign. It is to Christian schools and colleges that the Church looks for its future leaders, yet the number of students from these institutions who fulfil those expectations is lamentably small. Many influences have contributed to this state of affairs.

In the first place there has been a very real conflict between Nationalism and Christianity in the minds of many Chinese. The national spirit is only just born. The horizon of the Chinese, as Dr. Sun Yat-sen pointed out, has in the past only extended to the clan, not to the nation. The national consciousness has been nurtured chiefly by brooding over the wrongs endured at the hands of other nations, and thus Nationalism has come to express itself in terms of hatred rather than love. One who wishes to earn a reputation for great patriotism, instead of giving himself to works of national benefit, tries to outdo his fellows in the ardour of his denunciation of the foreigner. Young people who believe that Christ is all that Christians claim, often stop short of a full surrender to Him because they feel that if they accept His standards the claims of their country can no longer have first place with them. During the late trouble with Japan a thoughtful student said to a missionary: "If I accept Christ what is to be my attitude in an international struggle? If Christ is right, war must be wrong. It is inconsistent with His teaching."

Another phase of the problem, especially in connexion with students whose means of support came directly from the missionary body, has been the subconscious resentment sometimes caused by an unpleasant sense of obligation. The supported boy soon became known as such by his class mates, no matter how careful the missionary might be. The boy was marked as the foreigner's pet, and this cut him off somewhat from his fellows. We know that there is no greater hardship for a child or a youth to endure than separation from the herd. Perhaps he hardly knew how it began, that slight feeling of shame that came over him at the remembrance of his obligation to a foreigner. Most likely he did not even understand it; he only knew that he was less at ease than formerly in the presence of his foreign friends. By this time too, he had read a fair amount of anti-foreign literature, and this had done its work. At last came a crisis. Some discontent had arisen in the school over the matter of discipline, and the students had decided to strike. Now they would put him to the test. He was therefore unanimously elected as their leader and practically forced to act as spokesman, thus placing himself in active opposition to those who had befriended him. "How ungrateful these students are!" thinks the much-tried missionary, "they turn on the very hand that has fed them." The missionary is but human. He has seen only the bubbling on the surface. He does not know what lies beneath, and what the boy has suffered. The possibility of this kind of difficulty in connexion with supported students has been largely removed in two ways. First, it is now illegal in China for a foreigner to hold the position of principal of a school, and secondly, with the change of policy described in Chapter IV, all funds for helping students are granted by the education committee of the Chinese sub-synod of the district, and not by the missionaries.

Perhaps the lad's trial comes in a different way. He may have asserted his independence so far as to have entered a non-Christian school. But somehow it has leaked out that he was a mission school boy and again he is marked. Then comes a national festival and the students determine to hold a demonstration. They form a procession and march to the mission compound, singing their national songs and carrying banners bearing such slogans as: "Down with Christianity," "Down with Imperialism," "Cast out the foreigner." For sheer love of tormenting the unhappy youth they force him to march at their head. If he refuses he is looked upon as pro-foreign and probably subjected to violence. So he tries to fall in with their mood, and to hide his confusion becomes one of the most rowdy of the set. But in his heart he is ashamed, and his shame expresses itself in greater awkwardness of manner the next time he meets his former friends. He never comes to church after that, and so the breach is widened.

Another obstacle across the path of the missionary who is looking for Chinese leaders, is the attitude to scholarship which has existed in China for centuries. Under the old system a scholar spent most of his time in study, doing as much teaching if he were poor as would provide himself and his family with the bare necessities of life. The present student outlook, while an improvement on that of former times, bears distinct traces of this deeply-rooted idea. The bright boy from a middle-class Christian family, having done credit to his teachers in the higher primary, expects as a matter of course that he will be sent on to the middle school. When he comes to the end of that grade and has reached the age when most young men of his class in the West would be thinking of a career, he looks forward with anticipation to a university course. If you ask him for what profession he seeks to qualify, he is rather vague; his chief idea seems to be that he wants to study. Thus it sometimes happens that when a man has graduated and his missionary friends are thinking that here at least is one qualified to take a position of leadership, he astonishes them by quietly asking if he cannot be sent abroad for further study. It is indeed a great help to the Church that a few picked students should go abroad for special study, but these have to be very carefully chosen. They are usually men who have graduated some years previously, and have proved their worth as leaders.

All these difficulties are gradually disappearing. A marked difference is seen, for instance, in the way that Nationalism is expressing itself. There is at last a distinct leaning towards construction. School readers have been revised, and while the same statements are made about foreign aggression they are made in a milder tone. Public reading rooms have been opened in many towns, and night schools and institutes for those who would learn to read. Education is being organized with great vigour and efficiency. There is a new readiness to study Christian literature, and it is possible in many places for a missionary to give lectures on the Scriptures in government schools and colleges. Many of the heads of these institutions are men and women of charming personality and high character, who know something of the teaching of Christ and are attracted by His life. The day may not be far distant when round table discussions, such as those in India described by Dr. Stanley Jones, will be possible here.

In any case it would seem that the way of friendship and of sharing is the means of approach which is more likely than any other to reach the student class in China. This is one of the lessons which the Oxford Groups are teaching us. We must learn not only to love people but to like them. Perhaps this seems to be a paradox. Think it out. Many a missionary has been filled with a burning love for the people en masse, but has found it quite impossible to like them individually. He loves them as souls to be saved, but not as friends whose acquaintance is to be cultivated. He may think that he hides this fact very well, but the Chinese are not long in finding it out.

We must get rid of the last shred of that superiority feeling. It often exists even at home, unconsciously no doubt, in the heart of a spiritual leader. The missionary is faced with a two-fold danger in this respect. He is not only a spiritual leader, he is a man of another race. We may believe ourselves to be completely free from that subtle thing, racial pride, but it crops up unexpectedly in a variety of ways. This is often the touchstone by which our Christianity fails. It is a solemn test. Are we really willing to put Christ before nationality? We must be ready to take the attitude of learner as well as teacher. Certainly we have much to share with our Chinese friends. If we did not believe that we bring them the greatest blessing ever vouchsafed to man we should not be here. But we must recognize that China has also much to give to us; that we shall be enriched, that the Church itself will be enriched by that fine, unique type of culture which only China's people can bring into it.

Men and women specially endowed with a genius for friendship have a great work before them in Szechwan, and there is a real need for missionaries capable of appreciating all that is best in Chinese culture. We feel more strongly than ever that it is by way of personal friendship and witness that the intelligentzia in this country will be won for Christ, rather than by spending larger sums on Christian education. Some educational work will of course always be necessary, for we must be equipped to train our future leaders, but this matter will be discussed in a later chapter.

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