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 VIII. The Church and the New Freedom

IT would indeed be a wonderful age in which the tide of reform did not sweep away a few things of value which might with advantage have been left behind. Generally speaking, Chinese youth in the hour of its new liberty has kept its head remarkably well. But the revolt from old Confucian ideals has brought about a decided aversion to authority in any form, and even in this remote province the Church, claiming as it must the right to demand a certain standard of morality from its members, has not found it easy to enforce that standard.

Surprise is sometimes expressed by English people at the number of converts overseas who have to be disciplined. In a land where, to the popular mind at any rate, religion and morality do not necessarily go together, the explanation is not far to seek. In England, church members who have lapsed into grievous sin usually avoid church discipline by quietly ceasing to come forward for church privileges, thus in some measure disciplining themselves. Our Christian heritage has set up a public opinion which recognizes any deviation from certain lines of morality as inconsistent with the outward profession of Christianity. Public opinion can forgive a moral lapse, but it does not easily forgive a hypocrite.

In China also there are certain standards of morality, but they are not Christian standards. For instance, it is quite respectable for a man to have more than one wife. Indeed, if the first wife does not bear sons it is almost a man's duty to his family to take another wife, and the Church's insistence on monogamy as a rule which admits of no exception is sometimes regarded as an arbitrary and unreasonable attitude. The Chinese temperament is naturally easy-going, and not at all inclined to look ahead. Therefore many become Christians without fully counting the cost, and only when circumstances bring them up against some ingrained custom do they realize what following Christ is going to mean for them. The Chung Hua Sheng Kung Hui (the Holy Catholic Church of China) has spoken its mind on the subject of marriage with no uncertain sound, thus exercising a steadying influence on Chinese society at a very critical time. [At the General Synod in 1931 the first Canon on Marriage of the Chung Hua Sheng Kung Hui was made.]

Apart from a few difficulties of this kind, the present age with its progress and development provides a unique opportunity for the Christian Church. In former times, except for Sunday schools and mission boarding schools, work among young people was almost nil. Girls over twelve years of age were kept indoors and closely guarded, and youth organizations were practically unknown. Nowadays, girls' clubs, guides, summer schools, social gatherings for students, and young people's Bible classes are becoming part of the regular programme of church work in Western China. And not only so, but the openings for personal contact with young people studying in government schools and colleges are almost unlimited.

The Five Year Movement, with its emphasis on direct evangelism, has roused the Church to take advantage of its opportunities. There are signs of revival in many parishes, and Christians have been inspired with new hope and enthusiasm. In town and country the people are ready as never before to listen to the Gospel, and to learn to read it for themselves. Other evangelistic efforts outside our own Church have also enriched us with their inspiration and vigour. Chengtu, the capital of Szechwan, has recently been visited by a team of three well-educated young evangelists, two women and one man, all aglow with radiant Christianity. They held meetings in a number of schools and preached in the various churches. Many students yielded themselves fully to Christ, and returned home for the holidays glowing with their new-found joy, eager to pass it on to others.

The emancipation of women has enabled the Church to avail itself of their talents and leadership. The Women's Missionary Service League is a recognized church body, having the official approval of the General Synod. This League binds together all the women's organizations of the Church for missionary effort and service. It has its branch in this diocese. The Mothers' Union, which exists in China as a part of the Women's Missionary Service League, has also been introduced into Szechwan. At the triennial meeting of the General Synod held at Wuhu in 1934, the W.M.S.L. presented an offering of $5000 for the work in Shensi, the Chinese home mission field. This money had been raised by the branches of the League all over the country during a time of great financial stress.

The Better Homes Movement is another means by which the Church is seeking to establish a good environment for its younger generation, thus neutralizing in the most effective way the extravagant influences which always attend a transition period. The ideal of the Christian home has been placed before men, women, and children by means of pictures, leaflets, story books, and Sunday-school lessons. Family worship is insisted upon as an essential part of everyday life, and is becoming a regular custom in Christian homes. Simple hygiene is taught by means of posters and tracts, and the value of cleanliness is beginning to be understood. Some of the healthy, happy, Chinese Christian homes, where girls and boys live together on an equal footing and all work together for the extension of Christ's Kingdom, are an inspiration and encouragement to all who have been admitted to their inner circles.

Girl Guiding, with its healthy activities and its spirit of comradeship, is taking hold on the Chinese imagination and giving many young women just the needed training to bring out their gifts of leadership. Reading classes and night schools under Christian auspices serve a two-fold purpose: besides helping the pupils, they provide the teachers with a means of service. Short-term training schools for young farmers, with the object of enabling them to become evangelists among their own people while engaged in their normal occupation, also give the educated an opportunity to help their less fortunate brothers.

Another interesting phase of the Chinese love of freedom is the determination never to be bound by the denominational fetters that have hampered us so much in England. We are not able, of course, to co-operate with the Roman Catholics, but even with them there is little of the exclusiveness that marks them so strongly in western lands. In cities where they are working in Szechwan, they have usually a congregation about equal to that of our own churches; in places from which they have withdrawn many of their converts have joined our Church. Apart from them, denominations are more or less a matter of geography. The missionary forces do not overlap. If there is a Baptist church doing excellent work in a particular district, we do not set up an Anglican mission in the same town. There is still plenty of untouched territory.

The Chinese on the whole regard denominations as an accident. A man is a Methodist because the missionaries in the town where he was brought up happened to belong to that Church. A Christian traveller arrives at a city late on a Saturday night and finds that there is a church. The church may be of our communion and he may be a Baptist or a Friend, but he will certainly call on the minister, who with true eastern hospitality will find him a lodging and probably invite him to preach next morning. It is one of the triumphs of the Christ in this province that people of all types of religious thought have come to appreciate one another and to value the special contribution each can make.

In Chengtu the West China Union University is a standing example of what missionary cooperation can mean. Five Churches are concerned in this university--the United Church of Canada, Friends, Baptists, Methodist Episcopal, and Anglican, the last being represented by the C.M.S. On the extensive campus, which resembles a public park, missionaries of these five different Churches live and work in perfect harmony for a common cause. Moreover, cooperation between missions in Western China is not confined to the university. Since 1899 there has been in existence an advisory board, . by the various Churches, which enables them to face together the common task and to avoid overlapping.

If we resolve not to introduce here the barriers which so effectually divide us at home, it is necessary thus to work together, and in all our thinking to see the viewpoint of the Chinese Church as a whole, not merely that of a small section of it which has come under the influence of our favourite society. Only thus can we present a united front against opposing forces.

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