Christian Missionaries in China



Figure 1.--Christian missionary societies supported schools and hospitals all over China. These hospitals intoduced modern medicine to China. Here is a Chinese boy receiving medical treatment at a hospital in Hankow about 1908. Notice he poster above his bed. It reads "London Missionary Society - Medical Mission Fund - The Boys Brigade Branch." Presumably this means money to support the hispital was raised by the Noys' Brigade.

The history of Christian missionaies is extensive and an important chapter of European and Chinese history. It is at first largely an account of the Catholic Church. This did not change until the 19th century when Victorians, especially the English, began to evangelize the Gospel. British missionaries set out to bring the Gospel to the new Empire. The interior of China was opened by the treaties following the Opium Wars. Protestant missionaries were different from the Catholic missionaries in that they brought their families with them. British colonial officials by the 19th century were also bringing their families, but were more likely to live in cloistered foreign communities. The missionary families were more likely to live with the local population since their mission was to convert them. American Protestants also took up this mission, especially after the Civil War (1861-65). American missionzaries went to many foreign locations, but no country fired the American missionary zeal more than China. The missionaries themselves were concerned with salvation. There effort was, however, much more significant. With them they brought modernity and opening to a wider world. Opinions vary. Some see the missionaries as a modernising force. Others see them as a disruptive force, resonsible for Chinese xenephobia. The missionaries set up the first modern schools and hospitals. In their wake came businessmen. They brought with them European products, stimulating a demand for these goods. Europeans seized control of treaty ports in China. The United States did not do this, instead opting for an Open Door Policy. There were military consequences. The Japanese invasion of China (1937) was accompanied with horendous attrocities against Chinese civilians. Reports from missionaries in China had a profound impact on American public opinion. Thus when President Roosevelt began a series of diplomatic efforts including embargoes to force Japan out of China, he received considerable support in a still largely isolationist America.

European Voyages of Discovery

The modern Christian epoch in Chima began with the great European voyages of discovery of the 15th and 16th centuries were fundamentally economic enterprises. They were conducted by the European countries of the Atlantic coasts to establish direct trade contacts with China and the Spice Islands (Indonesia) that was being blocked by Byzantium/Venice and the Arabs. At the time, trade in silk, porcelin, and spices from the East carried over the Silk Road had to pass through Turkish, Arab, Byzantine, and Italian middleman, making them enormously expensive. The crusaders failed to break the Islamic wall separating still primitive Europe from the riches of the East. Circumventing the land Silk Road and the sea Spice Route would have profound economic consequences for Europe and the world. The ballance of power would shift from Eastern to Western Europe and eventualkly to northern Europe. Two nations led the early explorarions in the 15th century--Spain and Portugal. These two countries pioneered the sea routes that would lead Europeans to Asia and the Americas, but the Dutch, English, and French were to follow in the 16th century.

Early History

Christianity entered China through several routes and during different periods. The full story is difficult tp piece together, in part because it was not all the effort of the Catholic Church in Rome. There no doubts were some unorgaized contacts by merchants on the Silk Road. The first major effort was by the Nestorian Church of the East during the Tang dynasty (635 AD). The Persian branch of the church was cut off from the the dominant church centers (Rome and Byzantium) a rest of conflict between Byzantium and the Persian Empire, They arrived overland via the Silk Road. The Nestorian Church followed the teaching of Bishop Nestorius. The Church had declared his teachings heretical (431 AD). Nestorian Christianity had considerable impact in China, but was desimated when an emperor ordered its supression (845 AD). Christian missionaries arrived again during Yuan or Mongol dynasty (1271-1368). The Pope instructed Franciscans missionaries to bring the faith to China (1294). Nestorian Christians also arrived with the Mongol invaders. Vhiese accounts often do not dufferentiate between the two competing Christian groups. And this second era had little lasting impact on China.

Mission Schools

Jesuit missionaries arrived in China at the end of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). They traveled to Beijing (Peking) via Guangzhou (Canton). The best known of these Jesuits was Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) Ricci was a gifted Italian mathematician who arrived in China (1588) and settled in Beijing (1600). Ricci was received at the imperial court where he introduced Western learning. The Jesuit suceess was due in part because of their willingness to accomodate traditional Chinese ancestor worship. Other groups were less successful. The pace of missionary activity in China increased significantly after the First Opium War (1842). The unequal treaties that followed the War provided legal protection for the missionaries and their schools. The mission schools were the foundation for China's modern school system. And the schools played an important role in the modernization of China. As Christian missionaries went to work among the Chinese they founded schools. Here they introduced modern curricula including science and teaching methhods. They also introduced the latest developments in Westerm medicine. These mission schools were viewed with suspicion by traditional Chinese educators. Besides the different curriculum they were the fitst Chinese schools to offer a basic education to not only poor Chinese, but to both boys and girls who until the Republic (1911) were not educated outside the home. By mission schools we are primarily referring to the school missionaries set up in China for Chinese children. There were , however, schools set up in America and Europe to train Chinese missionaries who then returned to China. Than there were American and European children who attended missionary schools. Pearl Buck is surely the most important, but quite a number of these children made important contributions.

Denominations

The history of Christian missionaies is extensive and an important chapter of European history. The early phase of Catholic modern missiory work was dominated by the Catholic becaise the Portuguese and Spanish were the first to reach the East. Here the Society of Jesus (Jesuites) played a prominant role. The history of Catholic missionaries in China during the early phase of European contact it is a fascinating one. China at the time was not a poor, backward society, but in many ways richer and more technically advanced than Europe. The Jesuites were very active in China (15 and 16th centurues). They arrived in the fading years of the Ming Dynasty. Jesuit founder St. Francis Xavier attempted to reach China, but died before reaching the mainland (1552). Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci led a group of Jesuits to China (1582). They and their sucesors introduced Western art, astronomy, math, and science to the Chinese Imperial Court. They engged Confuscian scholars in philosophical debate. Eventually various emperors relied on Jesuits to serve in important posts. Some Comfuscian scholars adopted Chritianity, even vecoming Jesuits themselves. The Jesuits not only brought the Christian faith to Cina, but played a role in introducing Western science, and culture to China. Their work laid the foundation for Christianity in China. The Jesuits were not the only Christian missionaries, but until the 19th century went more Catholic and Protestant missionaries arrived, they seem by far the most influential. Gradually areaction to the Jesuits and Christians set in. Manchu Imperial authorities began to supress Christians (18th and early 19th centuries). Missionaries had to carry out their missionary work covertly. The prominant Catholic missionary role in China did not change until the 19th century. Protestant missionaries were different from the Catholic missionaries in that they brought their families with them.

Countries

Russian Orthodox priests reached China (1715) Protestant churches began entering China (1807). Here the British played an important role. Missionary activity increased substantially, ironically as a result of the First Opium War (1840s). The settlement required the Imperial authorities to tolerate missionary work. The Victorians, especially the English, began to evangelize the Gospel in the 19th century. British missionaries set out to bring the Gospel to the new Empire. British colonial officials by the 19th century were also bringing their families, but were more likely to live in cloistered foreign communities. The missionaries were a vert different bread of Europeans. The missionary families were more likely to live with the local population since their mission was to convert them. American Protestants also took up this mission, especially after the Civil War (1861-65). American missionzaries went to many foreign locations, but no country fired the American missionary zeal more than China.

Second Opium War (1856-60)

The Chinese Imperial Government took no sustantive measures to resdress the growing military inballance with the West. The British were generally unhappy with the results of the Treaty of Nanjing. This was because even with five treaty ports, their trade with China was below what they had expected. They also objected to what they saw as treaty violations. The Chinese. Further illwill arose against foreigners in general by the mistreatment of Chinese nationals in America and the Caribbean where they had emmigrated. Mot faced racial discrimination and restrictive laws. Some worked under conditions that were little more than slave labor. Other were asaulted even killed. These simmering issues resulted in 1856 in a series of incidents that did not end until 1860. Britain forced a second set of treaties on the Imperial Government which again humiliated officials and further discredited the Imperial Government. The British forced the Government to completely legalize opium and to allow European missionaries to freely promote Christianity without restiction throughout China.

The Interior

Until the 1860s, the European presence was largely confined to the coast, especilly the treaty ports. The settlement od the Second Opium War changed this. A treaty provision opened China's interior to foreign missionary work. Some histiriand argue that the missionaries were a force promoting moderization in China, bringing schools, hospitals and modern medicine, and other aspects of modern life. One historian contends that the missionaries arrival in the interior was not only a factor in creating the xenophobia toward foreigners that developed in China, but also the major factor in the deterioration of Imperial authority. [Cohen, p. 270] This seems a rather strong indightment and an example of the tendency to blame Weserners for a host of political trends in the Third World. There were difficulties from an early stage, most notably the Tianjin Massacre (1870). About 40 French people were killed. [Cohen, p. 233.] But large numbers of missionaries spread out throughout China and estabilished missions, living in close associatuon with the Chinese.

Individuals

Many missionary families retuned and published accounts of their experiences in China. The Espeys were part of this missionary effort.

Colonialism

Europeans seized control of treaty ports in China. Especially the imposition of opium on China was a great injustice. The behavior of foreign powers and the use of gunboat diplomacy to secure favorable trade terms and treaty port concessions profoundly affected Chinese attitudes toward foreigners. The United States did not demand a treaty port and instead promoted its Open Door policy. do this, but there were military consequences. Many Chinese saw the missionaries as part of the overall Europe effort to sungegate the Chinese. European racial attitudes was also a factor. The fact that the Europeans used gunoat diplomacy to open access for the missionaries cetainly was a factor here. [Cohen]

Boxer Rebellion (1898-01)

Attacks on Christian missionaries and their convers increased in the late 19th century. China's experiece in the 20th century was the most turbulant of any great power. It began with the Boxer Rebellion (1900) which exposed the weakeness of decadent Manchu dynasty. China had viewed itself as the greatest world power and other countries of little importance. Growing European power by the 19th century had enforced many indignaties on China, begnning in particular with the Opium Wars. European countries enforced inequitable treties and carved out treaty ports. Japan even seized Formosa (1895). There were two major responses. One was a desire by progressive reformers to modernize China by adopting modern technology and institutions along the lines being persued in Japan. The other was a desire to drive out all foreign influence and maintain traditional culture. Dowager Empress Cixi suppressed the progressive reformers . Unable to resist the European powers openly, Emperess Cixi secretly promoted the traditionalist faction. The most important traditionalist faction was the Society of Harmonious Fists which in the West became known as the Boxers. The Boxers began attacking foreigners, especially isolated foreigners living outside the treaty ports. Here the most vuunerable were the foreign missionaries living among the Chinese. The missionaries were espec=ially hated by the Boxers. Gradually attackd on foreigners and Chinese associated with them increased, especially in north China. Open fighting began when a British force moving to Peking to protect the forign community there came under fire--something the regular Chinese Army was afraid to do. Full scale revolt broke out in Peking. The Boxers killed the German ambassador and beseigned the foreign embassies. Attacks on foreigners and foreign property occurred all over north China. Six fireign govern,ents (America, Austria-Hungary?, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan) organized a relief mission. The European rescue force and the reparations and concessions imposed on China under the Peking Protocol descredited the Manchus and led to the overthrow of the monarch (1912).

World War I (1914-18)

China was far away from both the Eastern and Western Frontgs and at the time saw itself victimized by all of the major beligerant countries. Some early fighting, however, occurred in China. Japan which had a naval treaty with Britain declared war on Germany. The British wanted to use the Japanese rather than weaken the Grand Fleet to dispatch vessels to the Pacigic. Japan spmewhat to Britain's surprise, eagerly joined the war, seeing the possibility of acquiring Germany’s Pacific colonies and take over its Chinese concessions. The Japanese dispatched a naval squadron to intercept the German Pacific Squadron commanded by Admiral von Spee seeking refugee in Tsingtao Harbour. The Japanese blockaded Tsingtao and minor naval skirmishes occurred. The Japanese landed troops on the Shantung Peninsula and moved south toward Kiaochow (September 2, 1914). Kiaochow had a garrison of 5,500 German and Austro-Hungarian troops. The Japanese drive was reinforced by a British expiditionary regiment made up of Indian (Sikh) and Welsh troops (September 24). After some intense fighting the Germans and Austro-Hungarians surrendered (November 7). This was the only significant fighting taking place in China. Britain like the other major beligerant countries were running short of men because of the terrible casulties. The British suffered dreadful casulties on the Somme (1916). One effort to address this problem was to recruit workers throughout the Empire. As Britain had Chinese treaty ports, this meant China was one of the countries where workers were recruited. Most came from Shan Tung (Shandong), but there were also recruits from Honan (Hunan). The British also recruited missionry and sinologue officers. About 100,000 Chinese were recruited. The Chinese labor units under British military descipline debarked from Weihaiwei (Weihai) which was a British treaty port until 1930. The Chinese were used to dig trenches and build other fortifications. They were not used in the actual fighting, but about 2,000 died from mines, illness (such as the Inflenza Epidemic after the War), and other causes. A few were shot as a result of a mutiny at Boulogne. [Summerskill] China declared war on Germany (1917). There was no real Chinese concern about Germany as the British and Japanese has seized Germany's concessions in China. China sa, however, diplomatic problems since Japan had joined the Allies and the Royal Navy commanded the seas. Despite the declaration of war, I do not know of any significant Chinese contribution to the Allied war effort. China after the War benefited from American insistence at Versailles that the Open Door Policy be accedpted by the major powers. This was a major issue at the Washington Naval Conference (1921-22).

Japanese Invasion of China

The Japanese invasion of China (1937) was accompanied with horendous attrocities against Chinese civilians. Reports from missionaries in China had a profound impact on American public opinion. Thus when President Roosevelt began a series of diplomatic efforts including embargoes to force Japan out of China, he received considerable support in still largely isolationist America.

Impact

The missionaries themselves were concerned with salvation. There effort was, however, much more significant. With them they brought modernity and opening to a wider world. Often they set up schools, the first modern schools in China. In their wake came businessmen. They brought with them American products, stimulating a demand for these goods. The Communist ousted foreigners and close off China from outside influences after their victory (1949). Many foreigners see this as a contrnium in China's "deep-seated resentment" toward foreigners. Most controversial is the view that 19th Christian missionary played a major role in bringing about Chinese xenephobia. [Cohen]

Sources

Cohen, Paul A. China and Christianity: The Missionary Movement and the Growth of Chinese Antiforeignism, 1860-1870 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1963).









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Created: 1:20 AM 11/11/2006
Last updated: 3:20 AM 10/22/2009