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The Scottish Churches' Work Abroad
Among China's Millions

THE first Protestant missionary to China was a man of Scottish parentage, Dr. Robert Morrison, who was sent out by the London Missionary Society in 1807. As China was then a closed land, he could not go beyond the East India Company’s concession at Canton, but he applied himself to the study of Chinese with unwearied patience and hope, and by his translations and dictionary work he did much to pave the way for the army of his successors who began to pour into China about the middle of the century. It is ever to be deplored that the opening of China to the Gospel was effected by the so-called Opium Wars, for it associated Christian Missions in the Chinese mind with foreign aggression, a circumstance which has time and again borne bitter fruit. When the five treaty ports were opened in 1842, the London Missionary Society was the first to enter, and they sent out another distinguished Scotsman, Dr. James Legge, who in his long and devoted life attained to the highest eminence as a Chinese scholar. Still another Scottish missionary, sent out by the same Society in 1875, is worthy of honourable mention, the famous Gilmour of Mongolia. He struck out over the great Mongolian plain with only his knapsack on his back and a stout stick in his hand, and lived for years in the tents of the Mongols as one of themselves. The fascinating story of his Pauline journeys is recorded in his book, Among the Mongols, of which the Spectator said: "Robinson Crusoe has turned missionary, lived years in Mongolia, and written a book about it."

It was not until all China was declared open by the Treaty of Tientsin in 1858 that the Synod of the United Presbyterian Church resolved on a Mission to China. The field chosen was Manchuria in the extreme north-east, bordering on the Korean Peninsula. It is, roughly, a great rectangular plain running north through Liaoyang and Mukden to the Amur River, bounded on the east and west by mountain ranges. It has a climate resembling that of Siberia or the north-west of Canada, with alternations of extreme heat and cold. To the Chinese it is known as East of the Barrier, indicating that it lies outside the Great Wall of China. It was at one time an independent kingdom, the ancestral home of the Manchu dynasty which ruled China for two and a half centuries until the Revolution of 1912. The old epithet, "Changeless China," is now quite out of date, and Manchuria in particular, since the last decade of the nineteenth century, has been one of the storm centres of the world. It is a unique tribute to the tact of the missionaries and the solid value of their work that both in peace and war, both under the Empire and under the Republic, they have won the favour of their successive rulers, whether Chinese, Russian, or Japanese.


The pioneer of Protestant Missions in Manchuria was Dr. Alexander Williamson, a member of the United Presbyterian Church and agent of the National Bible Society of Scotland, who between 1866 and 1868 itinerated the country from the Great Wall to Korea and northwards to the Sungari River, selling copies of the Scriptures. In 1867, Rev. W. C. Burns arrived to take up more permanent work, but he died the following spring. The real founder of the Mission was Dr. John Ross, who landed at the Port of Newchwang in 1872. His plan of campaign was to advance to the north, occupy Mukden, the capital, and link it to the seaboard by a chain of stations. This became the settled policy of the Mission, though its line of communications has long since stretched far beyond Mukden.

Compelled by treaty to tolerate the hated presence of the foreigner, Chinese pride and bigotry opposed a seemingly insurmountable barrier to the Gospel. The wildest rumours regarding missionaries were set afloat. These were no human beings, but devils from the underworld, as witness their pale faces and blanched hair. They were the masters of every devilish art, and utterly to be abhorred. If, after a time, one here and there began to speak a good word of the Mission, it was only a proof that they had been bewitched, for how could any sane Chinaman make friends with foreign devils. But gradually the Mission made some headway. Patience and unruffled temper are highly esteemed in China; they are reckoned qualities befitting the serenity of the learned and the noble. When, therefore, the missionaries maintained this demeanour under a storm of the vilest abuse and ribaldry, it made its own impression upon quiet onlookers, and converts began to be gathered in.

One of the most remarkable was Old Wang, so called because he was the older of two brothers. He was a confirmed opium smoker who had time and again tried to break off the fatal habit, but had utterly failed. At last he came to feel that for him the choice must be Christ or opium. He smashed his pipe and flung away his supplies of the drug. Then began a veritable life-and-death struggle, which lasted for three days and nights, during which he neither ate nor slept. Suddenly on the third day he felt that his bonds were broken, and he rose up a free man in Christ. Although not a man of learning, he became an earnest and successful evangelist, first in Mukden and afterwards in Liaoyang. Ever gentle and patient, ready to meet all opposition with a winning smile, he, perhaps more than any other, bore the first brunt of the attack, and is worthy of honourable remembrance as the forerunner of that noble band of native helpers through whom, far more than the foreign missionary, the great success of the Manchurian Mission has been achieved. Dr. Ross was singularly fortunate in his colleagues. Men of strong character and unusual ability, like Dr. Christie, Dr. Westwater, Dr. James Webster, joined the Mission. Medical work was developed, and new stations were opened to the north, up as far as the Sungari River. Meantime, towards the close of the century there broke out a decade of wars which profoundly influenced the conditions of the work both for good and evil.


The first of these occurred in 1894, when Japan went to war with China, and with her armies equipped and drilled after Western models won an easy victory. A tragic occurrence in the course of the war was the murder of Mr. Wylie, the missionary in Liaoyang. He encountered in the street some undisciplined Chinese soldiers who had been venting their hatred of all things foreign by looting the chapel, and by them he was brutally slain. The humiliating defeat of China was as far as possible concealed from the people, but in Manchuria, where the actual battles were fought, the truth could not be hid. It gave rise to much painful reflection and searchings of heart. That these "Dwarfs," these "Outer Barbarians," as the Chinese were wont to call them, should have laid the glory of China in the dust was a bitter thought indeed, and at all costs the reason must be found. Nor was it far to seek. The weapons and methods of the West were the secret of it. Chinese self-confidence was thoroughly shaken. She who had thought herself the hub of the universe, the very crown of all creation, must learn the ways of the hated foreigner or perish. To the man in the street the missionary was the most accessible and respectable specimen of the foreigner within his reach. So to the missionary he went, curious to discover the secrets of Western learning, and with it the Gospel. A flowing tide set in towards the Church which taxed the resources of the Mission to guide and control. For several years in succession over two thousand baptisms were recorded annually. No doubt many came from very mixed motives and with unspiritual expectations as to the benefits to be received; still they came, and the Church was gladdened by the great ingathering.

How long this might have gone on, and with what results to the life of the Christian community, it is impossible to say, for it was soon abruptly broken in upon by the reactionary movement of 1900, known as the Boxer Rising. The Empress-Dowager headed the movement, the object of which was to purge out the foreigner and restore the pristine glory of the Flowery Land. The actual Boxers were comparatively few in numbers, and were quite distinct from the lawless mobs that followed them. Each man had passed through a ceremony of initiation. Henceforth he was safe from sword and bullet, and commissioned to purge the land. The whole country was soon in a blaze. Nothing, it was believed, could withstand the mystic power of the Boxer. The ambassadors in Pekin were besieged in the British Embassy, and all Europe was in an agony of suspense till the allied forces fought their way up from the coast and rescued them. But away in the interior of China hundreds of missionaries and thousands of native Christians were cruelly done to death.

In Manchuria the missionaries were warned of the coming storm and succeeded in escaping, some down to the coast, some north to the Russians. But churches, hospitals, and schools were all burnt down. Many of the converts were put to death, while others were abused and robbed of everything. All had to flee for their lives, and lurk in the woods or among the tall millet, where they lay, cold and hungry, and at times hardly daring to breathe, while they could hear their persecutors ranging about in search of them. Those who survived that awful time came back to find their homes in blackened ruins. The names of the martyrs, such as Blind Chang, will be to the Church in Manchuria what the names of the Covenanters are to Scotland, and the story of their sufferings will be told for generations.

It was a purified church that came out of the fire. Let this testimony suffice. "On the Sabbath morning we met for the first time since the outbreak. Under our feet were heaps of broken bricks, and around us a few fragments of ruined walls. . . . I felt drawn to select as my text the last of the Beatitudes, and asked my hearers whether they were able to say with sincerity that out of their persecution had come to them blessing. Forthwith an ex-soldier on my right jumped to his feet, straightened himself, and declared, ‘I dare to stand and say that I am blessed because I was perse— cuted, and am richer for all that I have lost.’ His act was instantly copied, and his words echoed by an aged schoolmaster on my left— a poor, bowed figure, much spent by the privations and flights of the Boxer weeks. Here and there, throughout the church, rose men and women, till half my audience was on its feet. The man who had been bound and branded with a burning log was there. The young fellow who had spent weeks chained amid the worst abominations of a Chinese prison was there. There, too, were the women who had endured the sharp distresses of flight. And, looking towards me, they spoke with the same words—‘ I am blessed because I was persecuted; I thank God for all the hardships; I am richer to-day for all that I lost.’ "


Once again in 1904 Manchuria became the theatre of war in the titanic struggle between Russia and Japan. Great battles were fought at Liaoyang and Mukden as the Russians were gradually pushed north. The hospitals were filled with wounded, and thousands of refugees appealed to the Mission for relief. This war was an eye-opener to the Chinese in more ways than one. They were made to realise afresh that China as a Power was negligible. Other nations had fought their battles on her sacred soil without ever a by-your-leave. Yet the victory of Japan made it manifest that the East was not constitutionally inferior to the European. The forces of reform took a new lease of life, and Young China began to be filled with an ambition to take that place among the nations of the world which the magnitude of the country seemed to demand. At the same time in Manchuria the medical and relief work done by the Mission during the war brought the spirit of the Gospel before the Chinese in a most favourable light, and there were not wanting official expressions of appreciation of the most cordial kind. Indeed, Dr. Christie of Mukden had the unusual distinction of receiving decorations for meritorious service from three Emperors.

The agelong sleep of China was thoroughly broken, and the hour of her Renaissance had come. A vast educational system, based on Western models, was organised, under which students were encouraged by getting not only education, but board and lodgings free. Schools and colleges were built, and teachers were gathered from all quarters. Books on all subjects poured from the Press. In Mukden the Government opened a "Depot of Maps and Books," where everything was sold at less than cost price. The streets were laid out in Western style, with tram-cars and electric light. Bicycles appeared, and the progressive shopman gatheted the crowd round his door by the strains of the gramophone.

Naturally the Church felt the effect of these changes profoundly. Many of the former pupils of the Mission schools had become teachers in the new Government schools, and the Christian community exercised an influence out of all proportion to its numbers. The facts of the Christian faith became subject of inquiry, and the history of the nations of the West could not be taught in the Government schools without reference to them. Intellectual inquisitiveness drew multitudes to the preaching chapels, where they would sit and listen with keen attention, eager to discover the wonderful secrets of the West. All this was welcome and full of hope, but at the same time a certain spiritual deadness was noted in the Church, and became a burden upon the souls of the more earnest members. In many cases minds had been enlightened while heart and conscience had not been deeply touched. The Renaissance needed to be crowned by a Reformation.


This came to the Church in Manchuria in the great Revival of 1908. Those who would read the full story of this modern Pentecost will find it recorded in Times of Blessing in Manchuria, by the Rev. James Webster, who was an eye-witness and active participant in it, and whose thrilling addresses in Scotland set many hearts on fire. The movement took its rise in Korea, where the Church had begun to manifest extraordinary vitality, and it was brought to Manchuria by the reports of two Chinese evangelists who had been sent to Korea to investigate. The visit of a Canadian missionary, Mr. Goforth, who had seen the work in Korea, was also greatly helpful. As they went from place to place telling the story of Korea and preaching the simple truths of the Gospel, the people were moved, as never before, to a sense of their own sin and spiritual poverty. In most cases there was a sudden and awesome inrush of the Spirit’s power. The scene in the meeting at Chinchow may be taken as typical. "The people knelt for prayer, silent at first, but soon one here and another there began to pray aloud. The voices grew and gathered volume, and blended into a great wave of united supplication, that swelled till it was almost a roar, and died down again into an undertone of weeping. Now I understood why the floor was so wet—it was wet with pools of tears! The very air seemed electric—I speak in all seriousness—and strange thrills coursed up and down one’s body. Then above the sobbing, in strained, choking tones, a man began to make public confession. Words of mine will fail to describe the awe and terror and pity of these confessions. It was not so much the enormity of the sins disclosed, or the depths of iniquity sounded, that shocked one. The faults of some were venial enough, yet the remorse of these newly tender consciences was as keen as that of greater offenders. It was the agony of the penitent, his groans and cries, and voice shaken with sobs; it was the sight of men forced to their feet, and, in spite of their struggles, impelled, as it seemed, to lay bare their hearts, that moved one, and brought the smarting tears to one’s own eyes. Never have I experienced anything more heart-shaking, more nerve-racking, than the spectacle of these souls stripped naked before their fellows. It seemed to violate the privacy of the being, to outrage every instinct of the individual, and yet those who were most racked and torn by their emotions, once they had made a clean breast of their sins, seemed to find peace, and their faces shone with an ecstasy their streaming eyes could not belie."

Even outsiders were drawn in as by the suction of a whirlwind. As of old, some who came to scoff remained to pray. "What has come over the Christians?" men were saying. "Yamen torture could not draw such confessions from human lips, and they are respectable people too." "Don’t go near them," said others; "their spirit has come down, and He is irresistible. You will be drawn in before you know it."

So tumultuous a tide of religious feeling could not, of course, continue. Human nature could not stand it. But when it passed, the face of the Church in Manchuria was visibly changed. Many members had undergone a complete renewal of character. Coldness had given place to zeal in Christian service. The whole Church was awakened to its high responsibility and privilege of bringing the Christian spirit into the life of the nation. Like the prairie fire, the rush of the Revival passed, but, in passing, left behind a precious deposit to enrich the soil for years to come.


In the spring of 1911 there occurred an event which, though dreadful in itself, gave a fresh opportunity of revealing to the Chinese the spirit of the Cross. Plague broke out somewhere on the borders of Siberia and travelled along the line of the railway to Northern Manchuria. So swift in action and so fatal was it that those who caught the infection in the morning were dead by night, and there was no known case of recovery. From Harbin, where men were dying at the rate of six hundred a day, it spread by road and rail to the great centres of population in the south. Under pressure from the Great Powers the Government of Manchuria was compelled to take action, and in their perplexity they turned to the medical missionaries for advice and help. Quick to respond, they speedily outlined a scheme for the restriction of the Plague which the Government at once put into operation.

Among those who gave their help in fighting the Plague was a young medical missionary of singularly attractive personality, Dr. Arthur Jackson, who had joined the Mission only six months before. He volunteered to act as quarantine medical inspector at the Mukden railway station, where, in the discharge of his duties, he fell a victim to the Plague. The death of one so young and winsome, and who, though a mere stranger in the land, had given his life so freely, made a deep impression on the Chinese. Fourteen years after, a missionary from China was travelling in a London tube and got into conversation with a Chinese gentleman. Finding that he was a Christian, he asked what had led him to this faith, and learned that he was a youth in Mukden when Dr. Jackson died, and so powerful an impression was made on him that he was constrained to inquire into the religion that could produce such a man.

The Manchurian Government expressed its appreciation of Dr. Jackson in a most substantial way by assisting to erect in his memory the western half of the new Medical College. This College, which had long been the dream of Dr. Christie, is now fully organised as a first-class medical school, raising its own income independently of the Mission, and sending out year by year bands of thoroughly trained graduates to carry the blessings of healing to their people.

Crisis followed upon crisis. The year 1912 is known in Chinese history as the First Year of the Republic. Contact with the Western world and the introduction of Western methods of education had given an impulse towards democratic government, and so, after a comparatively bloodless revolution, the Republic was established. The vastness of this change and the prominent part played in it by leading Chinese Christians and others favourable to Christianity led to the highest hopes being cherished in missionary circles of the dawn of a new day in China. The urgent appeal of the missionaries was "now or never. The next ten years will be decisive. China is in the melting-pot. All her life is to be poured into new moulds. In God’s name let them be Christian." But, as the event proved, nations are not remade in a day nor in a decade. The World War upset many calculations, in China as elsewhere, and left a grievous aftermath. But apart from that, a certain instability speedily revealed itself in the structure of the Republic. The revolution was, in fact, partly due to a cleavage between the Imperial executive and the provincial governments. This cleavage unhappily developed till the provinces were rent asunder, each provincial governor appearing as a War Lord fighting for his own hand, and it still remains doubtful when, if ever, the unity of China will be restored.

In these circumstances it would be hazardous to predict the political or religious future. Yet certain elements of great hopefulness appear. China is thoroughly awake. The sleep of ages has been for ever broken, and things can never be as they were. Ancient temples have been turned into schools, and great stone images have been broken into road metal. For good or ill, China has abandoned her isolation and embarked on a big adventure. The issue may be doubtful, but there are many in China who are fully awake to the value of spiritual forces in the moulding of a nation’s life. It was the editor of a Chinese newspaper who wrote, "Many are talking largely of revolution. Has it not been considered that we in China have had far more revolutions than they in Europe? In the West they have always gained by their revolutions, yet we have enjoyed no national uplift from any of ours. Why? Because of the absence of what has characterised the rebellions of the West—moral and religious forces."

Mission work has gone steadily on through all change, and with an ever-increasing amount of appreciation and official recognition. The Mukden Medical College reports in 1925 that the largest contributor was Marshal Chang Tso Lin, the world-famous Governor of Manchuria, who gave a donation of £1100. Better still, the native Church is fully alive to its opportunities and animated by a spirit of evangelical zeal. Of the Manchurian convert it has been said, "Nothing seems more natural to him than to talk about his new faith, and whether it be at work in the fields, or resting under the shade of some tree, or seated on the hot kang in winter nights, or in order to beguile the tedium of a long journey, he is always ready and proud to speak of it to others." "Ready and proud to speak of it!" The natural result has been that in no province of China has the Church made more speedy numerical progress than in Manchuria. Moreover, of the twenty thousand Christians in Manchuria only a handful owe their conversion to personal contact with the missionaries. The privilege of winning them to Christ has fallen to the men and women of their own race, often of humble station and scanty education. But then they were at all times "ready and proud to speak of it."


The Manchurian Mission, though the greatest, is not the only Scots Mission in China. For nearly half a century the Church of Scotland has been at work in Ichang, a town in Central China. It was in 1878 that the first missionary was sent out, accompanied by two laymen, who were to act partly as colporteurs for the National Bible Society of Scotland. No definite field was fixed on, the choice being left to the pioneers themselves. Arrived at Shanghai, they proceeded 600 miles up the great Yangtse Kiang to Hankow, where at that time Dr. Griffith John, the famous missionary of the London Missionary Society, was at work. By him they were advised to establish themselves at Ichang, 400 miles farther up the river, which had recently been declared an open treaty port.

Ichang stands at the entrance to the great Yangtse Gorges. Here the mighty river bursts through the barrier of the mountains and begin its thousand-mile journey across the plains to the sea. As if to mark its relief from rocky gorges and furious whirlpools, it sweeps round in a wide semicircular bend and encloses the town on three sides. Ichang has a population of about sixty thousand, and its importance lies in the fact that here is the terminus of steamer traffic from the coast, and the point at which all goods for the far interior are transferred to Chinese junks, which alone can brave the rapids above the town.

The Mission from its commencement has had a quiet and comparatively uneventful history of steady progress. It was met at first by hostility, amounting at times to riot, with destruction of property, but fortunately with no loss of life. Gradually by Christian tact and patience this hostility was overcome, and especially after the Boxer Rising there was a marked change in the attitude of the people. The usual departments of a progressive mission were successively organised, day schools and boarding-schools for boys and girls, a training institution, an industrial school, a mission hospital. The native church, seated for six hundred, is called the Jedburgh Church, from the generous help given by the Presbytery of that name to the building of it. The spiritual needs of the little body of European residents are met by the Burgess Church, built in 1893. Meantime the Mission proceeded to extend its influence over the surrounding country, until to-day it is at work in fifteen different places, and has connected with it nine fully organised congregations. These are affiliated to the Chinese Christian Church, which is being organised by the Protestant Missions, for there is no desire on the part of the missionaries to repeat in the Far East the denominationalism of the West.

It has been remarked that both the Scottish Missions in China were associated from the first with the Bible Society, and it may here be said that perhaps Scotland’s greatest work for China has been done through the agency of the National Bible Society. During the last sixty-five years that Society has sent to the foreign field over forty-nine million copies or portions of the Scriptures, of which over thirty-nine million have gone to China. Of the other ten millions, six and a half have gone to India, two and a half to Japan, and half a million to Korea. It will thus be seen that China has been by a long way the chief beneficiary, and faithful colporteurs, working from the great depots at Tientsin, Shanghai, Hankow, and Chungking, distributed last year more than three million portions of Scripture among the Chinese.

But in every field the Society has been from the first the handmaid of Scottish Missions. Originally affiliated to the British and Foreign Bible Society, whose formation in 1804 had, in the words of Dr. Chalmers, set "the whole surface of England in a blaze of enthusiasm,", it broke away in protest against the inclusion of the Apocryphal writings in the sacred volume. After some controversy the English Society conceded the point, but the Scottish supporters resolved to continue in friendly independence. The noble work which the Society has accomplished, and the strong appeal it makes to the Christian heart of Scotland, have abundantly justified this policy. Its operations have been presided over by the most distinguished of our countrymen and supported by the freewill offerings of the poorest. It has enabled the missionary to put into the hands of his people the living Word of God, and given him the assurance that though he might be removed it would remain, and be the bulwark of his converts’ faith. Sometimes it has travelled into places where the spoken word had never yet been heard, and prepared the way of the Lord. Protestantism has been called the religion of a book, and certainly in the foreign field one of the distinguishing features of Protestant Missions as opposed to Romanist, the feature which above all else holds the promise of permanent good, is that they have given to the peoples of every land the Bible in their own tongue and taught them to read therein the wonderful works of God.

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