A Site on Early Missionaries to China

    A Site on Early Christian Missionaries to China

    The fourth missionary did finally reach the people instead of the upper classes and administration. Many historians think that because of this, missionaries got an unfair view of China's 'dark side' of idol worshiping, poor living conditions, inhumane practices, bribery, and illiteracy, which eventually became the excuses to invade China in the name of spiritual warfares. This is not entirely true. As pointed out earlier, it is important for the gospel to reach the people. And if the people of China were indeed reflected by their 'dark side', it only showed how much the Chinese needed the Gospel. It was the approach that's questionable, not the intent. The hardness of the Chinese heart was also responsible for the failure of this missionary.

    Although the fourth missionary (started 1807) made a big impact on the history of Christianity in China, it did stir up quite a bit of controversies. The questionable approaches and philosophies of some of the missionaries gave Christianity a bad name, which led to severe consequences. Of course it is not fair to put down all missionaries. These early missionaries did play a crucial role in establishing missionary schools and hospitals in China, which helped to modernize her. The modernization also did eventually opened up China's door for missionary. Let's look at some of these questionable approaches and philosophies.

    Some of these questionable approaches involved the participation of some of the missionaries in the East India Trading (EIT) Co. and their involvement in the politics of their mother countries, in invading China. Ever since Kang Xi's close door policy, no foreigners were allowed in China except merchants. Unfortunately, the East India Trading (EIT) Co., which dealt heavily in opium, had monopoly of trade in China. About the only way to gain legal access to China was by joining the EIT. However, the linkage between missionary and the EIT led to unthinkable adversities to the spread of Christianity. Some missionaries also participated in the invasion of China. Since missionaries were versed in Chinese, some of them were asked to collect vital military information before and during the wars, and translate treaties after the wars. Some missionaries like Peter Parker of the United States, even urged their country to invade China. Summarizing the questionable approaches adopted by some of the missionaries, they all stemmed from the philosophy that China was evil, and wars against China were wars against Satan. After all, whats wrong with fighting a spiritual war against Satan's forces?

    The above philosophy assumes that the Western culture is Christian culture, and thus any Non-Western culture is controlled by Satan. It further assumed that any war against China was under God's plan of a spiritual war.

    Before we draw the above conclusions, we should examine the following facts carefully. First, the Western culture does not necessarily mean Christian culture. After all, there were Western countries that were not Christian countries. Moreover, in the 20th century, the very countries that tried to introduce Christianity into China, became atheist themselves, under the science revolution. Secondly, we should not be quick in interpreting wars against China as God's plan. Although it is true that everything happens in this world is permitted by God, it is not true that everything is according to His righteous will. There are generally three situations God allows events to take place.

    Invasion of China by the Western world belongs to the second category listed in the link above. Moreover, we should learn from Christ on how He dealt with fighting the spiritual war. Jesus did not rally the Israelites into rebelling against the Roman army, but instead, he died on the cross for our sins so that our souls can be saved eternally. Inducing the Western powers to invade China, and / or using questionable measures (such as joining the opium trading company) in preaching the gospel, can be viewed as unrighteous approaches adopted by some of the early missionaries.

    God is patient and has His own timetable. Moses spent 40 years in the wilderness. It took 30 years before Jesus started to preach. A couple of thousand years is a short period in God's time frame. Hard work in preaching God's kingdom is always rewarded, however God does not reward unrighteous approaches. We have a brother in our church, who devoted himself to a missionary in Tokmok (Russian border to China), where bribery was wide-spread. This brother refused to pay any bribes in setting up a missionary hospital, despite all the adversaries, and his faith and his action well deserve our respect

    The question of whether to reach the people or the governing administration is not a new topic. The discrepancy of preaching policy between Hudson Taylor and Timothy Richard in the 19th Century was a good example. Taylor stressed the importance of bringing the Gospel to the people. On the other hand, Richard emphasized converting the administration and the literate. From the three unsuccessful early missionaries, one sees the importance of having the Gospel reach the bulk of the people instead of the upper classes of China. However preaching to the upper classes helped to change the culture, which in turn made Christianity more acceptable to China.


    From the early missionaries to China, we learn two important lessons. First of all, in preaching the Gospel, one must reach the people. The bad name that some of these missionaries got themselves by joining the opium trading company and their support of the invasion of China, led to such a strong negative feeling about Christianity that persisted until the 1920s, as reflected by the Anit-Christian Movement. Once again, we should not downplay the importance of these missionaries who did a tremendous job in modernizing China, devoting their lives for the salvation of the Chinese people. They well deserve our respect and kowtows. However, some of their approaches were questionable. Without such approaches, God's missionary plan to China will still be accomplished. Just because He allowed the invasion of China, it does not mean that it was planed according to God's righteous will.

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