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Section I: East Asia Missions

Part 10: China Mission, 1834-1914

Initially named the Society for Missions to Africa and the East ( renamed the Church Missionary Society in 1812 and now called the Church Mission Society) it followed simple missionary principles; to follow God in the same way as the missionaries of the early Church, to begin humbly and on a small scale, to put money after prayer and study and to depend on the Holy Spirit.

Part 10 begins coverage of the papers of the China Mission covering the years 1834-1914 and consists of Individual Letter Books for 1852-1914, Letter Books for 1834-1897, Mission Books for 1834-1880, a Precis Book for 1881-1888 and Original Papers for 1835-1884.

The Individual Letter Books for 1852-1883 and for 1883-1914 contain private and confidential letters from the Secretary in London to individual missionaries. Material includes: a Committee resolution prohibiting missionaries from communicating directly with the British government in 1869, details regarding the ending of discrimination against Protestant missionaries in China in 1881, figures for the possible expansion in the numbers of Chinese Christians, the expansion of the Fukien and Chekiang missions, letters concerning the opium trade and meetings with mandarins in 1893, the status of the missionaries in relation to the foreign community. It should be noted that the Individual Letter Books for 1852-1883 and for 1883-1888 contain some Japan mission correspondence.

The Letter Books for 1834-1897 contain copies of all correspondence from the Secretary in London to the missionaries and others concerned with mission affairs.
A wide range of subjects is covered: instructions to missionaries on travelling out to China and relocating within China; reports on the establishment of an Opium Refuge; circulars re the Shanghai English school, mission estimates and native Christian autobiographies; plans for the future of the Ningpo College; plans for medical students at Hokning; reports on Biblewomen; a memorandum from the Foreign Office re the anti-foreign disturbances in China in 1892; Committee resolutions regarding the Hwa-sang massacre in 1895; a memorandum re women’s work. In the Letter Book for 1863-1876 there is some Japan mission correspondence.

The Mission Books for 1834-1880 contain copies of the Original Papers. A legible copy was made available for the Committee. The letters and journals from 1834-1849 are copied out in full, while a note of receipt is made for the financial papers and printed papers. From 1849 the letters only are copied. Annual letters from 1871 onwards are copied out also and if they are printed are pasted or sewn into the backs of the volumes. The Mission Books for 1868-1880 contain some Japan correspondence.

The Precis Book for 1881-1888 contains a precis of all the incoming papers prepared for the Group Committee. The precis comprises the number, date, writer, date received, summary of contents, proposals for committee action to be taken and/or the Secretary’s remarks.

The Original Papers comprise all the incoming papers sent to the Headquarters from the missionaries and mission secretary.They mainly consist of letters, journals and reports, but also include items such as minutes and papers of local CMS committees.

The Original Papers for 1835-1880 contain: minutes of the local CMS committees, conferences and Shanghai Lay finance committee; correspondence with bishops; miscellaneous finance papers; property deeds and schedules; maps and plans; correspondence with representatives of the British Government; papers concerning the provision of churches and clergy; papers re the 1877 Shanghai Conference of Protestant missionaries; miscellaneous papers; printed papers and newspaper cuttings. The main body of the material (O 15-93) consists of the letters and papers of individual missionaries, catechists and others arranged alphabetically beginning with Rev Charles Atkinson and ending with Rev Yiu-Kwong Wong. There is fascinating information to be found in letters on all manner of topics, journals and annual letters.

The Original Papers for 1881-1884 contain a mixture of material: letters from missionaries re baptisms, health, conferences, itinerations. There is information on the work of the Biblewomen, minutes of meetings on the openings of new stations, new mission houses and plans for new schools. Miscellaneous material is also to be found such as: newspaper cuttings of the anti-foreign riots at Canton, plans for a hospital at Hangchow, requests for grants as aid for the Native Christians and reports of hospitals such as the Medical Mission Hospital at Hangchow.


When CMS was founded China was closed to all missionaries, though a small Christian community survived from sixteenth century Roman Catholic evangelism. Knowledge of this stimulated English interest in China and in 1807 the London Missionary Society sent out Robert Morrison; he died in 1834 having failed to penetrate beyond the permitted foreign trading areas. CMS had consulted Morrison when he was in England in 1824 and in 1835 corresponded with Charles Gutzlaff, a Prussian evangelist working under the Netherlands Missionary Society. He was renowned for his journeys in defiance of the Chinese authorities, sailing along the coast, distributing tracts wherever he could. His zeal encouraged CMS to send Edward Squire in 1836 to investigate possibilities of work. His reports were discouraging, however, and the outbreak of the first Opium War between Britain and China forced his return to England.

Ironically it was the Opium War that opened China to the Gospel. By the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 five Chinese ports were opened to Europeans (including missionaries); and Hong Kong was ceded to Britain. Many missionary societies immediately started work in mainland China. CMS was in a financial crisis, but an anonymous gift of £7,000 to start a China mission enabled them to send out two missionaries, George Smith and Thomas McClatchie in 1844. By 1847 work was established at Ningpo and Shanghai. In 1849 George Smith became bishop of Victoria, Hong Kong, having missionary jurisdiction over China.

The development of missionary work was beset by many difficulties. The country was vast with a large population and a sophisticated indigenous culture which was highly resistant to Christianity, regarding it as an insidious form of Western influence. Moreover, the language, with its innumerable dialects took many years to master. The educated Chinese (the literati) were violently opposed to the missionaries and encouraged the Chinese authorities to seek disputes with them, often (as at Foochow) over ownership of property. Property fights soured relationships with the British authorities too, exacerbated by the missionaries' denunciation of the opium trade. Then there were civil disturbances which could cause disruption for many years. The Taiping rebellion against the Chinese government which lasted from 1850 to 1866 was one of the most confusing as the rebels incorporated some Christian elements into their dogma and were at first viewed sympathetically by some of the missionaries. Outbreaks of hostility to foreigners were common, one of the worst resulting in the massacre in 1895 of ten missionaries (among them Robert Stewart and family) by insurgents in Fukien.

Despite all this the work prospered. Successive conflicts gradually opened up the interior of the country to Europeans and missionaries extended their work. In 1873 the Rev W Russell was consecrated bishop of North China and in 1880 the bishopric of Mid-China (Shanghai and Chekiang provinces) was established with the Rev G E Moule as its first bishop. In 1897 the mission was divided into three, South China (covering Hong Kong, Kwangtung and Fukien provinces), Mid-China and West China (Szechwan province); Fukien became a separate mission in 1900.

As in other missions prime emphasis had always been given to the training of native clergy and the development of the native church. One of the most important of the training colleges was that at Ningpo, founded by J C Hoare in 1875.

Unlike other countries, however, in which the British ruled, the authorities in mainland China usually opposed mission school education. Although schools were founded at most major mission stations (notably at Foochow, where Robert Stewart succeeded in establishing a college and boarding school) it was medical work that proved the most important instrument of evangelism.

William Welton, the first CMS doctor to go to China, began work in Foochow City in 1850. He was followed by Dr B Van Someren Taylor who started an itinerant mission, helped by medical catechists whom he had trained.

By the 1880s China had the largest group of dispensary hospitals in any one country in which CMS worked. Outstanding work was being done amongst opium addicts (begun in 1866 at Ningpo) and leprosy patients (notably at Pakhoi, from 1890, and Hangchow from 1892).

There were a very large number of missionary societies at work in China and co-operation and discussion were a particular feature, lacking in other areas of CMS work. The Society in particular learned much from Hudson Taylor's successes in Western China where he worked for the China Inland Mission. In 1890 a conference of missionary societies meeting at Shanghai called for 1000 new missionaries in the ensuing five years and of these a modest 44 came through CMS. Nevertheless by 1899 CMS had 196 missionaries assigned to China and, although Anglicans were a tiny minority of the Chinese Christian community there was scarcely a province to which the Gospel had not penetrated and congregations of believers were scattered throughout the length and breadth of the country.

By 1910 eleven Anglican dioceses had been formed. CMS worked on its own in three- Fukien (1906), Chekiang (1909) and Kwangsi and Hunan (1909), and in partnership with an Anglican section of the China Inland Mission in Western China (1895) and the diocese of Victoria Hong Kong. In 1912 the dioceses united to form the Chung Hua Sheng Kung Hui (Holy Catholic Church of China) which in 1930 became a fully constituted province of the Anglican communion.

As CMS work developed the work was gradually separated into five missions. First the work was divided in 1885 between South China and Mid-China (from 1912 called Chekiang). In 1897 Western China was separated from Mid-China; in 1900 Fukien was split from South China; finally in 1911 the work in Kwangsi and Hunan was made independent of South China.

The CMS Archives reveal much about Chinese history and culture. They record the collision between western and indigenous cultures and the changes that resulted from this. They describe the introduction of western medicine, the establishment of schools and the confrontations and compromises between differing religious beliefs. The papers are a rich source for ethnologists, social historians and all those trying to understand China before and after missionary intervention.

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