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Section I: East Asia Missions

Part 11: South China Mission, 1885-1934

This Part continues coverage of the missions to China with the papers of the South China Mission, 1885-1934. It covers Letter Books for 1897-1934 and begins the Original Papers covering those for 1885-1905.

The Letter Books for 1897-1934 contain copies of outgoing correspondence from the Secretary in London to the missionaries. Please note that for Letter Books prior to 1897 researchers should consult the Letter Books for the China Mission in Part 10.
The material covered includes: committee resolutions; instructions to missionaries; memoranda re women’s work; mission estimates; circulars re the missionary response to internal troubles in China; re the University of Hong Kong; the Anglo-Chinese School at St Paul’s College; a circular about the outbreak of war in 1914; a memorandum re the support of the native agency in the mission field; re language schools;

The Original Papers for 1885-1905 covered in this part 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 topics covered include: missionary letters regarding furloughs, health, itinerations, language examinations; the revision of the translation of the mandarin scriptures; an attempt to establish new missions; the necessity for more medical students; reports on the work of the Biblewomen; minutes of the local church councils covering schools, Biblewomen, catechists etc; plans for a new hospital; journals of missionaries including that of Bishop Burdon of Victoria, Hong Kong, describing his tour among the CMS outstations in the Kwan-tang Province in 1886 and that of a doctor detailing his journeys to heal patients and visit converts with descriptions of people of all types met on the way; minutes of conferences; annual reports of the Hospitals; extracts of annual letters describing the year’s work of the missionary; newspaper cuttings; details re salaries and expenses; plans for new mission houses; dictionaries for Chinese tuition; maps and sketches of local places and scenes; vivid details of the Boxer Riots of 1900; regulations for the Native Church; the newsletter for Kwangsi-Hunan.


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.


Work had begun in Hong Kong in 1862 and although it was a natural centre for the mission the main work was concentrated on the mainland. In 1886 Dr Horder opened a hospital in Pakhoi and medical work spread to Limchow in 1902 where a dispensary was established and to Yunnan (later called Kunming) in 1913, where Dr Gordon Thompson was head of the hospital from 1915. Canton was declared a mission station in 1898. Its two outstanding institutions were Holy Trinity College begun in 1908 as a boys' school and until 1914 also a training college for pastors; and St Hilda's school for girls, opened in 1916 under Gertrude Bendelack's leadership. Both schools survived until the Japanese invasion of Canton in 1938.

The greatest concentration of schools, however, was in Hong Kong. St Paul's College founded in 1850 became a boarding-school in 1914 and was still flourishing in the 1970s. St Stephen's College was founded by E Judd Barnett, an outstanding pioneer missionary who was its first warden from 1903. Barnett, who was skilled in organisation and fundraising was also instrumental in the setting up of St. Stephen's Girls' College in 1907 and he played a large part in the founding of Hong Kong University.

As the South China mission was the longest-established CMS mission in China it was not surprising that it achieved more nearly than the other missions the gradual transfer of power from mission to church which was a hallmark of CMS activity in the 1920s and 1930s. A Chinese Church Body had been formed in Hong Kong in 1902 and in 1913 the diocese was formally set up with a constitution and synod. By 1929 the diocesan board of missions had authority over foreign missionaries.

The diocese was led by a succession of men very closely connected with CMS and quite clear that mission was their primary task. R O Hall who was Bishop of Hong Kong from 1932 to 1966 was a remarkable and far-sighted man deeply committed to building up a vigorous Chinese church. He was ahead of his time in ordaining worker-priests (the first in 1938) and in 1944 he ordained Deaconess Florence Lee Tim-oi to the priesthood to serve the Anglican congregation in Macao, who were isolated by the Japanese occupation 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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