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Section I: East Asia Missions

Part 15: Western China Mission, 1897-1934

This material continues coverage of missions to China with the papers of the Western China Mission, 1897-1934. It includes the Letter Books for 1897-1934 and includes most of the Original Papers covering the years 1898-1928. The remaining Original Papers to 1934 will be included in Part 16.

The Letter Books for 1897-1934 contain private and confidential letters from the Secretary in London to individual missionaries. Material includes: circulars re Chinese students; rules for a Women’s Conference in the Western China Mission; a circular re the outbreak of war in 1914; a memorandum re support of the Native Agency in the mission field; a circular re the China Advisory Council. The great majority of the letters contain instructions to missionaries.

The Original Papers, 1898-1928 are the incoming papers sent by the missions to London. They contain letters regarding all manner of subjects, the current political situation in China being covered in depth. Letters from missionaries describe the riots in 1898 which destroyed the mission, the anti-Christian outbreak in 1899, the unrest in Peking in 1900 and the disturbances in Sintu in 1911. There are letters from missionaries describing their first impressions, requesting furloughs, increases in salary, permission to marry, illness and retirement and there are vivid descriptions of their travels in the countryside around the missions. These are contained in the missionaries’ letters, journals and annual reports. An interesting account is to be found in the papers for 1909 by the missionary Rose Lawrence describing her travels up river to Seng-Pan. She tells how the inhabitants had only seen a foreign woman once before. Deaths and funerals of missionaries are also described in detail by their colleagues.

Reports, Minutes and Pamphlets of all kinds are to be found including: Minutes and Recommendations of the West China Women’s Conference; copies of The West China Religious Tract Society; The Bulletin of the Diocese of Western China; a report of the West China Missions Advisory Board; the regulations of the West China Mission; a leaflet of the West China Educational Union; reports on the progress and policy of the West China Mission; a copy of The Western China CMS Notes; many reports from the University; a statement regarding a Woman’s College for West China and a booklet on science in Szechuan.

Items related to finance cover: discussions about missionary salaries, Diocese statistics; educational statistics; minutes of the Standing and Finance Committee; statistics of staff and churches.

Miscellaneous items include: notices of examinations in Chinese, maps of the Western China Mission area and of Sichuan; colourful postcards depicting Chinese scenes sent by missionaries to headquarters in London; certificates of good health of missionaries; requests for more missionaries to be sent out to China; probation reports of missionaries; instructions on how the new Union Christian University should be run; a list of Protestant missions in Western China, 1909; photographs of famine sufferers; plans for a new college at Mienchow; line drawings depicting the West China University; maps re educational work; photographs of the first graduates from the University; plans for the extension to the Mienchow Boy’s School; a pamphlet A Review of Ten Years describing the work of the West China Union University.

The papers contain many copies of The West China Missionary News beginning with some of the first editions in 1899 which were handwritten. The issues contain interesting articles and the later ones include photographs of the missionaries and the local Chinese.

There are also newspaper cuttings covering subjects such as: the rioting in the Yang-Tse Valley; missionary journeys in China; the urgent need for more missionaries in China.


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 Western China mission began in 1891 when J H Horsburgh led a pioneer party to Chungking in the province of Szechwan. By 1894 work had started in Mienchow, Chungpa, Anhsien, Mienchu and Sintu. All missionaries wore Chinese dress and their hallmark was direct personal evangelism. The province was isolated, the missionaries scattered and the persistent disturbed state of the countryside with war, banditry and general unrest made the work difficult and dangerous.

The diocese of Western China was formed in 1895 and the CMS work was in the west of the region, the eastern part being worked by the China Inland Mission. Bishop W W Cassels was working on a draft constitution for the diocese in 1910 but the reluctance at CMS headquarters to encourage rapid constitution making when there were no Chinese clergy in the CMS area and also the delicate relationshp with CIM areas where church membership was considerably in advance of CMS made progress slow. Only the evacuation of all the missionaries in 1927 forced the pace. In 1929 C T Song and H L Ku were consecrated assistant bishops but even in the 1930s the missionary conference was still more influential than the diocese.

Medical work in Western China centred on dispensaries with a hospital at Mienchu for thirty years under the charge of Dr J H Lechler. In education the missions provided primary schools in most stations and there were boarding-schools at Mienchow, but they never developed the large schools and colleges such as those in Hong Kong.

CMS also contributed to West China Union University College by appointing H G Anderson to the teaching staff (from 1938 to 1959 he was to be Medical Secretary at headquarters). The Union University had been set up by four missions from other denominations (American and Canadian) as a centre of Christian education and CMS was not connected with it until 1910 when Bishop Cassels appointed James Stewart as warden of the Anglican hostel. In 1919 CMS became a full partner, providing a series of members of staff in both the medical and arts faculties.

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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