Mission to China

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. -- 2 Timothy 3:16

This is the tenth chapter from History of the Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church, edited by Rev. B. F. Tefft and published in 1850. All footnotes were added by me.

Perhaps no heathen country in the world has elicited more attention, for a few years past, than the empire of China. The sympathies of the whole Christian world have been aroused for the salvation of its millions.

When we take into consideration the extent of its population, and the facilities for publishing the Gospel to its sin-ruined millions, there is no field possessing greater interest, or one more eminently calculated to enlist the largest efforts of the Church for its evangelization.

If a line should be drawn from Corea, across to the interior of Asia, touching the southern borders of Russia, and then extended down, through Thibet, to Malacca, and back again, embracing Chin-India, to the place of beginning, we have, in that small triangle, almost half the population of the globe, and certainly more than half the population of the entire heathen world.

And when we consider that the Bible is translated into languages accessible to all this vast population, and that the word of God and the missionary have free course all through these countries, we are compelled to regard it with thrilling emotions, as an immense field “white unto harvest.”

The subject of establishing a Methodist mission in China was frequently brought before the Church, in her periodicals, and through the annual reports of the Corresponding Secretary, and elicited, from time to time, free and full discussion.

In 1846 propositions were made by several individuals, pledging liberal subscriptions, annually, toward the support of a mission to China.

The succeeding year, so general had become the impression, that it was the duty of the Church to engage in that enterprise, the General Missionary Committee, acting conjointly with the Board, determined on the establishment of a mission in China, so soon as suitable missionaries could be obtained.

As it always has been in the history of the Church, so it was in this instance. No sooner was the post selected, than the men were found to fill it, and the means to sustain it.

The bishop appointed two young ministers, of liberal education, ardent piety, and sound constitutions - Rev. Moses. C. White and Rev. J. D. Collins.

These young men embarked in the ship Heber, on the 15th of April, 1847, and arrived at Hongkong on the 14th of August. They were received by the missionaries of the different denominations with every demonstration of respect, and were greatly comforted, in that distant land, by their kindness and hospitality.

In the meantime a committee was appointed by the Board, whose duty it was to take every thing in connection with the China mission under advisement, and devise such plans as, in their judgment, would be most promotive of its interests. After having taken the subject under the most mature deliberation, they presented the following, which was unanimously adopted:


“Your committee, appointed to collect information with respect to our projected mission to China, respectfully report, that they have diligently sought information from all reliable sources within their reach. They have consulted the published reports of the several societies - English and American - which already have missions in that field. They have consulted the secretaries of two of the American missionary societies which have missions there; and have had interviews with two returned missionaries, who have labored in China, but who are now in this country.

“It affords your committee much satisfaction to state, that they have experienced the greatest courtesy at the hands of the several gentlemen whom they have had occasion to consult. These gentlemen, without exception, have manifested great pleasure at the prospect of our becoming fellow-laborers with them in that extensive field, and have communicated, without reserve, for the benefit of this Board, the results of their observation and experience.

“The leading topics which have claimed the attention of your committee, and respecting which they deem it proper to report, are the following:

“1. The proper location of our mission.
“2. Printing and books in China.
“3. The practice of medicine.
“4. The establishment of schools.
“5. The number of missionaries needed.

“1. What is the proper location for our mission in China!
“In considering this subject, our attention is of necessity confined to the five free ports; namely, Shanghai, Ningpo, Fuhchau, Amoy, and Canton, together with the Island of Hongkong, now possessed by the English.

“Of these several places, Canton is much the best known to Americans, having long been the seat of a flourishing trade between our countrymen and the Chinese. In view of convenience in receiving and transmitting intelligence, drafts for funds, etc., this port possesses the greatest advantages, besides being the largest of the five.

“But all accounts agree in representing this as the most unpropitious field for direct missionary operations among the people. Long intercourse with foreigners has had the effect to establish, and settle among the natives, deep prejudices against them, as a class, and to render it at the present time almost impossible to obtain residences, except in the foreign hongs, where the expenses are very great, and opportunities to do good comparatively small. Other missionary societies are withdrawing from this station.

“Hongkong, although next in accessibility to Canton, is not considered an inviting place for residence as a mission station; and, being an island, its connection with the country is not so direct as is desirable. Nevertheless, it has been chosen as a station by several different societies.

“We might thus proceed to survey the several ports on the northern coast. But it will, perhaps, be sufficient to say, that the only one unoccupied by Protestant missionaries, at the present time, is the city Fuhchau-foo, the capital of the Fuhkien province, situated on the river Min. The circumstance of this being, at so late a period, unoccupied by the Protestant missionaries, appears to be rather the result of accident than of purpose. We are, at any rate, distinctly informed, that one of the societies most active in Chinese missions regrets not having made an establishment there rather than at one of the other ports. We also understand that other societies regard the location so favorable as to propose establishing missions there at a future day.

“We have supposed that in selecting the place for our labors, we should do well to regard our Disciplinary maxim - ‘Go not only to those that want you, but to those that want you most.’ Hence we have turned our attention with special interest to Fuhchau, inquiring whether it would afford us opportunities of Christian usefulness. Fortunately, we have an account of the place from a very competent source - the Rev. G. Smith, who was sent out by the Church Missionary Society of England to visit the open ports of China, introductory to the establishment of missions in that empire.

“Another circumstance which inclines us to think favorably of locating our mission at Fuhchau, consists in an opportunity offering for our missionaries to sail in company with the Rev. Mr. Doty, of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, whose destination is Amoy, a city located in the southern part of the same province of Fuhkien. Although the dialects spoken at Amoy and Fuhchau are not identical, yet they are analogous to each other. Indeed the dialect of Amoy more closely resembles that of Fuhchau than that of any other of the free ports. Hence, the instruction our missionaries might derive from Rev. Mr. Doty, who has already been some years in the field, and also from a native of Amoy, who goes out in his company, will be of direct practical use to them on their arrival.

“Finally, should any circumstances occur to render impracticable the immediate entrance of your missionaries upon their work at Fuhchau, or should they, after a faithful trial, find it necessary to withdraw from that field - which we trust, however, will not be the case - they could with comparative ease return to Amoy, which is considered, in every respect, an eligible station.

“2. With respect to books and printing, there is some difference of opinion among our advisers - one party having recommended that we send out a printing-press, another saying that it is unnecessary. The facts appear to be these: The circulation of Christian books and tracts, as well as the holy Scriptures, is of the first importance. It will be the only direct service our missionaries can accomplish for months, if not for a full year after their arrival. But they will, necessarily, be incompetent to prepare these documents for themselves. Hence they will, for a length of time, be dependent, for the purchase of reading matter for use and distribution, upon other missions already established. The American Board has a printing-press at Canton, and the Presbyterian Board has one, together with a type and stereotype foundery, at Ningpo. These Boards have recently united to purchase a new font of matrices for the principal Chinese characters. Said matrices are now being cut n Prussia, and will be sent out as fast as practicable, in order that type may be cast from them to be used in printing.

“The probability is, that from these missions, together with those of English brethren already in the field, a supply, for a long time to come, may be purchased at far less cost than we could provide for printing ourselves.

“3. With respect to the practice of medicine and surgery, we learn that they are desirable for two important objects. (1.) The preservation of health in the mission family. (2.) As a means of gaining attention and doing good among the people. Some of the medical missionaries have been considered second in usefulness to none others now in China. It is not now deemed important to open hospitals proper for the treatment of the sick. A simple office of dispensary is sufficient.

“Although neither of our missionaries are physicians, yet we are pleased to learn that both of them have paid some attention to the theory of medical science; and that one of them has attended two full courses of medical lectures. We trust, therefore, that they will be able, by degrees, and as occasion may require, to fall into such medical practice as may be most essential to their circumstances.

“4. Schools. What we might suppose, from the nature of the case, is confirmed by the experience of those with whom we have converted. Schools, at the earliest practicable moment, are essential to our objects. Little can be done toward a permanent establishment of Christianity anywhere, without training up the young in the fear of God; especially, in a heathen country, where the abominations of idol worship address themselves to the youngest minds, and pullute the imaginations of childhood itself.

“Boarding schools for each sex are now established in the most successful missions in China. Some of these schools have collected from thirty to forty pupils each. The expense of boarding and instructing these pupils is about thirty dollars for each individual, per annum. Native teachers are employed to instruct them in all the rudiments of their own literature.

“One of the missionaries, with whom we have conversed, has suggested a plan for establishing a system of schools in connection with a mission station, which, if practicable, we should be disposed highly to recommend, from its analogy to our economy, generally, as a Church. The plan is, for the missionaries, as soon as they are sufficiently acquainted with the language and people of any place, to employ a number of teachers to establish as many schools in different neighborhoods as practicable, in which a suitable course of instruction should be pursued, subject to the frequent visits and examinations of the missionaries. Congregations would be engaged, collaterally, at least, in diffusing light and truth, and preparing the way for the kingdom of God.

“Labor being cheaper in China, and literary men abundant, this, it is thought, will be an excellent way of multiplying influences in the behalf of Christianity.

“5. The number of missionaries that may, with the greatest advantage, be employed at our mission.

“Our advisers agree in saying there should be three at least, with their wives, if married; but the more of the right stamp the better. These most thoroughly acquainted with Chinese missions assure us that fifty missionaries will be desirable at Fuhchau.

“Finally, your committee have obtained various items of information which they deem it unnecessary to embody in this report, but to which allusion might fitly be made in a letter of instructions to the missionaries.

“With respect to the letter referred to this committee, offering to sell to this Board a telescope for the use of our missionaries, your committee would remark, that their best information goes to point out the preaching of Jesus Christ, and him crucified, as the great, and, indeed, the only means, upon which reliance can be place for success in promoting the conversion of the heathen. They would recommend nothing to Christian missionaries which should divert their attention from this – a leading, principal engagement. Nevertheless, they would by no means be indifferent to any auxiliary aid that science might render to this great work. They, therefore, appreciate the kind intentions of those who have made this offer to the Board, and would recommend that all those friends who feel an interest in the matter be encouraged to cooperate in the effort, already commenced, to secure the telescope of brother Bartlett for the use of the mission. However desirable this object may appear, it is not clear to the minds of your committee, that it would be a safe precedent to make a direct appropriation of the funds of this Board, to purchase the instrument in question.

“Your committee would conclude their report, by respectfully submitting the following resolutions for the consideration of the Board:

“1. Resolved, That the city of Fuhchau be fixed on as the location of our mission to China.

“2. Resolved, That our missionaries, now about to sail, be instructed to remain as long at Amoy as their judgment, aided by the best advice they can secure on the spot, may dictate to them as desirable, in view of their ultimate destination.

“3. Resolved, That in case their way should be permanently hedged up at Fuhchau, they be instructed to return, and remain at Amoy, until they shall have communicated with the Board.

“4. Resolved, That said missionaries be instructed to purchase Scriptures and tracts at Canton, for their future use, and to make arrangements, if practicable, for regular supplies of printed matter, so long as they may find it best to procure them in that manner.

“5. Resolved, That they be directed to purchase, at Canton, two complete sets of the Chinese Repository – one to be forwarded for the use of this Board, and the other to be retained for the use of the mission – and also, to subscribe for two copies of future numbers, to be sent as above.

“6. Resolved, That brother White be instructed to give such portion of his time to the distribution of medicines, and healing the sick, as may seem calculated to promote the best interests of the mission.

“7. Resolved, That our missionaries be instructed, as early as practicable, to open a school for each sex, upon the most approved plan of missionary teaching now known among the Protestant missionaries in China.

“8. Resolved, That the Treasurer be requested to confer with the Rev. Mr. Lowrie, of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, and others, if he see proper, respecting the best method of remitting funds to China for the support of our mission.

“9. Resolved, That our missionaries about to sail be requested to leave with the Corresponding Secretary, for the use of others hereafter, a complete memorandum of the outfit which they find it necessary to prepare before sailing.

“10. Resolved, That this Board recommend the General Missionary Committee to take into consideration, at its meeting in May next, the subject of providing for the appointment of two additional missionaries for China, as early as practicable.

Committee: D. P. Kidder, C. Pitman, Geo. Peck

After remaining at Hongkong for a few days, they embarked for Amoy, where they remained until September, when they proceeded to Fuhchau, the place of their destination. On their arrival at the post selected by the Board as the field of their operations, they procured a place of residence, a description of which will be found in the following letter, together with some other interesting items of information:

“The lot is 112 feet long, 42 feet wide, between the walls at the entrance, and about 52 feet wide at the water’s edge. Next to the water the pier is built up, of granite, from ten to twelve feet high. The premises are about 5 feet above ordinary low-water mark, and about on a level with the ordinary spring floods. The whole country, for many miles around, is flooded occasionally, and many portions of the city are entirely uninhabitable at high water. At such times the sufferings of the poor are exceedingly great. Though the whole island on which we reside is sometimes flooded, the house we have procured is so situated that no special inconvenience is to be expected from floods. The advantages which our location affords, it being within 60 feet of the great thoroughfare, in the most favorable situation for access to the people, and for communication abroad, are supposed greatly counterbalance all its disadvantages. Our location on the river affords great security against fires, which have recently made great havoc on both sides of the river, and but a little distance from it.

“We hire this place at 12,000 copper cash per month, which equals about $9.09 per month; six months’ rent to be paid in advance when we enter the premises, and afterward, monthly, in advance. We have the right of perpetual rent, and of transmitting to our successors under the same conditions. We have made a contract for building the second story, with a flat roof, covered with fine red brick about fourteen inches square, and one inch and a half thick. These are to be laid in cement, on a flooring of plank three and a half inches thick. The house, when completed, will be a very comfortable residence. We have agreed to pay for the improvements $350, besides furnishing glass for the windows. In addition to the improvements contracted for, others will be needed, which will probably bring up the whole amount to $500, besides the monthly rent.

“There is a great amount of stone-work about the premises, which must originally have cost a large sum; but the wood-work we find in a very dilapidated condition. Contrary to the custom in America, a Chinaman never makes repairs on a house to rent, but leaves the occupant to make such alterations and repairs as he chooses. Finding that any house we could procure would need an outlay of one or two hundred dollars for repairs, we thought it best to procure a house in the most healthy location, and then make such improvements as were required. It might have been better, in the course of years, to have rented a vacant lot mentioned in the map of this place which I sent home last month; but it would have required a greater outlay than our present resources would warrant. For this, and other reasons, we did not like to engage in building anew, and have, therefore, adopted the course above-mentioned. The house we hire is owned by a very wealthy man, who has nearly fifty houses. We have contracted with his agent, from whom we hire the house, to make the necessary repairs for a specific sum, so that we may be able to devote our time, with as little interruption as possible, to our appropriate work.

“The population, on the south side of the river, numbers many thousands, who are within a few minutes’ walk of our residence. On the north side of the river, outside the city, in such a vast amount of people, that we supposed, for some time after our arrival, their numbers were much greater than within the walls. Foreigners are allowed to make excursions into the country as far as they can go and return in the same day. Within this range there appears – looking from the top of an adjacent mountain – to be five hundred villages, containing an average population of at least one thousand souls. The city of Fuhchau, as included within the wall, lies two miles or more from the river, and contains a vast population. Without doubt this may be reckoned as a city of the first class. Brother Collins has made efforts to procure a house inside the city proper, but, as yet, without success.

“The medicine chest furnished us by the Board suffered some damage by transportation, and I was obliged to purchase the articles mentioned in my report. The Chinese seem to be very ignorant of the principles of physic and surgery, and there is a great want of some one to devote his chief attention to this department of benevolence. The small supply of medicine we brought with us, and the difficulty of communicating with the people, have prevented my doing much in this line. Indeed, I did not understand my instructions as directing me to devote any great amount of time to this department. I have endeavored, however, as occasion offered, to relieve the afflicted, as far as circumstances would allow. One man was cured of dysentery by a single prescription. The wife of my China teacher, after twelve days’ illness, which the native physicians failed to relieve, was committed to my care by her husband and father, who watched by her bedside. I spent about twenty-four hours at the house, whither I was carried in a close sedan – to prevent exciting a tumult, as I suppose. Since that time I have sent her some medicines, and she is now convalescent, and will probably soon be able to attend to her household duties. Several other persons have called upon me to dress wounds, and relieve other affections. We learned, at Hongkong, that there is some probability of a physician coming to this place, under the direction of the London Medical Society. Should this not be so, we are well satisfied that great benefit would result in sustaining medical and surgical practice in connection with, and as a part of, our missionary operations in this city. All our operations, however, must be limited until we can converse with the people. If any thing more than very limited medical and surgical operations should be contemplated by the Board, a building would be required for that special purpose.

“We obtained a Chinese teacher the next week after we arrived, and have been devoting ourselves to the study of the language as we have had opportunity. But as we have just arrived, and as the weather has been warm, and other duties have demanded our attention, we have not applied ourselves as closely as we hope to do hereafter. Neither servants nor teachers can speak English; therefore, we are obliged to speak Chinese, or resort to signs. These we consider favorable circumstances. We are all enjoying good health. Mrs. W. is learning Chinese as fast as either of us. She has received visits from a number of Chinese ladies, who seem very friendly. We distribute tracts to the numerous visitors who call upon us, and also to others when we go into different parts of the city. The people everywhere receive them with great eagerness. When we look at the vast field which is here spread out before us, we are ready to say, ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ But when we look at the precious promises of God, we rejoice in spirit that he has permitted us to come to this land of strangers to publish the Gospel. May the Lord put it into the hearts of his people to send more laborers to this important and inviting field.”

The following communication was received by the Board from Rev. Mr. Collins; it is deeply interesting, and affords additional information relative to the mission:

“We had no alternative but to charter a boat at Hongkong to make the passage to this place. This we did at an expense of $300, exclusive of board, which we were obliged to furnish. We find the people here generally industrious and kindly disposed. The tracts which we have for distribution are everywhere received with eagerness. The Board is aware that this city is situated on the river Min, and that it is the seat of government for the Fuhkien Province. The city proper is surrounded by a strong wall, and does not approach the river nearer than two or three miles. Upon the little island of Tong Chew[1], formed by a division of the river, and about three miles from the principal gate of the city, it is thought foreigners may find residences healthy, as little liable to interruption, and as easy of access from abroad, as at any other location. It is probably preferable in all the respects I have named. Moreover, on the island, and on both sides of the river, with which it is connected by bridges, there is a population of several hundred thousand - all within half an hour’s walk. Here we have selected a place of permanent location. A house has been bargained for at a permanent rent of about $9 per month, as long as we may choose to occupy it. But, like almost all houses purely Chinese, it would not, in its present condition, be a comfortable residence, nor would it be consistent with a due regard to health for foreigners to occupy it as such. Could we have found a house in anywhere suitable even for a temporary residence, it would have been satisfactory for us to have consulted with the Board before making a permanent location. But this was impracticable. It has, therefore, been thought best to improve the one we have selected. To do this will probably require an expenditure of about $500. Brother White will give you an account of the premises, and of the improvements contemplated. As there are no missionaries within the city proper, it seemed to us that an entrance should be made there. I accordingly made an effort, through my teacher, to obtain a house, and in October struck a bargain for one not quite finished, which, when completed, was to be rented to me for $4 per month. I was highly gratified at the facility with which this arrangement had been effected. In a few days, however, I learned that the neighbors were unwilling that the house should be rented to a foreigner. As we were quite unable to hold such intercourse with them as might be calculated to remove their prejudices, it was deemed best to release the owner from his contract. Some time after this I sent to inquire whether a room might not be obtained in a temple within the city, as such rooms had been rented to the foreigners connected with the English Consulate, though never occupied. A room was found, from which the priests in charge agreed to remove the idols. We paid a month’s rent in advance, and employed a carpenter to make some small repairs; and, as is the universal custom here, advanced part payment. Here again we were thwarted. The officers threatened to punish the priests if they rented; and for the part my had taken he was obliged to pay about $3. We did not think it right for him to suffer on our account, and therefore paid him back. On inquiring of the officers, we were informed that they had no objection to our residing within the walls, but that those who had subscribed toward building the temple were unwilling that any part of it should be rented. The priest was compelled to refund the rent; but, as I had reason to believe that in good faith he had been at considerable expense on our account, I paid him $3.

“There are half a million of people living inside the walls. By the treaty the whole place is open to foreign residents; and, though we have unexpectedly failed in our first endeavor, we entertain hopes, by prudent perseverance, of making a home among them. We deem this the more important, as there are already two missionaries besides ourselves on the island, and none within the city proper. My health is good, and I am permitted to enjoy rich spiritual blessings at the hand of my heavenly Father. I am endeavoring to acquire the language, and trust I am making some progress.

“It seems to be the opinion of those with whom I have conversed on the subject, that it is hardly advisable to establish English schools; and that even such as employ the scholars part of the time in English, are, by many, supposed to be of questionable utility. At all the schools where English is taught, it is usual to board the lads, and furnish them with books, as well as to give them instruction. Board, such as is used by the Chinese, is very cheap, probably not exceeding $2 a month for a boy. In addition, a Chinese teacher must be employed to instruct them half of each day in their own language. Another method recommended by some, is to employ a Chinese teacher, and hire a room for the accommodation of such day scholars as may choose to attend, and learn Chinese half the day, and study such Christian books as the missionary may direct the other half. The expense of such a school would be, perhaps, $12 or $15 dollars per month. Which would be best here, or at what time it would be proper to establish either, is yet uncertain. It is probable that within a year we shall be able to enter upon some plan for the instruction of the children. In the meantime, we shall endeavor to make a further acquaintance with the language and habits of the people. There is plainly much of idolatry here; but it does not seem to produce those exhibitions of cruelty which it does elsewhere. It sits, however, as a blight upon the soul. It deadens the conscience. It shuts out God, the only wise, and leaves no room for the Savior. What a field is this for missionary labor! We seem as a drop in the ocean amid the mighty tide of life moving around us. O that the Lord would send more laborers, and abundantly bless their labors in this land of moral death!”

We subjoin an extract from a joint communication of brother White and Collins on the subject of printing tracts and books in the Chinese language. All such information is very important to the Board, and cannot fail to be interesting to the friends of this new mission. The dispatches of our brethren, thus far, have been a most gratifying character, containing much valuable information, and many useful suggestions, which cannot fail to exert a happy influence upon the deliberations and decisions of those to whose direction and care the interests of this mission may be intrusted. Every item of information, bearing directly or indirectly upon the interests and success of the mission, is peculiarly important as the present time. The following is the extract:

“In compliance with our instructions to purchase tracts for gratuitous distribution - no amount having been specified - we purchased of Dr. Ball about ten thousand tracts of various kinds, and received from him gratuitously, of the American Bible Society’s publications, as follows: Matthew’s Gospel, five hundred; of Mark, five hundred; Luke, one hundred and sixty; John, four hundred; the Acts of the Apostles, five hundred; all translated by Dr. Medhurst. These, we believe, were printed by Chinese, under the supervision of Dr. Ball, without a press. It is quite probably that Chinese printing can be done cheaper in this than in any other manner, and, in consideration of the comparative expense of material and labor, cheaper at this place than at either of the other open ports. In view of this, as also of the great danger, delay, and expense of transportation, from other ports, it is thought by the brethren of the American Board, as well as ourselves, to be decidedly better to have blocks cut, and printing done here, than to depend for supplies from abroad. Blocks for any considerable work can be obtained here, of the very best kind, at the rate of 80 cash per hundred characters - seventeen hundred and fifty characters for a Spanish dollar of 1400 cash, or sixteen hundred and fifty for a Mexican dollar of 1320 cash - as these are about the average rates of exchange. Blocks for the entire New Testament would cost about one hundred and thirty dollars. The translation of the Bible is now undergoing revision by several learned men at Shanghai, and, when completed, will probably be the most suitable version for circulation.

“So far as we are able to judge, it would be desirable that each missionary should be furnished with a good dictionary. Morrison’s is everywhere spoken of as by far the best extant; though Medhurst’s Dictionary of the Mandarin and Vocabulary together would answer a very good purpose. Williams’ Vocabulary, and Pormases’ ‘Notitia Linguæ Sinicæ,’ are also valuable aids. Bridgeman’ Christomathy of the Canton Dialect, Medhurst’s Dictionary of the Fuhkien, Williams’ Easy Lessons - in a word, all books of provincial dialects - are of comparatively little use here.”

The mission to China was reinforced by the appointment of two additional missionaries - Rev. Henry Hickok and Rev. Robert S. Maclay, who embarked for their field of labor in October, 1847.


[1]: 中洲 (Dŏng-ciŭ).

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Last updated: 2009/04/18