IN February of the year 1875, the British Consular Agent, Margary, while travelling in the Province of Yunnan, was attacked by bandits and killed. The murder of this British Official having, it was believed, been committed at the instigation of the Governor of the Province, a series of negotiations took place in Peking, which ultimately resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Chefoo, by which liberty was obtained for all British subjects to travel throughout the length and breadth of the Empire, “without let or hindrance.”
The granting of this privilege gave a great impetus to the work of the itinerating missionary, and the China Inland Mission, whose aim was to carry the gospel to the then unoccupied provinces, at once took advantage of the opportunity. They sent missionaries to explore the unknown land, and at the same time made known the great need for men and women to devote themselves to missionary work in the towns of the interior. J. Hudson Taylor by his work “China's Spiritual Needs and Claims,” and by personal advocacy of the claims of China upon the Home Churches, during the years 1876 to 1884, greatly stimulated interest in Missions in this country. The publication of accounts of the journeys of men who had traversed the interior, telling of the now opening door into the great land which had been so long sealed, and of the new opportunities for preaching the Gospel, also contributed to develop interest.
One of the articles published about this period, by Dr. George King, was entitled, “Shall the Gospel be preached to this generation of the Chinese?” Several members of the Society of Friends reading it, were impressed with the fact that the Society had no representatives engaged in missionary effort in China, and felt that the time had come for them to have a share in the privilege of spreading the knowledge of Christ in the Far East.
About this time also Robert J. Davidson of Hillsborough, in the North of Ireland, was feeling himself called by God to devote his life to the spread of the Gospel in China. In the spring of 1883 he wrote to Thomas W. Fisher, who was local Secretary of the F.F.M.A. in Ireland, asking him whether the Association was prepared to commence work in that land, and to entertain offers for service there. Some delay occurred before any reply was forthcoming, and then it contained little hope of Friends entering upon so great an undertaking, but R. J. Davidson's letter was sent to the Honorary Secretary at Leominster. In reply, H. S. Newman wrote that there '' did not appear any immediate prospect of Friends sending missionaries to China,'' but that in the issue of The Friend for the current month was a letter showing that others were also feeling the claims of that vast Empire, and were prepared to find the means to support a missionary, if any one was found who was believed to be called of God to the service.
The following is the letter referred to above.
SHALL THE GOSPEL BE PREACHED TO THIS GENERATION OF CHINESE?
(To the Editor of The Friend),
Dear Friend, -- No doubt many of your readers have seen an article entitled “Shall the Gospel be preached to this generation of Chinese?” It was recently read at a small Friends’ Foreign Mission Association working meeting, in consequence of which £60 annually has been promised by Friends in --- Meeting, for the support of a Missionary in connection with the China Inland Mission.
Any Friend willing to offer himself or herself to Christ for this service (subject to the approval of the China Inland Mission) is requested to communicate with “China,” care of Editor.
Shall the Society of Friends remain any longer unrepresented in, this wholly unsectarian Society for the spread of the Gospel in China, where it has no mission of its own, even though the population is nearly one-third that of the whole world? Surely someone will offer* If, however, no reply is received by the end of October, the money will be sent to the China Inland Mission, and the missionary whom they send we shall look upon and sympathise with as our representative.
Will your readers pray the Lord of the harvest to send forth the right labourer?
I am yours truly,
Replies to this offer were received from Henrietta Green, R. J. Davidson and two other friends. Some members of the Committee of the F.F.M.A. felt the whole circumstances to be a direct call of God to the Society to consider its duty to the Chinese, and that the time had come to commence direct work in connection with the Association rather than that Friends should join some other Mission; and accordingly these friends were asked to meet the Committee. Henrietta Green, who had conducted a successful mission work at Elsenham, in Essex, having recently recovered from a serious illness, felt that her restored life must be devoted to the work of God in China. Her desire was entered into most sympathetically by the committee of the Association in September 1883, and the important decision arrived at that the F.F.M.A. should widen its sphere of influence and that Friends should not be behind their brethren in endeavouring to carry the Gospel to the Chinese. The step thus taken in faith, in obedience to the guidance of the Spirit of God, was the beginning of the Friends' Mission in China, which has grown to be one of the most important branches of the F.F.M.A., having now twenty- four missionaries on the field.
Having thus decided to commence a Mission in China, the question naturally arose as to where in that vast Empire the Mission should be planted. J. Hudson Taylor was then in England, and he, with other members of the China Inland Mission, was consulted as to the most suitable place for Friends to begin work. In the previous year Chentu, the capital of the great Western Province of Sz-Chwan had been occupied by Protestant Missionaries for the first time. Missionaries at work in Shen-si had found immigrants from Sz-Chwan more devoted to religion than the people of other provinces. Their temples were kept in better repair, they speilt large amounts on idolatry, and Roman Catholic missions had been very successful in gaining adherents in the province. It was therefore urged that they might be especially susceptible to the influences of the Gospel.
At that time only two cities in the whole province, Chungking and Chentu, were occupied by missionaries, and of these there were only six or seven all told, both men and wives. There was thus scope enough among the millions of the province, for many missionary societies to carry on work, without overlapping the labours of others.
The information thus gained favourably impressed those responsible for the selection of a locality for the Friends’ mission, and the workers on the field to-day thank God for the guidance then given. The province of Sz-Chwan certainly has attractions and advantages for good missionary work not shared, in like measure, by any other of the eighteen provinces.
The committee of the F.F.M.A. accepted Henrietta Green's offer, and she went to London for special medical study, in preparation for her future work. Thus at the call of God, and in dependence upon Him, she went forth bravely as a pioneer of Friends' Missions in an untried field, ready at all costs to do what she believed was her duly, and the Church at home, as well as the people in China, have reaped the benefit of her faithfulness. She helped to create in the Society of Friends an interest for missionary work there, in days when the claims of the Chinese had little weight in the Church.
Henrietta Green sailed for China, with a company of the China Inland Mission workers in September, 1884, with the purpose of carrying out the plan already decided on, of commencing work in Chentu. This purpose she was never able to accomplish, for on reaching Hankow she found that the British Consul declined to grant passports to single ladies for travelling further west, owing to the war then going on between France and China. Thus her way inland closed, and she gladly accepted a home, for the time being, with Mr. and Mrs. Arnold Foster, of the London Missionary Society, in Hankow. Eventually she took up work in that neighbourhood, opening a dispensary for women and children in a village near by, where many gratefully received her patient self-denying ministrations. A little later on she severed her connection with the F.F.M.A., settling down to work in and around Hankow. In February, 1887, she returned to England on account of ill-health, but went out once more to China in January, 1888, in the hope of continuing the work that was so dear to her heart. Then followed a year of weakness and increased sickness and, in April, 1889, she had to leave that country. In May, 1890, closed the earthly life of our first Missionary to China.
To some this may seem a short record of missionary work; to others it may be a cause of regret that the first object was not attained, and Sz-Chwan never reached. But with those who knew Henrietta Green intimately in China, there is no place for these thoughts. It was well said in the Memoirs, printed for private circulation, “Short as her time in the mission field was, her influence will last on, mighty on the right side -- the side of undoubting faith in, and implicit obedience to, the guidance of the Holy Spirit.” Even the heathen Chinaman who was engaged as a teacher to help her in acquiring the language said, “You are a good woman and God will bless you.” A fellow-missionary who knew her well has expressed his belief in the " much, real solid fruit " that has resulted from her Christ-like ministry to the Chinese in Hankow, so that of her it may be truly said, “ She was faithful to what she felt to be the will of God for her and was blessed in that faithfulness.”
In 1885 Robert John and Mary Jane Davidson were accepted by the F.F.M.A. for work in China. R. J. Davidson was the eldest of a family born in Ireland, whose father had wished before his death that some of his sons might be missionaries in China.
Mary J. Davidson was already well-known in Mission work in London. They left England in September, 1886.
On the night of their farewell meeting, at Hart's Lane, (now called Barnet Grove), Bethnal Green, London, the scene of their previous missionary work, the placards of the evening newspapers announced a great riot in Chungking in West China. The missionaries had been driven from their homes, and their houses and churches burnt. This was not encouraging news for those about to start on a journey which would take them through that very place. It was felt at the time that this might seriously affect plans for proceeding to West China, as the war had done in H. Green's case, and so it proved.
On the 18th November Mr. and Mrs. Davidson reached Hankow, having called at Nanking on their way up-river, to consult J. Hudson Taylor as to the possibility of moving westward. It was found impossible to proceed to Chentu, via the Yang Tse and Chungking, and Mr. Taylor then suggested an alternative route, via the river Han, as far as the city of Han-chung and from there overland to Chentu. This appeared a roundabout way of reaching Sz-Chwan, but it was thought that as a very successful work was being carried on among the Sz-Chwan immigrants in the neighbourhood of Hanchung, it would be a good centre from which to approach the province. The missionaries, however, consulted the Committee, and awaited instructions from home before attempting that long journey. A house was rented in Hankow for a few months where much valuable experience of missionary work, and intercourse with missionaries of various societies, was obtained. Specially do our missionaries remember, with deep thankfulness, their intercourse with both Dr. Griffith John of the London Missionary Society, and the saintly David Hill of the Wesleyan Mission. They were as fathers to our mission in those early days, and the influence of their inspiring example and advice has never been lost.
In February, the missionaries received a cablegram, which had been delayed twelve days on the way, that read as follows : -- “ proceed Hanchung this Spring,” and arrangements were made accordingly. The last night before starting on their long up-river journey was spent at the Wesleyan mission, and David Hill “accompanied them to the ship” and lifted his voice in prayer for a blessing on their untrodden way, and bid them "God-speed." For ten long and weary weeks they journeyed up the river Han, in a small, windowless house-boat. Mr. Botham, of the China Inland Mission went with them and was a congenial companion and interpreter. At last on a Sunday morning in May, 1887, the city of Hanchung was reached, and a hearty welcome was given to the travellers by Dr. William Wilson and his wife, of the China Inland Mission.
The first itinerating journey into Sz-Chwan was undertaken by R. J. Davidson in July, 1887, but only the range of hills dividing that province from Shen-si was crossed, and some books were sold in the villages on the other side. Robert J. Davidson, having had some medical training in England, was asked by Dr. Wilson to take charge of his dispensary work during his absence on furlough, so that until the spring of 1889, with the help of an able native assistant, that work was steadily pursued, as also the study of the language.
Yet the objective of Sz-Chwan was kept well in view, information being gained from missionaries, and from natives of the province who had become residents in Hanchung, which all helped to a better understanding of the method of procedure in opening up work in an unoccupied city. Hanchung was then the only city in the province of Shen-si open to missionary effort. Attempts had been made by several men to obtain a footing in Si-ngan, the capital, but without success, and the knowledge gained by these various experiences was helpful and instructive.
The view was held by Friends at home that our Mission should endeavour to occupy a portion of the province of Sz-Chwan in which the work might be carried on without overlapping that of other missions. This was the plan already adopted in India and Madagascar, where a certain portion of the country is set apart, by mutual agreement between the various Societies, as the F.F.M.A. district. In accordance with this view, an effort was made to accomplish this purpose.
Just about this time the city of Pao-ning, in the North-East of Sz-Chwan, was opened to missionary work, and considerable difficulty was experienced in obtaining a residence there. Only in three other places in the whole province was resident missionary work being carried on. There was therefore a wide field quite untouched by Christian workers, where there was ample room for Friends, without entrenching upon the spheres of others. Dr. Wilson's medical assistant, Sie, came from the prefectural city of T'ung Ch'wan, and, when he heard that we were looking to go into the province of Sz-Chwan, he suggested our aiming to settle in the large prefecture of that name, as a most suitable sphere for our efforts, and affording the opportunity we desired of a district in which other Societies were not labouring. The political division of the province into prefectures (Fu), each of which governs a number of counties (Hsien), made what seemed a suitable division.
Our aim was to find such a district near Chentu, and, when we learnt that T'ung Ch'wan was only three days from the capital, it seemed as if it might be the place in which the Lord would have us labour. Mr. Sie offered to render what assistance he could in renting a house in T'ung Ch'wan, and expressed his willingness to return to his old home, and, through his friends and neighbours, help to obtain a footing in the district. These were days of difficulty, little understood by present arrivals on the mission field. It was difficult to find anyone willing to rent to the foreigner, and when one was found, after much trouble, another difficulty arose â€” the officials were much opposed to the residence of missionaries in their cities. Foreigners had then only Treaty rights to travel in the interior of China. No provision was made for their residence beyond the Treaty Ports and, where houses were rented in other cities, the missionaries remained only on sufferance, both of the people and of the officials. If opposition were shown in any form, there was little hope of doing much permanent work. Eighteen years have brought immense changes and, though there is still no definite treaty right, a certain prescriptive right now prevails, and houses can be rented and property bought in nearly every city in the vast Empire.
In those days, it was generally necessary to pay a number of preliminary visits to a city, trying to make friends with the people, and getting them accustomed to the sight of the foreigner, before making any attempt at securing premises.
In the end of 1887, the first visit of this kind was paid to T'ung Ch’wan. The city is situated on the river Fu, a tributary of the Chia-ling which joins the Yang Tse at Chungking, and is on the main road between Pao-ning and Chentu. There is good river and postal communication between the city and Chung-king, and it is the principal market for the extensive silk trade of central Sz-Chwan. It lies in a small, well-cultivated plain, with the river Fu forming its eastern boundary. A small stream flows through the plain from the west, skirting the southern wall, while immediately outside the western gate is a rocky eminence surmounted by a temple which overlooks the whole city.
There are a good number of trees throughout the city, so that viewed from a distance; it gives the impression of being well-wooded. The people are generally well dressed and clean, though the prefecture as a whole is poor. The soil is not suited for the growth of rice, and the population has to depend mainly on the adjoining prefecture of Mien-cheo to supply this. Yet T'ung Ch' wan was in many respects well suited as a locality for a first attempt at settlement. In the following year, therefore, when another visit was made, a small house was rented, with the hope that it might be occupied by our missionaries, on the return of Dr. Wilson to Hanchung. Meanwhile a knowledge of the language and customs of the people was being acquired, besides some practical work being done in the Hanchung Dispensary, and the experience thus gained proved invaluable in the following years.
At the same time, the spirit of opposition to the foreigner was also quietly at work. The county official, the Hsien magistrate of T'ung Ch'wan, informed the Viceroy of the province that foreigners had rented premises in his city, and asked for instructions which were only too readily forthcoming. The foreigner had no right to rent a house outside any treaty port"; and he must not be permitted to take up residence there. As soon as he arrived with any intention of staying, he must be asked to “move on " or take all risks, for his passport only stated that he was permitted to travel, and travel he must if he passed that way. Still it was hoped that a personal representation on the spot might improve the feeling, and as long as we held possession of the house, a tiny unpretentious one at a modest rental of only about fifty shillings a year, this hope was entertained. More than a year thus passed, but even time brought no more friendly feeling.
When Dr. Wilson returned to Hanchung, in May, 1889, he was accompanied by Caroline N. Southall, who had been accepted by the F.F.M.A. for our China Mission, and who was warmly welcomed as a fellow -worker.