IN July, 1889, R. J. and M. J. Davidson, with their little child, just seven weeks old, left Hanchung for their settlement in Sz-Chwan ; Caroline N. Southall remaining behind for a time, busy with the language. A ten days’ journey across the moun- tains and over the great main road to Chentu was lengthened into a tedious one of seventeen days, owing to heavy thunder- storms and intense heat, and the little baby arrived “more dead than alive,” early a sufferer for the sake of the Gospel ! They halted at Pao-ning, where Bishop Cassels of the China Inland Mission had kindly offered hospitality, and there the mother and baby were welcomed into the ladies' house, where the kindness of Miss Elizabeth Hanbury (now the wife of Dr. Wilson, formerly of Hanchung) was a further link in the chain of providences which marked those early days of the mission in so many ways.
R. J. Davidson at once proceeded to Tung Ch'wan to make the final arrangements for the settlement of the mission, but no sooner had the District Magistrate realised that the foreigner had come to stay, than he began to coerce the landlord of the little house that had been rented, threatening to punish him if he did not see that the foreigner gave it up. Both the Prefect and District officials refused to be interviewed by R. J. Davidson, but sent him messages through the landlord saying he had no “right” to be there. Letters were written, but all without effect. The magistrate knew that he was backed by the Viceroy, so the screw was tightened on the aged landlord, as the most effectual way of dealing with the missionary. The landlord was a Mohammedan, and had behaved with no common courtesy and kindness from the beginning, taking R. J. Davidson and his native companion into his own house, and liberally providing for their needs. He felt, as he said, a bond of union between them, in the use of the name “Lord,” when speaking of God whom he also worshipped, such as was not realised with the heathen. At last the old man appeared one day with a criminal's chain round his neck, accompanied by a number of lictors, and prostrating himself before the foreigner said, “I have never been so disgraced in public before. Can you do nothing to have me freed ? I do not wish to turn you out, but neither I nor my family can bear this disgrace, and the shame of public punish- ment by the magistrate." Then his sons and brothers besought that the house might be given up, or representation made to the British official. What could the missionary do but leave the city for a time ? “When they persecute you (through your landlord) in this city, flee ye into another." There was no other course but to go ; the door was still closed and the time had not yet come to open it. Yet what was a sore disappointment at the time was no real hindrance to the work, for God had other purposes and plans in store for the China mission.
R. J. Davidson went out of Tung Ch'wan with a heavy heart, for had he not walked round and round the walls of that city, and up and down its streets, and longed to preach to its people the everlasting Gospel, which he knew they needed so sorely, believing God wanted them to hear. Such as these are dark days of testing in the life of any missionary, when it becomes a very real thing to walk by faith and not by sight.
He turned to the only place which seemed open to him, the busy commercial city of Chungking, and the future deve- lopments of the mission proved how much cause he had to be encouraged by the first message he received on reaching there. In a letter from England came a little card on which was the promise, which has been so abundantly fulfilled – “He shall choose our inheritance.” It was taken not only as a promise, but as the sincere desire of the missionary that there should be no self-choosing of any place, but that God Himself should plant the mission where He would, should Himself open the door; and in the full confidence that when He opens no man can shut.
T’ung Ch’wan being closed, another home for the Mission was sought and a brief visit was paid to Chungking. Missionaries, already there, pointed out the great need and importance of that city. The London Mission had only commenced their work a few months ; the China Inland Mission had but that spring been reinforced since the riot of 1886, * and the few Missionaries of the American Methodist Episcopal Mission were busy recon- structing their work, after the havoc wrought. The city, in many respects of first importance in the province, has a dense and industrious population, and as the rendezvous of traders from all the country round, it offered a wide sphere for the best efforts of a large number of missionaries.
A temporary home, offered to our missionaries by Dr. and Mrs. Cameron of the China Inland Mission, was gratefully accepted, and it was arranged that the three members of our mission should take up residence in Chungking for a time, until further plans could be developed. Caroline N. Southall went overland to Pao-ning, and Robert J. Davidson returned there to take her with his family to Chungking, where a small house was rented until the following spring, when the large premises in the White Dragon Fountain Street became the first real home of the Mission. The native house in the third court was adapted for a residence for the missionaries, and buildings in the first and second courts provided accommodation for a preaching hall, dispensary, girls' school, and a small preaching room near the street entrance.
* See reference to this on p. 157.
In March, 1890, the opening services were held, members of other missions being present and taking acceptable part. Then followed the struggle usual in those days. Crowds of sightseers attended the services, curious about the foreigner, and specially anxious to catch sight of the ladies. There was no idea of an orderly meeting, or attentive listening to the preacher; men stood in clusters round the door, or hustled in and out according to their own sweet will, occasionally leaving en masse in the midst of the sermon, on hearing the noise of theatrical performances commencing in the God of Thunder temple close by.
During the week the dispensary was opened, and an effort was made, with marked success as time went on, to win the confidence of the people, by kindly attention to their bodily ailments. Those who thus came were enlightened as to the object for which the missionary was amongst them, and many heard the Gospel message for the first time.
In the autumn of 1890 the missionaries felt so short-handed that they cabled to England asking if help could not be sent, and received the encouraging reply that Frederic S. Deane was just starting to join them. After giving some time to the language, he removed to the Nine Wells house on the Ta Liang Tsz (Great Ridge Street), and commenced there in 1892, the Boys' School, which has ever since had a prominent place in the work of the mission. That winter three more workers were added to the little band. Leonard Wigham joined F. S. Deane at the young men's house, while Alice M. Beck and Margaret Southall went to the other mission house. On these premises Caroline N. Southall had already started the Girls’ School, which has also remained ever since an important branch of the work.
Thus the mission was planted, and the first years were marked by much toil and little apparent result. It was in fact a time of ploughing the ground, which was hard and full of stones, and only in looking back from the changed aspect of the present can the signs of progress be marked. Gradually the meetings became more settled. Men were recognised as repeating their visits and giving more attention to the preaching. The women were encour- aged to keep their pipes in their hands, and to wait until the meeting was over for their smoke ; and the little school girls were taught to avoid spitting on the floor or talking to one another during service. At last there came a happy day for the missionary, who had long been striving to prepare the way of the Lord, when two men walked into his study with their arms full of idols which they desired to renounce, confessing their belief in the one True God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent to be the Saviour of the world. One of these men still remains in more or less bondage to his opium pipe, from which he has made many attempts to be freed. An intelligent man, he understands the Gospel story but not its power and is still only classed as an inquirer. The other after long probation was received as a Church member, eventually becoming an evangelist, until his death in 1900, during the enforced absence of the missionaries.
Two other men of those early days deserve mention, both of whom accompanied the missionaries from Hanchung when they settled in Sz-Chwan. Chang first heard the gospel from Miss Elizabeth Hanbury, who spent much time and patience in in- structing him. He still remains a member of the Church in Chung-king, and has proved a faithful servant for many years. The other, Li, had been a butcher, but became a servant in the mis- sionary's house. He learnt dispensing, and worked well, keeping his dispensary clean and tidy, and working in the house between whiles. He also did some able preaching in the street chapel, and seemed likely to be a valuable helper, but was suddenly cut off with fever, and is buried in the little Christian cemetery outside the city. These two men were the first native members added to our number.
Beside the anti-foreign feeling then prevalent throughout the province other influences proved marked hindrances to the work. Riots and rumours of expected riots often kept the missionaries on the qui vive, ready to leave should occasion arise. Clothing, when taken off at night, was put in an easy position for hurried dressing, and little pieces of silver were carried on the person, in case there was need to pay chair-bearers to carry the missionary to a place of safety. One little girl, the daughter of a fellow-missionary in the city, was found one day with her pocket stuffed full of handkerchiefs. When asked why she had taken so many, the child replied, " I thought they would be handy if we had to run again to the Yamen for safety." This gives a little idea of one side of missionary life in the interior in those early days, which it may not be out of place to recall when we consider the vast changes sweeping over the country at the present time.
In those days the missionary could not go from one city to another without official escort, and the daily official enquiry, as to when he would " move on," if he seemed inclined to make some tarriance. No wonder that one of them, on a long itinerat- ing journey, weary of such constant attention from the officials, wrote home saying, “I feel like the little London shoe-black who replied to the policeman's ‘move on’ with the question, ‘But, please Sir, where am I to move to?’ “Children were taught to flee from the foreigner, when he passed by, as if he were a dangerous kidnapper. This was an accusation often brought against him, and men would carefully draw their queue before the nose to avoid the unpleasant odour of the poor foreigner, who was made in any and every way to realise that he was indeed, not only a pilgrim and a stranger in the land, but a very unwelcome one into the bargain.
As the year 1893 drew on, and the work, in spite of many discouragements and hindrances, was becoming more established, the number of our mission band was increased to ten by the arrival of Mira L. Cumber and Isaac Mason. It was felt that the time had come to procure permanent premises in Chungking. Accordingly two compounds were purchased, within a few minutes' walk of each other. One was in the Ts'ang P'ing Kai (Street of the Celestial Plain). This was the central one and a good
dwelling house, a meeting-house to seat some three hundred persons, class rooms, and a dispensary, were erected on it. In the Ch'ao Yang Kai (Street turned towards the Sun), another house was built, and, adjoining it, a girls' school room and preaching hall. Many were the prejudices of the people which had to be respected. One site selected was considered too near the top of the hill, where a sacred temple forbade the foreigner's presence ; and a less desirable one had to be bought instead,
In March i894, these houses were occupied, and the new meeting-house opened.* The attendance at the regular services increased, while the behaviour of the audiences much improved, showing that the more settled meetings were appreciated.
Church meetings and membership were established, the latter being granted in response to the written application of the candidate, which was dealt with according to Friends' mode of procedure at home. In addition, a public confession of faith in the Lord Jesus, and of a desire to follow Him had to be made.
* See illustration of interior of Meeting-house, on p. 155,
Thus the work took root, and in those years when life in the interior was often disturbed, there were many tokens of the wisdom of having a good centre in this busy city. Soon after our first missionaries settled there, it had become an open port, and the right to reside there was, therefore, settled by treaty.
The stifling atmosphere of the crowded city was a strain on the health of the missionaries, especially during the great heat of summer when the thermometer registers 90° or 100° Fahrenheit in the shade. The first property actually purchased in China was a small plot of ground about two miles outside Chungking, situated in the midst of thousands of graves. There a small sanatorium was erected, and this “country house” proved of immense value to our missionaries, and those of other missions, during the next few years, when the prejudice of the people made the beautiful hills on the South side of the river forbidden ground for the foreigner. We were indebted for this resort, largely, to the liberality and sympathy of the late William L. and Ellen Barclay, who followed the development of the Mission with keen interest.
And yet one other note of grateful remembrance must be given, or this record of the past will be incomplete. In the winter of 1892, Isaac Sharp accomplished the long and dangerous journey up the river Yang Tse to pay a visit in gospel love to our little band of workers. Many looked on his journey doubtfully, but, not only was the visit a refreshment and help to our own workers, it was the means of blessing to many in other missions also. The natives, with their reverence for old age, were greatly impressed by the fact of one, over eighty years of age, venturing to travel so far on such an errand, and it has had a lasting influence on not a few of them.