Western Missionary and Social Change in 19th Century China

George F. Drake


Submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of



Sociology and Social Institutions

In the

Graduate Division of the University of California at Berkeley

H. F. Schurmann
J. R. Levenson
W. Eberhard
Committee in charge.

Deposited in the University Library March 3, 1959, signed Donald Coney, Librarian

Prolegomenon April 2006

After not seeing my M.A. thesis for almost 50 years I decided to write to the University of California library and request a copy. Somehow, in my worldly travels after leaving Berkeley, I lost my own copy of the thesis and never had a reason to write for another copy of it. With it now in hand I have given thought to this document and its meaning in the contemporary world.

First of all, though, some historical notes. On graduating High School in 1948, as I had no money to go to college, I took off for South America with a bicycle and $180. By the time I got to Panama I was broke so I took a job with the Inter-American Geodetic Survey, working in the jungles and mountain tops establishing first-order triangulation networks in Panama and, later, in Guatemala. I returned to the U.S. to enter Rutgers University just as the Korean War broke out so instead of going to college I ended up in the army. I was sent to the Army Language School in Monterey, California to learn Chinese Mandarin. In mid 1952 I was sent to Korea and was assigned to a radio intelligence company near the front lines. And so began my interest and involvement in Asia.

My college education actually began with extension classes taught by professors from the University of California on the campus of the Seoul National University in the center of that terribly destroyed city. On discharge from the army I enrolled at Monterey Peninsula College to finish the Associate in Arts degree and then moved to Berkeley where I was admitted as a student in the History Department of the University of California at Berkeley. Tuition was $55 per semester. On completion of the B.A. in History I switched to the Sociology Department for the Master’s Degree.

In a seminar on Social Change that I took with Professor Joseph R. Levenson I selected to write a paper on social change in China and the role of the Western Missionary. As a grad student I now had access to the stacks in the campus library and I took full advantage of it. A number of the books that I found on the role of the missionary in China had a book plate “From the Library of John Fryer”. On enquiry I found that he was the first Agazzis Professor of Asian Studies at UC, Berkeley and had formerly been a missionary in China. He left his books to the U.C. Library on retirement. I thought I could save a lot of time in my search for material to write my seminar paper by seeking the list of books he donated to the library. When I reviewed the list of works he donated I noticed that he had also donated several cartons of manuscripts and personal papers. I was told these would be in the university archive.

The university archivist was an ancient woman (95 years old? At least she seemed so to me.) On enquiry about the Fryer Papers she responded “Oh, I remember him. I think those boxes are up in the attic. Come back in a couple of days and I will have them for you.” I offered to go up into the attic to get the boxes and she responded that one had to walk on planks and it really was not a safe place for college students to go rummaging. She also commented that they would be covered with decades of dust and had to be cleaned before I used them.

The material in those boxes constituted a treasure for me. I was the first person to open those boxes since they were received by the university. The contents were not even catalogued yet by the library staff. Here was Fryer’s diary of his sea voyage from England to China and his notes on his visit to Peiking (Beijing) and to the Great Wall of China. Here were several of his letter books wherein he kept carbon copies of his correspondence with friends and relatives. Since some of the letters had addresses of members of his family I wrote to all of them hoping that if any were still alive, or if descendents of his family members were alive, they might have more documents that could be added to the material I was gathering for term papers. In that way I was able to add to the Fryer Papers at the UC Library.

It is interesting to note that the archivist allowed me to take Fryer’s diary and other documents home with me to copy using my portable typewriter. Such would never be allowed today. Professor Levenson was especially intrigued with my find and reported it to other Chinese scholars who came from other universities to review the material. Years later, while I was serving as Director of the Center for East Asian Studies at Western Washington University I noted in a circular that the University of California had just finished a special exhibit of the John Fryer material and a series of talks about his life and tenure as the first Agazzis Professor of Asian Studies. I was truly disappointed that I did not know of this special event earlier and attend the sessions as I was the person who “discovered” the Fryer papers and the first “scholar” (albeit a bit wet behind the ears) to have used them in academic research.

So now I have before me this document that I wrote almost fifty years ago. What are my reactions? Well, the first reaction was one of mild satisfaction. While finding a lot of shortcomings in the paper I felt that it was a decent job. It certainly showed that I was able to roam through a substantial amount of primary source material written by missionaries in China and also find relevant material in the theological writings of those times to give meaning to the arguments of the missionaries as they defended their work in China. I think it showed that I could go beyond the library in the pursuit of knowledge and follow trails to other countries (Australia, South Africa, England) to locate relatives of John Fryer.

What most intrigues me about my M.A. Thesis is that many of the arguments the missionaries used a hundred and fifty years ago to justify their various forms of social action, or non-action, are still being used today. The arguments of the Fundamentalists today echo the statements of their forbearers in the China mission field in the later half of the nineteenth century and the arguments of Liberal Christians today are not too much different from those uttered by their intellectual colleagues of a century and a half ago. The more things change the more they stay the same.

Today, as I look about me in the year 2006, I see religious fervor as the basis for much of the conflict throughout the world, in Iraq, in Sri Lanka, in Kashmir, in Pakistan, in the Middle-East and even in America. Fundamentalism, whether in Muslim nations or so-called Christian nations seems to provide the moral basis for conflict and even war. The conflict between history and value that we saw in China back in the later half of the 19th Century is evident today in the Muslim nations that are facing the exigencies of survival in the 21st century.

Frankly, now at age 75, I have enjoyed going back to my days at U.C. Berkeley and reliving some of the excitement of locating the Fryer Papers and the satisfaction I got from being able to bring such a rich body of material to my seminars. I’ve not changed much in the manuscript. Perhaps a few changes in punctuation and a few grammatical corrections were made but no substantive changes were attempted. So, here it is again, my M.A. Thesis, presented in March of 1959 to fulfill the requirements for the Masters Degree in the Department of Sociology at the University of California at Berkeley.

Table of Contents

I. Introduction 1

II. The Missionary and the Establishment of Schools . 10

III. Religious Instruction. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13

IV. The Study of the Classics. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . 19

V. Teaching Science:
A. Negative Arguments . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .19
B. Affirmative Arguments. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20

VI. Science and Religion. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25

VII. Teaching English . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .29

VIII. Textbooks and Secular Literature. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32

IX. Historical Notes on Schools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .40

X. Missionaries and Change – Social, Cultural and Political . . . . . 45

XI. A School System for China . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .50

XII. Christ – Against – Culture . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .55

XIII. The Protestant Ethic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58

XIV. Emergence of the Social Gospel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60

XV. The Missionary and the Social Gospel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66

XVI. Concluding Comments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .71

Endnotes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .73

Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..87



In the nineteenth century there was a movement of Protestant missionaries to China. The first missionary arrived in Canton in 1807. One hundred years later there were five thousand missionaries representing eighty-six societies at work in the empire.

The missionary had one primary objective–to convert the Chinese people to Christianity. To attain this goal numerous methods were used–preaching, bible and tract distribution, and the establishment of schools and hospitals.

It is an accepted fact that religious bodies that do not control the education of their youth lose them. The Protestant missionaries in China realized this, and so established schools for the children of converts. Soon, though, schools were preceding the church in new areas and were used as a direct evangelical influence. Had these schools only taught Chinese studies and the Gospel we would not be so interested in them here. It is because they identified themselves with another culture that they are significant. While one can readily see the reasons for teaching the Gospel and regular Chinese studies, one questions the rationale that induced the missionary to teach western sciences and western learning generally.

The problems that are discussed here are of two kinds: the first kind being the immediate pressing problems of the day– the practical problems of a missionary at work in a foreign field attempting to spread Christianity among the heathen. He questions whether he should hire non-Christian teachers for his school, have heathen students in classes as well as children of converts, teach the Chinese classics or not, translate secular works into Chinese, teach sciences in the missionary schools, and so on.

The second kind of problem is the broader theological one of the relationship of Christianity to culture. It is the same problem that arises when one questions the relationship between Church and state; of Christian ethics in economic life; of Christian faith in public education. The problem is with us today as it was with the early leaders of the Church. In analyzing the problem as it affects the missionary movement in the nineteenth century China, we shall not analyze all of the sides of this major problem, but rather wish to show how, in a specific time and place, the answers found served as a force for social action. The answers to the daily problems of method differ according to the different solutions to the theological question.

Once having seen the many types of action other than preaching in which the missionary became engaged, we will proceed to the larger question of motivation and follow this motivation to its sources in America and in England. While the motivation will, in some respects, resemble that of the Protestant Ethic an expressed by Max Weber in his works, we will see that derives from the Reformation, but does not come into full force as a social movement until the nineteenth century; namely, that which is referred to as the social Gospel, cultural Protestantism, or liberal Protestantism.

While Max Weber discussed the Protestant ethic in relationship to the religions of China, he did not touch on this question of the relationship of “Christ-to-Culture,” except as it applied to the Calvinist concept of “calling” and its relations to economics. I know of no work that seeks to clarify the force that motivated the missionaries to indulge in their many secular enterprises. Of course, we need not use the missionary in China to seek this motivation. Any of the activities of the churches during the later half of the nineteenth century in many fields of social reform in this country and in England could be so used. A study of F. D. Maurice and the Social Democrats in England might serve just as well. Therefore, while we deal with a specific time and place, the basic problem is the same one that had to be resolved by the early Christians in their relations with the Jewish and Roman cultures, and will have to be resolved by the Christians today in their relations with all those nations and peoples seeking social reforms.

Several theologians have discussed of the problem of the relation of religion to culture. Albert Schweitzer, in “The Evolution of Ethics” (The Atlantic Monthly, November 1958) discusses the influence exerted on action by the various concepts of the material world. His two categories are “affirmative” and “negative” world concepts. For the purposes of this paper I feel that the frame of reference of H. Richard Niebuhr, as used in Christ and Culture, is more applicable. Niebuhr envisions a continuum rather than a dichotomy of thought. His term “Christ-against-Culture” is synonymous to Schweitzer’s “negative” world concept, and the term “The Christ of Culture” is comparable to Schweitzer’s “affirmative” world concept. The value of Niebuhr’s work is that he shows clearly the many positions that can be held theologically between the two extremes. I have not utilized his three central categories in this paper, as the data available precluded such fine distinctions in the Chinese missionary activities. While my central category is more akin to Max Weber’s “Protestant Ethic,” I still wish to agree with Niebuhr that the range from a position of no action to a position of action is a continuum and not a simple dichotomy.

In developing this paper I have mainly used works by missionaries. Of the literature of missionaries Weber says, “This certainly varies in value but in the last analysis remains relatively the most authentic.” (The Religion of China, p. 251). The most extensive single source used was the Chinese Recorder, a monthly missionary publication, published in Shanghai. Of documentary material, there were the private papers of Dr. John Fryer, for thirty-five years the director of the Translation Bureau of the Kiangnan Arsenal in Shanghai. Besides the Fryer papers available in the University of California Library, I was fortunate enough to obtain the use of letters of John Fryer in the possession of his nephew in England. These later documents are referred to as the Benjamin Fryer Papers.

Interviews with a number of persons who have first-hand knowledge of the China Missionary field were held by the writer. Fr. Serruys, of the Congregation of the Propaganda who served for many years as a Roman Catholic Missionary to China, gave numerous hours of his time to my questions. Dr. George Thorngate III, M.D., served as a medical missionary in China for twenty years with the Seventh Day Baptist mission in and near Shanghai. Dr. Andrew I. Cheng, currently with the Army Language School at Monterey, California, attended mission schools from kindergarten through college, and has himself served as a missionary. One other person interviewed was Mr. Cornelius Vanderbreggen, Jr., founder and leader of the Reapers’ Fellowship, a non-sectarian evangelical organization currently working in Europe, with its base in Holland. In discussions with Mr. Vanderbreggen I noticed his use of many “fundamentalist” arguments; arguments similar to those used by missionaries in China whose Christ was a “Christ-against-Culture.” Discussions with ministers of various faiths have helped to clarify the relationships studied in this paper.




When one looks at the broad general picture of missionary activity in China during the nineteenth century one is impressed with the great amount of educational work engaged in by the Protestant missionary. A report of 1899 shows that the mission bodies had a total of one thousand eight hundred and seventy-one schools in China, with thirty-four thousand three hundred thirty-one students. (1) It is incorrect to consider that all the mission groups, or all of the missionaries of any one particular body, were equally interested in educational work. Not all of them even agreed that educational work was a part of the missionary’s job.

A large group of missionaries felt that it was the job of the missionary to preach the gospel of Christ to the heathen, and that everything else was of no value.

By what command are we out here today? This. Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature, teaching– what?–geography, mathematics, science, etc.? No. But teaching all things whatsoever I have commanded you. This is the sacred charge, and in proportion as we emphasize science and worldly civilization in teaching, in such a proportion will our scholars be less spiritual. (2)

For those missionaries who thought that it was a legitimate activity of the missionary to engage in the educational field, the motivation differed. First of all, there was the reasoning that saw the school a protecting agency. That is, it was to be used to instruct the converts and the children of converts in Christian beliefs. It was to keep them from heathen influence and to strengthen their religion.

This was the basic rationale given by both the Protestants and the Catholics for the establishment of schools. “The early work of the Catholic Church was confined largely to elementary education, and consisted mainly of religious instruction. The only Catholic schools which were universally established were prayer schools, or catechetical schools, in which Christian children learned the catechism.”(3) Most of the early schools were of this nature.(4)

As the number of converts grew, it was essential, for the continuation of the Church, to develop a native ministry and soon this, too, was added to the reasons for the development of schools. These schools were to produce “… a class of native teachers, preachers, etc., who, having been brought up from childhood trained in the Holy Scriptures, under Christian influence, and separated from heathen influence, may become helpers in the Gospel, whose equals can scarcely be expected from other sources. This, then, should be the aim — to raise up native laborers.”(5) And again, “The end in view should be to raise up native helpers.,”(6) This did not cease to be a purpose for the establishment of schools, nor did the former reason, for that matter. To these basic reasons others were added.

The attainment of an education was of significant value to the Chinese, but it cost the student’s family a good deal for him to receive such. It was necessary for him to hire an unemployed scholar to tutor the youth, alone or in company with children of other parts of the family. Some missionaries felt that it would be easy to take advantage of this desire for education on the part of the Chinese, by offering free education to those who would come to the Christian Schools. Once in the school, along with elementary Chinese studies, the students would receive instruction in the Christian religion. The school was envisioned as a direct evangelizing agency. Some missionaries decried this type of action. “Mission schools are not essential to the missionary in China to secure for him an audience, or to make himself understood by the people.”(7) wrote one missionary in 1869. This was a minority opinion.

While preaching was recognized as the primary method of evangelical work, the use of the school for evangelizing the children of a community was soon accepted by many of the missionary bodies.(8) For the most part these schools were but day schools where a student would go for his daily exercises to return home at the end of the day’s lessons. A writer in the North China Herald in November of 1851 suggested that the mission boards would have spent their money better on building schools for the children “where the first seeds of the Gospel should be sown in this country to reap the quickest harvest…”(9) than on building churches in the poorer parts of the city of Shanghai.

The evangelizing purpose of the schools, stated in the most conservative terminology, is expressed by a prominent layman in the Church Mission Society of London:

School teaching is a lawful expenditure of Missionary funds only when its sole object is conversion of Souls. It may be that in some countries education is the only method available; still, if it cannot be conducted on strictly Christian principles, it should not be undertaken. The School must be opened, and closed, with prayer, and the Bible be taught without any reserve, or limitation. Unless the scholars attend the Prayers, and religious teaching, they should not be admitted. There is a tendency in some quarters to devote Missionary Funds to Higher Education; this error should be guarded against. The object of Missions is Spiritual, not Intellectual, to make Christians, not Scholars, or Citizen.(10)

Most of the schools had religious instruction as a part of the training in the school from the very first, with the students knowing that they were to receive this added instruction along with their normal Chinese studies. In the annual report of the Anglo-Chinese School for December 1865, John Fryer, headmaster of the school, reports an exception:

As yet, no direct Christian instruction has been attempted. After the Chinese New Year, however, it will perhaps be best to commence by causing a text of scripture to be read daily in English and explained in the same manner as the Chinese classics. Afterwards, as the pupils advance, the Bible itself can be introduced and lessons read regularly in the routine of school work.(11)

The difference between the school Fryer was running and the day school where religion was the normal course for the students was the social status of students being reached. In the more numerous rural day schools the students were poor and were willing to accept religious instruction if only they could learn to read. In Fryer’s school the students were paying fifty taels per year to attend. Essentially, though, the concept was the same — to obtain a captive audience in a school room and give them instruction in the Christian religion. Even though the majority of the schools established by the missionaries in China were of this nature and purpose there were those who thought that they did not serve even this use.

Among those who thought that they were an evangelical failure were Dr. Legge, Rev. R. H. Graves, and Rev. C. F. Kupfer.(12)

Reasons for deeming the schools a failure as an evangelizing agency varied from the argument that the only valid method of evangelizing was preaching, to the argument that they did not teach enough material besides the religious subjects.

Mission schools, of the right kind, are not established simply to teach religion, and so bring about the conversion of the pupils. They look beyond this, and propose, in addition, to give to these converted pupils such an intellectual and moral training as will fit them to be influential men in society and in the church, teachers and leaders of others.(13)

Another reason offered is that the students did not stay in the school long enough to receive the full benefits of the instruction. Inducements were used to keep the students in the school, and some institutions required that their students write an indenture, agreeing to remain through a course of study covering up to ten years.(14)

The diversity of opinion on any one matter relevant to the missionary enterprises in China is obvious in this one topic of the amount of religious worship and/or instruction necessary to make money spent on such a school a legitimate expenditure of funds. In 1882 a committee composed of rate-payers of the foreign leases of Shanghai, made a survey of the schools of the city that could be taken over and made into public schools. They wrote to the trustees of the Anglo-Chinese School of the city:

…as to the character of the education given at the Anglo-Chinese School being, in the words of the trust, “in accordance with the principles of the Church Mission Society,” it will be seen that at most, this is but negatively the case, no direct proselytizing being attempted and, although this fact tends to raise the character of the school generally, the conclusion is evident that the institution is not at the moment literally fulfilling the objects which the Rev. John Hobson as well as subsequent donors had in view.

The committee believed that if the trustees would give the school to the council, that it could be “conducted as a Protestant institution, to the same or even to a further extent than is at present the case..!”(15) The trustees replied that “… The reverent daily reading of the Bible in School is surely not the least effective method of promoting this object.”(16)

The school was also seen as an indirect evangelizing agency. A child would be provided with a book for his daily recitation, shouting out the lesson, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty …” In the evening the student would take the book home with him and the rest of the family would look it over and examine it. If any member of the household understood a few characters, he would read them aloud to the group. The scholars thus became, in the eyes of the Church, truth-bearers to their own homes.(17) The missionaries would use the children as an opening into a family, visiting the home of the child and talking with the older members of the family, slowly introducing the message of Christianity.

Another purpose accorded the schools was that of being an opening wedge into a community, in that scholarship was held in high esteem in the Chinese culture, and anyone who opened a school was accorded respect. This kind of work obtained the friendship of some of the leaders of the community and permission for the open propagation of Christianity. To a lesser extent, the permeation of the non-Christian community with Christian ideas and ideals was sufficient reason to warrant the establishment of a school in the community. That is, there was no direct evangelizing at first; rather a preparation for the more aggressive evangelistic work that would follow.(18)

From the one extreme we go to the other. The one school of thought holds that it is a misuse of mission funds to teach anything in schools other than religion. The “liberal” Protestant had another viewpoint on this matter:

There is usually too much religious teaching and too continuous exhortation. Too much nauseates. Students in the West would revolt against it … The Chinese cannot stand a continual religious revival any more than we can … More is accomplished by the daily influence of the teacher upon the students than by his preaching or imparting of religious instruction …. A Christian college… should make cultured men; it should teach them their relations to other men; it should bring them into their true and normal relationship to God. Work conducted on these lines may not perhaps bring a great number to our theological department, but still I think you will grant that we are doing something toward the evangelization of the world, for whenever we bring our students nearer to the kingdom of God we have not failed in our work…(19)

Other missionaries have stated the purpose of their schools as the “…training of lads and young men for any honorable sphere in life, under distinctly Christian influences;”(20) to train preachers, Christian teachers, doctors and businessmen, and to prepare all who come for good citizenship;” (21) and “to supply Christian education along Western lines to sons of middle and upper classes, and to fit them to become good citizens.”(22) In each of the above three schools the number of heathen students outnumbered the Christian students. The evangelizing motivation was still there, even though mentioned in but one of the reports, for the other two show that religious instruction was required of all the students, non-Christian as well as Christian. The stated goals are not “to convert all students to Christianity.” The legitimate purpose of missionary schools had broadened widely.

Mission schools were conceived of as places where the students were to receive more than religious instruction. They were to be prepared for a role as leaders in the new society that was developing in China. The school was to make scholars of them, learned not only in the lore of the Orient, but also in the ways of the West. The mission of the Christian school was to introduce the new ethic to China. It was felt that it the student could but respect the truth in a field such as chemistry, then he could not disregard it in the field of’ religion. The teaching of sciences took over more and more of the time of the staff.

The great desideratum of the age is practically manifested in the establishment of schools in which the natural sciences occupy the most prominent place in the course of instruction. From these schools a more vigorous generation will come forth, powerful in understandings, qualified to appreciate and accomplish all that is truly great, and bring forth fruit of universal usefulness. Through them the resources, the wealth and the strength of empires will be incalculably augmented; and when, by the increase of knowledge, the weight which presses on human existence has been heightened, and one man is no longer overwhelmed by the pressure of earthly cares and troubles, then, and not till then, will his intellect, purified and refined, be able to rise to-higher objects.(23)

“Our desire, as Missionaries,” one writer suggested in the Chinese Recorder in 1880, “is to renovate China. We expect to do this … by establishing schools of every class from the lowest to the highest; in which shall be imparted the knowledge of western science and arts as well as of religion…”(24) Another missionary stated, “Our education ought to promote general contentment, lessen the lawless violence which is now so common in China, stop the onslaught of religious persecution, diminish the distinction between rich and poor, procure more exemption to the wage-earner from incessant and exhausting toil, and make the conditions of employment more humane and comfortable.”(25)

In summation, we see that the missionary who established schools did so for a multiplicity of purposes. The most conservative did so merely to protect his interests. Others saw them instruments for evangelization, while the most liberal saw in them the means for the renovation of the nation and the amelioration of the social ills of mankind.



If the school was conceived of as an agency to protect the interests of the Christian community and to strengthen it, religious instruction, of perforce, would constitute a major part of the curriculum. An example of the subjects the students would be confronted with in this type of school is given in the August number of the Chinese Recorder for the year 1889:

The subjects for the first year are very simple, consisting of the Creed, Lord’s Prayer and Commandments, a number of hymns, the Christian Three Character Classic, and the smaller Catechism of Christian Doctrine. The subjects for the other three years embrace the Gospel, both Classical and Colloquial, the Bible Picture Book, both of the Old and New Testaments, the Catechism of the Creed, the 100 Texts of the Irish Church Mission, and various other Books, all distinctively Christian.(26)

In these schools the staple of instruction was the Bible. Hundreds of students memorized the Gospels, and many of them memorized the entire New Testament.(27) This type of school, in the pure form, was more commonly the type developed by the Catholic Church and by fundamentalist Protestant sects.

For those missionaries who looked upon the school as a means of proselytizing, religious instruction played a large part in the curriculum. But among those who accepted the school as a tool of the Church, there was a wide range of thought as to the amount of religious education to be utilized to attain the avowed end. Too little religious instruction would not serve the purpose of bringing the students to Christ; too much would turn them from the school. If we follow the no school, school to protect, school to evangelize continuum, we find that among those who accepted the school as an evangelical tool were many who thought that the instructor should do everything within his power to “proselytize” the students who attended.(28) “Let us never…forget,.” writes one female missionary, “that our business is to win them (the students) to Christ., to make them intelligent Christians, and inspire them with a holy zeal for soul-saving…”(29)

Christian education in the mission schools was considered as being of two types; one type being extensive, and the other intensive. The intensive type was of the direct evangelical nature, and was concerned with the individual. The extensive approach was a more indirect type of approach. It was designed to exert a wider influence on society. The more extensive approach called for the introduction of many other subjects than religion, but subjects within which the instructor could introduce Christian ideals and truths. The student may not have left the school a convert to Christianity, but at the same time he was not antagonistic to it and, in fact, often proved to be ripe ground for the direct approach. Many of the schools used both the intensive and the extensive approach at the same time. Others used but one or the other. We saw above how the Anglo – Chinese School in Shanghai was called upon by the ratepayers of Shanghai to turn the school over to them, so that they could conduct it in a manner more in keeping with what they thought a mission school should be. In that case the school administration was not giving enough religious education to suit the lay members of the community but the administration felt that it was fulfilling its mission by a daily reading from the Gospel. In 1881 a minister suggested that a union college should be established in Canton:

Not a theological school, not a school in which religious teaching is given undue prominence, but one after the model of our colleges at home, where the first thing would be the study of English, and afterwards a thorough training in the arts course … while religion is not made conspicuous or brought forward in a way to offend or drive pupils away, yet the whole tone and attitude should be thoroughly Christian. (30)

John Fryer, in submitting the second annual report for the Anglo-Chinese School in Shanghai in 1867, pointed out that he had not started direct religious instruction in the school beyond the reading and the explaining of texts from the Bible. “The reading books, however,” he states, “contain so many allusions to Christianity that its leading truths have already been explained in the course of the reading lessons.”(31) In 1881 when the Anglo-Chinese College was organized in Foochow, the local paper reported:

While this enterprise was begun and will be carried on to a large extent by the American Methodist Episcopal Mission, the constitution is entirely nonsectarian in character. It will be, as a matter of course, under Christian influences; but non-Christian as well as Christian Chinese youth are admitted, and no coercion is used with regard to religious belief.(32)

In a collection of replies to a questionnaire sent to mission schools in China in 1909 we find that of the one hundred and thirteen schools replying eighty-three of them required attendance at Bible classes, and eleven of them made such attendance optional. Ninety-seven of the same schools made it compulsory to attend the religious exercises of the school while only six of them made such attendance optional. (The remaining schools gave no reply to these questions).(33) Of course these returns are quite incomplete and the proportions cannot be accepted as being valid for all of China but at the same time we can see from them that there were some schools, at least, that did not make the attendance of religious classes and exercises mandatory. In that they were Christian missionary schools they must have thought that they were able to fulfill their mission in the more indirect, extensive manner.



The only subject taught in the typical Chinese School was the classics. Through this medium the student rose to a position of status in his community and nation. In his ability to pass the local and regional examinations the classical student made himself available for public office. With the attainment of the status that goes with an acknowledged mastery of the classics went the accompanying rewards of power and wealth. In the Chinese social system obtaining at the time covered by this paper, classical studies were the only “useful’ studies that one could pursue. It is natural that the missionary, when opening his school, should consider the problems attendant upon offering such studies in the mission school. A number of the missionaries felt that to teach such subjects was a waste of Christian money. This view was similar to that which held that schools per se were not a valid mission agency, or that if they were conducted they should only teach religious subjects. Another reason given against the offering of the classics in the mission schools was that it lent prestige to false religions.

The most dangerous literature in a land where Christianity is not yet firmly established is the so called high standard literature, which lays claim to something divine, and yet contains not an atom of regenerating power, while its writers are worshipped as gods. The Christian schools which make these writings a main factor in their curriculum are rapidly preparing the elements for an eclectic religion in China. Christ will be acknowledged as one of the great sages. Ideas will be gathered to fill up the deficiencies of Confucianism.
Christianity will be accommodated to paganism. Indeed, everything will be borrowed from Christ, except the essential.(34)

Surprisingly, some opposition to the teaching of the classics in the missionary schools came from the parents of the students. They felt that such learning was dead, and that the new learning was of more value. More time should be spent on English studies and less on the Chinese studies.(35) Essentially, though, most of the missionaries recognized the fact that they would have to offer Chinese studies in one fashion or another or their schools would be empty.(36) To use the classics as an inducement to gather students into the evangelical influence of the school was a basic tactic.

It was also felt by the missionary that to educate a Chinese youth without giving him a solid foundation in the classics would make him unqualified for a place in his own society. Timothy Richard felt that there was a danger of Europeanizing or Americanizing the pupils to the extent of making them lose touch with their own people. Other missionary educators expressed this same concern at the general conferences of the missionaries in 1877 and 1899 as well as at the meetings of the Educational Association of China.(37)

Another purpose for the teaching of the classics in the mission schools was to enable the student to engage in argument with the trained Confucians. Without a knowledge of the classics he would not even get a hearing, and his message would fall to the ground as being based on ignorance.

“The men who go forth from the schools must attain to respectability among the literary class. They regard a knowledge of the Classics as education, and their opinion must be respected. As well might at home teaching be made a profession without having studied Latin and Greek….men must be prepared for the conflict between truth and error. The Chinese will not surrender their ancient fortress without a conflict, and so those from the schools must meet their brethren, according to the flesh, on their own ground.(38)

Of course, all this is not to say that the students will be given the classics in the same manner as they would receive them in any Chinese school of the old style. The student would have the classics presented to him in such a fashion that they would be able to see how Christianity was the fulfillment of the classics and that the Bible was a better book than the books of Confucius.

John Fryer gives us an account of the nature of the course given to the students in the classics.

On alternate days the Canton teacher lectures on the Chinese Classics and the Poetry of the T’ang Dynasty. Afterwards each scholar repeats the portion lectured upon by heart and then gives an oral or written abstract of the lecture. This is followed by writing essays, repeating lessons learnt at home and writing Chinese Antitheses or composing Chinese Poetry.(39)

Fryer pointed out that with the advancement of the students in their English studies, their attainments in their classical studies suffered. He reported, “Several who are somewhat advanced in English cannot translate their own English composition into intelligible to say nothing of correct Chinese, through their ignorance of the use of some of the commonest characters.(40)

In the 1909 questionnaire above quoted, we find that sixty-four of the schools reporting gave instruction in language and classical studies; four of the schools did not give any such instruction and forty-five of those reporting did not indicate one way or the other.(41)



A. Negative Arguments.

One of the most discussed problems in relation to the subjects to be taught in the mission schools was the place science and western learning in general was to have. In this debate there were those who felt that it had no place at all in the schools. To support their position they offered a number of reasons. Rev. R. Lechler suggested that the subjects taught in the schools should be as Chinese as possible, with the exception of the teaching of the Christian religion. Other than that they should be conducted on the same principle that Chinese schools generally were.(42) Another reason was to the effect that it was easier to explain the truths of the Gospel without having to give the complexities of science.

It needs no demonstration, said Rev. J. Butler of Ningpo, when you tell a people about God, and that they are sinners. Their knowledge, it is true, may be dim, but still they have some little idea of what you are speaking about. The case is quite different when you bring science before a heathen mind. You may tell the heathen the secrets of chemistry and philosophy, or demonstrate some proposition in geometry, but they will not understand you. You must first put into him that which will enable him to understand. But God has so made man after his own image in knowledge, righteousness and holiness, that a discourse about God is in some degree intelligible to him, even in his most degraded state.(43)

Another missionary pointed out that secular education, per se, did not bring men nearer to Christ, and that men simply taught western science were harder to be reached by the Gospel than the heathen.(44) Others were in agreement with this line of reasoning.(45)

The most explicit objection to the teaching of western learning to the Chinese in mission schools was presented by Rev. Griffith John to the first general conference of missionaries held in China in 1877. During the discussion period following the presentation of a paper by Dr. W. A. P. Martin, President of the T’ung Wen-kuan at Peking, Rev. John took issue with the speaker in the following words:

We have been sent to China by the Churches and by Christ Himself not to promote secular learning, but to make known the truth as it is in Jesus. We have come here to deal with human souls and to save men from sin. This is our special work; and the question is: How is this work to be accomplished? Is it to be by teaching the sciences, or by preaching the Gospel? I want to know what life-giving word does Astronomy or Geology possess for men dead in trespasses and sins. If our aim in China is the promotion of intellectual culture, then let us all go in for secular learning with might and main. If, however, our aim is the salvation of souls let us preach Christ….They need to know about God, sin, and a Savior, far more than about the formation of rocks or the names of the stars. This information others might give them, but there are too few already devoted to the propagation of the Gospel for the energies of any one to be diverted to other work, unless he has a very special calling thereto… I am also against the idea that a knowledge of these things is necessary to prepare the minds of the Chinese to receive the Gospel, and that in order to Christianize China it is necessary to call in the Arts and Sciences, Western Literature and Western civilization to our aid. I believe that the Gospel itself and alone is the power of God unto salvation and that it has only to be faithfully preached and exemplified in order to conquer the world… We have been reminded of the importance of influencing and elevating the nation as a nation, and there is something grand and stimulating in the thought. But we should never forget that Christ’s plan was to deal with individual souls…(46)

We have here a statement of dogma by a fundamentalist whose Christ is a “Christ-against-Culture.” The religion of Rev. John is concerned with the hereafter entirely, and is not at all concerned with the temporal world. This is the religion of the majority of the members of the China Inland Mission and of many of the sects that had representatives in China who engaged only in the preaching of the word of God and ignored all other possible avenues of “Christian” action.

B. Affirmative Arguments.

While Rev. Griffith John was a very prominent figure on the mission scene, his voice was but one raised in the argument for and against the introduction of western learning in the mission schools. Others spoke just as vehemently for it as Rev. John spoke against it.

In the debate for the introduction of western learning there were those who felt that it could be introduced merely as a type of intellectual discipline. They felt that most of the students would never have an opportunity to put into use their knowledge of botany, chemistry, etc., but felt that such knowledge had its purpose in broadening the mind, enlarging the general intelligence and affording a wide field of illustration, both in writing and speaking.(47)

A sort of negative argument for the introduction of western learning was the one that sought to have it in the curriculum merely because it was inevitable that such learning would come to China and that it would be far better for it to come in under Church aegis than under a religious or atheistic aegis. Rather than have the scholars become atheists by learning their science from the wrong source, the missionary schools would add the subject to their curriculum list. In that way they could protect their interests and take the wind from the materialists’ and atheists’ arguments. (48)

As an evangelical tool the western subjects (all the biological and physical sciences, history, geography, languages, political science, etc.) were felt to be very useful.

Innumerable ways of using them for furthering the cause of Christ were given.

The natural sciences should be made a prominent branch of instruction. The power of education to counteract superstition lies chiefly in the natural sciences. They develop and explain the laws of nature and by so doing destroy the chief foundation of superstition. Such studies will … give to its graduates character and influence…(49)

This statement by Dr. Mateer is but one of many of the same type. The use of science here is an indirect evangelical tool, in that it is not used to directly further the cause of Christianity, but rather to break down those religions and beliefs that are founded upon unscientific beliefs. In this manner the beliefs in feng-shuei and other Taoist and Buddhist beliefs could be refuted and their hold on the populace diminished.

Two of the most prominent educational missionaries in China during the nineteenth century present arguments for the use of science as an evangelical tool. Dr. W. A. P. Martin and Rev. C. W. Mateer both saw a parallel in the use of science by the missionary and the use of miracles by the apostles of Christ.

In the days of St. Paul the followers of Christ “were less cultivated than those to whom they were sent, and had but one book to give to mankind. Now it is they who stand upon the higher plain and have possession of the keys of knowledge. They are no longer armed with the power of miracles; but are they not clothed with other powers attesting and enforcing their principal message?”(50) Speaking at the same conference, Rev. C. W. Mateer said:

He did give them (the apostles) however, the power to work miracles, and this power they used freely—not because healing a man’s lameness or opening his eyes would save his soul, but because it would attest
their divine commission, and give them authority and influence and so indirectly conduce to the salvation of souls. God has not given to his Church in this day the power to work miracles, by which to attest their message and influence the heathen to believe it, but He has by the direct inspiration of His Spirit, as we believe given them a true science, which He intends them to use in the same way, as an agency to gain the ears of the people, and prepare a way for the belief of the Gospel.(51)

There is a difference here between this concept of the use of science as a missionary tool, and the use of it as applied by Mateo Ricci in the seventeenth century. Ricci used the knowledge of science that he possessed merely as a weapon to break down Chinese pride, which held that they had all truth worth knowing. When he could show that he, also, was the bearer of truth in the form of science, he then could lead off with truths of Christianity that were not so easily proved.(52) But Ricci never claimed a religious sanction for his science.

In one document the stated purpose of the Chuchow Christian School read:

The class of young men in western branches is tentative and will be conducted as long as it aids us to come in touch with local educators and bring Christianity into favorable notice with them. The work in the past has gained us friendship of some of the best leaders in the district and we believe it will not only gain for us an influence with them educationally but also gain their approval for the propagation of Christianity.(53)

At times the missionary, traveling in the interior would stop for the night in an inn and would be approached by some of the gentry of the town. “What is their object? To ask about religion?” “Not at all, but to ask about the science and civilization of the West.”…”Shall I bluff off the questions of such men and begin at once to preach sin and repentance to them? If I do they will very soon leave, filled with contempt for me and my preaching. Shall I not rather turn aside for a time, and by talking to them of science, gain their good will and so put myself in an advantageous position for teaching them the Gospel?”(54)

As Mateer and Martin felt that the use of science by the missionaries was divinely ordained, as was the use of miracles by the apostles, so did many other missionaries feel that there was a further relationship between Christianity and science that lent favor to their argument for the introduction of it in the schools opened by them in China. By many of the missionaries it was felt that science was a gift of God to the Christian nations; that it was therefore their private weapon to use as they wished. Typical statements in this vein are:

The command in Genesis to “subdue the earth” has found at least its approximate fulfillment in the scientific development of the nineteenth century. We do not for a moment hold the position that science is essential as preparation for Christianity, but knowing it is the outcome and development of Christian civilization, and is inseparable from it, we believe that the knowledge of science which must come and will come into China, should so far as possible come through Christian channels.(55)

As we think of the almost omnipotence of man as he brings into subjection steam and electricity and the more startling wonders of our age, we would emphasize the fact that God has first entrusted these things to Christian nations…(56)

These true sciences of mind and matter, which are in fact but an exposition of the unwritten laws of God, Christianity had a prime agency in discovering. She justly claims them as her own, and finds in them an instrumentality which she is neither afraid nor ashamed to use in the cause of truth.(57)

It was felt by many of the missionaries that there was no disagreement between Christianity and science. Many times they reassured themselves in their conventions and literature that “Christianity is truth, and all truth is related.”(58) That they believed this is evident by the amount of science that was taught in the mission schools and the number of scientific textbooks published by the mission presses.