The Missionary Enterprise in China

"When the government and people of the United States are ready to return to a dignified and decent policy in the treatment of the Chinese, we shall easily secure a renewal of their confidence in us."

Not to mention other evidence to this fact, take one incident of recent occurrence in the good city of Boston. The Chinese Imperial government has recently dispatched two commissions, composed of officials of high rank and a numerous staff, to visit and study various important subjects in America and Europe. When arrangements were being made for the visit of the first of these commissions to Boston, and a long list of points in or near the city which they might wish to see was submitted to them, among the first selected were the offices of the American Board, the parent of all foreign missionary organizations in the United States, and having large interests in that work in China. The selection of this active centre of foreign evangelistic effort was unguided and entirely spontaneous. In their addresses and informal remarks during the visit to those offices, the commissioners expressed in unqualified terms their appreciation and strong approval of the missionary enterprise in China, and their gratitude for what had been and was being done there. “We know who are our friends,” said they again and again. Yet neither of the Chinese commissioners was a convert to Christianity, they were under no obligation to visit one of the headquarters of American missionary effort in China, or, being there, to go beyond polite and noncommittal remarks. Hence, and all the more, their declarations must in all fairness be taken as strong official endorsement and approval.

With much time same feelings they expressed their delight at what they saw at Wellesley College, and recognized in it the grander development of what American women were attempting to do for the women of China. Speaking by the way, the treatment of the female sex is the darkest blot upon the civilization of China. A revolt against the earlier practices in this direction has already begun there, and probably nothing in the entire journey of this commission into foreign parts will work such immediate and lasting change for the better, as the visit to Wellesley. To cite one other proof of Chinese official approval of the missionary enterprise: in the later commercial treaties, rendered necessary by the Boxer uprising, foreign missionary organizations are permitted to acquire real estate in all parts of the Empire, and “to erect such suitable buildings as may be required for carrying on their good work.” No similar concession has been made to any other class of alien residents. Thus the voluntary and unwritten policy long followed by the Emperor has been formulated and shaped into a solemn engagement and pledge.

To speak quite frankly and to the fact, for many years more unfriendly criticism and complaint of the presence of missionaries and their work in China has been heard from foreigners, either like them alien residents in the Far East, or at home, than from Chinese officials or people. It has even been customary and the fashion with a certain class, which need not he more particularly described, in speaking of the missionary to prefix an offensive and condemnatory adjective to the word. Regarding the opinions and judgments of such with all possible charity, they have been far more fearful of the evil results of all attempts to do good in far Cathay than have the Chinese themselves. Upon the other hand, in many years of intimate official and friendly intercourse with all classes of Chinese in every part of the Empire, the writer has never heard even one complaint of or objection to the presence of American missionaries in China, or the character of their work. He has heard himself, and all other foreigners of every nationality and calling, cursed in most violent terms for having fastened the opium horror upon the Chinese race, and the suggestion made, in a paroxysm of anger and hate by some human wreck wrought by the drug, that foreigners “would do well to take away that awful curse before they had the impudence to talk to the Chinese about their Jesus.” But, aside from crazed and mistaken denunciation, no Chinaman within his hearing has had anything but pleasant words to speak regarding the missionary enterprise, as conducted by Americans, in his land.

In the discussion of particular “missionary cases,” as they are called, and by which is meant cases of complaints made by missionaries of interference with them in their work,-interference which sometimes took the form of mob violence, – Chinese officials have complained, in most courteous language, of the indiscreet methods or conduct of particular missionaries. Yet this complaint has never been so strong as the writer would himself have used, and has been invariably coupled with a hearty approval and high appreciation of the work of the missionary body as a whole.

It would be idle to deny or ignore the fact that cases of serious friction between the natives and foreign missionaries have arisen in the past and are still of less frequent occurrence. By far the largest percentage of such most unfortunate conflicts has been caused by the unwise and improper interference of missionaries between their native converts and the Chinese authorities, or by the assumption of civil rank and authority by missionaries. Since, in the sixty years of modem missionary enterprise in China, no single charge or complaint of that nature has been made against an American missionary, such causes of trouble need not be discussed here. The conduct of European governments toward China, their greed, aggression, and general attitude of domination, long prejudiced both officials and people against missionaries, who were popularly believed to make use of their professedly philanthropic work only as a cloak, and to be, in fact, spies of their own governments whose aim was the seizure of the Empire and subjugation of its people. But, with greater mutual intelligence and less frequent occasions of misunderstanding, these causes of friction and conflict have, in great measure, disappeared. The true character and great value of the missionary enterprise as a factor in the modernization of China, and in bringing it into line with the great nations of the world, is almost universally recognized and appreciated, at least by those who are being most radically affected by it. And it should be realized and freely admitted that, in a nation where popular opinion and sentiment to an almost unprecedented extent guide and limit governmental policy, -for all the nominally autocratic authority of the Emperor,- the presence of such a force at work quietly among the people, is of the utmost value in the establishment and maintenance of good relations and the development to their full limit of all mutual interests. The missionary has won his way, found his work in China, which, while primarily religious in character, is greatly helpful in all worthy secular affairs. No other foreigner comes in such close and intimate touch with the native as he. And he is the unrecognized and uncommissioned representative of what is best in every phase and department of American life.

In these days of intense commercialism, when trade appears, at least, to have relegated all other concerns and interests to the background, when not only men but governments are bending every energy to the enlargement of existing fields of commerce and the development of new lines and centres of trade, one most important result, one valuable byproduct, as it may be called, of missionary enterprise in China deserves to receive more serious consideration than has hitherto been accorded to it. In it is to be found an agency, unequaled by any other, for the development of our commerce with that vast population. Every missionary is, whether willingly or unwillingly, an agent for the display and recommendation of American fabrics and wares of every conceivable sort. Each missionary home, whether established in great Chinese cities or rural hamlets, serves as an object lesson, an exposition of the practical comfort, convenience, and value of the thousand and one items in the long catalogue of articles which complete the equipment of an American home. Idle curiosity upon the part of the natives grows into personal interest which in turn develops the desire to possess. Did space permit, an overwhelming array of facts and figures could be set forth to prove the inestimable, though unrecognized, value of the missionary as an agent for the development of American commerce in every part of the globe. The manufacturing and commercial interests in the United States, even though indifferent or actively hostile to the direct purpose of the missionary enterprise, could well afford to bear the entire cost of all American missionary effort in China for the sake of the large increase in trade which results from such effort.

When the government and people of the United States are ready, and determined, to return to a dignified and decent, policy in the treatment of the Chinese who are within our borders or may seek to come here; when we realize that now is always the time to apologize for an insult or to right a wrong; when, in short, we resume our earlier attitude and practice of fair play and genuine, helpful friendliness toward the Chinese race and nation, we shall easily secure a renewal of their confidence in us and win back all and more than all that now, thanks to our own folly, appears to have been lost. And the American missionary enterprise in China will play a part in our relations with that great Empire of even greater value in years to come than it has in the past.

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