Humanizing the Missionary

MY sister asks me whether I have read an article in the August Atlantic entitled ‘Christianity in China,’ by Moore Bennett. When I say that I have, she proceeds to ask me what I, being a good missionary, intend to do about it. I reply that I feel disinclined to do anything about it because I quite agree with Mr. Bennett’s conclusion.

‘But,’ she breaks out, ‘you can’t mean that all those horrid things he says about missionaries are true?’

I explain that Mr. Bennett ends with the suggestion that, if people have any serious doubts about the lives of those they have sent out as their messengers to China, they might well appoint a fair-minded commission to go to China and investigate. Those are not just his words, but that is his idea, I think. And I am sure that I and most of the missionaries whom I have met in China during the last fifteen years would welcome such a commission. He specifies that this commission should consist of ‘lay minds unconnected with any mission body.’ And that too I accept. He does not, I observe, suggest that the representatives of the different branches of the Christian Church should be judged by those who deny that they themselves are Christians. I therefore stipulate that the majority of our commissioners be composed of avowedly Christian men and women who have no personal advantage to be gained from the missions in China.

Here my sister interposes, ‘Are you so sure that Mr. Bennett’s commission

will materialize that you are seriously waiting for that to uphold you?’ And of course I am not sure at all, so I shall try to match Mr. Bennett’s inconclusive opinion with my own comments.


In the first place, then, I am glad to note that Mr. Bennett has nothing to say against the theory of sending Christian missionaries to China, nor against the zeal and devotion of one type of Christian missionary — the Roman Catholic. He says truly, ‘They leave their homes so fired with the courage and conviction of their beliefs that they willingly renounce all thoughts of returning to their people or of ever seeing their countries again.’ He beautifully describes their lives of service and renunciation, although I think no one can make clear to those who have not seen it the astounding degree of privation which those Catholic missionaries embrace gladly in the service of the Lord. He says, ‘The writer has met many priests who for periods of thirty years and more have never left the province to which they were first allocated.’ To me such entire, such majestic, self-giving is a revelation of the power of the Spirit of God working in human life. I think of it with joy and inspiration. It bears with it a message which even such a critical observer as Mr. Bennett cannot fail to recognize.

Sometimes, in moments such as we all have of criticizing our own methods and achievements, I think perhaps it would be better if the mission to which I belong would expect the same standards of personal living demanded by the Roman Catholic orders. (There are, however, certain matters of public policy practised by the Roman Church in China which could never seem to me justifiable.) Then again I come to feel that Protestant missions have also a contribution to make, although their ideal is less easily demonstrable than that of the Roman Catholic societies. Perhaps it is more easily missed by the missionaries themselves. I cannot judge. I can only try to state why it is that even the most sincere of Protestant missionaries seldom tries to copy the admirable self-abnegation of the Roman Catholic monastic orders in China, choosing rather to open himself to the charge, made also against Jesus of Nazareth, of being ‘a gluttonous man, and a winebibber.’

We hold that Christianity can best be understood in the terms of life; that it is a solution, the great solution, of the universal problems of living. We believe that a man or woman who judges the matters of every day by eternal values, who is willing to acknowledge his own faults and to forgive others for theirs, who feels that he is never alone in any true thing he undertakes, has broken the back of the troubles which can come to him and has found a source of strength which never fails. We hold that, in spite of the glaring inconsistencies of our European civilization, Christianity has been an effective and beneficent force in building up our national life. Although we are far from being able to claim that we have yet seen a truly Christian democracy or even a truly Christian family, we are gratefully conscious that there is a transforming force working in the midst of our society which has already accomplished much that is good. We are not afraid that the Chinese will fail to detect this if we dare to open our hearts to them, if we pay them the respect of living our lives among them frankly and naturally. We want them to believe that the blessings of our religion are for normal people under normal circumstances. We present them with a cross section of what Christianity has come to mean to us, men, women, and children, with all our joys and our faults, our affections and disaffections. We trust them to be able to distinguish between what is essential and what is not essential in our way of life, granted only that we are sincerely trying to live up to the precepts of our Christian faith.

I remember years ago hearing of an experiment in missionary method made by an American Protestant missionary in India whose name, I think, was Stokes. This young man, with courageous ardor, started out to live as an Indian holy man, walking from place to place in the dust, under the hot sun, with no provision made for the necessities of life except a wooden begging bowl. He met at first with incredulity and derision at the idea of a Western holy man, a Christian beggar. He suffered with patience a good deal of petty persecution, but won out and came to be held in reverence by many Hindus who might not have been attracted by the ordinary missionary. After a time, however, Mr. Stokes began to feel that he was not inspiring his admirers with the desire to apply his religion to their own lives. They said, ‘It is all right for you. You are a holy man. We are ordinary mortals and cannot be expected to live as you live.’ Mr. Stokes then gave up his eminent position as holy man, married him a wife, and — well, I don’t know the rest. Whether he was able to convey his message better by his second method than his first depends upon the man and the circumstances. But the principle he followed in reëntering the common paths of human life is the principle on which the policy of most Protestant missions throughout the world is based.

Our aim being, then, a radiant moderation, we are immediately plunged into the difficulty of placing the limits required by that moderation. Aristotle, so many centuries ago, recognized the difficulty and the absence of any rule-of-thumb solution, saying that what he called the ‘ mean ’ must be ‘determined by wisdom, or as a wise man would determine it.’ Unfortunately missionaries have not always been wise.


Now it is self-evident that a group of people seriously — perhaps too seriously and unhumorously — endeavoring to establish what are the normal conditions of life among modern Christian people have exposed themselves to a kind of unpopularity entirely avoided by the frankly monastic missionaries of the Roman Catholic Church. Père Robert, in his ‘single room not twelve feet on a side, hare-floored, with furniture of the scantiest,’ cannot be suspected of implying any criticism of the standards of living adopted by Mr. Moore Bennett and his friends of the commercial or diplomatic circles of Peking. Protestant missionaries, on the contrary, have not only implied but have also shouted their criticisms, with and without reason.

We must not forget that in the early part of the nineteenth century, when the antagonism between Western missionaries and traders began, the merchants took for granted a kind of liberty in the conduct of their own lives and their dealings with the Chinese which would be entirely abhorrent to perhaps the majority of their own successors of a century later. I cannot believe that Mr. Bennett would sanction or take part in the kind of opium smuggling very generally practised by British business men only a few scores of years ago, quite undisturbed by any consideration of the fact that they were fastening the strangle hold of a new and terrible passion on the necks of many millions of their fellow human beings. These older traders were not without their good points, but they had failed to realize that there was any brotherhood between the peoples of different races and still held the primitive assumption that all codes of ethics were binding only among members of their own group. They cheerfully believed that on the other side of the world ‘there ain’t no Ten Commandments.’ No wonder they felt an unreasoning resentment against those whose greatest distinction was probably their prevision of world fellowship and whose favorite pastime was surely the instructing of the merchants’ customers in the intricacies of the Ten Commandments.

It is one of the real sorrows of my life that the traditional antipathy between missionaries and ‘community people’ has outlasted the days of its inevitability, the days when Shanghai, for instance, was really the ‘den of vice’ still pictured in the movies. There are even yet, of course, in the port cities of China foreigners whose dissolute society and predatory habits are a disgrace not only to the name of Christ, but also to the reputation of the countries from which they come. Adventurers of this type are, however, coming to be more and more in the minority, as sound business principles take the place of exploitation, and the growing smallness of the world brings commercial people with legitimate social standards to take up their residence in the Far East. I am sure I believe, as my missionary predecessors could not have done, in the ultimate benefit to China of the coming of foreign trade and foreign traders. But the vicious circle of distrust and dislike between missionaries and business people has by now whirled itself into a vortex that will take many years to subside.

A few missionaries of the less tolerant variety still gratuitously condemn the business people they meet for smoking cigarettes or dancing on Sunday. These business people then remember all the ancient stories they have heard regarding the obnoxiousness of such professional Christians, and are not slow to perceive and proclaim any failure on their part to practise what they preach. And of course the failures are many — is not that our common human heritage? Missionaries are in consequence made to feel, on ships and in other public places, that their presence is deplored and their society offensive. They find themselves outcasts from the company of those who are in almost every respect just like the family and friends whom they have tearfully left behind. They are dismayed and bewildered, and too often take refuge in the thought that these votaries of trade are also the votaries of ‘the world, the flesh, and the devil.’ They look expectantly for evidence of this, and evidence is not lacking. They publish what they have seen, and so it goes. Is n’t it pitiful — and unnecessary? The separation is often so complete that neither side really knows the other except by sight and hearsay.

I think most of the ‘community people’ in China would be surprised if they knew how many fair-minded, companionable, and entertaining people are made invisible to them because of the one odious word ‘ missionary.’ The case is like that of American travelers in Europe. When they don’t chew gum or shout through the picture galleries, as tradition says they should, they merely escape observation.

Fortunately there are many instances where members of the missionar}' and business groups in China do mix with mutual pleasure and respect. And in the future such cases must surely increase until they become the rule — at just about the time when, as we hope, the presence of foreign missionaries in China shall have become unnecessary because of the growing strength of the Chinese Church, and foreign trade shall have been reëstablished on a firmer foundation.


I am offering these somewhat lengthy explanations because Mr. Bennett makes almost the chief object of his commissioners to determine why there is so much opposition to Protestant missionaries among ‘residents in China, of whatever nationality.’ Recently an economic reason has been added to the personal one. Business people, I believe unjustly, attribute the recent revolution, with its destructive effect upon foreign trade in China, to the teachings of the missionaries. Mr. Bennett specifically charges the missionaries with ‘aiding and abetting’ their young students ‘in their fight against what they conceived to be, in their foolish ignorance, the reactionaries of the North.’ An undercurrent of this idea is to be felt throughout the whole article. And yet I think it would be very difficult to find in America or Europe many serious and well-informed students of contemporary history who would not readily grant the word ‘reactionary’ to the late rulers of the North whom Mr. Bennett seems to uphold, the ex-bandit Chang Tso-lin and his disgraceful lieutenant Chang Chungchang, who while governor of Shantung collected four years’ taxes in advance from the starving peasants, forcing untold numbers of them to abandon their homes. Whether the Nationalist Government in Nanking will be able to do much better by the country is a matter of opinion. The only thing that is sure is that during the last half century foreign traders in China, by relying on what was called the ‘wholesome fear’ inspired in the Chinese by foreign guns, enjoyed a kind of prestige and special privilege which there seems very little chance of their recovering in the future. It is not surprising that their sympathies should be entirely conservative.

Now I hold that the Nationalist movement, which has had a strongly antichristian feature and has been only in the rarest instances consciously ‘aided and abetted’ by Christian missionaries, is an inevitable and irresistible development of history. We may or may not like it, but we must recognize that it had to come, just as it has come in so many other countries since the war. It is not possible in this day and generation to shut any part of the world away from the rest, as Mr. Bennett would so obviously like to do, saying, ‘Certainly there are no points of similarity between Chinese conditions and those obtaining in either the United States or Great Britain.’ No points of similarity, that is, except the ability of the Chinese people to consume foreign goods and furnish a market for the results of overproduction in England and America, according to Mr. Bennett’s philosophy. In other respects let the Chinese remain as they always have been.

Of course Mr. Bennett praises the Roman Catholics for their political lethargy. He does not mention that these have had as much interest as the merchants in preserving the late conservative régime. One of their strongest policies has been their reliance on the peculiar influence of foreigners in the local Law courts to obtain official support for their native Christians, so making membership in the Roman Church very attractive to anyone with a lawsuit on his hands. The extent of this practice is well known. I myself have seen its workings at close range and consider them very regrettable — as is all lack of spirituality in the Church, including the instances when it appears in the lives of Protestant missionaries. Since certain of these suffer from undue strictness in fitting the conditions of modern life to their ideals, so it is inevitable that others should suffer from undue laxity. The point I wish to make, however, is that Christian missionaries outside the Roman communion recognize that political and economic and social upheavals are sure to come in the Orient during this century, and make it one of their greatest aims to contribute what they can so that the reconstruction, when it is finally accomplished, shall be according to the principles of Christ. We strive not only for personal salvation but for national and international salvation as well.

Mr. Bennett criticizes mission schools for their emphasis on the teaching of English and Western science. He does not realize that mission schools are forced to concentrate on English by the demand of their Chinese students. I knew a mission in a large city in the interior which on principle refrained from teaching any English in its schools. The result was that the schools had no pupils, and English was eventually introduced. And the demand for English on the part of the pupils comes from the fact that without it they cannot receive a good salary in the business world established by Mr. Bennett and his friends. In the same way, since the great majority of the most intelligent and energetic of the educated young men of China are entering into mass production and distribution of goods, it is only right that mission schools should give them a grounding in the principles of economics, that they may have the theory as well as the practice of the thing. Their ancient doctrines have failed to meet the present situation. They cannot remain without any philosophy.

Yet the missionaries recognize the value of ancient Chinese culture often more keenly than the Chinese of this generation. Southeastern University in Nanking, a Chinese government institution, erects large and rather ugly buildings on the Western plan, while Ginling College, a missionary institution for girls a couple of miles away, puts up buildings of exquisite Chinese design and workmanship, like beautiful temples, yet practically and conveniently arranged to suit the needs of the college. It is true that graduates of mission schools are often unfortunately weak in Chinese literature and the command of their own language. It is a fault which we are always trying to remedy. Yet the blame cannot be placed entirely upon the foreign educators, for the Chinese students do not avail themselves of the opportunities for the study of the Chinese language provided by the missionary institutions. St. John’s University in Shanghai, for instance, which has been for years perhaps the foremost foreign university in China, has an excellent Chinese department conducted by eminent Chinese scholars of the old school. A few of the graduates of the university are found to have gained an admirable mastery of their own culture through this department. Most of the students, however, do not care to indulge in what they consider the pastime of a gentleman. Perhaps they have been too much commercialized.

Mr. Bennett objects to the entire educational system of Protestant missions. He says we are ‘forever seeking to make of the farmer or his son a foreign-educated doctor, lawyer, or engineer.’ It is true that all but a very small per cent of ‘China’s millions’ are farmers and in all probability will very properly always remain so. We wish it were possible for the Church to establish a simple, helpful primary school in every smallest hamlet of the eighteen provinces. Many such schools do exist, but they are only a drop in the bucket — or more like a drop in the Yangtze River. We see that foreigners must leave the establishment of a nation-wide system of education to the Chinese themselves. The foreign missionaries, having only a limited amount of time and strength, have deliberately concentrated on teaching the teachers — and especially along those lines where the experience of the West is eagerly sought, including agriculture. The Christian University of Nanking has already achieved notable work in its department of agriculture.

It is curious to me that in the same article we should be blamed for being ourselves ‘Jacks-of-all-trades’ with ‘no pretense to the higher education’ and for paying too much attention to schools of what is generally called higher education. Anyone who is interested can easily obtain catalogues of the various missionary institutions and satisfy himself as to the number of members of the faculty possessing various degrees from the universities of their homelands. The lists, I think, are more impressive than any words of mine can be. If one still insists that missionaries are uneducated, one must carry the quarrel back to those who are responsible for the modern theories of education throughout the world. We can give only what we have received — and are constantly receiving by the taking of advanced courses in various universities when we return home on those furloughs Mr. Bennett deplores so much. Laudable as may be an unbroken residence of thirty years in China from the point of view of devotion, it does not further familiarity with the continuous improvements in the ‘arts and crafts’ of our ‘particular civilizations.’ There are also, it is true, many Protestant missionaries in China who have received a very limited amount of schooling — as there are ‘lay brothers’ and ‘sisters’ in the Roman Catholic orders. I myself should be unwilling, out of respect for the Chinese people, to support any mission which would put uneducated persons in positions of authority. I do not hold a brief for every missionary institution and individual. One is free to choose. God, however, has a disconcerting habit of choosing sometimes what has been rejected of men.


With regard to the difficulty I mentioned just now of reaching the four hundred million people of China, I am not much impressed with the figures brought forward by either Mr. Bennett or the author of the paper called ‘A Missionary Audit,’ in an earlier number of the Atlantic, which Mr. Bennett undertook to supplement. In that paper it was shown conclusively that if eight hundred thousand Chinese have become Christians during the last twenty years, at the same rate it will take foreign missions twenty-five hundred years to make Christians of one fourth of the Chinese population. It is a matter of arithmetic. But arithmetic can sometimes fail. Suppose we illustrate, reverently, by considering the number of ‘converts’ made by the Founder of our religion. On the day of Pentecost there were assembled in an upper room in Jerusalem all the ‘brethren’ who had frankly identified themselves with the cause of Christ — namely, one hundred and twenty people, the entire result, one might say, of the two or three years’ ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. To be safe, let us say it was two years. Even then we must see (‘I speak as a fool’) that it took Him more than six days to make one convert. But on the day of Pentecost three thousand people were baptized in one day through the testimony of the one hundred and twenty—an average, clearly, of twentyfive converts per speaker in one day. Can we therefore conclude that the preaching of each of these brethren was one hundred and fifty times as effective as the preaching of Christ Himself? The absurdity is apparent, and we are forced to consider that Pentecost also was a result of Christ’s ministry of preparation. The rate of outward success was only speeded up with varying conditions.

Now if we could believe that all of our eight hundred thousand Christians would be as faithful as the first one hundred and twenty, China’s four hundred millions could be reached in short order. Of course that is not probable. But there are many indications that the Chinese Christians themselves will soon be able to build, upon the foundation laid by the foreign missionaries, such a structure as would have been impossible to outsiders. To say that, since the foreign societies have been paying so many dollars per year for the support of missions for such and such a length of time, they can therefore tell how much money will be needed in the future is like a father who should say, ‘My son is now in medical school. Since I have been paying one thousand dollars a year for his education for the last ten years, I shall still have to pay fifty thousand dollars if he lives fifty years more.’

The question of money is, of course, one of the most difficult, and it is on this that Mr. Bennett bases most of his charges against Protestant missionaries, saying that they live in reckless splendor in the midst of the bitter poverty of the average Chinese family. I think the impartial commission he has advocated would not find his charges substantiated. I do not say that we make no mistakes in determining what is moderation ’as a wise man would determine it,’ but the standard usually sought for is the minimum which will preserve the missionary family in physical, mental, and spiritual health, not forgetting such things as phonographs and gardens, according to temperament. The majority of missionaries whom I know well live about as luxuriously as the majority of college professors in the United States. It is, naturally, magnificence to the coolie, but simplicity to the wealthy merchant, foreign or Chinese. The fact that foreign teachers usually require a much higher salary than do their Chinese colleagues of the teacher class is of course one of the real barriers to perfect fellowship. I wish it did not exist. But where true Christian understanding is found this fact is accepted almost like the difference in the cut of their clothes. Monasticism seems to me a very beautiful way of begging the question. Our method states it without arrogance or condescension, trusting to the good sense of the Chinese people. Probably both ways are needed.

The accusations with regard to the missionaries’ profiteering by their jobs seem so entirely unfounded as to be hardly worth answering. It is true that some missionaries have handsome houses which could not be bought out of their salaries. These houses are paid for from their private incomes. As missionaries come from all walks of life, the wealthiest as well as the poorest, it is no wonder that you occasionally find one who brings a small fortune with him. I believe that at least half of the missionaries whom I know have inherited some little money from their families, yet, for the sake of the other half, one cannot reduce the salary. It is even conceivable that there may be as many as one hundred missionaries in North China, as Mr. Bennett says, who own, in various summer resorts, houses which rent for six hundred taels apiece for the season. The gentleman’s figures, however, do not inspire confidence when one reads his statement that ‘the average Chinese family’s total earnings do not exceed five gold dollars per annum.’ Now the price of rice in China is such nowadays that the cost of the mere rice required to keep one person alive for a month is approximately one gold dollar, exclusive of the cost of the fuel, oil, salt, cabbage, and beans demanded even by the poor, to say nothing of their clothes. Perhaps some estimates might be lower, but I think any Chinese you ask will probably agree that this is about normal. It seems, then, that a family could live hardly more than a month on the sum of money allotted them by Mr. Bennett for a year. If he thus overstates tenfold the poverty of the Chinese, does it not seem probable that he is overstating also the luxury of the missionaries?

As for the commercial enterprises sometimes undertaken by the missionaries, whether selling milk, Christmas cards, or embroidery, these, like the Roman Catholic industrial work, are not private money-making schemes, but are carried on almost invariably for the benefit of the Chinese employees, the profits (if any) seldom being used even for the support of the mission, but generally being turned back into some sort of social-service work. Often such undertakings, run on a small scale by a busy person in his free moments, are not self-supporting, but are a drain on the missionary’s private income, like a woodpile kept to avoid pauperizing American tramps by too many free breakfasts. Perhaps this is not economically sound. I think it is probably pardonable. Our own mission has a strict rule that any money made by a missionary by occasional secular employment must be turned in to the bishop — so that if, by any chance, the Atlantic considers my words worth buying I shall have to ask permission of the Bishop of Shanghai to turn the Atlantic’s check over to famine relief. I don’t know anything about the Peking Language School’s taking boarders. It may be justified or it may not. I entirely agree with Mr. Bennett that Mr. Rockefeller spent too much money on the outer trimmings of an excellent work in the Peking Union Medical School, but that is scarcely a typical missionary institution.


Mr. Bennett has much to say about the troubles of last year and how the ‘Protestant missionaries marched with most undignified haste to the coast ports . . . regardless of the welfare of any but themselves.’ He fails to realize that, since the revolution was more antiforeign than antichristian, it could only harm the native Christians and increase confusion to have their foreign friends disobey the orders of their various consuls by remaining at their posts. I don’t know what the Roman Catholics are doing in China just now, because I myself was a refugee from Nanking and came to America immediately. I have just received permission to return to China next month. But I do know that it is quite in accordance with the general policy of the Roman Church to withdraw its people temporarily from a given place in time of persecution. In 1925 I saw many Roman Catholic missionaries from near Canton refugeeing in the Philippines. The present forced absence of so many Protestant missionaries from the interior has, I will say, given an opportunity to the Chinese Christians to demonstrate their strength, which they have done with such courage, faithfulness, and ability as to be very encouraging.

The point on which I feel the deepest agreement with Mr. Bennett is that no one — neither the missionaries themselves nor their misguided friends — should ask the rest of the world to give ‘reverence’ to the very normal, active, and happy members of our missions in China. If we are looking for glory, we certainly don’t deserve it. Most of us, I think, are merely trying to do our duty like other folks. And we are fortunate in being able to be busy about those things which interest us the most. Why, then, antagonize all sane-minded laymen by claiming that we are more than a company of natural men and women attempting a big work, often making mistakes, but using what wits we have to carry out the plan of the home Church and relying on God to supply our deficiencies? If fewer claims to superiority are made for us, perhaps ordinary fair play will be more readily given.