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A Chinese Voice from 120 Years Ago

The following is a suggestion made by a Chinese pastor to the rest of the attendees at the 1890 Shanghai conference of all the Protestant missionaries in China. It must have taken a lot of courage and strong convictions for him to address the room full of foreigners in this manner (there were only a handful of Chinese delegates at the 1890 Conference). Yan's purpose in speaking was to remind the missionaries that in addition to attracting new converts, there was still much work to be done to care for the believers already in the churches.

Another way of conserving your Chinese congregation is that no missionaries, either in conversation among themselves or in articles in papers, should pick out all the worst phases of Chinese character. I am sorry to say we have very bad phases; at the same time we have also some good phases. Why cannot you pick out all the good ones and try to put in the back ground the bad ones? I think there is a bad effect in always talking about the Chinese bad phases. We know at this time there are many Chinese who read and understand English, and they say the missionaries are not trying to do us good, but to malign our character. They report it to the Chinese who are Christians, and their feelings are also hurt, and as a consequence their hearts grow cold towards Christianity. The foreign mercantile communities again are not friendly to us; and when they hear these things spoken of the Chinese, they say it is of no use to teach anything to them. Their prejudice against our people increases, and naturally ours against them also, and the Gospel is hindered, for the spread of the Gospel is promoted according as there is a good feeling between foreigners generally and the Chinese. A third way of conserving your Christians is that you will be more friendly and more sympathetic with them. I have seen in foreign countries that pastor is most successful who cultivates friendliness among his congregation, and not he who preaches the most eloquent sermons and attracts the largest audience. Human nature is the same everywhere, and so if you wish to preserve your Chinese congregations and bring them up to real spirituality and make them better Christians, I pray that you will show so much sympathy with them as in you lies.

Yan Yongjing in W. J. Lewis, W. T. A. Barber, and J. R. Hykes,

Records of the General Conference of the Protestant Missionaries of China:

Held at Shanghai, May 7-20, 1890 (Shanghai: American Presbyterian Mission Press, 1890), 204.

For those interested, you can read more about Reverend Yan in the Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity:

Image credit: by George Lane, via Flickr

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Swells in the Middle Kingdom

"Swells in the Middle Kingdom" began his life in China as a student back in 1990 and still, to this day, is fascinated by the challenges and blessings of living and working in China.View Full Bio

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