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Christianity Brings Western Medicine to Guangdong (Part 1)

Chinese Church Voices is a weekly column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.


In recent years it has become more common for political and religious leaders in China to acknowledge some of the positive aspects of early foreign missionary work in China. These usually include the building of hospitals and schools. This article, from the website Fuyingmen (Gospel Door) is about the contribution of Christianity to the medicine and education in Guangdong Province.

On September 7, 1807, the young British missionary Robert Morrison, secretly transported by the American cargo ship "Trident", safely arrived in Guangdong Province, becoming the first Protestant missionary to arrive in China, and Guangdong became the first step in Protestant Christianitys spread into inland China.

In Chinese, the term "Christianity" has both broad and narrow meanings. The broad meaning includes Catholicism, Protestantism, and the Eastern Orthodox Church, while the narrow meaning only includes Protestantism. Pastor Ming Liang, president of the Guangdong Christian Association, said that when Chinese people talk about "Christianity," they're actually only talking about the narrow meaning, which is Protestantism.

For more than 200 years, since Morrison brought Christianity into Guangdong, no matter what the early missionaries subjective intentions were, the contributions of Christianity to the development of education, medicine, and philanthropy in Guangdong can't be ignored." According to Ming Liang, the first western hospital, the first English-Chinese dictionary, and the recent famous institute of higher learning, Lingnan University - all are closely connected with Christianity.

According to recent statistics, as of the end of 2009, Guangdong had more than 380,000 registered Christians. They enthusiastically invest in public charities; from 1987 to October 2007, province-wide, 70 million yuan had been raised by Christian organizations for public service projects.

Missionaries published some of the earliest Chinese newspapers and periodicals.

After "The Travels of Marco Polo" became popular in Europe, in the minds of Europeans, China was thought to be a land covered in gold. For the few hundred years following, Western merchants crossed the seas to pursue wealth. Unexpectedly, a group of Bible-carrying foreigners from foreign lands also arrived.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the European and American church thought that they shouldn't waste any time taking the gospel overseas. In 1803, young Robert Morrison applied and was approved to become a missionary with the London Missionary Society. The following year, after going through training to become an overseas missionary, he was sent to China.

To Westerners, the Far East was mysterious, and Morrison could only proceed by himself. The London Missionary Society had great hopes for him, not only that he could live in Guangzhou and learn Chinese, but that he would also compile a Chinese character dictionary, as well as translate the Bible into Chinese so that one-third of the world's population would be able to read it for themselves.

Today, in the village of Huangpu in southeast Guangdong, people lead leisurely and tranquil lives. But 200 years ago this was the thriving Huangpu Harbor, and the Pazhou Tower was its architectural landmark. On September 7, 1807, Morrison, after coming up the Pearl River Channel on the merchant ship "Trident,", disembarked at the Huangpu Harbor. To get around the Qing Dynasty government's ban, he went as a representative of the East India Company, which offered great commercial benefits to Great Britain. Missionaries were regarded with hostility. The Qing government even stated that only foreign business people who were part of foreign firms could be stationed in Guangzhou. Morrison had no choice but to conceal his identity. He learned Chinese from Stuanton, the Chinese translator for the East India Company.

From then on, and for many years, Morrison went back and forth between Guangzhou and Macao, translating Christian materials.

In 1811, the London Missionary Society received a letter and three sample Chinese translations of The Book of Acts from him, causing a stir among the overseas missions world. Not long after that, the four Gospels and The Acts of the Apostles were published in succession.

That same year, the London Missionary Society recruited Milne, a second missionary who wanted to go to China. As Morrison had been fighting a lonely battle, he joyfully welcomed Milne to serve alongside him. At the same time, Morrison's Chinese language skills were gaining him ever-increasing respect and praise.

It is important here to mention a man from Gaoming County, Guangdong, the printer Fa Liang.

According to Shunpeng Chen, the provincial chairperson of the Christian Three-Self Patriotic Committee, in 1810, Fa Liang, who had already perfected the skill of carving beautiful characters on seals, was visited by a blue-eyed blonde-haired guest. This guest could speak fluent Chinese, and he said he wanted to print some religious matter. "This was really dangerous business for Fa Liang, but he chose to take a chance, and in the process, he also developed a desire to become a Christian."

After Morrison baptized him, Fa Liang became the first Chinese pastor. What later became recognized as the first Chinese language Christian magazine in recent Chinese journalistic history, the "Chinese Monthly Magazine, could not have been published without Fa Liang's hard work.

With Fa Liang's help, Morrison's translation of The Acts of the Apostles, Catechism, and the four Gospels, as well of as other evangelistic books were all published, and they were spread secretly around Guangdong. At that time, Milne was also approved by the missionary society to be a missionary in China.

But at that time, everybody everywhere was very antsy. Emperor Jia Qing prohibited the publishing of missionary books nationwide. Because someone informed against him, the movable type press Morrison had painstakingly built to print his Chinese-English Dictionary was confiscated by the authorities. His missionary work also experienced one attack after another.

Morrison started to consider relocating. He had established a base for missions work in Malacca, training local Chinese people to become missionaries through the establishment of a school and in the publishing of books. He hoped that the next time China opened the door, those local missionaries could be sent all over China. During that time, Milne and Fa Liang worked around the clock, translating and publishing a large number of Christian books, becoming the focus of Morrision's missionary cause.

On August 5, 1815, the "Chinese Monthly Magazine", edited by and made up of articles written by men such as Morrision, Milne, and Fa Liang, was published. Printed on the cover was, "Confucius said, select the good features and follow them.'" This was the beginning of the unique "Confucius plus Jesus" model.

Also at this time, due to Morrision's continual appeals, the movable type press for the Chinese-English Dictionary that had been confiscated was returned to him. As Ming Liang explains, 1823 was the first time a complete Chinese translation of the Bible, "The God of Heaven's Holy Book," translated by Morrison, was published. That same year, Morrison's six-volume "Chinese-English Dictionary" was published. This was the first large-scale Chinese-English dictionary, later referred to by scholars as "a key for Westerners to unlock Chinese society and its political system."

Zexu Lin was a patient at China's first western hospital

Today, at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hospital of the National Sun Yat-sen University, the emergency room is where the old church used to be. It is said that the location of the hospital was originally the ophthalmology department opened by the American missionary doctor, Peter Parker in 1835. At this very first Western hospital in China, many surgeries were performed for the first time in China.

In April 1840, "Chinese Repository" published what is known as inland China's earliest Western medical case: Zexu Lin, governor of Hunan, Hubei, Guangdong and Guangxi, when he was imperial envoy. The hospital's historical records recorded that Peter Parker treated him for a hernia.

Before Peter Parker, Christian missionary societies had hoped to use medicine as a means of expanding the influence of the church in China. Early Christian hospitals generally didn't charge money, in order to attract more people and to give a favorable impression. The majority of these hospitals were kept in business by donations from overseas missionary societies.

In the first few years, there weren't many patients who got baptized, but the missionary doctors didn't give up. By 1900, there were already more than 40 hospitals or clinics belonging to the Christian Medical Missionary Society. Most of these were small clinics, scattered in places such as Guangdong, Guangxi, Zhejiang, and Jiangsu.

Besides the Guanghzou Bo Ji Hospital, other famous hospitals started by missionaries include: the Shantou Gospel Hospital, established by the English Presbyterian Church in 1867; the Yi Shi (Benefitting the World) Hospital, established by the American Northern Baptist Church in 1881; the Xiage Women and Children's Hospital, established by the American Northern Presbyterian Church in Guangzhou in 1896; and the Rouji (Giving Gentleness) Hospital, also established by the Presbyterian Church in Guangzhou in 1899.

Beginning in 1866, Bo Ji Hospital began the South China Medical School, with John Jia (John Cadbury) and Guang Huang in charge of teaching. They only accepted male students and trained them to become medical personnel. In 1879, they accepted the first female medical student. In 1914, the hospital opened a nursing school. After graduating, these doctors and nurses were sent to work in provinces all over South China.

Shunpeng Chen believes that even though they were strongly motivated by missions, objectively speaking, missionary doctors still brought knowledge of Western medical methods, medicines, science and technology into China. They also trained a large number of doctors and nurses.

Image source: Wikipedia

ChinaSource Team

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