Diversifying the operation: Southern Baptist Missions in China at the turn of the century 1890-1910.
Southern Baptist Expansion into China
The change to the Southern Baptist operation in China had its root in the revolutionary transformation of the American South after the Civil War. After winning the war, many Northern missionaries arrived in the South to conduct missions among the ex-slaves as part of the Reconstruction. They tried to spread their message by offering real help to the blacks through the public-service activities especially education. (1) The Northerners' effort thus broke the ecclesiastical authority of Southern Baptists who had always viewed themselves as "the center of gravity" in the South. (2) Angered by the "spiritual invasion" of the North, Southern Baptists accused the Northern missionaries of having "come among us to preach politics rather religion." (3) To respond to the Northern intrusion, white Southern Baptists wanted to launch a religious war to defend their supremacy.
Being eager to demonstrate their religious competence, Southern Baptists found a solution in foreign missions. Foreign countries would provide new listeners to the Baptist message at the time blacks in the South were gradually turning away from their old masters. (4) Many Baptist leaders insisted that foreign operations were vital to the Baptist leadership in the South because an international triumph would be a living testimony to the Baptist potential. As a result, between 1877 and 1917, the Southern Baptists shifted their evangelical focus to abroad. (5)
Among all the foreign mission sites, Southern Baptists had had a continued presence in China since the 1830s. The first American Baptist missionary arrived in Canton in 1836. In 1845, the Southerners organized their own Southern Baptist Convention and its Foreign Mission Board. The event also led to the separation between the Southern Baptist missions in China and those run by their Northern counterpart. (6) By the end of the nineteenth century, there were about fifty Southern Baptist missionaries in China. (7)
Despite the small number, the Southern Baptist missionaries in China produced a strong impact on their fellow Baptists in America both before and especially after the Civil War. They strengthened the force of the "China call" that had already been lingering in the minds of many American Christians. In particular, they delivered a strong message that China was a suitable place to demonstrate the Southern passion because of the local poverty and foreign invasions. The well-known Southern Baptist woman missionary Charlotte "Lottie" Moon often wrote to the Foreign Mission Board asking for more missionaries. She insisted that the most effective missions in China were those that had followed "the Southern principles and run by the people with Southern feelings." (8) Thus, the missionaries like Lottie Moon gradually made China the most favored place for the Southern Baptist foreign missions. (9)
At the end of the nineteenth century, China did seem to offer an attractive environment for the Christian missions. The rigid anti-Christian movements of the 1860s and 1870s gradually calmed down as the Chinese got used to the foreign presence in China. The Chinese government in the late nineteenth century adopted a policy of "using the barbarians to control the barbarians." In order to learn Western applications, both the Chinese government and the public welcomed the expansion of the Christian schools and thus withheld their hostility toward the Christian missions.
Like all missionaries, Southern Baptists found excitement in the changing Chinese attitude. Many reported the Chinese desire for Western education to the Foreign Mission Board. Miss Willie Kelly, a missionary to Shanghai, said that she was pleased by the Chinese willingness to attend the Christian schools. Even some families that had refused to send their older children to the mission institutions now decided to enroll their younger ones in the Christian academies. She claimed that it was a good time to "build more schools" and "organize more missions." (10)
The enthusiasm of the Southern Baptist missionaries toward China was so great that they even saw a new opportunity arising from the aftermath of the Boxer Movement. Comparatively speaking, the Southern Baptist operation in China had been a small one that mainly concentrated in southern China. Only a few missionaries, like Lottie Moon, were in North China where the uprising actually took place. Because of geographical and quantitative limitations, Southern Baptist missions actually suffered little from the Boxers' actions. According to the Foreign Mission Board's minutes of 1900, most Southern Baptist churches in China were in good shape. (11) Shortly after the Boxer movement in 1901, Henrietta North, a missionary to Canton, indicated to the Board that it was the best time to expand the Southern Baptist operation because other denominations were hesitant. (12) In 1902 the Southern Baptist mission in Suzhou was begun by taking over part of the Presbyterian compound. (13)
The rising international momentum of a worldwide Christianization at the turn-of-the century further benefited the Southern Baptist expansion in China. The Student Volunteer Movement motivated many college graduates to join the foreign missions. In 1905, the Southern Baptist Convention joined to found the Baptist World Alliance to promote international evangelism. (14) Under such a circumstance, it was no wonder that the Southern Baptist missionaries to China felt a great inspiration and vowed their willingness to offer their own contributions. Miss Sophie Lanneau, a Baptist from North Carolina, told the Foreign Mission Board before she left America for China in 1907: "I am determined to make a difference." (15)
The Role of the Missionaries
In this new wave of Southern Baptist missions in China, individual missionaries played a key role to expand the Baptist presence in this ancient country. They not only volunteered for the fieldwork but also participated in reforming the mission strategy. Their contributions became the foundation of a larger Southern Baptist China operation in the new century.
The foremost concern for many Southern Baptists at the turn-of-the century was their individual competence. The organized structure of the Southern Baptists suffered greatly from the Civil War. The Northern invasion and the black separatism constituted a trial for the white Southern Baptists especially for their spirit. They had to rely on their personal courage to recover from the collapse of the old Southern society. When they were accusing the Reconstruction of being a "corrupted and unchristian" scheme, the white Southern Baptists struggled to prove their Christian character. They emphasized in particular their individual closeness with God.
The search for individual competence was the main theme in the post-Civil War Southern Baptist theology. Edgar Mullins, the chief Baptist theologian at the turn-of-the century, actively promoted individual dialog between the "real" Christians and God in order to realize full "soul liberty." He announced: "We are progressive as well as conservative," because he insisted on the ultimate biblical authority as well as the individual freedom to benefit from God's power and to spread God's message. (16) In the antebellum South, Southern Baptists understood their religion in terms of an ecclesiastical institution and authority. Entering the twentieth century, they saw their religion primarily as a vehicle to exercise their full personal belief and spiritual pursuit. (17) Angered by the Northern- led Reconstruction, the Southern Baptists' search for their individual competence and soul liberty led to the conclusion that finding truth required a person to be removed from the distractions and contingencies of the native society and government. Foreign missions therefore became a logical choice for many of them.
Southern Baptist missionaries to China warmly accepted Mullins's advocacy and viewed themselves as vanguards of soul winning. Sophie Lanneau declared: "I am a real Baptist of Dr. Mullins' kind that believes in the competence of the individual soul before God." "It was a thrill," she said, to work among the Chinese and to find a home for their souls. (18) The feeling of self-fulfillment was a major motivation for the missionaries to go to a country thousands of miles away from home.
With a strong desire to show their religious maturity, the missionaries contributed greatly to the expansion of Southern Baptist operation in China by opening many new stations. For example, after staying in Shanghai for a short time, Charles McDaniel repeatedly volunteered to go to Suzhou, an important city where the Southern Baptists still lacked any influence. He claimed: "I have to go because God is calling me." (19) In 1902, McDaniel established the Suzhou station. (20)
To achieve quick results, Southern Baptists used their friendship with individual Chinese as a channel to encourage a Christian influence. If in the past they had dreamed of massive conversions, after the Boxer Movement, they felt satisfied by a constant flow of individual Chinese converts. Alice Parker, a missionary to Yangzhou, was happy to see her language teacher and her maid professing their faith in Christ. She conveyed her confidence to the FMB that "eventually we will get the job done" and more Chinese would come to Christ. (21)
The individual missionaries and their achievements indeed made a huge difference to the Southern Baptist operation in China. At the end of the nineteenth century, for the first time, the Southern Baptist missions penetrated into interior China far away from the coast including places such as Honan and Jiangxi. The expansion led the Foreign Mission Board to restructure the missions. Started in 1898 and finalized in 1901 the Board formally divided its China operation into four separate entities: South China Mission in Canton, Central China Mission in Shanghai, North China Mission in Chefoo (Yantai), and Interior China Mission in Kaifeng. In 1910, the Southern Baptist missionaries in China totaled more than 200 people, four times the number of 1899. (22)
The Role of Social Services
An important tool for the individual missionaries to conduct their work was the use of social services. At the turn-of-the century, Southern Baptists created many social service institutions in China. Such a change was indeed a revolutionary one in the Southern Baptist history. Southern Baptists had been conservative in their Christian theology by adhering entirely to the biblical authority and the power of the gospel. For a long time, Southern Baptists had opposed using means other than theological preaching to draw people into their religion.
Despite their persistence in religious evangelism, Southern Baptists realized that they had to modify the approach they had used in China since the beginning of their missions. The Chinese had their own culture and would not accept an alien Christianity easily. Matthew T. Yates, the pioneering Southern Baptist missionary to China during 1846-88, strongly advised the Foreign Mission Board to adopt some practical measures to show the Chinese the real benefits of Christianity. He indicated that the Chinese had long been under the influence of Confucianism that emphasized benevolence as the core of human relationship. Yates thus concluded that the missionaries had to show how Christianity cared about the ordinary Chinese in order to touch their hearts. What could be better than providing social help along with evangelism? (23)
Indeed, at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, the social gospel became the major form of the Christian missions in China. The social gospel called on the missionaries to be engaged in social work to create a favorable environment for the rise of the Christian influence. It offered the missionaries the most effective weapon to attract the Chinese into the missions, the first step for any further evangelism. Especially after the Boxer movement, the missionaries found the social gospel the easiest way to avoid any direct confrontation with the Chinese so that they could continue their missions in China.
Among all social services, Southern Baptists were especially devoted to education because of their historical heritage. According to them, absolute biblical authority required a person to have a solid understanding of the Bible before being baptized. Southern Baptists wanted children to receive education so the youngsters would grow to know Christian theology. Baptists insisted that only after necessary study would a person be able to profess a real faith in Christ. Education thus held the key to the Baptist kingdom. (24)
The Southern Baptist tradition of education continued in China. Unlike other denominations that conducted social services of all kinds, the overwhelming majority of the Southern Baptist missions were educational. In many stations, schools constituted the only form of the social work. In Shanghai, the Southern Baptists created the College of Shanghai in 1904. It later became the second largest Christian college in the city.
In addition to higher education, Southern Baptists were particularly strong in developing secondary and primary education in China. The majority of their mission stations comprised of middle and primary schools. For example, among the five stations within the Central China Mission, the stations in Suzhou, Wuxi, Yangzhou, and Zhenjiang all centered around the schools below the level of secondary education. Even in the mission headquarters in Shanghai, the Southern Baptists also operated the Ming Jang School for boys and the Eliza Yates School for girls. In fact, the Yates school was the second largest women's academy in the city.
As mission-sponsored institutions, all the Southern Baptist schools had a strong religious curriculum to reflect their original intention of evangelism. The Reverend F. L. Hawks Patt declared in 1899 that a Christian school "is a place of learning, a place of society, a place of religion." (25) Hence, the religious education in Baptist schools played a leading role in creating a constituency for Baptist evangelism. At Wei Ling Girl's Academy, a department of religion took charge of the school's religious affairs. To strengthen the Christian educational nature, the academy adopted many programs including Bible courses, Sunday School, and campus Christian fellowships. (26) According to a study conducted by the Educational Association of China (a Christian educational organization) in 1909, the Southern Baptist schools usually doubled the weekly course load for Bible study over that of the institutions run by other denominations.
Aiming at influencing the Chinese children, Southern Baptists were extremely enthusiastic toward kindergarten education as well. Almost every Baptist school had its affiliated kindergarten so that the religious teaching could begin for the Chinese early in their childhood. Even the College of Shanghai had its kindergarten that became well known in the city. Missionary Sallie Priest reported in 1907 that the kindergarten of the College of Shanghai was a great evangelical help because the children could tell the Bible stories to their parents and other family members. Many new converts came from the families whose children attended the Christian kindergartens. (27)
The Role of Women Missionaries in China
The rise of educational missions offered Southern Baptist women a great opportunity in China at the turn of the century. Historically speaking, the most common public profession for women was to become teachers especially at the primary and secondary levels. By participating in the Southern Baptist educational effort in China, women found an effective way to change their role in the foreign missions.
In the past, women had always been in a subordinate position in the Southern Baptist China operation. Throughout the nineteenth century, the majority of the women were wives of the male missionaries. These women had gone to China with the chief responsibility to help their husbands domestically. As a result, they had focused on taking care of household chores and raising children.
During the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, there was a revolution among the Southern Baptist women in their attitude toward foreign missions. Independence became the key word. Willie Kelly, a missionary to Shanghai, told the Foreign Mission Board in 1896 that she would like a chance to start her own school. In that way, she indicated, she would be able to do what she really wanted to do. (28) For the first time, women missionaries like Kelly actively advocated women's involvement in the leadership of the foreign missions. The desire was especially strong among the single women missionaries because they were eager to assume a greater role in the decision-making process. They wanted to have their own missions.
Starting from the late nineteenth century, the Southern Baptist women organized themselves to promote their cause. Led by Lottie Moon, Southern Baptist women began to mobilize themselves. They wanted to have their independent representation in the Southern Baptist Convention. In 1888 they announced the inauguration of the Woman's Missionary Union in Richmond. (29) The women rallied behind the union and that forced the convention to give it a quick recognition. The union in turn played an important administrative and financial role to advance women's missions both in the United States and abroad.
Indeed, the Woman's Missionary Union became the biggest help to the female missionaries especially the single women. In 1907, the union sponsored a special training school for women in Louisville, Kentucky. The school served as a major channel for women to receive necessary preparation before they would leave for foreign countries like China. In 1913, seventeen out of ninety-three women missionaries in China had received previous training from the school. (30) The Woman's Missionary Union was also a source of funding for the on-site women missionaries when they fell into any economic difficulty. In 1905, the union started the "Lottie Moon Christmas Campaign" as an annual fund raising effort. It was a success because it made the union a self-sufficient organization. Finally, the Woman's Missionary Union constituted a liaison between the women missionaries and the Foreign Mission Board. In particular, the union was the "home" for many single women missionaries in their attempts to have their own missions and maintain their independence. (31)
Supported by the Woman's Missionary Union, Southern Baptist women missionaries enjoyed success in their social work in China. Women teachers increased greatly at the turn of the century. Two single women missionaries, Sallie Priest and Catherine Bryon, even joined the faculty of the College of Shanghai in 1906 and 1908 respectively. The process of creating women's schools scored a major achievement. By 1911 all of the five stations in the Central China Mission had established separate academies for women. In these institutions, the women missionaries not only occupied the majority of the teaching positions but also, or more importantly, controlled the administrations. (32) Women finally got a chance to demonstrate their leadership capability. The Baptist women also made significant progress with their religious evangelism. Despite the social contributions, the women missionaries knew that their ultimate achievement had to come from their, ability to win more converts from the Chinese. It was the only measurement that would really matter to their missionary future. They worked hard to produce high numbers. Naturally, the women missionaries were quite successful in getting favorable responses from the Chinese women. At the Eliza Yates School for girls in Shanghai, more than half of the students had professed their faith in Christ by 1909. According to a report from the Central China Mission, female institutions usually had higher rates of conversion than their male counterparts. The women missionaries were indeed pushing the Southern Baptist operation in China to a new level. (33)
The Role of Missionary Attitudes Toward the Chinese
An important but still tentative change at the time was Southern Baptist missionaries' attitude toward the Chinese Christians. At the turn of the century, the missionaries finally realized that they could not perform their missionary duty without help from the Chinese converts. Especially after the Boxer Movement, such cooperation transformed from a show of the missionaries' kindness to a requirement necessary for the continuation of the missions. It was the only way to make the missions welcomed by the Chinese.
Chineses help was most visible in Southern Baptist efforts to translate Christian literature into the Chinese language. In 1899, the Foreign Mission Board authorized the creation of the Publication Society in Canton. Since then the society had become a principal vehicle for Southern Baptists to promote the Christian influence in China. After entering the twentieth century, Southern Baptists launched a major campaign to translate more religious classics into Chinese. They recruited many graduates of the Christian colleges into the Publication Society. In 1909 there were three missionaries stationed in the society. At the same time there were more than twenty Chinese Christians working for the society. These Chinese were actually running the station and publishing the books. They made it possible for the Southern Baptist Publication Society to become the third largest Christian publisher in China. (34)
The late-nineteenth century and the early-twentieth century also witnessed increased Chinese participation in the missions' leadership. As reported by the field missionaries, Chinese Christians started taking part in the church meetings and the mission schools' operation. At the beginning of the twentieth century, every station in the Central China Mission had a Chinese pastor who contributed greatly to ease the Chinese opposition and attract Chinese to the Baptist mission. (35) In Suzhou, Sophie Lanneau was deeply impressed by her Chinese pastor. She described for her parents: "From the first word, he [the Chinese pastor] held those hundreds of his fellow countrymen in close attention ... his appeal was to the human heart." (36)
Of course, the Chinese participation in the Baptist mission was still in the beginning stage. At this time, the Chinese Christians neither had voting rights nor held any administrative posts to decide the missions' future directions. They basically carried out the orders from the missionaries. It would take a real revolution for the Chinese Christians to be able to replace the missionaries as the true leaders.
The Southern Baptist operation in China experienced a major shift during the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. Amid the changing Chinese society, the total dominance of the missionary men was facing challenges from both the women missionaries and Chinese Christians. At the same time, the message of traditional religious evangelism was mixing itself with social services. The entire Baptist China operation was becoming more diversified in its personnel and approach. Despite the public turmoil in late Qing Dynasty, the Southern Baptists were determined to stay in the country and hoped that their new adjustments would help them to do so.
The problem for Southern Baptists or the whole American mission enterprise in China, however, was far from over. In spite of their minor accommodations, the missionaries still put their religion and themselves on top of the Chinese culture and the native people. They continued to enjoy their special privileges under the American extraterritoriality guaranteed by all the "unequal treaties." It was why most Chinese at the time viewed the concessions made by the missionaries as superficial and deceptive. Although Southern Baptists prayed for a stable environment to develop their missions, new social storms awaited them in the years to come.
Li Li is assistant professor of history, Salem State College, Boston, Massachusetts.
(1.) Ronald E. Butchart, Northern Schools, Southern Blacks, and Reconstruction: Freedmen's Education, 1862-1875 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980).
(2.) Edmund L. Queen II, In the South the Baptists Are the Center of Gravity: Southern Baptists and Social Change, 1930-80 (Brooklyn: Carlson Press, 1991).
(3.) Cited in Paul Harvey, Redeeming the South: Religious Cultures and Racial Identities among Southern Baptists, 1865-1925 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 39.
(4.) Katharine L. Dvorak, An African-American Exodus: The Segregation of the Southern Churches, 1865-1871 (Brooklyn: Carlson Press, 1991); William Montgomery, Under Their Own Vine and Fig Tree: the African-American Church in the South, 1865-1900 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993); Mechal Sobel, Trabelin' On: The Slave Journal to an Afro-Baptist Faith (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1979).
(5.) Robert A. Baker, The Southern Baptist Convention and Its People, 1607-1972 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1974), 336.
(6.) Liu Yuesheng, Liangguangjinxinhui shilue [A Brief history of the Baptist Churches in Guangdong and Guangxi] (Canton, 1934), 20-34; Murray A. Rubinstein, "Fundamentalist Phoenix: The Death and Rebirth of the Baptist Missionary Enterprise in China and Taiwan, 1936-1962," in Tung-hsun Sun and Morris Weihsin Tien, eds., R.O.C. and U.S.A. (Taibei: ROC-USA Association, 1982), 311-14.
(7.) Statistics gathered from Foreign Mission Board, Southern Baptists and Their Far Eastern Missions (Richmond: Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1922); Southern Baptists in China (Richmond: Foreign Mission Board of the SBC, 1940); H. A. Tupper, Decade of Foreign Mission, 1880-1890 (Richmond: Foreign Mission Board of the SBC, 1891).
(8.) Lottie Moon to Robert J. Willingham [Hereinafter RJW)], November 7, 1901, Lottie Moon papers, International Mission Board [Hereinafter IMB], Southern Baptist Convention, Richmond, Virginia.
(9.) Jesse Fletcher, The Southern Baptist Convention: A Sesquicentennial History (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1994), 71.
(10.) Willie Kelly to RJW, May 12, 1898, Willie Kelly papers, IMB.
(11.) Minutes of the Foreign Mission Board [Hereinafter FMB], October-November 1900, IMB.
(12.) Henrietta North to RJW, January 20, 1901, February 5, 1901, March 11, 1901, Henrietta North papers, IMB.
(13.) Biography Data Form, Charles McDaniel papers, IMB.
(14.) Carl W. Tiller, The Twentieth Century Baptist: Chronicles of Baptists in the First Seventy-five Years of the Baptist World Alliance (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1980), 10.
(15.) Sophie Lanneau to RJW, July 8, 1907, Sophie Lanneau papers, IMB.
(16.) Edgar Mullins to William Owen Carver, September 17, 1909, William O. Carver papers, Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives [SBHLA], Nashville, Tennessee.
(17.) Morgan Edwards, Materials Toward a History of the Baptists (Danielsville, Ga.: Heritage Papers, 1984), 63; Gregory A. Wills, Democratic Religion: Freedom, Authority, and Church Discipline in the Baptist South, 1785-1900 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 139.
(18.) Sophie Lanneau to W. H. Smith, August 28, 1907, Sophie Lanneau papers, IMB.
(19.) Charles McDaniel to RJW, July 22, 1902, Charles McDaniel papers, IMB.
(20.) Reference Book of Central China Mission of the Southern Baptist Convention, U.S.A. (Shanghai, Southern Baptist Central China Mission,1928), 2.
(21.) Alice Parker to RJW, December 20, 1903, Alice Parker papers, IMB.
(22.) Winston Crawley, Partners Across the Pacific, China and Southern Baptists: Into the Second Century (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1986), 131-40; William B. Lippard, The Second Wave of Baptist Foreign Missions (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1926), 10-22.
(23.) As I read Yates's correspondences with the FMB, I could clearly see the change of his thoughts. Matthew T. Yates to Henry Allen Tupper, May 7, 1880, March 16, 1884, February 24, 1887, Matthew T. Yates papers, IMB.
(24.) J. L. Burrows, What Baptists Believe (Baltimore: R. H. Woodard and Company, 1890), 48.
(25.) Rev. F. L. Hawks Patt, "The Aim of a Christian School in China," Records of the Third Triennial Meeting of the Educational Association of China (Shanghai: China Christian Education Association, 1899), 66.
(26.) Sophie Lanneau, "Our Work for Girls in Soochow (May 20, 1913)," Sophie Lanneau papers, IMB.
(27.) Sallie Priest to RJW, December 20, 1907, Sallie Priest papers, IMB.
(28.) Willie Kelly to RJW, October 30, 1896, Willie Kelly papers, IMB.
(29.) Leon McBeth, Women in Baptist Life (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1979), 62-63.
(30.) Fannie E. S. Heck, In Royal Service: the Missionary Work of Southern Baptist Women (Richmond: Foreign Mission Board of the SBC, 1913), 367.
(31.) Catherine Allen, A Century to Celebrate: History of Woman's Missionary Union (Birmingham: Woman's Missionary Union of the SBC, 1987), 42-46; Alma Hunt, History of Woman's Missionary Union, rev. ed. (Nashville, 1976), 23-30.
(32.) Reference Book of Central China Mission of the Southern Baptist Convention, USA, 33. Liu Yuesheng, Feng Zhirong, and Tan Matai, eds., Zhonghuajinhui baizhounianjinianhui, 1836-1936 [The China Baptist Centennial Convention] (Canton: The China Baptist Centennial Convention, 1936), 21-25.
(34.) Milton Stauffer, The Christian Occupation of China (Shanghai: China Continuation Committee, 1922), 45-70.
(35.) S. U. Zou, A Brief Centennial History of Shanghai First Baptist Church (Shanghai: Zih Zung Press, 1947), 34-56.
(36.) Sophie Lanneau to parents, June 1, 1909, Sophie Lanneau papers, Wake Forest University.
Lottie Moon pamphlet now available.
The SBHS has recently published its first new product since the dissolution of the Historical Commission. It is the eleventh pamphlet in the "Shapers of Baptist Heritage" series. It is titled "Lottie Moon: Shaper of Foreign Missions."
Copies can be ordered in sets of 25 for $6.00 or as one of the eleven pamphlets in the "Shapers" series for $2.75 per set. Please call 1-800-966-2278 to order these and other products. Place your order early for International Missions Week in December.