Mr. Denby to Mr. Gresham.
Peking, March 22, 1895. (Received May 13.)
Sir: During my recent short stay in the United States so many inquiries were made of me touching Christian missions in China and the work that they are doing, that I have concluded to send to you my views on this important subject.
I beg to premise that my official position causes me to be more guarded in expressing my views than I would otherwise be, I suppose [Page 197] the main, broad, and crucial question to be answered touching missionary work in China is, Does it do good?
I think that no one can controvert the patent fact that the Chinese are enormously benefited by the labors of the missionaries in their midst. Foreign hospitals are a great boon to the sick. China, before the advent of the foreigner, did not know what surgery was. There are more than twenty charity hospitals in China, which are presided over by men of as great ability as can be found elsewhere in the world. Dr. Kehr’s hospital at Canton is one of the great institutions of the kind in the world. The Viceroy Li Hung-chang has for years maintained at Tientsin, at his own expense, a foreign hospital. In the matter of education the movement is immense. There are schools and colleges all over China taught by the missionaries. I have been present often at the exhibitions given by these schools. They showed progress in a great degree.
The educated Chinaman, who speaks English, becomes a new man; he commences to think. A long time before the present war the Emperor was studying English, and, it is said, was fast acquiring the language. Nowhere is education more sought than in China. The Government is, to some extent, founded on it. The system of examinations prevailing in the district the province, and Peking is too well known to require comment. The graduates become expectant officials. There is a Chinese imperial college at Peking, the Tungkuan, presided over by our distinguished fellow-citizen Dr. W. A. P. Martin, also an university conducted by the Methodist mission. There are also many foreign orphan asylums in various cities, which take care of thousands of waifs. The missionaries translate into Chinese many scientific and philosophical works. A former missionary, Dr. Edkins, translated a whole series of school readers. Reflect that all their benefactions come to the Chinese without much, if any, cost. Where charges are made they are exceedingly small, and are made only when they are necessary to prevent a rush, which in this vast population would overwhelm any institution. There are various antiopium hospitals, where the victims of this vice are cured. There are industrial schools and workshops.
This is a very brief and incomplete summary of what missionaries are doing for the Chinese. Protestants and Catholics from nearly every country under the sun are engaged in this work, and, in my opinion, they do nothing but good. I leave out of this discussion the religious benefits conferred by converting Chinese persons to Christianity. This, of course, is the one supreme object and purpose of the missionaries, to which all else is subsidiary, but the subject is not to be discussed by a minister of the United States. There is no established religion in the United States, and the American Buddhist, Mahommedan, Jew, infidel, or any other religionist would receive at the hands of his country’s representatives abroad exactly the same consideration and protection as a Christian would. I can only say that converts to Christianity are numerous. There are supposed to be 40,000 Protestant converts now in China, and at least 500,600 Catholic converts. There are many native Christian churches. The converts seem to be as devout as people of any other race.
As far as my knowledge extends, I can and do say that the missionaries in China are self-sacrificing; that their lives are pure; that they are devoted to their work: that their influence is beneficial to the natives; that the arts and sciences and civilization are greatly spread by their efforts; that many useful Western books are translated by them [Page 198] into Chinese; that they are the leaders in all charitable work, giving largely themselves, and personally disbursing the funds with which they are intrusted; that they do make converts, and such converts are mentally benefited by conversion. In answer to these statements, which are usually acknowledged to be true, it does not do to say, as if the answer were conclusive, that the literati and gentry are usually opposed to missionaries. This antagonism was to have been expected. The missionaries antagonize the worship of ancestors, which is one of the fundamental principles of the Chinese polity. They compel their converts to keep Sunday holy. The Chinese have no Sabbath. They work every day except New Year’s day and other holidays. No new religion ever won its way without meeting with serious opposition. Under the treaties the missionary has the right to go to China. This right being admitted, no amount of antagonism can prevent its exercise. In the second place, let us see whether and how foreign countries are benefited by missionary work done in China.
Missionaries are the pioneers of trade and commerce. Civilization, learning, instruction breed new wants which commerce supplies. Look at the electric telegraph now in every province in China but one. Look at the steamships which ply along the coast from Hongkong to New-chwang and on the Yangtze up to Ichang. Look at the cities which have sprung up like Shanghai, Tientsin, Hankow—handsome foreign cities, object lessons to the Chinese. Look at the railroad being now built from the Yellow Sea to the Amoor, of which about 200 miles are completed. Will anyone say that the 1,500 missionaries in China of Protestants, and perhaps more of Catholics, have not contributed to these results’? Two hundred and fifty years ago the pious Catholic fathers taught astronomy, mathematics, and the languages at Peking. The interior of China would have been nearly unknown to the outer world had not the missionaries visited it and described it. Someone may say that commercial agents might have done as much, but they are not allowed to locate in the interior. The missionary, inspired by holy zeal, goes everywhere, and by degrees foreign commerce and trade follow. I suppose that whenever an uncivilized or semicivilized country becomes civilized, its trade and dealings with Western nations increase. Humanity has not devised any better, or even any as good, engine or means for civilizing savage peoples as proselytism to Christianity. The history of the world attests this fact.
In the interests, therefore, of civilization, missionaries ought not only to be tolerated, but ought to receive protection, to which they are entitled from officials, and encouragement from other classes of people.
It is too early now to consider what effect the existing war may have on the interests of missions. It is quite probable, however, that the spirit of progress developed by it will make mission work more important and influential than it has ever been.
I have, etc.,