American Missionaries in Dengzhou:The Presbyterian Mission, An Important Base for Learning Chinese and Teaching Sermons in Late Qing Dynasty

John Livingstone Nevius, a missionary of the American Presbyterian Mission
John Livingstone Nevius, a missionary of the American Presbyterian Mission (photo: Provided by Guo Dasong)
By Guo Dasong January 20th, 2020

The American Presbyterian Mission arrived in China's eastern Dengzhou a little later than the American Baptist Mission.

The Presbyterian Mission was not the earliest mission to Dengzhou, but had rapid development. By the 1911 Revolution (1911-1912), it had already been Shandong's largest and most powerful missionary organization. The Dengzhou Presbyterian Mission was both the earliest missionary organization of the Northern Presbyterian Mission of the United States in Shandong and an important base for the missionaries to learn Chinese and evangelize. According to an incomplete statistical study, from the arrival of the Gayleys and the Danforths in May 1861 to the outbreak of the Anti-Japanese War in 1937, the Northern Presbyterian Mission of the United States had sent several official staff to Dengzhou, of whom as many as 86 stayed for nearly a year or more.

The Dengzhou Presbyterian Mission was founded in the summer of 1861. In May that year, the Gayleys and Danforths arrived Dengzhou. In June, the Nevius arrived from Ningbo. They did not have accommodation so they stayed with the Hartwells of the Dengzhou Baptist Mission. That marked the beginning of the creation of the Dengzhou Presbyterian Mission. A few weeks later, to avoid troubling the Hartwells, the Gayleys and the Nevius rented a residence adjacent to the Hartwells (in fact only temporary residence, since they soon moved to the East Temple). The Danforths went to Guanyin Temple to find a wing house to live in and soon began their missionary work. According to Mrs. Nevius, it was possible to start so quickly because several of the missionary couples soon had a place to settle down, and the people here were "simple, straightforward and very friendly to foreigners at first".

However, this seemingly too smooth a situation soon encountered a setback. In September 1861, when Mrs. Danforth died, two male missionaries went to Penglai County to "ask for permission to buy an appropriate place for the graveyard of the Mission". So the seaside outpost near Shuicheng, Penglai, became the graveyard of the North Presbyterian Mission of the United States. Mrs. Danforth's grave became "the tomb of the first Protestant missionary in Shandong Province." After his wife's death, Danforth was over-grieved, had health problems and returned to the United States at the end of the year. In 1862, the Mills and his wife came from Shanghai to strengthen the ministry. Reverend Gayley was unfortunately infected with the then-difficult tiger disease (commonly known as cholera) and died. When Gayley died, the Mills and Mrs. Gayley suffered a huge blow. Mrs. Gayley was physically and mentally exhausted, and then returned to the United States with her children. In the following year, John Livingstone Nevius accompanied his wife back to the United States for medical treatment, and Dengzhou was only left with the Mills.

As clearly seen so far, it was obvious that the Dengzhou Presbyterian Mission had been struggling for years with no stable administration and personnel. Although "ten people were converted to Christ" around the end of 1861, which meant that the Presbyterian Mission had established a church in Dengzhou, "the staff were soon sadly exhausted". Before the arrival of the Mateers, there were only the Mills. After the Nevius' departure, Mills was the actual head of the Dengzhou Presbyterian Mission. From 1865 onwards, he served "as pastor of the Dengzhou Presbyterian Mission" and was in charge of the mission until his death.

Dengzhou Presbyterian Mission really took root, gradually grew, and eventually became an important base for new missionaries to learn Chinese and evangelize only after the Mateers' arrival to Dengzhou.

In January 1864, the Corbetts and the Mateers came to Dengzhou from the United States. The Mateers, in 1867, bought a plot of land next to Guanyin Hall and built a Western-style two-story house. Earlier on in 1864, the transformed Guanyin Hall was used as a school opened by the Mateers. Since then, the Dengzhou Presbyterian Mission had gradually been on the right track.

After the arrival of the Mateers, for foreigners, the living quality and environment in Dengzhou, as Mrs. Nevius had said, was quite good compared to the rest of China at that time. It was because of this relatively harmonious living environment that the Dengzhou Presbyterian Mission in recent history set a number of provincial and even national "firsts". Among them were "Shandong's first school and also Shandong's first women's school" - Dengzhou Presbyterian Mission girls' boarding school; the first modern university in China - Dengzhou Wenhui School; the first school for the mute and the deaf in China - Dengzhou Qiyin School; the first introduction of weaving Western lace technology; the first promotion of Arab numerals and the +, -, x, ÷ symbols for calculation for the country and even in East Asia; and the earliest systematic introduction of Western music, composition knowledge and education.

As early as the end of the autumn of 1862, Mrs. Nevius opened a girls' school in Guanyin Hall, "all of them boarding with food and uniforms provided." It was "the first school in Shandong also the first girls' school in Shandong". Around the mid-1880s, when the Dengzhou Wenhui Hall became a university, this first girls' school in Shandong Province, had been "closed" for a few years and re-opened in a rented venue on the back street of Chayuan. The school was renamed as the Dengzhou Girls' Cultural Hall. This is what the later generations recall as the Chayuan back street church school for girls.

In addition to the successful establishment of modern schools for boys and girls, the Dengzhou Presbyterian Mission also introduced Western modern medicine to Dengzhou. According to an incomplete statistical study, in the late Qing Dynasty alone, no less than a dozen foreign male and female doctors had come to Dengzhou. Among them, James Boyd Neal, M.D., Walter F. Seymour, M.D., and Miss Alma B. Dodds, worked for a longer period and achieved better results.

As early as 1871, J. P. Patterson, M. D. (then known as Dr. Patterson), came to Dengzhou to set up a clinic for missionaries and their families as well as for the local people. In 1873, S. F. Bliss, M. D. (then known as Dr. Bliss), went to Dengzhou to succeed Dr. Patterson in running the clinic. In 1878, A. D. H. Kelsey, M. D., came to Dengzhou to open a hospital at the Dongda Temple to treat missionaries, their families and local people. A Chinese assistant was hired for running the hospital.

In 1883, James Boyd Neal, M.D., continued to run the hospital, including the operation of a pharmacy, and trained six students. During his ministry, Penglai Presbyterian Hospital was "increasingly developed" and he intended to open a medical major in the Wenhui Hall but was not able to do so due to limited equipment and other conditions. In 1890, he went to Jinan to be in charge of the Presbyterian medical ministry, and later became dean of Cheeloo University School of Medicine and president of Cheeloo University. In 1893, Walter F. Seymour, M.D., came to continue to run the hospital and opened a medical school to train students and nurses, and the hospital developed further than it did under Neal until he moved to the Presbyterian Mission of Jining in 1918. During this period, Miss Alma B. Dodds came to Dengzhou in 1910 to help "take care of hospital affairs, and run nurse training classes, both male and female, with excellent results". After Dodds' arrival, the Presbyterian Hospital received a donation of $11,500 from Mr. L.H. Severance and Miss Helen Gould. The hospital could accommodate 40 patients and "had a stove in winter, a fan in summer", and also had an operating room and an infectious disease quarantine room. Given the conditions of that period, such a hospital could be said to be in a good shape.

By the mid-1930s, however, there had been no record of the Dengzhou Presbyterian Mission Hospital or the medical staff. It is worth digging further into the historical records to find out whether the Dengzhou Presbyterian Mission hospital was disintegrated and also seek clarity on the whereabouts of medical staff such as Dodds.

It can be seen from above that the Dengzhou Presbyterian Mission was the first mission in Shandong. As earlier mentioned, before the 1911 Revolution, the Northern Presbyterian Mission was already the largest Protestant denomination in Shandong. Around the mid-1880s, Shandong Presbyterian Mission had four evangelical areas: Dengzhou, Yantai, Jinan and Wei County. In 1912, according to the New York headquarters of the Northern Presbyterian Mission of the United States, the Area of Shandong evangelism had been expanded to nine, namely Dengzhou, Yantai, Jinan, Luxian, Luzhou, Jining, Qingdao, Yancounty and Teng County. The four major areas and the later nine areas were gradually expanded from Dengzhou and Yantai, and a large proportion of the missionaries in Dengzhou had studied Chinese and evangelized. Therefore, Dengzhou Presbyterian Mission held an important position in the history of the development of the Northern Presbyterian Mission of the United States.

Before and after the 1911 Revolution, the center of Christian activities gradually shifted to big cities, as depicted in the movement of the Dengzhou Wenhui Hall to the convenient hinterland of Yixian County, and then onto the provincial capital, Jinan. Before Japan launched a full-scale war against China, the Dengzhou Presbyterian Mission was very successful. There were still quite a lot of foreign missionaries living in Penglai City. The missionary schools were Wenhui Middle School and Wenhui Primary School, totaling nearly 300 students. At that time, although the missionary schools were run in accordance with the relevant regulations of the Government of the Republic of China, which stipulated that the principals be replaced by Chinese, the missionaries still served as teachers in various subjects. In addition to teaching, the missionaries' main task was to preach in the city and in the towns. Japan launched a full-scale invasion of China in 1937, and after the outbreak of the Pacific War, arrested British, Americans and others in China. The vast majority of those arrested being missionaries resulted in the crippling of the United States Presbyterian Mission, bringing it to its end. 

(The article was originally published in the Sina blog of Donghaisanxian.) 

- Translated by Charlie Li

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