On April 26, 1910, Alma O. Taylor finally returned home to his family in Salt Lake City after an absence of eight years and eight months. Taylor had been serving these many years in Asia as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.1 Reunited with his father, mother, sisters, and brothers, he naturally felt disoriented. “It was a strange home into which I was received,” he wrote, “one that has been built since I went to Japan. . . . Dear old father has aged and weakened considerably. . . . Mother also shows the marks of the passing years. . . . I felt almost like [a] being in an unknown world.”2
The morning after his arrival, Taylor and his recent missionary companion, Frederick Caine, met with the First Presidency. The two elders reported on their lengthy service in Japan and on the three-week fact-finding trip to China that had concluded their stay in Asia. Understandably, the First Presidency was eager to learn about conditions in China for preaching the restored gospel. The Church had had no official representatives in China since 1853, and the opening of the Church’s Japan Mission in 1901 had made taking the Restoration’s message to other Asian countries a top priority.3 During the ensuing three-hour interview, Taylor and Caine “explain[ed] the manners, customs and life” of the Chinese and were in turn “asked a great many questions” by the First Presidency.4
In addition to his verbal report, Taylor submitted a written account. He drafted a lengthy manuscript entitled “Report of Our Visit to China,” parts of which are published here for the first time.5 The report details the religious, political, and social conditions Taylor observed in his travels and recommends that the Church not send missionaries to China at that time. Taylor’s report concludes:
It appeals to us that the Latter-day Saints will not be neglecting their duty to the world . . . if they postpone the opening of a mission in China until the present chaotic, transitory state changes sufficiently to assure the world that China really intends and wants to give her foreign friends protection and a fair chance.6
Taylor’s report is an important historical document, for the First Presidency sided with the report’s recommendations. Missionaries were not sent to China in 1910 and would not be sent there for many years.7 While we can never know for sure all the factors at play in a decision to open a new mission, Taylor’s report provided a factual basis for the Church’s decision to postpone missionary work in China.
Alma O. Taylor
Taylor’s “Report of Our Visit to China” emphasizes the political and social instability he saw along his journey. This picture contrasts with Taylor’s own secure upbringing. Alma Owen Taylor was born on August 1, 1882, in Salt Lake City. He was the second of two children born to Joseph Edward Taylor, a British convert and well-to-do undertaker, and Lisadore Williams, a schoolteacher from Illinois. He served in the temple with his mother and followed his father into the undertaking business, graduating first in a class of apprentice morticians who studied in Chicago in the summer of 1899.8
Educated at the Eighteenth Ward Seminary and Latter-day Saints College, Alma Taylor was an attractive candidate for a mission. His elocution skills had significant appeal. When Alma entered an oratory contest at the Assembly Hall in 1900, his considerable abilities were on display for all to see. His speech, “First Vision,” did not win the first prize, but one Apostle called it the crowd favorite.9 Alma’s call to serve in the Japan Mission came the following year.
Heber J. Grant, the Apostle who issued the call to serve in Japan, seems to have had his eye on Taylor for some time. Elder Grant and the Taylor family lived in the same home ward. Joseph Taylor was a counselor in the Salt Lake Stake presidency, and he and Elder Grant were close friends. Alma Taylor had long socialized with Elder Grant’s daughters.10 By the time the eighteen-and-a-half-year-old Alma was called to serve in Japan, Elder Grant knew the kind of missionary he was getting.
The Japan Mission
Even before Taylor was born, events were occurring that would change his life. In 1872, a Japanese government delegation visited Salt Lake City en route to Washington, D.C. Church leaders were favorably impressed with the Japanese and began focusing their missionary sights on the Far East.11 When Taylor was thirteen years old, the Church’s magazine for youth, the Contributor, featured an article on the worldwide expansion of the Church. It reported, “The authorities of the Church have of late had their minds more or less exercised in regard to Japan as a country in which the Gospel might at an early day be profitably preached.”12 In 1900, First Presidency member George Q. Cannon admitted the Church had “not made any great effort to enter” parts of Asia and, when it had, had done so in a “spasmodic way.” He further declared, “If the time has come for Elders to go to Japan, let Japan be penetrated. After a while perhaps an opening may be made in Korea, and in Manchuria, and in China.”13
Finally, in the spring of 1901, Church President Lorenzo Snow determined to open the Japan Mission. He called Elder Heber J. Grant to serve as its first president. Grant accepted the assignment and called Louis Kelsch, Horace Ensign, and young Alma Taylor to serve as his missionary companions. After two years in Japan, Elder Grant returned to America while Taylor continued to serve the Japanese. Taylor eventually translated the Book of Mormon into Japanese (1909) and served as president of the Japan Mission (1905–10), all while in his twenties.
A Proposal Presented and Granted
After eight years in Japan, Taylor was ready to return to Utah. Before leaving the Far East, however, he hoped to survey Asian countries where the Church had not entered. Accordingly, he wrote the First Presidency with a request to “visit China and Korea for the purpose of getting an idea of the conditions there. From all the reports I hear, these two countries afford opportunities for missionary work, equal with, if not superior to, those in Japan.”14 Apparently, Taylor believed that these nations might yield more converts than the thirty-five baptized in Japan during the years he served there.15
The Church leadership consented to Taylor’s proposal.16 In a letter to Taylor dated March 9, 1909, the First Presidency communicated its wishes:
We have pleasure in saying that the unanimous sentiment of the Council was that you may consider yourself at liberty to act on the suggestion after your release, and that you do not go alone, but that you take Elder Fred Caine with you, in the understanding of course that the Church is to bear your expenses.17
Months later, the First Presidency sent Taylor a bank draft for one thousand dollars to cover travel expenses.18 This money covered the two elders’ expenses as they toured Korea, a country not discussed in Taylor’s report, and then China.19
The First Presidency probably had several reasons for supporting Taylor’s request. Of all the elders who might be sent to investigate an Asian country, Taylor was probably the best prepared. No other American Latter-day Saint had lived in Asia as long. While China and Japan differed in language, culture, and customs, the two countries had in common an Asian heritage, Buddhist theology, Confucian philosophy, and character-writing system. Taylor’s many years of service in Japan would have familiarized him with these similarities. He had proven himself capable and loyal to the Church. For years the First Presidency had trusted his decisions and conclusions as he served as mission president and translated the Book of Mormon.
Furthermore, Church leaders were already concerned about China’s temporal and spiritual condition. In the April 1907 general conference, President John R. Winder moved that the Church send twenty tons of flour to China to aid famine victims. In another session of that conference, Elder Andrew Jenson declared that China’s spiritual famine would soon be alleviated by the restored gospel.20 Though the Church’s 1853 mission to China had not resulted in a permanent mission, Jenson believed that the Saints now “had reason to expect that a successful missionary field will be opened in that land in the near future.”21
A Fact-Finding Mission to China
Taylor was released as president of the Japan Mission on January 1, 1910. Three days earlier, he had written the First Presidency of his final plans: “Elder Caine and I . . . shall be in Korea and China perhaps 45 days so until a brief visit at Hawaii we do not expect to reach Zion till April.”22 For the next several weeks, Taylor and Caine traveled together through Korea and China. After fourteen days in Korea, the two elders spent forty-nine days in China both north and south of the Yangtze River. They traveled about 4,385 miles by “land and water in and about China,” visiting thirty cities along the way.23 While most of these cities were on the main rail lines or shipping lanes, these were the places most accessible to Westerners and therefore the most likely candidates for Latter-day Saint missionary activity. Taylor kept a daily travel log specifying miles traveled, places lodged, monies paid, sites seen, persons visited, and interviews held.
Taylor’s conclusions, detailed in his report, were rooted in the political and socioeconomic instability he encountered while in China. Several other factors unique to the Church probably influenced his reasoning. Unlike other Christian churches, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lacked an established physical and human infrastructure in China. Large financial resources would be needed to permanently establish this infrastructure in China in 1910. These were resources the corporate Church, only recently out of debt, did not have. Furthermore, Taylor had only recently completed an arduous mission to Japan. He was well aware of how difficult it was for Indo-European English speakers to learn Asian languages. Although his experience in the Japan Mission had proven that language was not an impenetrable barrier, Latter-day Saint missionaries in Japan were few. Opening China would tax the resources of Taylor’s former mission, which still had a very limited infrastructure.
Taylor based his opinions and conclusions on a variety of sources. First, he used his own observations. He paid close attention to the Chinese manners and customs he saw in the cities he visited. But a major source of information came through extensive interviews with foreigners. Unable to speak Chinese, Taylor instead attempted to interview every Western missionary and English-speaking resident he met. He held interviews with U.S. and foreign diplomats; newspaper editors, publishing agents, and various other businessmen; schoolteachers and university professors; doctors and humanitarian-aid workers; Protestant missionaries; and Catholic priests.24 Many of his views reflect the ordinary stereotypes of these other Westerners. Lastly, Taylor read voraciously while in China and compared his reading with his own experiences. For instance, he perused the pages of Samuel H. Chester’s Lights and Shadows of Mission Work in the Far East (1899); Chang Chih-Tung’s China’s Only Hope (1900); writings by Reverend John Macgowan likely gleaned from either his Christ or Confucius, Which? (1889) or his Imperial History of China (1906); and Arthur H. Smith’s Chinese Characteristics (1900).25
Many of Taylor’s sources share certain limitations. Their conclusions often stereotyped the Chinese in unflattering terms. Unaware of a world outside the cities’ vices and eager to Christianize and reform, English speakers characterized the Chinese in broad, sweeping brushstrokes. That such stereotypes found their way into Taylor’s report is no surprise. The combination of observation, interview, and reading made Taylor’s report to the First Presidency representative of contemporary attitudes of the Western community in China.26
Using a variety of sources, Taylor concluded that conditions in China did not then favor the preaching of the restored gospel. Interestingly, events in China soon substantiated Taylor’s conclusions. In 1911, revolutionaries overthrew the ruling Qing dynasty, and China was again torn by political disarray.27 To the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches already established in China, this revolution was but another political storm to be weathered. To the fledgling Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, however, the revolution vindicated Taylor’s concern that China was in “an uncertain, transitional state” and gave Church leaders an additional reason to postpone sending missionaries to China until conditions there improved.
The following excerpts come from his “Report of our Visit to China.” The original typewritten report totals thirty-two double-spaced pages. I have included Taylor’s introduction and four of his eight sections.28 This reproduction retains original spelling and punctuation. Taylor’s handwritten edits appear within slashes (//), while editorial additions, including Chinese place names that have changed since 1910, appear within brackets ([ ]).
Report of Our Visit to China
/Written by Alma O. Taylor/
. . . On the morning of January 26th  we crossed the Yalu River [Yalujiang] on ice /sleds/ and arrived at Antung [Dandong] in Manchuria. At Antung we took the train for Mukden [Shenyang]. Although the distance is only
nineteen/191/ miles, owing to the poor condition of this light-railroad, which was hurriedly built by the Japanese during their war with the Russians,29 it took two days to reach Mukden, one night being spent at the half-way station, Tsaohokon. Mukden is the chief city of Manchuria and the sacred city of the present Imperial Family of China. It has an interesting history connected with the Manchus, and here we find some of the tombs of the Imperial Ancestors.
After an interesting three days visit at Mukden we boarded the train going south. At night we reached Shan
ghaikwan [Shanhaiguan]. The next morning we visited that wonderful monument to the genius and endurance of the Chinese—the great wall of China—which terminates at this place.
Proceeding by the early forenoon train, we reached Tientsin [Tianjin] that afternoon. Tientsin is the outlet to Peking [Beijing], holding the [p. 2] same relation to it that Osaka does to Kyoto or Yokohama to Tokyo. It is interesting because of the massacre of whites enacted here in 1870 and because of the part it played in the Boxer War—the battle of Tientsin deciding the fate of the foreigners in Peking.30
After two days we proceeded to Peking, the capital of China and the most interesting and most cosmopolitan city in the Empire. We spent
three/four/ full days here in busy inquiry and educational sight seeing.
From Peking to Hankow [Hankou/Wuhan] is a ride by rail of 750 miles, and there is nothing on the way that the ordinary tourist cares or ventures to see. For these there is only one through train a week. All the other trains are locals and by these it takes three days to reach Hankow, two stops at night in Chinese inns being necessary. The chance to stop in a Chinese inn and get in closer touch with their food and life tempted us, so we left Peking on the slow schedule.
Paotingfu [Baoching] is the capital of Chihli Province and the scene of a bloody massacre of Christians during the Boxer War. This was made the first stop and we had half a day to visit the resident foreigners and see the city. We boarded and lodged in a Chinese inn. The next day we got as far as Changtefu and had another experience in Chinese life. It was the night before Chinese New Year
’s31 and the noisy celebration, together with uncomfortable slab-beds, made sleep difficult.32 After another day in a train as dusty as a desert stage, we reached Chumatien and spent New Year’s night in a Chinese inn where a Western idea or two had been poorly applied. The next day we reached Hankow.
From a point about 30 miles the other side of Mukden to Hankow our journey was mostly through extensive plains seldom [p. 3] broken by mountains or hills. At this time of the year (last of January and first of February) scarcely a green leaf or blade of grass is seen. The broad fields are dry and dusty. The cold winds that blow almost every day pick up the dust and carry it over the open country with such fury that the atmosphere is colored and the houses and trains are constantly coated with dust both inside and out.
Across the river from Hankow is the city of
Uri/Wu/chang [Wuhan], the educational center of middle China. Uri/Wu/chang, Hankow and Hangyang [Hanyang] three cities all in one group, form the great metropolis of central China. We had a profitable three days’ sojourn here. Leaving the dusty, uncomfortable trains of North China, we took steamer down the great Yangtse [Yangtze] river for Nanking [Nanjing].
Nanking was the capital of China during the Ming dynasty, and it was the scene of the bloodiest tragedy of the Taiping Rebellion,33 which rebellion, it is said, resulted in the death of 100,000,000 of China’s inhabitants. A day and a half were spent investigating conditions at Nanking, then we proceeded by rail to Suchow [Suzhou], called by some, the Venice of China. The visit here was limited to sight-seeing.34 The next day we took the train to Shanghai. This ended our railroad experiences in China. From Chinkiang to Suchow the railroad runs parallel with the grand canal, another of the great engineering feats of the Chinese.
A wait for the proper southbound coast steamer made it necessary to spend eight days in Shanghai.35 Shanghai is a great commercial city populated by men of all nations and creeds, whose principal aim in life seems to be money-making. Here also a mixture of Western and Eastern life can be seen to good advantage; the foreign city standing alongside the native gives a good chance to draw comparisons. While the Westerner is showing [p. 4] the Chinese a good example in material affairs, his influence morally is absolutely degrading.
Leaving Shanghai we proceeded down the coast to the city called Foochow [Fuzhou], on the Min River. At last we have found a spot in China were the scenery looks fresh and beautiful! Our disgust with the poverty of scenic landscape in north and central China is partially forgotten when we behold the magnificence of the scenery from the mouth of the Min up to the city of Foochow. Unfortunately we had to leave Foochow early the following morning.
The next stop was at Amoy [Xiamen], situated in a beautiful harbor. The native city is the filthiest and foulest in China so far as our experience permits us to judge. In this harbor a part of the American Atlantic Fleet was royally entertained by the Chinese in 1908.
Our steamer called next at Swatow [Shantou], where we had a few hours’ stay and then proceeded to Hongkong [Hong Kong]. Hongkong has a delightful situation and its life and activities are much like
that/those/ of Shanghai.
We went up the river to Canton [Guangzhou], the city of the greatest population in China. There are more people in Canton to the square rod than in any other spot on the globe. Most of the Chinese in America emigrated from the country surrounding Canton. After two days of study, inquiry and sight-seeing we went back to Hongkong, allowing one day to prepare for the start home. Our steamer sailed from Hongkong Saturday, March 12th, at noon. The next Tuesday we had seven hours at Shanghai, where we said farewell to China.
China is commonly spoken of as North China and South China, the Yangtse River being the dividing line. Our sojourn in the north lasted seventeen days, and we were seventeen days in the [p. 5] south, while fifteen days were spent in cities on the banks of or near the Yangtse, for, when we reached this river at Hankow, we were about 600 miles inland from the Pacific. The entire journey in North China of 1463 miles was made by rail—railroads owned by the Chinese, but still directed more or less by foreigners. The rest of our journey in China, with the exception of the distance from Nanking to Shanghai, 193 miles, was made by steamer, and from Shanghai to Canton was limited to the coast. In all, our travels by land and water in and about China, including the return from Hongkong to Shanghai, covered a distance of about 4,385 miles. . . .
[p. 18] Social Conditions.
The home is the foundation of Chinese society. The family interests are greater than the interests of the individual. Individual liberty is, to a degree, curtailed because of the supremacy of the family.
While traveling in China we have heard considerable of the Chinese lack of real love in the family circle. Much has been said and written about family quarrels and sorrows. But, after all, in a land where so much stress is laid upon filial piety and ancestor worship and the perpetuation of the family lines, there must be a strong loving bond somewhere. After living in Japan and studying the Japanese for over eight years, we feel safe in judging that in China also the surface appearances are poor indications of the inner life. We are therefore inclined to accept the view of the minority which is best stated in the words of Dr. McGowan:36
“There is no doubt that husband and wife in the great majority of homes in China are bound to each other by genuine, undoubted love. At first sight this seems difficult to be believed. Not only do the young people never catch sight of one another until the moment that they stand side by side as man and wife in the husband’s home, but it is an undoubted fact that the great mass of the women of this land are very deficient in personal charm. Fortunately, good looks are not the things that cause love to grow in a man’s or woman’s heart. As time goes by, other forces come into play that make the plain face shine with a beauty of its own; and soon the hearts are knit together as though Cupid himself had twined the golden chain that bound them in a common love. . . .
“That there are unhappy homes in China, where husbands and wives dispute and quarrel with each other I do not doubt. The same is the case in countries where men and women fall in love and willingly marry each other. . . .
[“]As far as a long experience would enable me to judge, I verily believe that the majority of homes in this country are reasonably happy ones, and the wives hold a position not of sufference but of love.”37
’Tis true that marriages are performed in what, to a Westerner, may seem an arbitrary, mechanical, loveless way, but the Oriental is used to Oriental customs, and a person cannot safely theorize on Chinese love-knots while holding up the Western custom as a standard.
We discovered, however, some decidedly barbaric practices in connection with the family life of China, which moral principles all over the world condemn: such as /the/ killing of infants, especially [p. 19] girl babies, or casting them away, or selling them as slaves. That this has been an all too general custom in the past and is an all too common sin at present every speaker and writer admits. But justice demands that the world be informed that this sin has greatly decreased of late years and hope is bright that it will, ere long, cease entirely. Poverty, the honor that comes to the parents with the birth of a male child, and the disgrace and humiliation which custom and perverted Confucianism38 frequently attaches to the birth of a female child are the chief reasons assigned for this crime.
The use above of the word “slaves” may imply that slavery exists in China, in fact some men so view it, but from our readings and observations, we would be more inclined to refer to it as a severe apprenticeship, because whips and lashes and bloodhounds are not in evidence, and freedom and independence are not impossible if worked for. Still it is not uncommon for this apprenticeship to continue from father to son, making the system appear like an inherited bondage.
One would expect to find in a country like China a pronounced class distinction, but we were agreeably surprised to find that the high and low mingle together with less restraint than Oriental society in most places demands. As already noted in the remarks on education, according to the old system, every man, except the sons of those engaged in degraded business, could aspire to and, by their own diligence and genius, reach the highest honors this side [of] the Imperial throne. Wealth and poverty makes less distinction between men than learning and ignorance do. It remains to be seen whether or not the program for a new China will result in more or less caste in her society. [p. 20]
Ideas of propriety in the intercourse between men and women in China are different from the Western ideas. The women are separated from the men in most public places. The churches in North China are provided with curtains that hang through the /centre of the/ assembly rooms and the men are seated on one side and the women on the other, preventing even a view of each other. In all churches where the curtains are not used, the sexes are assigned different parts of the room, a mixture of sexes in the same tier being carefully avoided, let alone a mixture on the same bench. The inns where we stopped, the public places where we visited (aside from the shrines), the stores where we made purchases; all these are manned, giving everything an indelicate, inartistic, rough, masculine
aspect/appearance and air/. The women in the house also have no special part to play in the entertainment of a male guest. This condition makes it impracticable and dangerous, therefore quite impossible, for a male missionary to do work among the women; and they, being generally too illiterate, he cannot reach them with the written word. The female missionary is therefore a necessary adjunct to missionary work in China.
There is a class of females, known as singing girls, who dance and play and sing before male audiences in certain public and private entertainments. These girls are common attendants upon real swell restaurants, tea houses, etc., but their profession is decidedly shady.
The theatre is the chief source of amusement in China, and all performances, whether good or bad, elevating or demoralizing, are well patronized by both men and women. The actors are all men; women being prohibited from going on the stage. [p. 21]
Private gatherings are no doubt common among the wealthier people, but we have had only the faintest hints as to their nature, except that feasting at the other fellow’s expense is the Chinaman’s delight.
Although we have not recognized it by sight, polygamy39 is a common institution in China. The importance of the family, the necessity of continuing the family line and keeping up the worship at the ancestral tombs and tablets40 according to Confucian principles, are cited as the basic reason for polygamy: Since the beginning of the practice, however, the reasons have been found to justify individual cases and now concubinage has also become common as an appendage to a perversion of polygamy.
The terrible graft that is carried on in official circles, because every official is so badly paid and squeezed by his superiors that he in turn has to squeeze and steal right and left in order to live and maintain the standard of his position, has had a demoralizing effect upon aristocratic society. And the commoners have found in this an excuse and precedent for similar immoral, high-handed schemes in their part of society. Thus there are evidences that one rank of society is suspicious of the other and a mutual suspicion and jealousy exists alarmingly among individuals. The President of the largest Christian University in China41 said that the students’ distrust in the government and official promises was so great that free education in government schools was no attraction to the young men of the nation, who are too fearful of what the results might be to themselves. This common suspicion is one of the important sociological problems of the Celestial Empire. [p. 22]
The statements we have heard about the Chinaman’s morality are many and often quite contradictory. Foreigners of long residence in North China unhesitatingly applaud the personal purity of the people and declare their condition to be equally as clean if not cleaner, than conditions found in Europe or America. The story in South China, told by men of equally long experience is that the Chinese are terrifically loose in their morals, and the seclusion of women (it is not so marked in the south as in the north) so much applauded, is not the white flower of virtue that it is often said to be. One veteran, living in central China, recited what he called actual discoveries of immorality which, if true, certainly rank well with the startling revelations of sexual rottenness in the Occident. Doctors in middle and south China claim that syphilis and kindred diseases are unusually common but are not of the most virulent type.
One fact, which, we judge, would have a bearing on this question is that marriage, being considered of utmost importance, is urged upon everyone. Bachelors and old maids are the scapegoats of society. The result is that the Chinese marry young, the girls’ years are especially tender. This custom, to our minds, reduces the temptations of young manhood and young womanhood, and surely prevents much impurity which would otherwise exist.
The Chinese are known all over the world as men of their word. Honesty in business—commercial integrity, have made them almost a proverb in the mouths of Westerners. To know the basis of this reputation has been one of the objects of our search and study in China. After all, we conclude, from the evidence to [p. 23] hand, that honesty with the Chinese is not a moral asset to his character—it is not a matter of conscience with him; it is only a policy which he has recognized to be essential in obtaining the most coveted thing in the world—money. The Chinese keenly recognizes that in order to get the foreigner’s money he must first get his confidence. And the policy that gets and holds a merchant’s confidence, is honesty in business deals. Now the basis of a man’s honesty and reliability in business is not a question about which the Western merchant cares much, therefore they have praised the Chinese so loudly that people take it for granted that honesty is /a/ characteristic virtue of the Chinese. /But it is not./
The Chinaman is a born gambler. He would rather play games of chance than eat, and he likes a feast very much. It was no uncommon thing for us to see little boys and girls not yet big enough to go to school playing juvenile games of chance in the streets, preparatory, it seemed, to following in the footsteps of their sires. Their intense passion to play for luck is illustrated by one writer who says it is not uncommon for the people of a certain district who have received a tax notice, say, for $17.00, to sink the $17.00 in a game of chance in the hope of getting $20.00, but only come out with $14.00 rather than go directly to the collector and pay the $17.00. Gambling is no doubt one of the curses of China.
Another curse is opium smoking. It has been prohibited by law, but a majority of the officials are said to be secretly continuing the practice, while hundreds of thousands of the common people are slaves to the habit—a habit which/, it/ is claimed
todo/es/ more harm to the nation than floods, pestilences and famines combined. [p. 24]
We have been deeply interested in learning of the Chinese sincerity of heart and purpose when he enters the Christian church. Missionaries, questioned on this point, have naturally spoken in defense of their convert’s sincerity, [b]ut there has been an occasional shy acknowledgment of exceptions to the rule. The history of a Baptist missionary’s /(not Dr. McGowan)/ experiences in China during 50 years,42 which has been read with keen interest, records happenings which clearly prove that the Chinese have weaknesses in common with their neighbors, and there is more or less ulterior motive in the sympathetic attitude of many towards religion. This is not limited to the professing Christians—it is seen in the professing Buddhists and others. In justice to the Chinese Christians, their heroic stand at the time of the Boxer War should not be forgotten. A Bible was placed at their feet and they were commanded to trample upon it and renounce Christianity. Not complying, they were threatened with death. It is said that practically every soul thus tested chose death. We are told by missionaries generally that apostasy is uncommon, but lukewarmness and inactivity in Christian duties is one of the worries of the work.
The Chinese being such faithful students of the classics, we were not surprised to hear of their high esteem for Confucius and Mencius.43 Ancestor worship, so common in every part of the Empire, and in every grade of society is the chief product of Confucianism. It, in fact, is the soul of religion in China, if indeed China has any distinct religion, and around this worship of the dead have gathered Buddhistic and Taoistic rites and ceremonies embracing varied conceptions of strange gods and spirits [
of] both [p. 25] good and bad, beautiful and ugly, gentle and ferocious.
Confucianism should exist as an independent code of ethics. It cannot logically or consistently admit Buddhism or Taoism, for the very nature of these systems is antagonistic to Confucius’ doctrines. But the remarkable ability of the Chinese to mix oil with water, as it were, has mixed the metaphysics of Buddhism, the superstitions of Taoism and the ethics of Confucianism into one incongruous, but, to the Chinese mind, quite harmonious mass. Thus in some rites of worship the people may be strictly Buddhists, while in others, Taoists, and still again in others Confucianists. Dr. Arthur H. Smith44 states his observations of this condition as follows:
. . . Any Chinese who wants the services of a Buddhist priest, and who can afford to pay for them, will hire the priest, and thus be ‘a Buddhist.’ If he wants a Taoist priest, he will in like manner call him, and this makes him ‘a Taoist’. It is of no consequence to the Chinese which of the two he employs, and he will not improbably call them both at once, and thus be at once [‘]a Buddhist” and ‘a Taoist’. Thus the same individual is at once a Confucianist, a Buddhist, and a Taoist, and with no sense of incongruity. Buddhism swallowed Taoism, Taoism swallowed Confucianism, but at last the latter swallowed both Buddhism and Taoism together, and thus ‘the three religions are one!’”45
Our own observations lead to the belief that the Chinese are polytheists. They seem to have a god for every occasion. It seems also that pantheism is a characteristic of their faith, for objects in nature, if not nature itself, are deified and worshipped. It may be, however, indeed our observations suggest[,] that idolatrous polytheism and idolatrous pantheism are more eagerly followed by the ignorant classes than by the scholars [p. 26], for the latter have their brains well soaked in the teachings found in the classics. Some understand the Confucian classics to deny the existence of God, hence say that atheism is common among the scholars of China.
However it all may be, what our own eyes have seen, our noses smelled, and our ears heard, while visiting Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian shrines in China, all goes to prove that the religions of China are, in practice, unclean, without order, superstitious, immoral, idolatrous, retrogressive and unenlightening. No matter how beautifully their theology may be recorded, Confucius, Mencius, Guatama46 and Laotse are not honored by the worship done in their names.
It is said that the Chinese have never been anti-Christian, that is, hostile to Christianity itself. It is the foreigner and the foreign influence that accompanies Christianity into China that the Chinese have opposed and do still oppose. Still it does not seem to us reasonable that Christianity, as such, should not be more or less resisted. It is no doubt true that the common people, unacquainted with the classics are not anti-Christian, but the scholars, from the very nature of their textbooks must recognize Christianity as antagonistic to their beloved sage’s analects.47 In a book entitled “China’s Only Hope,” written by Chang Chih-Tug, one of China’s greatest Vice-roys, and approved by Imperial edict, the idea of Christianity for the West and Confucianism for China is plainly set forth. The following paragraphs are
“We would here state that there are now three things necessary to be done in order to save China from revolution. The first is to maintain the reigning Dynasty; the second is to conserve the Holy Religion; and the third is to protect the Chinese Race. These are inseparably connected; in fact they together constitute one; for in order to protect the Chinese Race we must [p. 27] first conserve the Religion, and if the Religion is to be conserved we are bound to maintain the Dynasty.
“Our Holy Religion has flourished in China several thousand years without change. The early Emperors and Kings embellished our tenets by their noble examples and bequeathed to us the rich legacy which we now possess. The sovereigns were the teachers. The Han, the T’ang and all the Chinese Dynasties to the Ming (embracing a period of 1800 years) honored and revered the religion of Confucius. Religion is the government, and the Emperors of our Dynasty honor Confucianism with a still greater reverence[.] . . . For government and religion are inseparably linked together and constitute the warp of the past and present, the woof of intercommunication between China and the West.
“The foundations of our State are deep and durable. Protected by Heaven, the superstructure will certainly stand secure! But supposing this absurd gossip about the partition of China by Europeans were true and the country were cut up, be it ever so exalted and excellent, would foreigners respect the Holy Doctrine of Confucius? Far from it. The Classics of the Four Philosophers would be thrown out as refuse, and the Confucian cap and gown would never more cherish the hope of an official career. Our clever scholars would figure as clergymen, compressors, and clerks, whilst the common people would be required to pay a poll-tax and be used as soldiers, artisans, underlings, and servants. That is what would happen. And the more menial our people became, the more stupid they would be; until being both menial and stupid, they would become reduced to wretched poverty and at last perish miserably. Our Holy Religion would meet the same fate that Brahmanism in India did. Its adherents would be found skulking away, or crouching among the cavernous hills, but clinging fast the while to some tattered remnants of the truth!
“Buddhism and Taoism are decaying, and cannot long exist, whilst the Western religion is flourishing and making progress every day. Buddhism is on its last legs, and Taoism is discouraged, because its devils have become irresponsive and inefficacious. If there be a renaissance of Confucianism, China will be brought to order and Buddhism and Taoism will receive secure protection
against/from/ the Sect of the Learned.
“The old and new must both be taught; by the old is meant the Four Books, the Five Classics, history, government, and geography of China; by the new, Western government, science, and history. Both are imperative, but we repeat that the old is to form the basis and the new is for practical purposes.
“Chinese learning is moral. Western learning is practical. Chinese learning concerns itself with moral conduct. Western learning, with the affairs of the world. What matters it, then, whether Western learning is mentioned in the Classics or not, if it teaches nothing repugnant, or antagonistic, to the genius of our books? If the Chinese heart throbs in unison with the heart of the sages, expressing the truth in irreprovable conduct, in filial piety, brotherly love, honestly, integrity, virtue; if government is loyalty and protection, then let government make use of foreign machinery and the railway from morning to night and nothing untoward will befall the disciples of Confucius.”48 [p. 28]
There is one point that should not be overlooked in discussing the religious conditions in China; that is, the passionate love of the Chinaman for money. We are told that a Chinese will almost forsake his ancestors, if such an act will bring him a bag of money, and he can be persuaded that the spirits will not destroy him for his unfiliality. Therefore, one of the fears, in South China especially, is that if the Chinese are convinced of the absurdities of their superstitions and ancestor worship, that they will put the dollar in place of Confucius’ tablet and Buddha’s idol and prostrate themselves before the altar of filthy lucre.
In regard to Christian missionary work in China, we have heard much, seen a little and read considerable. Certainly the pathway has been rough and is dotted with the grave mounds of thousands of martyrs. The way is still hard.
Catholic Missions49 have been operating in China since the Ming Dynasty (1368–1628). They have a large following. There are historical facts that show that in the past they have wielded great influence—great enough to attract Imperial attention and call forth the government’s praise or restrictions as the case might be. Catholic cathedrals, orphanages, and schools represent an immense outlay which one priest said was nearly all subscribed by Christians in Europe.
The oldest Protestant Mission was started in 1807.50 There are now representatives of 91 different sects or societies in the Protestant wing of missionary work. Protestant stations having resident foreign missionaries are established in over 600 cities and towns throughout the empire. In nearly every instance schools are run in connection with the evangelizing work. Hospitals [p. 29] are established to show the practical benevolence of the doctrine and to act as a bait for the “heathen”. Many churches with native pastors are said to be entirely self-supporting. The table of statistics submitted at a Protestant Conference, January
13th/1st/, 1907, while incomplete, may serve to give an idea in figures of Protestant strength:
Foreign Missionaries 3,719 Native Helpers 9,998 Stations 706 Sub or out Stations 3,794 Communicants 154,142 Schools 2,394 Students in attendance 52,965 Hospitals and Dispensaries 366
Since the Boxer War the work in North China is reported to have grown more rapidly than ever before. Some think the stand of the native Christians who chose death rather than deny the faith, made a great impression on the non-Christians, stirring them up to an investigation of Christianity. Others think that the liberty with which the missionaries have been able to pursue their work since the war is naturally bearing its fruit. The war didn’t affect the people of South China much. There missionary work seems to be going on at the same old pace. One thing in the South which makes progress slow is the commercial spirit of the people. They are more worldly, material and mercenary than the people of the North. Yet, in Fukien Province perhaps the greatest response to the Christian call has been observed. The people of this province are nearly all men of the soil, with little ability for or tendency towards commercialism.
The following two or three fragmentary ideas are submitted by way of conclusion on religious conditions:
Dr. C. D. Tenney51 at present Chinese Secretary of the U. S. Legation at Peking, an ex-missionary who has perhaps been broad[p. 30]ened in his views by experience and study in the East, declared that Christianity unrelieved of its dogmatism and unrationalized would never be generally accepted by the Chinese.
Rev. Timothy Richard,52 a man of decided views, after a long experience in China, is very optimistic in his estimate of the influence of the principles of Christianity is having on the trend of Chinese thought and life, but he doesn’t boast much over the condition of the concrete Church in China.53
It seems that the upper class and officials have hardly been touched by Christianity. Some lament this condition, while a number of prominent church men say it is a blessing, because the so-called gentry are generally so corrupt and unreliable that their sympathy would do Christianity more harm than good.
The Chinaman has been born and raised in such
anunsanitary, foul-smelling, filthy and badly aired houses and cities, that we wonder if he would thrive outside of an atmosphere filled with the germs of plague and disease. It is useless to attempt a description of the terribly dirt-infected cities and houses of China. One can only marvel that pestilence does not annihilate more millions than it does. It was seldom, in fact only once, did we find the foreigner living right in among the Chinese. They have had to get up on some hill, out of the cities, or on a different island, or somewhere /where/ they could find room to breathe and space to walk without inviting contagion. Sure it is that if cleanliness is next to godliness, that the Chinese are not even within telegraphing distance of it. But in personal appearance the Chinese men, and especially the women, are neat and clean. It is a miracle how they can come out of so much sur[p. 31]rounding filth with so few soiled spots.
We are told everywhere that there exists a strong anti-foreign feeling. But, by sore experience and loss of money, influence and territory, the officials have learned that murdering the foreigner is no way of getting rid of him, hence their hate for the foreigner has not asserted itself so freely since the
general/great/ lesson of 1900.54 The common people, however, are easily excited and when once a riot arises it requires a quick and powerful official to protect life and property. The Chinese are more or less converted to the need of civilization educationally, politically, and materially, but they don’t want any more of the foreigner than they can possibly avoid. In a few instances, such as in the railroads, customs service, and army, they have had to use foreigners, but we are told that the present tendency is to discharge and get rid of the foreign employees and advisers. Of course, if China were as able to get along without outside teachers and leaders as Japan is, then the dismissal of foreigners would be a good thing. The future will prove China’s wisdom or folly in this/her present tendency/.
To sum up the condition: China is in an uncertain, transt
erial/ional/ state. The probability of revolution is not past. The program for the establishment of a constitution and parliament is drawn up. Will the constitution grant religious liberty, and the laws and officials protect every man in his worship? Or will it make a state religion of Confucianism and put a ban on all others? The Chinese are extremely self-proud and their national conceit, at such a critical period, is a huge stumbling block to their progress. China’s friends are earnestly and prayerfully awaiting the time when she will be united within, friendly to other nations [p. 32] and people/s/, truly appreciative of and consistently working for modern education and a healthful, sanitary life.
It appeals to us that the Latter-day Saints will not be neglecting their duty to the world nor allowing any golden opportunity to slip by if they postpone the opening of a mission in China until the present chaotic, transitory state changes sufficiently to assure the world that China really intends and wants to give her foreign friends protection and a fair chance.
ALMA O. TAYLOR.