The Amoy Mission of the Christian Reformed Church in America was founded in 1842 by David Abeel, a Reformed missionary working on behalf of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missionaries. Its primary goal was to spread Protestant Christianity among the Chinese people and create an independent Christian Church in China. This research, based on primary documents from the Joint Archives of Holland at Hope College, seeks to determine what methods the Reformed missionaries used in their attempt to accomplish this task, what impact events such as the Second Sino-Japanese War and the communist victory had on the missionaries’ endeavors, and how successful the missionaries were in achieving their ultimate goal of evangelizing the Chinese people.
The Amoy missionaries focused their activities primarily on evangelizing the Chinese peasantry. This consisted primarily of printing tracts and religious documents in the Amoy dialect, preaching the Christian gospel, and various outreach trips to the local villages in Fujian Province. In order to facilitate this, an emphasis was also placed on bringing Western education and medicine to the Chinese. Education was a particular concern due to the vast number of uneducated lay people the missionaries were faced with. Furthermore, the missionaries realized that by instilling a Western education in the next generation, they were more likely to create Christian converts. Western medicine enabled the missionaries to earn the trust of the Chinese and become a valuable part of the local communities. This also opened new vocational opportunities for Chinese men and women who were encouraged to be trained as doctors and nurses. However, in the late 1930s a chain of major historical events began that hampered the way that the missionaries accomplished their objectives.
The first of these events was the Second Sino-Japanese war, which began in 1937 with the Marco Polo Bridge incident. During the subsequent war, Japanese troops invaded the city of Amoy severely limiting the mobility of the missionaries. The situation became desperate in 1941 when the United States entered World War II against Japan, making the missionaries enemy nationals to the Japanese occupational forces. Most of the Reformed missionaries were captured and repatriated to the U.S. or fled China to avoid contact with the Japanese army. Only five of the thirty-four missionaries that were active in China were able remain for the duration of the war.
When the war ended in 1945, the mission had marginal success rebuilding despite tremendous inflation and a civil war between the nationalists and communists. However, the untimely victory of the communists brought renewed difficulties. Viewing the missionaries as imperialist agents, the communists strove to estrange and isolate them from the Chinese populace, making the efforts of the Reformed missionaries more of a hindrance than a help to the Chinese Church. Disillusioned they began to leave China to avoid bringing further persecution onto their Chinese brethren. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s it appeared that Christianity, along with most other religions, had been all but eradicated from China. However, when Deng Xiaoping’s reforms in the 1980s eased the restrictions on religions, Christianity resurfaced having survived the absence of missionaries and the persecution of the communists. Ultimately, the missionaries’ work was successful; they helped to create an independent Chinese Church that has proved hardy enough to keep Christianity relevant in China to this day.
*This scholar and faculty mentor have requested that only an abstract be published.