The Chinese Empire. A General & Missionary Survey/Preface
The enormous territory of the Chinese Empire, and the vast multitudes who inhabit it, would well-nigh entitle it to be regarded as a sixth quarter of the globe. For many ages it remained apart from the general current of Western civilisation, but in recent times the improvement in the means of intercommunication has so diminished distance that the Chinese nation has found it no longer possible to maintain its former attitude of isolation and aloofness. One by one the barriers of separation have been broken down, and the Chinese people have themselves come to recognise that they have much to gain by familiarising themselves with the discoveries in every branch of knowledge that have been made by the nations of the West.
For just a hundred years past continuous efforts have been made to impart to the Chinese the knowledge of Christianity and the benefit it confers on mankind. In 1807 the pioneer Protestant missionary Robert Morrison of the London Missionary Society landed at Canton. At the present moment his successors, belonging to seventy different Societies, number more than 3700 of both sexes, and are to be found preaching, tending the sick, and teaching in nearly every important city throughout the Empire.
To the exertions of missionaries we owe the greater portion of the knowledge we possess of the language and literature, the history, the manners and customs of the Chinese. It is only necessary to mention the dictionaries and other works of Morrison, Medhurst, Doolittle, and Wells-Williams, the translation of the Chinese classical books by James Legge, the writings of Eitel, Faber, Edkins, Chalmers, and Arthur Smith, to perceive the magnitude of our own indebtedness to them, while by their versions of the Bible, works in theology, church history, devotional books and treatises in almost every department of secular history and science, they have striven unceasingly to become the interpreters of the West to the Far East.
The events of the last few years have awakened a new spirit in the Chinese nation. They no longer desire to shroud themselves in a proud feeling of superiority to other nations, but show that they are willing to learn and desirous of appropriating whatever may serve to help them as a people in attaining to the level of the leaders of civilisation. Perhaps they do so thinking in the first place of securing the means for maintaining their independence and territorial unity. To such an aim it is impossible to refuse our warmest sympathy. Without security within their own borders they cannot turn their attention to the most precious elements in the life of a nation—to the religion which brings us into conscious relation with the God and Father of all mankind, to well-ordered civil and political liberty, to the pure administration of justice between man and man, and the elevation and improvement of human life under every aspect. It is to the missionaries that we must look for help in diffusing these blessings among the people of China, to whose welfare, spiritual, moral, and intellectual, they have devoted themselves so earnestly in the past, hoping even against hope for that fruit of their labours which the present time seems to promise.
It has been my privilege, during a residence of nearly six years in China, to have been brought into close personal relations with many Protestant missionaries, and to have seen a good deal of the work carried on by them in evangelistic, hospital and medical work, and education. I can testify to the sincerity and ardour with which they pursue their noble and self-sacrificing task, often under great difficulties from fanatical opposition, sometimes in almost absolute solitude, and frequently even at the risk of their lives—undaunted witnesses for the faith.