His radical ideas set a new precedent in missions. His vision for the lost souls of China inspired hundreds of Englishmen and caused the founding of a new missionary organization. His persuasive preaching against the evils of opium and the coolie slave trade changed Chinese society. He was J. Hudson Taylor—founder of the China Inland Mission. A study of this bicultural missionary reveals his amazing impact on culture, religion, economy, and politics.
Hudson Taylor, an Englishman by birth, revolutionized English thinking by fully adopting the Chinese culture. The English and Chinese cultures are polar opposites. Clothing, food, utensils, greetings, customs, language, housing—all combined to create tension between the English living in China and the local natives. Taylor overcame these obstacles by announcing one day that he would adopt the Chinese dress in order to reach more souls for Christ. He promptly shaved his head, except for a pigtail, and put on traditional Chinese clothes. While the Chinese readily appreciated his efforts, the English community in China and his supporters back in England ridiculed him (Cromarty, 128-129). He lived as the Chinese lived. Instead of being called a “black foreign devil” by unruly crowds, Taylor was able to openly preach the gospel. This cultural shock was so successful that missionaries under the new China Inland Mission were commanded to adopt the Chinese dress as a requirement for service (Cromarty, 189). Not only did Taylor change dress, but he also stepped across social classes to reach lost souls. His ministry filled with people from the working classes and women; both groups were normally considered unworthy by society.
Through his biculturalism, Taylor initiated a different prerequisite for religious ministry. After founding the China Inland Mission, Taylor returned to England to recruit new missionaries. Although Baptist in his theology and background, he readily accepted people from all Protestant backgrounds, as long as they agreed to the basic fundamentals of the faith (Cromarty, 189). Taylor also followed the example of Paul when it came to preaching: Paul went to the synagogues and Taylor went to the temples. Taylor, on one occasion in the city of Chongming, climbed a large incense vase in order to preach to over five hundred people (Cromarty, 122). While his temple preaching shocked some English supporters, Taylor won hundreds of souls to Christ.
Economics also played a role in Hudson Taylor’s biculturalism. English propriety advertised church offerings and monthly support for missionaries. According to the English, no money meant no ministry. Taylor could not justify such an excuse to quit his work in China. His example of the “faith promise” is still upheld in Christian circles today. Taylor prayed for his daily bread, but never solicited funds. Missionaries were not to raise monthly support but were rather to pray that God would supply every need (Steffen, 92). His generosity endeared him to the Chinese. In many ways, Hudson Taylor embarked upon an economic enterprise by attempting the untried method of “living by faith” (Steffen, 91-92).
Perhaps the greatest effect of Taylor’s biculturalism lies in the sphere of politics. Taylor proved that peace could exist between the Chinese and English through his dealings with the political authorities and his handling of political issues. When thieves stole his possessions or mobs threatened his life, Taylor always went to the local officials and pled humbly for justice. On one occasion, when the prefect refused to see Taylor, his fellow missionary threatened to write the British consul. The prefect promptly arrived and Taylor followed the appropriate customs of bowing and graciously made his case heard through the traditional customs. The prefect honored his request (Cromarty, 222). If the city rulers were hostile, Taylor remained persistent in ministry. When a city gate was closed to him, he merely walked around to another one in order to preach inside the city walls. God rewarded his efforts and the city ruler accepted some of his gospel literature (Cromarty, 119). Everywhere Taylor went he advocated peace between the English and the Chinese.
Taylor kept the vast majority of his preaching to the truths of the Gospel. However, on a few occasions, he spoke out avidly against the coolie slave trade and the opium trade. His lectures against opium not only angered the Chinese addicts but also the British suppliers. Taylor’s eyes had been opened to the evils of opium in the very beginning when his ship landed at Shanghai after the first Opium War (Christian History). Every time Taylor entered port, the slave ships carrying coolies reminded him that men were being shanghaied. Some of his political ideas caused such a stir that the Englishmen in China accused him of wanting to start a war. After the mission was looted, an English gunboat came to the protection of the missionaries. The Chinese accused Taylor of summoning the boat, but he declared his innocence and sent the soldiers away (Cromarty, 259-260). Towards the end of Taylor’s missionary career, the Boxer Rebellion broke out with the support of the Empress Dowager Ci Xi. Dozens of missionaries were slaughtered by Chinese radicals, including the majority of Taylor’s friends and associates. Each missionary humbly walked to his or her death preaching the gospel and singing praises to God (Cromarty, 484-485). They submitted to the political authority, even to death.
Hudson Taylor used his English background and his Chinese adopted culture to his advantage. While in China, he was Chinese; although he continued to wear Chinese dress in England, he still gained support for missions and used his English upbringing to argue for British tolerance in China. Hudson Taylor is the perfect example of biculturalism: he used culture to gain hundreds of souls for Christ and what peace he could for China.
– Hannah S. Bowers
Christian History. (2010). “Hudson Taylor: Faith missionary to China.” Retrieved from http://www.ctlibrary.com/ch/131christians/missionaries/htaylor.html.
Cromarty, J. (2001). It is not death to die: A new biography of Hudson Taylor. Great Britain: Christian Focus.
Steffen, T., & Douglas, L. M. Encountering missionary life and work: Preparing for intercultural ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.