The Chinese Empire. A General & Missionary Survey/The Island of Formosa

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By the Rev. Thomas Barclay, M.A., English Presbyterian Mission.

The Island of Formosa, one of the largest islands in Asia, is situated off the south-east coast of China, opposite to the province of Fukien, to which it formerly belonged. Its greatest length from north to south is over 260 miles, its greatest breadth about 80 miles. It has an area of 15,000 square miles, which is half the size of Scotland. The population amounts to a little over 3,000,000. At the north end it is distant from the mainland of China about 70 miles, at the south end about 250. To the west of Formosa, about 30 miles distant, lie the Pescadore Islands, with a population of about 60,000 inhabitants.

The island consists of a high range of mountains, running from north to south, the highest peak of which is Mount Morrison, 13,880 feet, a little higher than Fujiyama in Japan proper. On the east coast these mountains run right down to the sea, in some places leaving not enough level ground for a road. The population on this side of the island is very sparse, though under Japanese rule it is increasing more rapidly ; they encourage settlers to go to live there with a view to the development of the resources of the hills. On the west side, between the mountains and the sea, is a level stretch of fertile land, where the main body of the people lives. In the north the mountains are more broken, the scenery is more varied, and hill and plain more intermixed. Speaking generally, the mountains are inhabited by wild savages, the lower hills along the base of the mountains by the civilised aborigines, and the level plains by the Chinese. These latter are mostly from the Fukien province—an important fact in our Mission work, as it enables us to make free use of the books prepared by the older missions in Amoy. There are also a number of Hakkas, from the province of Canton, who clan together, speaking their own language and preserving their own customs. There are several thousands of Japanese now resident in the island, mostly in the larger towns. There are some sixty or seventy foreigners, European or American, resident chiefly at the old treaty ports north and south. Of these about half are missionaries, Protestant and Roman Catholic.

During the seventeenth century, from 1624 till 1662, Formosa was in the possession of the Dutch. During these years a good deal of missionary work was carried on, thousands of the natives were baptized, and schools were set up throughout the island. The Dutch authorities were fully in favour of carrying on this work; they even issued a proclamation making idolatry illegal and punishable with public whipping and banishment!

About the middle of the century the old Ming dynasty in China was overthrown by the present Tartar dynasty. One of the last adherents of the fallen dynasty, Coxinga, whose father was a Chinaman and his mother a Japanese woman, sailed from Amoy with a large fleet to Formosa. There he was joined by the resident Chinese, and after some fighting and a prolonged siege he succeeded in driving out the Dutch and taking possession of the island. In 1683 the grandson of Coxinga submitted to the Chinese Emperor, and Formosa became a part of the Empire.

Under the persecution of the Chinese rulers the Christian religion appears soon to have died out. The natives are a weaker people than the Chinese, and religion seems to take less hold of them; even at the present time, under favourable circumstances, we are troubled by their fickleness. Probably also the work of the missionaries was too much mixed up with politics; Christianity was the religion of the rulers, to which the people conformed. And finally there was no translation of the Bible, in whole or part, left in the hands of the people. A translation of the Gospel according to Matthew had been made, and an edition was printed in Holland, but news came of the expulsion of the Dutch, and the books were not sent out. These books were printed in Roman letters, which the missionaries taught the people to read and write. It is an interesting fact that this is the part of their work that survived longest. For at least a century and a half the people retained the knowledge of reading and writing their native languages. Deeds are still in existence belonging to the early part of last century, written in duplicate, in Chinese on one side and Romanised on the other, the Roman letters recording what is now a dead language. Most of the semi-civilised tribes living in the plain country have acquired Chinese and forgotten their own language. When missionary work was resumed in Formosa, two centuries after the Dutch had left, these writings were almost the only trace left of the labours of the earlier workers. In addition there lingered among some tribes the tradition of a nation of kind foreigners, non-Chinese, who had once lived in the island, and who on leaving had promised some day to return for the deliverance of the people.

Missions.—In 1865 Dr. James L. Maxwell commenced the work of the English Presbyterian Church in Formosa. The Roman Catholic Church had begun Mission work some years earlier, and have carried it on continuously till the present time. Their staff of foreign missionaries is smaller than those of the two Protestant Missions combined, and their work does not appear to be very extensive or very popular with the people. Happily there has been very little friction between the two Missions.

Dr. Maxwell began work, medical and evangelistic, at Taiwanfu (now Tainan), but was soon driven by a mob to take refuge in Takow, a treaty port 30 miles to the south. There, on August 12, 1866, the first converts of the Mission were baptized by the Rev. W. S. Swanson of Amoy, who had come across on a visit. On that occasion there were four men baptized. Of these four, one was very soon made a preacher of the Gospel, which office he continued to fill until 1905, when he resigned. He is still active as a voluntary worker, preaching nearly every Lord's Day. Shortly after these baptisms took place the disputes between the merchants of South Formosa and the Tao-tai came to a head, and riots occurred, in which the Church was involved; a chapel was destroyed and several Christians assaulted. The authorities refused to arrange the matter, whereupon a naval force was landed and the port of Anping was captured. When this was done the Chinese became thoroughly alarmed, and the whole trouble was soon satisfactorily settled. The news of what had taken place spread all over the island, and in the eyes of the people exalted both England and the Church. During the next few years the Church grew rapidly in numbers, too often by the accession of those who joined from unworthy motives, though there were not wanting cases of interesting conversions. As the people found that their expectations of worldly gain were not realised, there followed, not unnaturally, a period of coldness till things were settled on a more satisfactory basis; since which time more real, if not quite so rapid, progress has been made.

In 1869 Dr. Maxwell returned to Taiwanfu, leaving his colleague, Rev. H. Ritchie, at Takow. From Taiwanfu the work soon spread rapidly among the civilised Chinese-speaking aborigines, both in the district directly east from Taiwanfu and in a region about 100 miles to the north. The work among these tribes has in some respects been less satisfactory; the people seem to move towards the Gospel by whole villages rather than from personal conviction. Some years later the work spread more among the towns and villages of the Chinese resident on the plains; among them continuous progress has been made up to the present day.

In 1872 the Canadian Presbyterian Church sent out Rev. G. L. Mackay to begin a Mission in China. He decided on North Formosa as the most interesting field that offered itself. From that date till his death in 1902, in conjunction with a succession of colleagues, he carried on an extensive work among the Chinese. The story of his work is told in his well-known book, From Far Formosa. Last year a successor was sent out from Canada, and in addition a medical missionary and two lady missionaries. The headquarters of the mission are at Tamsui. The whole island is divided between those two missions, the Tai-an river forming the natural boundary-line.

The work of our Mission in the south, and to a very large extent that of the Mission in the north, has been along the lines of our older Presbyterian Missions on the mainland opposite.[1] The Gospel was preached throughout the country and literature distributed. Especial attention has been paid to medical missions ; at present one-third of our staff is purely medical, and the results in spreading the Gospel and opening up new districts have justified the amount of labour and money spent in this direction. Converts began to gather for worship in various towns and villages, and these were visited systematically by the foreign missionary for teaching and pastoral oversight.

From the very beginning native helpers were largely made use of, to supplement the labours of the foreign missionary. For the training of these workers, Theological Colleges were set up at the two head centres. Local schools for the teaching of the children were set up where possible, and a central High School established for the education of those who wished some training better than the local schools could supply. The people were taught from the beginning the duty and privilege of raising money for the support of the Church, special emphasis being laid on the duty of supporting the preachers. As the work spread more and more, while the foreign staff remained almost stationary, the need of native ministers to take full charge of the congregations, without the necessity of visits from the foreigner, became more and more pressing. With a view to maintain the independence and dignity of these ministers as being ecclesiastically on a par with the foreigner, we have required, as in our mainland Missions, that the entire amount required for their salary should be raised by the people from the very first.

In the case of the unordained preachers we do not insist on this, though we urge it as an ideal. In some cases the entire salary of these preachers is borne by the congregation where they labour. In one district of our field, for the last two years, by means of an augmentation fund, to which members of congregations subscribe over and above what they give directly to their own preachers, sufficient funds have been raised to pay the salaries of all the regular preachers working in that district, though the salaries of evangelists, colporteurs, etc., still remain a charge on the mission funds.

With a view to the organisation of the Church, about ten years ago the elders belonging to the various congregations in South Formosa met together and constituted themselves into a Presbytery, which since then has met regularly twice a year. The foreign missionaries were invited to sit and act along with the Presbytery as full members, without their relation to the home churches being affected thereby. In 1905 the North Church similarly organised itself, and proposals have already been made for the union of the two churches into one.

The cession of the island to Japan in 1895, as a condition of peace between China and her victor, has naturally produced very marked effects on the conditions of life among the people, and has also affected not a little our church work. The general results of the change of government need not be dwelt on here in detail. The occupation by Japan was strenuously objected to by the people, some of whose leaders set up a mock republic on the departure of the Chinese rulers. This required an armed occupation, which resulted in much suffering and loss of life and property on both sides. It was followed by serious and repeated risings on the part of the people, which were put down with much vigour. Now, after ten years' rule, the whole of the island, with the exception occasionally of the savage districts, is at perfect peace, and the absolute safety of both life and property everywhere is recognised as an immense boon even by the most disaffected. More than 200 miles of railway have been opened, connecting the north and south of the island. Steamship connection between the ports and the rest of the world has been increased. By means of the post office letters are delivered in almost every village of the island. Roads have been made throughout the country, schools have been opened in most of the towns and larger villages, telegraphic communication has been much increased, and many comforts and conveniences of Western civilisation have been introduced. Agriculture has been improved, and a better quality of sugar-cane has been introduced, with proper machinery for crushing it. Undoubtedly in many ways the condition of the people has been improved. The complaints are chiefly of the great increase in taxation, and of the endless registrations, so different from the easy-going methods of the old Chinese régime.

Much was hoped for from the coming of the Japanese in the way of the abolition of opium-smoking. Their original plan of stopping it at once, except in the case of those confirmed smokers who might suffer from being suddenly deprived of the indulgence, to whom permits would be granted, promised well, and would have quickly put an end to the habit if rigidly carried out. For several years, however, permits were given to all and sundry who applied for them. The general feeling among natives and foreigners is that the authorities do not display very much enthusiasm in discouraging the vice. In order to carry out their programme the Government at once made the purchase and sale of opium a monopoly, to which no one could fairly object. The profits from this monopoly are great. And in the present state of Formosan finance it is only too probable that the temptation to make gain of it has been yielded to. In view of the action of their friend and ally, England, it is little wonder if this has been the case.

In regard to Mission work, the coming of the Japanese has on the whole been distinctly favourable. It has, however, interfered with our schools, all private schools being closed within a certain distance of a Government one. It also bars the way to our medical students becoming practitioners, no permission being given to any one to practise who has not studied in Government schools. But the gain in other ways is great. The substitution of Japanese officials for the old mandarins is an immense improvement. We have now something more than a fair field and no favour. The rulers, while strictly impartial officially, secure absolute protection for ourselves and the native Christians, and often let it be seen that they disapprove of idolatrous observances; whilst, on the other hand, they recognise in our Christian work an important factor in the civilising and elevation of the people. They give us genuine encouragement to go on further with our work. There are, of course, exceptions, but not many.

Again, in regard to the people and their views of our work, there is a change for the better noticeable. The old suspicions are mostly gone. The hatred of the missionary as one who is working for political ends no longer exists. Even if they still believed it of us, it would be no good reason for objecting to our presence! But they see ever more plainly what indeed they were coming to see before the arrival of the Japanese, that our work is a spiritual work, which does not interfere with their political standing. They have also been compelled in so many ways to make a complete break with old customs that the change to Christianity is less marked, and as their idolatrous practices receive no sympathy from their rulers, who utilise their idol temples in all sorts of ways without, apparently, any harm coming to them, they are more prepared to give our message a less prejudiced hearing. Indeed, it is in this very direction probably that the Church's great difficulty will arise in the future. The overthrow of superstition that is wrought by the new régime brings with it no corresponding truth to take its place. We are threatened with a great wave of unbelief and irreligion and worldliness that may be more difficult to meet than the superstition which it has displaced. But at present there is a great opportunity. We need no longer pray for open doors, the wall itself has fallen down. If only the Church could be raised to a sense of her duty—to guide Formosa to welcome her true Lord and Master!—lest otherwise the last state of the house, swept and garnished, be worse than the first.

According to the census returns, there are in Formosa about 100,000 wild savages in the mountains, who live by hunting and a little agriculture (chiefly of millet), and who are generally fighting with one another and with the Chinese. They speak quite a number of different dialects. There is absolutely no Christian work being carried on among them, and unhappily not much prospect of any being begun. There are difficulties of various kinds in the way of such work. But were the workers ready, openings might be found among some of the tribes that are comparatively friendly but who as yet speak no Chinese. It would form a fresh field for any mission that is seeking an opportunity of service, and would in no way interfere with work that is already being done.

The two Missions in the island have not been able to do anything for the care of the Japanese who come to Formosa. But they have not been neglected by their own countrymen. There are now five Japanese congregations in the island, three Presbyterian and two Episcopal, with resident ministers. They are not very large, though one of them is self-supporting. Their presence among us is very desirable, both for their services to their own countrymen and also as a testimony to the Chinese, Christian and heathen.

The following are the latest statistics of the two missions, not including the Japanese:—

E.P.M. C.P.M. Total.
Missionaries (not including wives)—
Ordained 5 2 7
Medical 3 1 4
Educated 1 0 1
Lady workers 4 2 6
Totals 13 5 18
Native ministers 5 3 8
Communicants 2,942 2,143 5,085
Baptized children 2,211 839 3,050

There are 2 Theological Colleges, 2 High Schools, 2 Girls' Schools, 1 School for Women, 4 Hospitals, about 150 out-stations, and 100 preachers. There are four centres at which missionaries live. There is a monthly paper published at Tainan in the Romanised vernacular. It is now in its 255th number. It has a paying circulation of over 1000 copies monthly. The amount of money raised in the South Church for all purposes last year amounted to nearly $11,000, say about £1000 sterling.

The following additional figures are from a census taken in the South Church this year; I am sorry I have not corresponding figures for the North Church:—

Total Forenoon attendance at 87 places of worship 6,496
{{{1}}} Afternoon {{{1}}} {{{1}}} {{{1}}} 6,435
Readers of the Romanised vernacular 4,079
Professing Christians and their families (including communicants and children) 15,925
Towns and villages in which at least one worshipper resides 740

The following books should be consulted by any one wishing fuller information on Formosa:—

The Island of Formosa, Past and Present. By J. W. Davidson. London: Macmillan & Co., 1903.
An Account of Missionary Success in Formosa. By Rev. W. Campbell, F.R.G.S. London: Trübner & Co., 1889.
Formosa under the Dutch. By the Rev. W. Campbell, F.R.G.S. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Ltd., 1903. A full bibliography is given at the end of this work.

  1. This subject is fully treated in Mission Problems and Missionary Methods in South China, chaps, vi.-x., by Rev. J. Campbell Gibson, M.A., D.D