The Chinese Empire. A General & Missionary Survey/The Province of Fukien

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By the Rev. Llewellyn Lloyd, Church Missionary Society.

Fukien is one of the smallest, as well as one of the most picturesque, of the eighteen provinces which constitute China proper, being about as large as England, exclusive of Wales, and having a superficial area of 46,320 square miles. It is divided into eleven prefectures, all containing two or more counties (the counties in the Foochow prefecture number no less than ten), each having its walled county-town. The area of each county is, roughly speaking, that of an English shire, i.e. about 1000 square miles. The province is an extremely mountainous one, and wherever we lift our eyes we look upon the "everlasting hills," clothed with their varied foliage—amongst which that of the fir and bamboo are most prominent—or cultivated to their summits in tiny terraces by the industrious agriculturists. It is on the higher slopes of these mountains that most of the tea which finds its way to the marts of England, Australia, and America is grown. The famous Bohea hills are at the extreme north of Fukien.

The people of the province are said to number 22,876,540, but it is impossible to say whether this estimate is at all accurate, and it would probably be nearer the truth to reckon the population at 15,000,000. The Fukienese, together with their southern neighbours the Cantonese, have been called the Anglo-Saxons of China, and there can be no doubt that they are more active, more independent, more self-reliant, and better business people than those living in the north and west of the Empire.

The principal river is the Miu, which drains about three-fourths of the province, and is navigable for small vessels and rapid boats almost throughout its entire course of more than 300 miles. It flows past the provincial city, Foochow, and joins the sea at Sharp Peak, 30 miles lower down. The riverine scenery is grandly beautiful, altogether defying description, and is probably unsurpassed in the whole of China.

All students of Chinese history will be aware that at one time the southern provinces consisted of numerous petty states, each having its own king, its own laws, and its own language; and to-day, although these states have all been absorbed into the colossal Chinese Empire, the people still retain their peculiar characteristics, their own tribal laws and customs, and their own spoken languages. The consequence of this latter fact is, that it is impossible to travel any great distance in Fukien without meeting with a new dialect which is almost unintelligible 30 miles away. The mountainous character of the province makes it impossible to use vehicular traffic, and even where the roads are comparatively level, they are extremely narrow and uneven, consisting of rough undressed blocks of granite laid side by side transversely, and worn smooth on their upper surface by the countless feet which have trodden them from time immemorial. The Chinese seem quite satisfied to carry their heavy loads up and down these steep mountain passes on their shoulders, and he who would ride must in like manner be borne on men's shoulders in a sedan-chair. Needless to say, wherever a waterway is found it is crowded with craft of all sorts and sizes plying for hire.

The chief industries of Fukien are paper-making, tea cultivation, cloth-weaving, and agriculture, though of course a multitude of minor trades and occupations are carried on in all the centres of population. Different tribes of the old aboriginal inhabitants of China dwell in the more remote mountain villages and are peacefully engaged in agriculture, the men having adopted Chinese garb, the women retaining peculiar head-dresses and other differences of dress which distinguish them at a glance from their Chinese sisters.

Missionary work in the Fukien province commenced a few years after China's first serious collision with foreign nations, when, having been worsted in the fray, she was compelled, much against her will, to sign the Treaty of Nanking, which allowed foreigners—both missionaries and merchants—to reside at five of her most important ports, two of which—Foochow and Amoy—are on the seaboard of Fukien. This was in 1842, and a few years later the first missionaries, both from England and America (1846), took up their permanent residence in these cities. These pioneer missionaries are worthy of all honour, and must ever be held in high esteem, for they had to contend against difficulties of which the modern missionary knows hardly anything, and encountered obstacles which only a persistent prayerful faith could have overcome. The hostility of the Chinese in those early days was almost universal, the indifferentism of the people was appalling, and ridicule and insult almost invariably attended every appearance in public, and every attempt to preach Christ crucified; but at length prayer and perseverance conquered, and the first-fruits of Fukien were gathered in.

Nearly ten years elapsed, however, before the missionaries of the Church Missionary Society—which had commenced work there in 1850—were able to report any interest in their message, and it is not surprising that when in 1860 a review of the Mission fields of that Society took place in London, and the secretaries were obliged to say of Foochow once again, "no visible results, no convert to the truth, no baptisms," that the committee seriously contemplated withdrawing altogether from such an unpromising field. But God's ways are not our ways, and a brighter day was soon to dawn and cheer the hearts of His faithful servants. A little later two men emerged from this seething mass of superstition and idolatry, declared themselves believers in the truths of Christianity, and were received into the visible Church by baptism. From that time till now the work has gone steadily forward, receiving cliecks and discouragements at times, and at others meeting with heavy persecution, involving death itself both for the missionaries and their converts, but ever widening out and occupying new centres. The Church has not only lengthened her cords, but also strengthened her stakes, as she has moved forward under Divine guidance to occupy new territories.

There are two or three features of Mission work in Fukien which seem to call for special comment, and which should be borne in mind by the readers of this brief account of our labours. It must, then, be remembered that the thousands of converts who form the Fukien Church have never been gathered into Christian communities, but are scattered throughout innumerable towns and villages, living out their Christian life amidst their non-Christian countrymen, and therefore surrounded on all sides by the superstitions and idolatries from which God's grace has delivered them. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that now and then there are relapses into heathenism and falls into sin, but as a whole these Chinese converts remain true to their newly-found faith, and often display a zeal and devotion which prove beyond a doubt that their hold on Christ is a very real one.

Further, it must be borne in mind that although, in a short paper like this, the subjects of church-organisation, self-support, and self-government are of necessity left largely out of sight, the Christian Church in this province has made rapid strides in this direction, and is gradually lessening her dependence on foreign aid, either financially or ministerially, and all who wish to see the development of a purely native Church in China will rejoice in this fact. It is necessary also to point out that Fukien happily possesses a large number of devoted lady missionaries belonging to different societies, who are doing invaluable evangelistic, educational, and medical work amongst the women and children.

The primary duty of the Christian missionary is undoubtedly to preach Christ, but missionary societies have rightly felt that alongside this supreme duty must be placed other duties of a philanthropic kind, which a missionary may legitimately undertake, and which give a new emphasis and meaning to his message. It is quite impossible to live in China for any length of time, or to traverse her crowded streets, without feeling her great need of help in many directions. In this vast empire the sick, the poor, and the blind are practically uncared for, and it is hardly felt to be a crime at all to throw away multitudes of newly-born babes. The missionary therefore, perforce, takes what measures he can to lessen the suffering which abounds, and this side of our work appeals very forcibly to the Chinese people. Our hospitals are usually crowded with patients; sightless children of both sexes are gladly handed to us to be taught useful trades; baby girls are left at our Foundling Asylum instead of being thrown into the nearest pond; the victims of opium present themselves at our Refuges to to be cured of their evil habit, and the lepers meet together for Christian worship, maimed in body, but sound in soul. Who will say that such works as these have not the Master's approval, and are not a following of His example, Who went about doing good?

The tragedy of the Fukien Mission took place nearly twelve years ago at Hwasang, about 80 miles north-west of Foochow, and a few miles from the city of Kucheng. The doing to death of that band of devoted missionaries at their summer retreat in the hills was such a ruthless and dastardly act that it aroused the indignation of the whole civilised world. No fewer than nine faithful servants of Christ passed through fire and sword into His presence that bright summer morning in 1895, slain by the people whom they had come to help and save. No indiscreet action on their part had aroused the animosity of the people; all was peace in that secluded spot until the murderous band stealthily surrounded the simple cottages, and without question or comment put their occupants to death. A beautiful memorial tomb in the Foochow Cemetery, the outcome of subscriptions voluntarily given by the foreign communities of China for the purpose, contains all that remains on earth of those brave martyrs, but they themselves are "without fault before the Throne of God."

What St. Paul said of the Corinthian Church when writing to its members in the first century is true of the Fukien Church in this twentieth century. He told them that in their famous city "not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble," had been called into fellowship with God and His Son Jesus Christ, and it is so in Southern China to-day. The Church is a Church of the poor, and the mighty and noble are seldom found within its ranks. Here and there we find members of the literary class and well-to-do traders enrolled as converts in our various churches, and very occasionally petty officials have been baptized; but, speaking generally, our people belong to the lower classes, and are largely engaged in agriculture. One natural consequence of this is that they suffer a good deal of persecution of a heavier or a lighter kind at the hands of their more influential neighbours, and their inability to conscientiously continue their support of idol worship often makes their name a byword in their native villages. Usually these persecutions are taken as a matter of course, and borne more or less patiently until they die a natural death. But at times the converts appeal to the missionary for a redress of their grievances, and ask him to cast over them the aegis of the Church. These appeals he deems it wise in most cases to refuse, and urges the applicants to bear with their difficulties, to "overcome evil with good," and so to prove that they are willing to suffer for Christ's sake as the early Christians did. Such advice as this is, as a rule, followed, and only when matters become unbearable does a wise missionary appeal to the powers that be, asking that the provisions of the treaties, which forbid the molestation of converts to Christianity, be carried out.

No sketch of a Chinese province is complete without some reference to what is perhaps China's greatest bane— the pernicious habit of opium-smoking. Into the solemn subject of England's guilt in compelling the people of this great empire to permit the importation of the drug sixty years ago, I cannot now enter; but I would point out that the cultivation of the poppy is very largely on the increase in the Fukien province. A few years ago a field of these beautiful flowers, in which, alas! the deadly poison lies concealed, was almost a curiosity; now thousands of acres are bright with their hues, and there is scarcely a city whose wall is not surrounded with wide-stretching fields of what the Chinese call the "opium flower." The Fukienese are much addicted to opium-smoking, and whole villages may be found in the Foochow plain, once prosperous and flourishing, but now ruined and decayed through the introduction of this baneful drug. It is the easiest poison procurable, and as a consequence an opium suicide is a most common occurrence, the foreign doctor being generally called in too late for his services to be of any avail. One cannot help feeling saddened to know that the vessels which bring missionaries to China in their cabins, bring also in their holds chests of Indian opium. May the great Disposer of events soon gather this stone out of the way of the progress of Christ's Kingdom in this dark land. We do what we can to help those who are addicted to this debasing vice to free themselves from it, but not one in ten thousand of its victims can be reached by us, and they are passing away day by day unwept and unmourned.

It is said on good authority that Fukien is more adequately supplied with missionaries and Mission stations than any other part of this great empire, and lest our friends should think we are treading on each other's toes, and that there are no unoccupied cities in the province, I should like to point out that of the 47 counties into which Fukien is divided, only 27 are occupied by European missionaries, and several have never yet been entered at all. The idea, therefore, that a network of stations, in touch with each other, covers the province is a mistaken one. "There remaineth therefore much land to be possessed "here as elsewhere in China, and it is possible to travel long distances across our fertile plains and over our lofty hills, and enter town after town, without finding any trace of Christianity or meeting with a living exponent of its doctrines.

We rejoice that so much has been done; we thank God for the numerous churches established in our midst; we praise Him for the evident tokens of His presence which we see on every hand; we remember with deep gratitude our noble band of native workers, both men and women; we note with humble pride that about one quarter[1] the number of Christians in the whole of China are to be found in this province, and we are determining by God's grace and in His strength to take possession of the land yet unoccupied, assured that He is with us, and that His word to His Church is now, as of old, "Go forward."

It is confidently hoped that one result of the publication of these sketches of the different provinces of China, and the efforts being made to make Christ known to the millions who inhabit them, will call forth much earnest prayer both for the work and for the workers; and that such prayer may be definite and intelligent, I will enumerate briefly some of the special difficulties which confront the Christian missionary as he carries on his work in Fukien, and also some of the encouragements which cheer him on and stimulate him to further persevering efforts, asking my readers to remember that the difficulties and encouragements here mentioned refer not only to one part of China, but to the whole.


(a) The variety of spoken dialects, which confine a missionary's efforts to a comparatively small area, and demand a multiplication of colloquial Bibles and other books, thus largely increasing the work of translation and publication.

(b) The satisfaction of the people generally with their own religious systems, which fact calls for constant prayer that God would create soul thirst for Himself.

(c) The low standard of morality which prevails everywhere, and often makes an appeal to live a higher life fall flat and forceless on the minds of one's hearers.

(d) The pride and arrogance of the educated classes, which causes them to refuse even a hearing to the teaching of the "foreign barbarians."

(e) The dislike and fear of many of the people with regard to foreigners, and their wish to avoid them as much as possible.

(f) The treatment of China by foreign nations, which has increased their animosity to outsiders.

(g) The wide prevalence of the opium habit, which besots and enervates its victims, and seems to close their hearts and ears to the Gospel message.



(a) The widely-open door for preaching the Truth in the towns and villages which so thickly stud the province.

(b) The willingness of many of the Chinese to listen to what we have to say, and their civil treatment of those who visit their houses.

(c) The tolerance by the "powers that be" of all religions, so long as the laws of the Empire are adhered to.

(d) The readiness and ability of the native converts to make Christ known to their neighbours.

(e) The widespread desire for Western education, even where such teaching is given by missionaries on a distinctly Christian basis.

(f) The dissatisfaction of the educated classes with the present state of the Empire, and their desire for change and improvement.

(g) The fact that there are about 150,000 converts connected with the Protestant Church in China, many of whom are true servants of the Master, and have proved their sincerity in a multitude of ways.

Stations.[2] Out-Stations.[2] Baptisms during 1905. Numbers. Adherents.[3] Communicants. Schools. Scholars. Ordained Ministers. Native Contributions.
Church Missionary Society 17 220 1,164 11,333 23,109 4,297 201 2,256 19 12,035
English Missionary Society 4 83 165 4,062 4,482 2,435 28 850 18 10,221
London Missionary Society 3 101 318 3,134 5,352 Not given. 70 1,424 13 17,222
Methodist Episcopal Mission 6 106 1,190 6,379 12,785 Not given. 137 3,910 59 12,381
American Board Mission 5 96 374 3,314 8,317 2,940 133 2,757 11 11,277
American Mission Dutch Reformed Church 4 34 219 3,000 4,100 1,509 26 750 13 16,590
Totals 39 640 3,430 31,222 58,145 11,181 595 11,947 133 79,726

  1. This is according to the figures given by Hartmann in the Allgemeine Missions Zeitschrift for 1904.—Ed.
  2. 2.0 2.1 There are also 13 Stations occupied by the ladies of the C.E.Z.M.S.
  3. Includes members, catechumens, and in some cases inquirers.