Of course I came in contact with the missionary question.
Regarding it I was neither antagonistic nor generally critical,
nor greatly sympathetic, nor uninterested — a neutral sort of
attitude. With the present situation I am not concerned,
but only with the past. One thing seems plain. The main
factor in the question was not what was best for China; it was
freedom for a force that is impossible to control — the force of
religious impulse with all the goodness and all the evil of which
history shows it is possessed.
Christ said ` Go teach all nations.' In effect He said ` Go
teach mankind that progress lies in altruism,' and thus laid
down a law of evolution. For the purpose of the safekeeping
of that teaching He placed the picture of it in a simple frame of
ceremony and utterances suitable to and in the language of
Now I do not say that missionaries in China have failed to
teach the lesson of that picture; but undoubtedly it has been
largely hidden by the details with which their churches have
bedecked its frame, each in a different way and each claiming that their way was right and, of course, the others
wrong. There is, or was, a gamut of some forty of them
from Roman Catholics to Holy Shakers, teaching as many
A highly educated Chinese said to me: ` What Christ
taught is beneficially applicable to all mankind and that places
him as the greatest Sage the world has known; but the manmade dogmas of your churches, while presumably serving a
purpose for the people for whom they were intended, are to us
worse than useless. We view them as superstitions at least as
wild and foolish as those in any Eastern faith; and we take it
as an insult to our intelligence to be asked to believe in such
ideas as transubstantiation or the virgin birth.'
Diversity and antagonism of creeds, dogmas as varied as they
are unintelligible, are factors in the general attempt to propagate the Christian faith which inhibit its success among a
cultured Eastern people. Missionary enterprise should not,
however, be judged by the standards that are applicable to
other activities of man. It is a reaction to deep-seated forces.
Religion, as a means to altruism, is an essential factor in man's
evolutionary track. We could not shed it if we would; it is
as much a part of us as are, say, to the reindeer its spreading
antlers. Here is not the place to enlarge upon this subject;
the little that is said is only to indicate my attitude towards
the missionaries and their work.
They have done good. They have spread Christ's teaching
at all events to some extent, and by their hospitals they have
touched healingly the fringe of suffering. They have done evil
also. There has been in the past unwise influence in Chinese
litigation, for example; and it has been inevitable that, in a
country where family unity is a first principle, they have done
harm by setting members of it against each other. To attempt
to put the good and evil in the balance would be futile. Whichever way it tipped would make no difference. There is one
thing only that can affect them, and that is the degree of Chinese
toleration. It is affecting them just now.
It can be assumed that all have been earnest men and women
acting according to their lights and to the tenets and instructions of their missions. That some have been unwise, some
hard in nature and some with insufficient culture for their
work, goes without saying. It could not, among the mass of
them, be otherwise; and that is all I have to say about the
subject in a general way. Of my personal experiences with
missionaries there are many stories I could tell. Here are but
four of them.
A little Chinese island — Guiechow — lies in the Gulf of
Tonking. Perhaps it is five miles long and wide. Cliffs
surround it cut here and there by combes ending in beaches
on which are crowded boats and nets and fishermen.
There are no hills of any size; the surface is an undulating
I knew the island well by sight, for it lay in the track of
steamers on the way to Pakhoi, the southernmost treaty port of
China. There came a time when it was convenient for the
Customs cruiser — in which I was making an inspection trip —
to anchor off the island for the night. A party of us went on
shore. We were received by the fishermen with grins of more
than usual welcome, and then occurred a series of astonishments. The pathway up the gully, later seen winding among
the undulating land, was wide and cared for a thing I had
never seen before in such a place. Round a corner of that path
came some women, and, when they saw us, they lined up on
the roadside, kneeling with their hands across their breasts.
Usually a Chinese country-woman would merely look the other
way when she passed a foreigner, and a girl might flee, owing
to stories told her by her mother; but here this attitude of
reverence. What could it mean? It embarrassed us, and we
passed on. Glancing back I saw them standing in a group,
seemingly with an air of astonished disappointment.
We reached the summit of a rise and looked down in a dell,
where lay a village clustered round something we had never
seen before in China — a little Norman church, cruciform, with
square tower and aisles and transepts, for all the world like a
village church in England. On descending to the village we
found the priest, a Frenchman, some sixty years of age, who
welcomed us with obvious pleasure and fine courtesy and took
us to his presbytère and gave us wine — good burgundy. In
answer to our questions he told us of his life, and his life had
been Guiechow and nothing else.
He had landed there some forty years before as its first
missionary. He explained the advantage of an isolated little
island for mission work — no officials, no gentry with their
philosophic views of Chinese culture, no competition from the
protestants, no interference of any kind. In the course of years
he had converted every man and woman on the island, and now
Christianity was accepted as the normal thing. Their reverence for his priesthood had become unsuitably great, and in
their isolation from the outer world they thought every
foreigner a kind of priest and rendered him obeisance. They
took the ' Bonjour, Madame ' from the French naval officers —
on their rare visits — as a form of benediction. ' They knelt
to you too, did they, and you took no notice of them? Well,
I'll have to make some sort of explanation.'
With great modesty he disclaimed any credit for his great
success. It had been just a miraculous ending to his early
struggles. He had designed and built the church himself with
voluntary labour — a copy of his native village church in
Normandy. Once or twice a year he might get a visit from a
French man-of-war — this explained his wine — but otherwise
he never saw a foreigner. How often did he go on leave?
I went home to France some twenty years ago; since then I
have never left the island. Desire to go? Perhaps, but no
intention; I mean my bones to rest under the shadow of my
church and among my people.'
We were steaming down the Yangtsze in a large paddle-boat.
She was Chinese-owned, so on either bow was a large eye to
help her see the way. It was summer time and hot, and we lay
in long cane chairs beneath the awning, and read and dozed and
sometimes talked. Next to me was an American missionary
lady of uncertain age with whom I had thought I ought to hold
some conversation but so far had not done so. We were now
leaving the alluvial plain with the broad expanse of river and
were entering a narrow hill-girt passage — a strategic place with
modern forts. It was a spot where something very sad had
happened a little time before.
There was a Norwegian gunner, a shipmate with me in a
Customs cruiser, who, in his younger days, had been a hard
drinker. And then he got religion — got it very thoroughly —
became most extraordinarily reformed, and for years had been
a model character. In the Japanese war he had got appointed
to the fort and camp; later became, in effect, its commandant
with charge of a regiment of soldiers; and he married a Chinese
girl from a neighbouring mission station. A year or so later
he found her flagrante delicto with a Chinese sergeant. The
discovery so upset him that he took to drink once more. When
he recovered from the bout he was mad with remorse and
shame at his relapse; he fell in the regiment and formed a
square, and from the centre he lectured the men on sin and
expiation, and then he shot himself.
So here I found a topic for my neighbour. ` A very pathetic
tragedy happened in that fort a little time ago. Would you
care to hear about it ? ' This remark served to start a flow of
unpunctuated breathless speech, the purpose of the close
continuity of which was to avoid a loss of innings; but I
punctuate to make the reading easier.
Well, I guess there is no need to tell me about that. I guess
that there is nothing about it I don't know; but you call it
pathetic and I don't. I call it disgusting to get drunk like that
and then to shoot himself in public; most disgusting, and we
thought he was a real nice man. That makes it all the worse.
And that girl was such a nice little thing, and we expected from
them such an uplifting influence in the camp.' There was
ever so much more; that is but a sample.
When she had finished I told the story as I knew it. ` Well,
I guess you seem to know quite a lot about it. Perhaps you
are right. When I come to think about it we did not like the
way she left us after the shooting and did not come back. But
in any case, for that man to give way to temptation in that way
was a very, very disgusting thing.'
My dear lady, in the kind of life you lead, it seems to me
doubtful if you can know what real temptation is and how
irresistible it may be.'
Well, if it 's irresistible I guess I don't know about it, but
I think that is the excuse you men make for doing what you
want to.' And the lady snorted.
The subject is rather a delicate one, involved as it is liable
to be with primitive instincts and passions, but, if you will
allow me, I could present my view in a manner you would not
Go right straight ahead. There is nothing you can say will
hurt me. Let's have that view of yours.'
I will put it this way. Suppose it was a deadly sin to
scratch your nose, and if you did it you would surely go to hell;
and suppose that having got you in my power I tickled it with
a feather. You would wriggle and squirm your nose about and
so withstand the temptation for a time, but in the end you'd
scratch it and go to hell quite cheerfully.'
And we never spoke again.
Once more I was travelling on the Yangtsze in a Chinese
steamer. The accommodation for foreigners was in a house
upon the bridge deck. Beneath that deck was one long unpartitioned space in which many hundreds of native passengers
were carried. Some had bunks; others lay on the deck
surrounded by their bundles, and that deck was completely
covered by them. The air in that space was thick with human
fug and the reek of opium. Now I have always been an early
riser, so when, on the first morning of our journey, I found I
had slept until nine o'clock, I was very much astonished. I
opened the door and looked in the saloon. Facing me quite
close was a black-bearded priest. And here another puzzle.
He was looking at me with utmost sternness, and — a curious
combination — his nostrils were expanded and he stood sniffing
at the air. Then he spoke. ` Are not you — a foreigner —
ashamed to do such a thing ? I cannot avoid expressing my
disgust.' Of course I was flabbergasted at this wild and unprovoked attack, but obviously he was labouring under some
strange delusion, and my feeling was one of interest rather
than resentment. So I asked him what he meant; and
he explained. There was a smell of opium in the saloon;
he had traced it to my door just before I opened it; then from
my cabin poured a volume of the smell, so he assumed I had
been smoking opium. Now with the contrast of fresh air I
realized the extent to which my cabin reeked; I sought the
reason and found it — a defective ventilator from the deck
below, which explained my oversleeping.
The priest, of course, was apologetic. He was more; he
was remorse-stricken at having thought evil on unfounded
grounds; and he was full of gratitude for the way in which I
had met his wild attack. It was doubtless under the joint
influence of these emotions that he later told the story of his
He had meant, he said, to lock that story up for good within
his breast. As there were degrees of physical disfigurement
that were indecent to expose, so there were mental anguishes
which called for silence. But somehow he now felt an irresistible desire to impose — as he put it — the story of his troubles
on me; and then he would really shut it up for ever.
He was a German and a Jesuit. His age was forty, and for
ten years he had been in charge of a mission in the far interior.
In course of time he had come to see that mission work in
China, as carried out, worked more for evil than for good.
There was the interference with and condemnation of Confucianism, a cult of ethics which formed the matrix of the
Chinese state. This interference was a serious disintegrating
factor; instead of condemning Confucianism, Christianity
should have been grafted on to it as, indeed, had been the
policy of that great missionary, Matteo Ricci, in the fifteenth
century. Then there was the use which converts made of the
status their religion gave them; it influenced the magistrates
in litigation; and so on. So he had found his conscience and
his reason opposed to the Order's policy as to mission work in
China. He had sworn obedience to that Order; that oath
was absolutely sacred to him though no oath could bind the
intellect or conscience. What then could he do except confess
the opinion forced on him, even though the certainty of grave
condemnation stared him in the face — they would condemn
him as a traitor and a heretic; what else could he do than make
his confession and then obediently take whatever might be
coming, and his willingness to do so had been clearly stated.
And now he had had his answer, brief and stern. He was
ordered to Italy, where in some institution he would be for the
rest of his life employed in a menial capacity.
On a journey up the Middle Yangtsze the only other passengers on board were a young Quaker missionary and his bride
— a slim young thing and pretty, and so demure with her
downcast eyes and her neat grey frock. I labelled her at once
the Mouse-girl; and with my appreciation of her came anxiety.
My anxiety was about my friend the Captain, his reputation,
and what I feared would happen.
There is a book of travels by a lady, in which Captain
Mutter (1) is mentioned in some such words as these: ' He had
a unique affluence of bad language brought out with thrilling
and damnatory emphasis; and which the presence of neither
clergy nor ladies deterred.' It was a fact that Captain Mutter
had made of profanity an art; and this advertisement of his
ability so pleased him that he framed the extract and hung it
in a prominent position in the saloon.
1 — I feel confident, from my memory of him, that Captain Mutter, whose
address I have been unable to obtain, will forgive me for telling this story
without his leave.
But the accomplishment he took the greater pride in was the
telling of his stock of stories — pink stories and very funny, and,
when the audience was suitable, the vulgarity was redeemed
by the keenness of their humour. But how very unsuitable
as an audience would that Mouse-girl be; and I dreaded
the first dinner when the Captain would surely try to tell me
of his latest.
I did my best; I told him I had already heard it; but he
understood my object and it but spurred him on his evil way,
and of course he had another story and he told it, and made
me most unhappy for a time. But only for a time; for when
the climax came — a quite indecent one, but very witty — I saw
a snigger forming in the corners of the Mouse-girl's mouth,
her hand beneath the table dug her husband in the leg, and soon
both were laughing heartily. They could not help it.
It was the Captain's art to play a tune on strings of varied
interests, so now he changed his mode and spoke of memory —
of how he knew the Prayer Book word-perfect from cover to
cover, and he gave an exhibition of the fact. Then, dinner
finished, we went outside; the Captain and the missionary
walked the deck, while the girl and I stood leaning on the
rail. There was a full moon, a bright planet nearly in conjunction, and the mystery of the river in the dark; so we
were silent for a time. I wondered what was passing in
her mind, and then the Mouse-girl spoke. ` I have learnt
something this evening. I have learnt what a humorous side
there may be to vice.'
I want a place to mention Father Froc, and, although he was
not a missionary, I will put him here. He was a Jesuit, a
scientist of world repute, and Director of the Siccawei
Observatory near Shanghai. We were associated in typhoon
warnings, and I claim that we produced the best system for
that purpose that exists. I say ` we,' but it was he who was
usually the leader. He told the seaman where the typhoon
was and gave him isobars for a quarter round the world; he
traced for him day by day the storm's position from its inception in the distant regions of the Pacific Ocean, and he taught
him its probabilities of movement; then left him to exercise
his judgment. We fought the Hongkong Observatory on the
subject, and Japan; and in the end we got our code accepted
on the whole Far Eastern coast. That was one side of our
association. He — the Jesuit — and we — Church of England
people — became great friends; the family has a sort of
reverent affection for him, and we have kept in contact with
him to this day.