Presbyterian Church of England Foreign Missions Committee: Taiwan/Formosa

Scope and Content

Correspondence, minutes, papers, printed materials and photographs

Administrative / Biographical History

The attraction of establishing a mission in Taiwan was that the great majority of the population of around three million were Chinese speakers from South Fuijian where English Presbyterian missionaries had been at work since 1850. Carstairs Douglas, an established missionary in Amoy, and a new recruit, the medical missionary James Maxwell, surveyed the area early in the 1860s and recommended the establishment of a mission in the southern half of the island. A Canadian Presbyterian Mission was later established in the north. The anniversary date of the Presbyterian Church in Formosa is 16th June celebrating the first opening of a Presbyterian Church by Maxwell in Tainan on 16th June 1865. The early years of the mission were troubled by violent demonstrations against missionaries, Christians and their property and the mission in the capital had to be abandoned for a while. But by 1874 there were 26 mission stations in southern Formosa with a membership of 949 and Sunday attendances of 1900. From 1877 the headquarters of English Presbyterian work was in Tainan where an important theological college was established chiefly through the efforts of the Rev Thomas Barclay, missionary in Formosa from 1874 to 1935. There were also schools for boys and girls and an expanded hospital.

In 1895, by the Treaty of Shimonoseki ending the First Sino-Japanese War, Formosa was ceded to Japan and after initial resistance had been crushed the Japanese remained in control of the island for the next fifty years until the end of the Second World War. Despite the erection of Shinto shrines in most Formosan cities Japanese rule was not at first unfavourable to the presence of Christian missionaries but a certain amount of adjustment to new conditions was necessary. With the growth of elementary schools to teach Japanese to the island's children English Presbyterians concentrated on developing Sunday Schools where the Bible in the Formosan Romanized edition was used. They also sought to safeguard the Christian foundation of their own schools. With a shortage of mission staff during and after the First World War there was a greater emphasis on the indigenous church. The growth of anti-British propaganda from the mid-1930s led to a reduction of PCE staff in Formosa, and missionaries finally withdrew in 1940.

Both Canadian and English Presbyterian missionaries returned to Formosa after the War. In 1947 a United Conference of the two missions was formed and a united Presbyterian Church in Taiwan followed in 1955. There was a considerable influx of mainland Chinese, many of them Christian, into Formosa, particularly following the evacuation of the Kuomintang Government under Chiang Kai Shek in 1949. The regime was authoritarian and the Church was uncomfortable with the fact that some members of their congregations were also paid agents of the Government. A growth area in the post-war years was evangelisation amongst the aboriginal peoples of Formosa where Christian ideas had spread during the war years and where there was something approaching a mass-movement. As this was too much of a burden for the indigenous church at that time PCE missionaries were largely involved in this work. Other developments in the post-war years included the expansion of the Tainan Theological College under the Rev Dr Shoki Coe, the rebuilding of the hospital at Shoka and a "Double-the-Church movement" intended to double the number of churches by the time of the Church's centenary in 1965. This was more than achieved with an increase in churches from 410 to 863 and an increase in membership from 86,064 to 177,420.

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