Papers of Karl Gützlaff and the Chinese Union

Scope and Content

The collection consists of copies of material used to defend the Chinese Union against criticism, including: its constitution, rules and regulations; names of members and statistics; lists of books published by the Chinese Union; lists of baptisms; a response to criticisms of the Chinese Union; notes by Gützlaff; finances of the Chinese Union; explanations of the philosophy behind the Chinese Union; and an essay, "Requirements for the Foreign Preachers of the Gospel who Wish to Combine Their Efforts with the Associations Now Forming for the Conversion of Eastern Asia."

Administrative / Biographical History

Karl Friedrich August Gützlaff, pioneer Protestant missionary in China, was born in Pomerania, Germany in 1803. He trained in a mission institute in Berlin and, having met Robert Morrison in London, began to learn Chinese with a view to working amongst the Chinese people. He spent some years as a missionary in Java and Thailand working with Chinese expatriates and he and his wife translated the Bible into Siamese.

During these years Gützlaff also acquired some medical skill and between 1831 and 1833 he made three trips along the Chinese coast acting as a medical practitioner and interpreter. He finally secured entry into mainland China as a freelance missionary in 1833, by which time his wife had died. After some disputes with the authorities he took a job as a Chinese language secretary in the British diplomatic services but continued to do his missionary work.

Gützlaff was convinced that the way to penetrate China was through Chinese converts, not foreign missionaries. He devoted himself to recruiting and training Chinese evangelists who would travel throughout the provinces preaching and distributing tracts. He supported the formation of a largely Chinese led evangelisation society, the Chinese Union, and appeared to achieve some success with reports of thousands of converts during the 1840s. Gützlaff ensured that accounts of his activities were published in the West where he received an enthusiastic reception during visits to raise funds.

It was while he was in Europe in 1848 that missionaries in Hong Kong accused Gützlaff of exaggerating his success and his evangelists of falsifying figures and having a poor grasp of basic Christian doctrine. Gützlaff returned to China but the criticisms and his own ill health led to the collapse of the Union shortly before he died in 1851. Accused by many of being a fanatic and eccentric, not least because he insisted on wearing Chinese dress, Gützlaff has also been criticised in China for his role in the Nanking Treaty (1842), an unequal treaty which ended the first Opium War (1839-1842).

He was nevertheless a pioneer in many senses. He published several books and articles on Chinese history and culture and translated much of the New Testament into Chinese. The Union was the forerunner of the Chinese Evangelisation Society.

Access Information

Open to researchers. It is essential to arrange an appointment in advance to view the archive in order that someone can be available to help. Please contact us by email at Telephone the Centre on: 0131 650 8900. Postal address: Centre for the Study of World Christianity, University of Edinburgh School of Divinity, New College, Mound Place, Edinburgh, EH1 2LX.

Acquisition Information

The papers were donated to the Centre by Dr A.J Broomhall.

Other Finding Aids

A paper catalogue is available to researchers at the Centre.

Archivist's Note

Description originally written and researched by Caroline Brown in May 2001. This had been added to Archives Hub in August 2012 by Louise Williams.

Conditions Governing Use

Reproduction of materials (for example by digital camera) is free for private research and educational use, although we ask researchers to sign an agreement. Please contact us for enquiries on using the material in a commercial setting, for which there will be a fee. Contact us by email at Telephone the Centre on: 0131 650 8900. Postal address: Centre for the Study of World Christianity, University of Edinburgh School of Divinity, New College, Mound Place, Edinburgh, EH1 2LX.


No further additions to the collection are expected.

Related Material

Papers relating to Gützlaff are held at the University of Birmingham Orchard Learning Resources Centre (GB0151 DA19.)

Corporate Names

Geographical Names