China / East Asia

Scope and Content

The China & East Asia division also contains South East Asia material from 1951, including photographs, correspondence, reports, and Malaya Council files. This relates to the spread of missionary activity to Singapore and Malaya after the closing of China, and the joint working with the Presbyterian Church of England and the Chinese Presbyterian Church in Singapore and Malaya.

Administrative / Biographical History

The earliest London Missionary Society mission to the Chinese people occurred not in China, but in South East Asia. China was in effect closed to Western missionaries at the beginning of the 19th century, and a formal edict against Christianity was announced by the Emperor in 1812. As a response, the LMS established the Ultra Ganges mission in order to preach to the large number of expatriate Chinese in places such as Penang and Malacca. The mission was to provide aid to the Chinese community, and also became a centre of publishing to provide suitable material for dissemination. The Ultra Ganges mission was to provide a springboard into China when it became open to western missionaries, and the Anglo-Chinese College in Malacca was a seat of training and learning for missionaries to work in China.

The first LMS missionary to work amongst the Chinese people was Robert Morrison. He arrived in Penang in 1805 and set about learning Chinese. His early work centered around the production of a Chinese Dictionary, a Chinese grammar, and the translation of the New Testament into Chinese. He was joined in his work by William Milne in 1813.

Work in China was hard for early missionaries and Morrison and Milne came up against great opposition, and had to carry out other work such as being interpreters or quasi-British officials. The situation worsened after 1833 when the charter of the East India Company was abolished

and trade conditions altered. The support of the British for opium trade led to the First Opium War from 1839 to 1842. The treaty of 1842 effectively opened up the Treaty Ports of Canton, Amoy, Fuchow, Ningpo and Shanghai to trade and residence by the British, and Hong Kong was ceded.

At this point, there was a special appeal by the Directors of the LMS for China, which was compounded by a decree of tolerance of Christianity by the Chinese Government in 1844. This led to the extension of missionary work into China directly. The Anglo Chinese College was removed from Malacca to Hong Kong under James Legge, while missionaries were transferred from the Straits Settlements of South East Asia to the China Mission.

LMS missionary work in China was divided into three distinct geographical regions, which due to their size and diversity were carried out separately. The South China Mission included Canton [Guangzhou], Hong Kong, and Fukien [Fujian] province. The Central China Mission included Shanghai, Hankow and Wuchang. The North China Mission included work at Tientsin [Tianjin] and Peking [Beijing].

In addition to these main areas, during the 19th century there was mission activity in Szechwan, Hunan and Mongolia. Griffith John visited Chengtu and Chungking in Szechwan in 1868 in an attempt to persuade the Directors to fund mission activity. John Wallace Wilson was not appointed to Chungking until 1888. Despite some successes, for example by 1906 there were six Chinese evangelists working with the missionaries, in 1910 LMS work was handed over to the Canadian Methodist Mission. The story is similar in Hunan. Griffith John visited the area several times in the 1880s and 1890s, and the first missionaries were appointed to Yochow in 1899. After the upheaval of the Boxer period, stations were established at Changsa, Hengchow and Siangtu. However, resources were stretched and in 1912 work was transferred to the American Presbyterian Mission. The Irish Presbyterian Mission took over work in Mongolia, including the station at Chaoyang, after the period of Boxer upheaval. An attempt had been made by John Parker to continue the pioneer work of James Gilmour, but by 1899 there had been only one convert amongst the Mongol peoples, the church members were generally Chinese.

LMS mission work in China focused primarily on educational and medical work. Much has been made of the fact that there was a great deal of hostility to actual conversion amongst the Chinese people. Despite the establishment of principal mission stations in places such as Canton, it was difficult to establish more regional stations. During the anti-Western Boxer rebellion of 1900 many missionaries, from the LMS and other societies, were killed and many were held under siege in Peking. Many Chinese Christians were also killed during this period of upheaval. It can be argued that hostility towards missionaries was less to do with a rejection of Christianity and more to the fact that they were 'foreigners'.

Medical work started early in China with the arrival of William Lockhart at Shanghai in 1843, where a hospital was established. Because mission work in China was concentrated on medical and educational work the LMS increasingly began to work with other missionary societies. In 1895 there were 95 LMS missionaries in China, by 1926 there were 131 and in 1937 there were 96.

The first half of the 20th century was again marked by continued political and social upheaval and unrest across China - from the Revolution of 1911 to the Communist risings of the post-war era. LMS missionaries continued in their work and the building up of the Church proceeded, against the background of the occasional destruction or breakdown in local administration. The Directors were optimistic however that the Church in China could become self-supporting and self-regulating. District synods were formed.

The Second World War brought internment to many of the LMS missionaries working in North China, Shanghai and Hong Kong, but a small number were able to continue missionary work in free China. The upheaval continued after the War and by 1949 The People's Republic of China had been established. The LMS attempted to continue work with the Church of Christ in China, but all missionaries were withdrawn from China by the end of 1952. Work continued to be carried out in Hong Kong, with medical work centred on the Nethersole Hospital, and theological and educational training being carried out. In terms of administration, the district was reorganised as the Hong Kong Council of the Christian Church in China in 1957.


Material in the China Division is arranged as follows: East Asia correspondence (1937-1968); East Asia reports (1931-1970); Subject files (1911-1970); China Odds; Photographs; Maps.

Correspondence, journals, and reports for each of the geographic regions of North China, Central China and South China for the period up to 1940 can be found under each of these separate divisions.

Access Information


Archivist's Note