By the end of the nineteenth century, Protestantism had established what might best be described as a precarious presence in Asia, often protected by the diplomatic and military power of Western nations. The most significant Protestant presence was in India where Christianity is traditionally believed to have been established in the first century in the form of the "Mar Thoma" church. This group of Christians traced their origins to St. Thomas the Apostle, who was believed to have come to India within two decades of the crucifixion of Christ. According to this ancient tradition, Thomas first set foot in India at Cran-ganore near Cochin, at that time an important seaport on the Malabar coast with important trade connections with Palestine and its neighbors. The voyages of the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama (c. 1460-1524) led to the opening up of the coastal regions of the subcontinent to Catholic missionaries, with Goa as their center of operations.

Protestant missions were relatively slow to establish themselves; indeed, evangelism was often seen as subsidiary to commerce, and occasionally as an impediment to it. The first Anglican clergy in India, for example, were ship's chaplains, appointed by the English East India Company to provide pastoral care and spiritual support for the crews of their ships so that they might carry our their commercial tasks more efficiently.

However, the intrinsic importance of mission in the area was recognized by Humphrey Prideaux, the Anglican dean of Norwich (1684-

1724) who penned an Account of the English Settlements in the East Indies, together with some proposals for the propagation of Christianity in those parts of the world. Prideaux pointed to the need to train people for the specific work of evangelism. In his prophetic idea that a "seminary" be established in England, with a view to preparing mission workers until such time as the work could be handed over to agencies based in India itself, may be seen the basis of the missionary movement, which was destined to exercise a significant influence over Indian Christianity.13 This new interest in evangelism was encouraged to no small extent by the 1773 decision of Pope Clement XIV to suppress the Society ofJesus, which was by then undertaking major Catholic missionary work in this region.

The first major Protestant mission to India was based at the Danish crown colony of Tranquebar on the Coromandel coast, south of Madras. Lutheran orthodoxy remained hostile to missionary activity, for reasons noted earlier in this chapter; Pietists, however, were strongly in favor. Among the German Lutheran Pietist missionaries of note in this undertaking were Bartholomäus Ziegenbalg (who directed the mission from its founding in 1706 to 1719) and Christian Frederick Schwartz (director from 1750 to 1787). Members of the Lutheran faculty of theology at Wittenberg—Luther's old university—were outraged at such a development and tried, unsuccessfully, to have it closed down.14

In the event, this mission bore some fruit. A Lutheran community of many thousands arose in and around the cities of the region, such as Tranquebar itself, Tanjore, Tiruchirapalli, and Tirunelveli. Danish Pietism went into decline around the year 1800, partly because of the growing influence of rationalism, and much of the work in the region was taken over by the Anglican Church Missionary Society. Around 1840, the Dresden-Leipzig Mission sent missionaries to the region, leading to many Tamil Christians reverting to Lutheranism.

The growing political power of Britain in the region, however, inevitably favored the activities of British missionaries, even though the East India Company did not want its commercial work disrupted by such activity. English Baptists began work in Bengal in 1793, settling in the Danish colonial town of Serampore, upriver from Calcutta, beyond the authority of the East India Company.15 The founding of Serampore College in 1818 was a landmark; it was presented to its supporters back in England as an institution that would train Indians to replace Europeans completely as missionaries and so create a truly indigenous church. While this claim may have been somewhat inflated—it was designed, after all, to encourage existing donors and secure new ones— the objective was of considerable strategic importance in view of the growing suspicions about the missionaries' relationship with the British colonial authorities.

Although British missionary societies and individuals were able to operate in India without any major opposition from other European agencies from about 1775, they received no support from the British authorities. The East India Company, for example, was opposed to their activities on the grounds that they might create ill will among native Indians and thus threaten the trade upon which the company depended. However, the Charter Act, passed by Parliament on July 13, 1813, revised the conditions under which the East India Company was permitted to operate. From now on, British missionaries were given protected status and a limited degree of freedom to carry out evangelistic work on the Indian subcontinent. Their privileged status would inevitably cause them to be seen as agents of British rule and values. The Serampore program opened the way to the introduction of indigenized forms of Protestant churches.

Britain was by no means the only Western nation with missionary involvement in the Indian subcontinent. The first major American missionary undertaking had its origins at Williams College in Wil-liamstown, Maryland, in 1810: a group of students who had been studying the history of the East India Company came to believe that they were called to serve as missionaries in the region. The General Association of Congregational Ministers of Massachusetts would form the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions that same year and send a group—including some of the original Williams College students—to Calcutta.

The issue of the relation of Protestantism to Indian culture remained important throughout the nineteenth century. It seemed to many that Protestantism was not only alien to India but insensitive to its cultural values and norms. The "Sepoy Mutiny" of 1857 is often seen as a revolt against alleged attempts to Westernize Indian culture as much as a rebellion against colonial rule.16 Christians and Christian institutions were targeted precisely because they were seen as the instruments or outcomes of Western culture.

A similar situation arose in China. A Christian presence had been established in China in 1294 when Franciscan missionaries reached the country. However, the church never achieved any great success in conversions. One of the many effects of the Opium War of the 1840s was to open the "Middle Kingdom" up to Western missionaries. China had been isolated from the West until the nineteenth century, when growing interest in commerce opened up the region to Western missionaries, predominantly from America and Britain. Hampered by a lack of knowledge of the written or spoken language, these missionaries labored under immense difficulties.17 One of these missionaries, the Englishman James Hudson Taylor (1832-1905), may be singled out for special comment.

Hudson Taylor was initially a missionary with the Chinese Evangelization Society. Dissatisfaction with this organization led him to found the China Inland Mission in 1865. This mission was unusual in several aspects, not least its willingness to accept single women as missionaries and its interdenominational character. Hudson Taylor showed an awareness of the cultural barriers facing Christian missionaries in China and did what he could to remove them—for example, he required his missionaries to wear Chinese, rather than Western, dress. The China Inland Mission stood virtually alone among missionary societies at this time in recognizing the need for its missionaries to be taught Mandarin in schools especially established for this purpose. Other missionary societies merely provided their workers with language manuals and advice from native speakers.

The Western powers gained major footholds in China as a consequence of the Opium War (1839-42). Under the Treaty of Nanjing (1842), China was forced to make major concessions to Britain, including the granting of "extraterritoriality" (that is, exemption from Chinese laws) to British nationals. This proved to be the first of a number of "unequal treaties" that were imposed upon China by Western powers and led to growing Western influence in the region. During the period 1861 to 1894, the "Self-Strengthening Movement," championed by Qing Dynasty scholars and officials such as Li Hongzhang (1823-1901) and Zuo Zongtang (1812-85), attempted to achieve a confluence of Western


technology with traditional Chinese culture. Western missionaries were generally welcomed, not least on account of their perceived potential as educators.

However, China's defeat by Japan in the disastrous Sino-Japanese War of 1895 led to new tensions. A new conservative elite gave support to the anti-foreign and anti-Christian movement of secret societies that came to be known as "the Boxers." In 1900 Boxer bands were active throughout north China. Christianity was seen as something Western and hence un-Chinese. Foreign Christian missionaries were particularly at risk, as were any buildings associated with Christianity. Chinese Christians were massacred in many areas. Such was the scale of the action that foreign concessions in Beijing and Tianjin were besieged in June 1900, and eventually the Western powers were provoked to make an armed intervention. At this point, the Qing court formally took command of the Boxer forces and led a coordinated yet ultimately unsuccessful program of resistance to the Western relief army. The Peace Protocol imposed upon the Qing court on September 7, 1900, marked a final humiliation for the dynasty. It did nothing, however, to advance the cause of Christianity, which was clearly identified as a Western import.18

In Japan, Christianity first gained a presence in 1549, when the Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier landed at Kagoshima. The small church in Japan experienced a long period of isolation from the West during the Tokugawa shogunate. When Japan finally opened its doors to the West in 1865, the continuing presence of about sixty thousand Christian believers in the country was revealed. During the Meiji period (1868-1912), Protestantism gained a growing following in the country.19 However, it never achieved the significant growth that some anticipated. For many Japanese, Christianity, like butter, was seen as a Western import: the colloquial Japanese term for Christianity can be translated as "it tastes of butter."

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment