American Missionaries in China in the 1860s

American Missionaries in China in the 1860s

Although legally prohibited from preaching Christianity in China until 1858, American missionaries fought through language and cultural barriers to spread the word of the Bible, and to convert Chinese people to Christianity. The first American missionaries arrived in China during the 1830s and 40s. During these early years, foreigners, including Christian missionaries, were prohibited from living outside of the treaty ports, and preaching Christianity was illegal. Missionaries who were caught proselytizing faced severe persecution. 

In 1858, the Treaty of Tientsin made several changes for missionary activity in China. Foreigners were now allowed to travel throughout China, permitted foreign women to enter China, and legalized Christian missionary activity. These changes led to an augmentation of missionary presence in China throughout the 1860s. In 1858, there were only about 80 protestant missionaries in China, but by 1905 there were more than 3000. The new group of female missionaries fought against discriminatory practices like traditional foot-binding. The majority of Chinese people did not view American Missionaries favorably. Christianity went against traditional Confucian ideas, and was therefore anti-Chinese. During the 1860s missionaries, due to the increased legitimacy granted to them by the Treaty of Tientsin, were known for interfering in local political affairs, particularly to grant extra protection from the law for their Christian converts.

The 1860s saw a large increase in Christian missions to China thanks to changes from the Treaty of Tientsin, and the Third Great Awakening period in the United States meant more Americans took part in Christian missions all over the world. Nevertheless, Christianity remained unpopular in China and missionaries were viewed negatively by all except their few converts. 

- Natalie Wenigmann and Megan Fraser

Works Cited

Bogstad, Janice M. "Missionaries (American) in China." Encyclopedia of Chinese-american Relations. Eds. Yuwu Song , Yuwu Song , and Yuwu Song . Jefferson: McFarland, 2009. Credo Reference. Web. 27 Apr 2015.

Cohen, Paul A. China and Christianity: The Missionary Movement and the Growth of Chinese Antiforeignism, 1860-1870  Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1963. Print.

Hannah, Jessica. "American Missionaries in China: 1830-1900." The History of US-China Relations: Research Website. N.p., 20 Apr. 2009. Web. Apr. 2015. <http://wmpeople.wm.edu/site/page/jlhannah/americanmissionariesinchina>.