Missionary society members in American churches often thought of China as an alien land teeming with pagan people. In reality, China was a vast, beautiful land filled with fascinating, diverse inhabitants. The women missionaries who came to China grew to love and appreciate the Chinese people, while still trying with limited success to convert them to Christianity. By 1900, there were about four thousand American missionaries abroad, mostly in China. The murder of hundreds of missionaries during the Boxer Rebellion seemed only to fuel their zeal to Christianize the Chinese
Women missionaries played an important part of the missionary effort in China. They pioneered the movement of women out of the stationary schools into field evangelism and fostered an ecumenical spirit among the overseas missionaries. Serving as missionaries appealed to Christian women of many denominations, because it gave them a chance to be independent, and make a contribution to what they felt was Christ’s Kingdom on earth. A glimpse into the documents and the lives of these women missionaries reveals the missionary mind and illuminates from one perspective, the triumph and tragedies of ordinary women living in an extraordinary country in an extraordinary time.
The 1842 Treaty of Nanking had forced China to open her doors to western trade, and by 1865, an Englishman, James Hudson Taylor, founded the China Inland Mission. In 1866, Taylor and his family and sixteen workers sailed for China and by the end of the year, twenty-four workers had settled in four inland stations. Almost immediately, Taylor and his wife, Maria Jane Dyer Taylor, adopted Chinese dress as “the most obvious method of self-identification with the Chinese people.”
The Moon Sisters
Maria Jane Dyer Taylor and the Moon sisters symbolized the independent spirit of the female Christian missionaries and “self-identification with the Chinese people.” Orianna Moon was one of the first women in the South to earn a medical degree and the only woman commissioned as a surgeon (captain) in the Confederate Army. The youngest Moon sister, Edmonia, was one of the first two single women appointed by the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1872. Charlotte Moon, the middle sister, graduated in the first class of the pioneer college for women in the South- Hollins Institute- in 1857. She taught school and founded a new school for girls at Cartersville, Georgia, in 1870. She felt a call to overseas service, but at that time unmarried women were not accepted.
When Charlotte’s sister Edmonia was commissioned into missionary service, Charlotte’s resolution strengthened. Her patrons supporting the school reluctantly released her, and Charlotte immediately volunteered for China. Overcoming the obstacle of her single status, she joined her sister Edmonia at Tengchow, Shantung in 1873. Edmonia almost immediately became ill and went home, but Charlotte stayed and conducted a school at Tengchow.
Appalled by the Chinese cultural hostility to educating girls, Charlotte, commonly called Lottie, vowed to carry the gospel to the women and girls of the interior villages and towns. With tremendous determination and little else, she devoted herself entirely to that work. Singlehandedly, she founded the church and school in Pingtu. Lottie knew that new missionaries needed effective orientation and language instruction, so she made her home in Tengchow which she called “Little Cross Roads,” a training center for women missionaries.
The Southern Baptist missionary organization and Miss Lottie Moon moved in the same kind of tandem as a Chinese rickshaw and its driver. Lottie Moon carried on a correspondence with women all over the south and contributed articles to denomination magazines. Lottie wrote letters home regarding the formation of women’s missionary societies. As a result of Lottie’s letters, her work in China, and the work of the Baptist Ladies’ Missionary Societies at home, over the next twenty years the Baptists pioneered in the mission field in China. The secretary of the mission board told Lottie, “You have the power of making people see what you think.”
In a letter published in the Foreign Missions Journal in December 1887, Lottie declared that the organization of the women for mission work was the most important task of the day. She suggested a week of prayer ending in a special Christmas offering as a means of giving unity, strength, and purpose to an organization that would be auxiliary to the mission boards. The Women’s Missionary Union was organized in 1888. Lottie appealed for women workers for Pingtu and the first Christmas offering was collected for this purpose amounted to $3,315, enough to send three missionaries to China. After that, the Christmas offering was called by her name and she encouraged it by letters and articles while she lived. Eventually, it became the chief resource for financing the Southern Baptist overseas mission.
Charlotte Moon was a missionary in North China for almost forty years, and she mastered the Chinese language. Her contemporaries said that she integrated into the Chinese culture more thoroughly than any other Westerner. Lottie Moon gave her life for the Chinese people. During the revolution of 1911, famine swept through the Baptist mission field in Shantung and reached Pingtu in 1912. The missionaries wrote home for relief funds, but the Baptist Board was burdened with debt and did not answer. Lottie gave most of her salary and starved with her Chinese friends. Her health broke. She was sent home to recuperate, but she died on board ship in the harbor at Kobe, Japan on Christmas Eve, 1912.
A century later, the offering that Miss Lottie Moon launched in 1888 approached the sum of $100 million a year and since 1918, it has been called the Lottie Moon Missionary Fund.
Missionaries Caught Up in the Boxer Rebellion
Throughout the nineteenth century foreign countries had invaded China and foreign regiments armed with modern weapons defeated imperial Chinese armies. The empress dowager of China plotted to drive away countries that claimed exclusive trading rights to certain parts of China, including Austria, France, Germany, Japan, and Russia. The United States had acquired the Philippines and it too became a country seeking “spheres of influence” in China.
Secretary of State John Hay combined American and foreign interests into a “Open Door Policy” in China, a policy that would guarantee equal trading rights for all countries and prevent one country from discriminating against another country in its sphere. A nationalist movement by the “Righteous Harmony Society,” or the Boxers, between 1898 and 1901, opposed foreign imperialism and Christianity. The Conservatives in the Imperial Court convinced the Empress to support the Boxers in their war on foreign powers and she did. The Imperial Army of China and the Boxers held diplomats, foreign civilians and soldiers and Chinese Christians in the Legation Quarters captive for 55 days.
At least 58 missionaries and 21 missionary children were killed. The Boxer Rebellion had a devastating effect on the work in North China. Missionaries serving in Shantung and Shensi were all safely evacuated to the coast, but much property was looted and many churches destroyed, especially in Shantung. In Shansi, the entire missionary staff of 13 adults and three children was massacred.
Eva Price- Missionary Over All Obstacles
Eva and Charles Price and their two small boys were missionaries from Oberlin College who left Des Moines, Iowa, in 1889 for Shansi, a village in China’s interior. They spent eleven years in China trying to convert “heathens” to Christianity.
The Price’s two little boys died in China, and their daughter Florence was born there. Eva and Charles were steadfast and loyal to their Christian faith and Eva never wavered in her belief in Western superiority. On July 29, 1900, Eva wrote “I am preparing for the end very quietly and calmly…I do not regret coming to China, but I am sorry I have done so little. We will die together, my dear husband and I.”
A local magistrate told the Prices that their party would be escorted safely to the coast and on the morning of August 15, 1900, Chinese soldiers marched with the Prices and their friends twenty miles outside Shensi into the countryside. When they reached Taiyuan, the soldiers murdered Eva and Charles Price, their daughter Florence, and the other missionaries in their group.
Their final journal entries clearly illustrate that Eva and Charles realized what their fate would be and they met their death with dignity and quiet heroism, embracing the heaven that they persuaded so few of the Chinese to accept.
Eleanor Chestnut’s Lienchow
The Presbyterian Church overcame the obstacles of geography and politics and established a mission, including hospitals, residences for missionaries and schools in Lienchow. In 1905, Lienchow had had a population of about 20,000 people in the city proper, but counting the populous suburbs to the east and south brought the figure to nearer 50,000.
Lienchow rested on the side of the Lienchow river, which wound its tortuous way to the southeast and joined the North River in its plunge almost due south to the great West River, a few miles west of Canton. Fifty villages or more, with their groves of banyans, camphor and other trees spread out across the landscape. Other villages nested in the numerous valleys beyond the mountains. Great hills and lofty terraces rose behind to the south, and on the opposite shore black peaks with jagged summits split the sky.
Eleanor Chestnut found her home and life’s work in Leinchow. Born in 1868, in Waterloo, Iowa, Eleanor began negotiating obstacle courses early in her life. Her parents died when she was still an infant, and relatives raised her. She graduated from Park College in Missouri, and earned a medical degree from the Women’s Medical College of Illinois. Then she took a nursing course and interned at a women’s reformatory in Massachusetts. Finally, she took a course of Bible study at the Moody Bible Institute and she dedicated her life to mission.
Dr. Chestnut went to China in 1894 to head the recently opened women’s hospital at the isolated mission station at Lienchow, 300 miles up the Bei Jiang River from Canton. She traveled on horseback to hold clinics in neighboring villages and she lived in sparsely furnished rooms on the second floor of the hospital. In the eleven years that Dr. Chestnut spent in China, she eventually treated about 5,479 patients.
Dr. Chestnut’s Last Day at the Hospital
Of all the places in China where American missionaries labored, Lienchow was considered the least dangerous. Even during the Boxer Rebellion, the missionaries there were unmolested. Hints of peril in her second home didn't prevent Dr. Chestnut from returning from a 1905 furlough in the United States. Lienchow, her second home, fitted her like a second skin.
On October 28, 1905, Dr. Edward Machle and the Buddhist priests at the temple next to the hospital in Lienchow argued about building a small Buddhist Temple on hospital property. Although Dr. Machle and the priests settled the argument peacefully, a lawless gang harangued the people until some of them formed a mob and burned the mission station to the ground. A priest at a nearby Buddhist grotto offered the fleeing missionaries refuge, but the mob followed them. Over a period of several hours, the mob killed four of the missionaries and ten year old Amy Machle. Reverend and Mrs. John Peale, Mrs. Ella Machle, Amy, and Miss Chestnut were killed, but Dr. Machle and Miss Patterson managed to escape to the house of the prefect who effectively protected them.
Accounts in the Yukon Daily Times and the Boston Transcript described Dr. Chestnut’s death in greater detail. According to Dr. Machle, the mob seized Miss Chestnut and Mrs. Eva Machle. They flung the Machle’s ten year old daughter Amy alive into the river, and then they stripped Dr. Chestnut naked and flung her into the river. While Amy Machle and Dr. Chestnut were struggling in the water, three members of the mob speared them with pitchforks. Mrs. Machle appealed to the rioters, but they stoned her brains out and then flung her body into the river too.
Then the mob captured Reverend and Mrs. Peale and stripped them naked. The mob clubbed Reverend Peale to death in his wife’s presence and they killed Mrs. Peale the same way. According to Dr. Machle, the Chinese authorities didn’t try to stop the mob or rescue the missionaries. He suspected that some of the officials had mingled with the mob disguised as ordinary Chinese citizens.
Dr. Chestnut’s Legacy
Dr. Eleanor Chestnut’s death deeply affected the Chinese people. Witnesses said that she dressed the head wound of a boy in the crowd who had been hit by a flying stone before the mob seized her. Although the mob in Lienchow tortured and killed many church members, the missionaries didn’t abandon their Chinese converts or the other Chinese people that they loved. By 1907, they had returned and rebuilt the hospital and church and continued their work. The deaths of Dr. Chestnut and the others drew them closer together and created more interdenominational cooperation. The number of missionaries increased and they established school and hospitals in each province of China.
This and her own work was Dr. Eleanor Chestnut’s lasting legacy.
Cohen, Paul A. History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Events, Experience, and Myth. New York, NY: Columbia UP, 1997.
Esherick, Joseph W. The Origins of the Boxer Uprising. Los Aeles, CA: University of
California P, 1987.
Preston, Diana. The Boxer Rebellion. New York, NY: Walker and Company, 2000.
Price, Eva J. China Journal: An American Missionary Family During the Boxer Rebellion. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1989.
New York Times
New York Times
Lewiston Evening Journal
Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity