CHAPTER XXV. MISSIONARIES WE HAVE KNOWN
During our work in Fukien Province and in various parts of Yuen-nan we came into intimate personal contact with a great many missionaries; indeed every traveler in the interior of China will meet them unless he purposely avoids doing so. But the average tourist seldom sees the missionary in his native habitat because, for the most part, he lives and works where the tourist does not go.
Nevertheless, that does not prevent the coastwise traveler from carrying back with him from the East a very definite impression of the missionary, which he has gained on board ships or in Oriental clubs where he hears him "damned with faint praise." Almost unconsciously he adopts the popular attitude just as he enlarges his vocabulary to include "pidgin English" and such unfamiliar phrases as "tiffin," "bund" and "cumshaw."
This chapter is not a brief for the missionary, but simply a matter of fair play. We feel that in justice we ought to present our observations upon this subject, which is one of very general interest, as impartially as upon any phase of our scientific work. But it should be distinctly understood that we are writing only of those persons whom we met and lived with, and whose work we had an opportunity to know and to see; we are not attempting generalizations on the accomplishments of missionaries in any other part of China.
There are three charges which we have heard most frequently brought against the missionary: that he comes to the East because he can live better and more luxuriously than he can at home; that he often engages in lucrative trade with the natives; and that he accomplishes little good, either religious or otherwise. It is said that his converts are only "rice Christians," and treaty-port foreigners have often warned us in this manner, "Don't take Christian servants; they are more dishonest and unreliable than any others."
It is often true that the finest house in a Chinese town will be that of the resident missionary. In Yen-ping the mission buildings are imposing structures, and are placed upon a hill above and away from the rest of the city. Any white person who has traveled in the interior of China will remember the airless, lightless, native houses, opening, as they all do, on filthy streets and reeking sewers and he will understand that in order to exist at all a foreigner must be somewhat isolated and live in a clean, well-ventilated house.
Every missionary in China employs servants - many more servants than he could afford at home. So does every other foreigner, whatever his vocation. There is no such thing in China as the democracy of the West, and the missionary's status in the community demands that certain work in his house be done by servants; otherwise he and his family would be placed on a level with the coolie class and the value of his words and deeds be discounted. But the chief reason is that the missionary's wife almost always has definite duties to which she could not attend if she were not relieved from some of the household cares. She leads in work among the women of the community by organizing clubs and "Mutual Improvement Societies" and in teaching in the schools or hospitals where young men and women are learning English as an asset to medical work among their own people. Servants are unbelievably cheap. While we were in Foochow a cook received $3.50 (gold) per month, a laundryman $1.75 (gold) per month, and other wages were in proportion.
In Fukien Province the missionaries receive two months' vacation. Anyone who has lived through a Fukien summer in the interior of the province will know why the missionaries are given this vacation. If they were not able to leave the deadly heat and filth and disease of the native cities for a few weeks every year, there would be no missionaries to carry on the work. The business man can surround himself with innumerable comforts both in his home and in his office which the missionary cannot afford and, during the summer, life is not only made possible thereby but even pleasant.
Yen-ping is eight days' travel from Foochow up the Min River and it is by no means the most remote station in the province. Very few travelers reach these places during the year and the white inhabitants are almost isolated. Miss Mabel Hartford lives alone at Yuchi and at one time she saw only one foreigner in eight months. Miss Cordelia Morgan is the sole foreign resident of Chu-hsuing Fu, a large Chinese city six days from Yuen-nan Fu. In Ta-li Fu, Reverend William J. Hanna, his wife and two other women, are fourteen days' ride from the nearest foreign settlement. In Li-chiang, Reverend and Mrs. A. Kok and their three small children live with two women missionaries. They are twenty-one days' travel from a doctor, and for four years previous to our visit they had not seen a white woman.
These are some instances of missionaries whom we met in China who have voluntarily exiled themselves to remote places where they expect to spend their entire lives surrounded by an indifferent if not hostile population. Can anyone possibly believe that they have chosen this life because it is easier or more luxurious than that at home?
Some of the men whom we met had left lucrative business positions to take up medical or evangelistic work in China where their compensation is pitifully small - not one-third of the salary they were commanding at home.
We did not meet any missionaries who were engaging in trade with the natives even though in some places there were excellent business opportunities.