Is Robert Morrison the first Protestant Missionary to China?

By CCD contributor: Paul Wu , March 05, 2017 00:03 AM

Robert Morrison at work(Eliza Morrison)

Chinese churches and scholars who study Chinese churches believe that Robert Morrison from the British was the first Protestant missionary coming to China. In 2007 Chinese Church commemorated splendidly the 200th anniversary of his mission in China. However, the Protestant Christian Georgius Candidius has come to China in the Ming Dynasty when he brought the gospel to the "Beautiful Island" Taiwan at the end of the era. 

The first Protestant missionary coming to China was Georgius Candidius a Dutch (1597-1647), born in Germany and his mother was a Scottish. In order to avoid the war lasting for 3 decades, his family moved to Netherlands, the base of the Reformed Church. He went to the Leiden University to study before he started his in-depth study in a reformed church's seminary. After graduation, he was ordained in Amsterdam to be a priest. And answering the call of the head priest, he gave upon his ministry in Netherlands and went with the priest to the East of India (now Indonesia) of Netherlands. Georgius was sent to the Moluccas where he served a local church as a priest.

In 1624, the Dutch colonists took Taiwan as its colony. Afterward Dutch East India company sent Georgius to Taiwan to serve the colonists. As soon as he arrived there as the first protestant missionary to China, he started to think about saving the people there, different from the colonists. Not satisfied with shepherding the colonists, he went to the new port community to prepare for spreading the gospel to the local people by studying carefully the local language and culture. He wrote a book in 1629 about Taiwan and helped the local people create characters out of the need for mission.

Well-prepared, he began to spread the gospel to the aborigines. Going deeply into the local community, after more than a year's hard work, he brought about 120 people to Jesus Christ. In 1629, the Dutch missionary Johniusius came to Taiwan to help him. Working together in one mind, their mission experienced a rapid development and the number of believers continued to grow. As a result, Taiwan has become a major mission area in Asia.

The reformed church emphasized "only Bible," regarding the "Bible" as the highest authority in faith. In order to help local believers to read the Bible, they translated the Bible into the local language. Georgius finished translating the Book of Matthew and John while his companion worked on translating the core teachings of faith.

In 1631, Georgius was recalled to Batavia (now Jakarta), and he baptized fifty aborigines before he left Taiwan. Later he came to Taiwan to work with his companion again until 1637 when he returned to his motherland. He was invited to become the principal there. In April 1647, he went to the Lord in Batavia.

Since then, sixty percent of the indigenous peoples of southern and central Taiwan have converted to Christianity and be baptized. But because the following missionaries lacked the passion for mission and their poor morality, the local believers would be mistreated occasionally. Coupled with it, the wrong motivation of believers caused the decline of Taiwan's mission. In 1662, Zheng Chenggong recovered Taiwan. Because of the cultural gap and the relationship between the Zheng family and the Catholic Church, the Dutch missionaries were expelled and the mission of the reformed church in Taiwan was disrupted until the 60s of the 19th century.

To sum up, it is easy to see that Robert Morrison is not the first Protestant Missionary to China. That Morrison was considered the first Protestant missionary was caused by the Anglo-American missionaries in the third meeting for mission. When they started their mission in China, Taiwan was ceded to Japan after China's defeat in the Sino-Japanese War. Naturally the Anglo-American missionaries would pay attention to what was happening in the mainland China only. And because Morrison was the first protestant Missionary to mainland China in history, he was held in high standing by Anglo-American missionaries. It is no wonder to see that Morrison was regarded to be the first Protestant Missionary to China.

Afterward, when writing the history of Christianity in China, the Chinese churches and academia have shared the opinion of the Anglo-American missionaries. However, recently there has been some change that scholars began to pay attention to the Dutch mission in Taiwan.

It must be recognized that Morrison's mission to China has left a profound impact on Protestant evangelical ministry in China because it has laid the foundation for Protestantism in China. After 200 years of development, Protestantism has become the largest and most influential Christian denomination in China. But it would be inappropriate to see Morrison as the first Protestant coming to China because the Dutch missionaries had come to China for more than 180 years before his arrival to China.

Translated by Alvin Zhou

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