It is the 22nd of September, 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
One of the great “what-ifs” of the modern age is the fate of China over the last two centuries. Today, the People’s Republic of China represents the second largest country on earth and was once the jewel of overseas missionaries who saw China as the next frontier for Christianity. From the first Protestant Missionary in 1807 to the China Inland Mission of Hudson Taylor, one might have had reason to be optimistic.
But the 19th century saw devastation in China, in part because of the sputtering Qing Dynasty and Civil War with the Taiping Rebellion and foreign entanglements leading to the Opium Wars and Boxer Rebellion. Side note: the Taiping Rebellion- the deadliest event of the 19th century was started by a man who read Christian missionary literature and decided he was the brother of Jesus, and things went sideways from there.
The Qing dynasty would be hijacked by the Dowager Empress Cixi, reforms would be halted, the dynasty would crumble a new Civil War would last until 1949, and Mao Zedong would lead the Chinese Communist Party, extinguishing any hopes of a Christian China. Today, we remember a man in the middle of this revolutionary era who represented one of the best indigenous Christian hopes for reform. He was Huang Naishang- born in Fujian in the Southeast corner of China in 1849. In 1866, American missionaries from the Methodist Episcopal Mission came to the region, and Huang was one of their earliest converts. He was baptized in 1866 at the age of 17. He would be licensed as an “exhorter” amongst the Methodist missionaries, something like a lay preacher. He would help to translate texts into Chinese and write essays and editorials in local papers.
Having been trained in the Confucian classics, he was able to translate Christianity into a language understood by classical Confucians for whom the Western style of preaching could not penetrate.
In order to be taken seriously by the Chinese upper class, he continued formal education, taking his provincial-level exams and passing in 1894.
But this was as the Japanese-Sino war broke out, his brother was killed as a member of the Chinese Navy, and Huang joined a political reform movement and began publishing a newspaper calling for reform. He would join the Hundred Days movement that was crushed by the Empress Dowager Cixi and was soon on the run.
The Hundred Days movement sought to bring democracy to the Chinese, to industrialize, to establish trade schools, and to modernize China. Led by the actual emperor Guāngxù, he was stopped by the Empress, who placed him under house arrest, where he lived until his death. This would be a decisive moment in the history of the Chinese people.
Huang decided to build a settlement of over 1,000 Chinese (mostly Christian) near Sibu in Malaysia. He would spend time there as a preacher, but by 1904, he handed authority of that settlement over to James Hoover, an American Methodist, and Huang headed back to China to agitate for reform and preach the Gospel.
In 1906, while in Singapore, he met Sun Yat-Sen, the first president of the Chinese nationalists and a baptized Christian. Huang and Sun would call for a kind of Christian altruism that didn’t seek to make a Christian nation but rather used its principles to call for sacrifice and humility in public service. In 1920, Sun would nominate Huang to be a consultant in the Grand Marshall’s Office. Sun Yat Sen and his successor, Chiang Kai Shek (also a baptized Christian), would lead the Chinese nationalists against the Communists until their defeat in 1949. Huang Naishang would not see much of the Civil War as he suffered from liver disease and died on this the 22nd of September in 1924. Nevertheless, Huang Naishang would be one of the leading voices for Christian altruism amongst the Chinese in defiance of both the late Qing dynasty and the early Chinese Communist Party.
The last word for today is from the daily lectionary and Psalm 105- the promise of a past and present heavenly food and drink:
He brought out Israel, laden with silver and gold,
and from among their tribes no one faltered.
Egypt was glad when they left,
because dread of Israel had fallen on them.
He spread out a cloud as a covering,
and a fire to give light at night.
They asked, and he brought them quail;
he fed them well with the bread of heaven.
He opened the rock, and water gushed out;
it flowed like a river in the desert.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 22nd of September 2023, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who isn’t a fan of the Dowager Empress Cixi but digs that all-you-can-eat pizza buffet with the same name. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who, for reals, may have had the worst meal of his life at Cici’s in Alabama… Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be OK.