Thirty Years of Mission in Taiwan: The Case of Presbyterian Missionary George Leslie Mackay
2. Hero or Villain?
“Colonialism” is a modern concept… it is now far removed from the original root term used in ancient times within the context of Roman imperial history. As it is now commonly used, and in many ways misused, as also neatly simplified within the Marxian lexicon, and as then spread within the secular academy… the term itself has become a synonym for coercion, domination, and exploitation, especially and often specially, of peoples everywhere by peoples and institutions of the West. It also denotes oppression by any “alien” and “foreign” forces or rulers (again, especially by Western: European and American oppressors)… Colonialism, in short, is more of a rhetorical device than a precise, scientific tool. It is part of a technology for denigrating, shaming, and shunning. It applies to anything that is perceived to be politically incorrect… The term, obviously, has become a convenient device for labeling, demonizing, or assigning collective guilt.
Mackay’s general attitude toward Chinese culture and savage mountain tribes as decadent and inferior respectively was typical of late nineteenth century Canadian racial prejudice—religious and secular. Critical of Darwinism because it threatened to undermine belief in the supernatural origin of the universe, he favored an opposing scientific worldview that was Eurocentric and, by implication, anti-African. A defender of Formosa’s aborigines and harsh critic of the abuses of local Chinese imperial authorities his beloved Taiwanese were nonetheless inferior, “less solid and stable” in his view.
3. George Leslie Mackay
4. Taiwan in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries
5. From Far Formosa
6. Missionary Strategies
6.1. Medical Mission
The savages prowled around and occasionally threw stones and other missiles. While there I cut out of a man’s thigh an iron arrow-head that had been shot from the bow of a savage… I had surgical instruments with me, and, after two hours, succeeded in performing the operation… He was at that time a heathen, but he listened to the message of a Savior… he was led to forsake idolatry and worship the living and true God.
It is a great deal easier to prescribe for bodily ailments than to care earnestly and persistently for the planting of the World of Life in the heart;… there is a strong temptation to the physician to be content with this, and to forget that there is nothing missionary in it unless it be earnestly used as the vantage ground for pressing home the gospel.
Missionaries like Mackay were quite consciously writing for home constituencies who could influence for good or ill their work in the field. Thus, they carefully chose what to report—and what not to report—and weighed their words with an eye toward their political impact.
On our way toward the sea the first man to greet us was one who had been blind, but whose sight was restored. He had been treated some time previously, but when he caught sight of me that day, he rushed up, his eyes wide open, and exclaimed, “God did it; God did it! I can see now, God did it without medicine.” … “God did it,” was his testimony, which, indeed, was true; but means were suited to ends, as must always be done if we would be blessed of God.
6.2. Delegating Responsibility to Native Ministry
What I understand by a self-supporting mission is one in which all the work is carried on and all the agents supported by those in the mission itself. The church in North Formosa will be self-supporting when its college, school, hospital, chapels, and all other departments, with all laborers, whether native or foreign, will be supported by the members and adherents of the native church.
Mission work in North Formosa is dominated by the idea of a native ministry. The purpose is to evangelize the people… What would succeed in Europe or America would fail in Asia. China is not India, and Formosa is not China. The man or the mission that supposes that a good theory must be capable of universal application, and that social forces, hereditary customs, or even climatic influences need not be taken into account, makes a grievous mistake… One reason for a native ministry that will be appreciated by all practical and genuine friends of missions is that it is by far the most economical, both as to men and money. Natives can live in a climate and under conditions where any foreigner would die … And the cost of a native preacher and his family is so much less, that the contributions of the churches can be made to support a very much larger staff than if foreigners alone were employed.
6.3. Regular Tours and Supervision
As yet our missionary work among the savages is little more than skirmishing. Occasional tours to their villages may do something—have, indeed, done something—for their benighted souls. But we do not call that mission work, and at present it seems difficult to do more.
6.4. Strategies Excluded from Mackay’s Book
I was very sorry for one aged brother who wished to be received, but whose knowledge of spiritual things was most painfully defective. He appeared to have no conception of the Scriptural meaning of sin, and of his need of pardon through the merits of Another… when the people do show anything like sustained attention, their puzzled expression shows plainly that they have failed to catch our meaning.
Of the pioneer Canadian missionaries… Mackay stands out, because he alone created the mission in north Taiwan. This is not to denigrate the efforts of those who for a short time helped him, but without Mackay there would very probably have been nothing.
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Conflicts of Interest
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Known in Chinese as Xie Ruili 偕睿理 or Maxie 馬偕. He is also known as the “black-bearded barbarian,” Hei Xiufan 黑须番.
Formosa is the name Europeans first gave to Taiwan. The word comes from the Portuguese for “beautiful” and is an abbreviation of “Ilha Formosa” or “Beautiful Island.”.
We do not have an exact number for the population at that time, but during the first census by the Japanese government in 1905, the total Taiwanese population was 2,890,485. Mackay converted approximately 3000 people (Rohrer 2005, p. 9).
For example, in a report about a gift of masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mackay’s legacy is associated with medical progress in Taiwan (see Gamble 2020).
As part of the effort to bring people to Christ, objects from local religious traditions were often destroyed by missionaries. Missionaries knew that converts lived in a particular cultural and religious context; burning and destroying material religious culture seemed to them a good way of “saving heathens.” Converts often took a flexible approach, however, and kept old religious habits alongside the new faith introduced by Christian missionaries (Webster 2002, p. 98). Missionaries tried to dissuade their followers from doing this.
Munsterhjelm’s criticism was softened by several scholars. For example, Forsberg goes as far as condemning Munsterhjelm’s approach as an attempt “to pin a charge of cultural genocide on Mackay’s lapel for his role in the destruction of Chinese idols and ancestor tablets” (Forsberg 2012a, p. 4).
It may be a surprise to see many references to scholars studying Christian mission in India. These works are quoted as they present a more theoretical approach to the colonial history of Christian missionaries in the Asian context. Although set geographically within India, they can easily be applied to the Chinese experience.
Mungello notes a critical issue regarding the contemporary historiography of mission in the Chinese context: “While the role of Western imperialism is commonly recognized, the role played by the objectivity of historians is more difficult to analyze. Strong degrees of sympathy or antipathy to Christianity have distorted our view of the church in China. Though historians have been highly sensitive to the distortions produced by pro-Christian attitudes, less has been said about the distortions of anti-Christian views among academics” (Mungello 2012, p. 535).
Even today, some Chinese refer to Christianity as yangjiao 洋教, a “foreign religion.” While the term “yang” stands for Western things, during the Qing dynasty (1644–1911) it was often used as a pejorative label for Christian groups. Christians were called yangguizi 洋鬼子, “foreign/Western devils” (Klain 2014).
For example, missionaries in the south suffered less from tropical diseases than did their northern counterparts.
Mackay died in 1901 so did not live through the 1930s, when strong militarization began, and all foreign missionaries were expelled from Taiwan.
This was the Mackay Memorial Hospital, which is still in operation today, as is the Theological Seminar in Tainan.
The ethnic composition of Taiwan is diverse and distinct. Four groups can be distinguished: The Hoklo; the Hakka; mainland Chinese; and indigenous people—yuanzhumin. Of these, only three (the Hoklo [70%], the Hakka [18%] and mainlanders [10%]) are found in mainland China, where they are perceived only as language groups, not ethnic groups, as they are part of the most prominent ethnic group of the Han. The Hoklo came to Taiwan from Fujian Province in China in ancient times; the Hakka emigrated from inland China; mainlanders migrated to Taiwan after 1949 with the arrival of the Guomindang. Indigenous Taiwanese have different ethnic roots from these three groups. They are of Austronesian origin and currently represent only approximately 2% of the population.
I refer to those indigenous tribes which did not reside in mountainous areas but lived close to the Han population. Those tribes that lived deep in the mountains were relatively difficult to reach, and although missionaries tried repeatedly to reach them, it was a long time before evangelization among them achieved its first successes. Mackay began these expeditions and explained the difficulty of such a mission (Mackay 1895, p. 265).
The term appeared for the first time in literature written by missionaries and European travelers who were critical of conversions that took place for materialistic reasons alone. Later, the term “rice Christians” would be used in the classification of Christians based on commitment to the Christian faith (see, for example, Tiedemann 2000, p. 10).
In From Far Formosa, the term “savages” is used to label those indigenous inhabitants who are not “civilized.” They live in distinct mountain villages and do not trade with other islanders. Several of these “savage” tribes are “head-hunters,” and—importantly for Mackay—it is extremely difficult to evangelize them (Mackay 1895, pp. 265–66).
Alvyn Austin even describes Mackay as “the strangest character nineteenth-century Canada ever produced” (Austin 1986, p. 30).
The native leaders mentioned are: Tam He, Tan Leng, Go Ek Ju (the painter), Tan Theng, Chhoa Seng (A Hoa), Lim Giet, Tsun Sim, Siau Tien, Li Kui, Lau Chheng, Tan Ho, Tan Ban, Keh Tsu, Tan Eng, Eng Goan, Tan Siah, A Lok, Iap Tsun, Thien Sang, Lau Tsai, Tan Kui, Eng Jong, And An, Thong Su, Jim Sui, A Hai, Pat Po, Jit Sin, Chin Giok, Ki Siong, Pa Kin, Hok Eng, In Lien, Hong Lien, Kai Loah, Sam Ki, Keng Tien, A Seng, Gong A, Tong San, Tsui Eng, Chheng He, Chhun Bok, Tiu Thiam, Bio Sien, Eng Seng, Chhong Lim, Teng Chiu, Beng Tsu, Tek Beng, Tu Iau, Li Iau, Tsan Un, Tan Sam, Li Sun, Eng Chhung, Tsui Seng, Kho Goan, Lim Ban, and Bun Seng (Mackay 1895, p. 336).
In Taiwan, church self-governance became an important part of the larger Presbyterian effort 50 years after the publication of From Far Formosa. In 1940 the Japanese government evicted all foreign missionaries from Taiwan, and all missionary schools and hospitals came under local control. The expulsion of foreign missionaries had some unexpected and positive consequences, however, as the Presbyterian mission survived and thrived under the leadership of native Taiwanese pastors. A church in which most of the leadership had originally been foreign-born now became, as a matter of necessity, a domestic church with local leaders: in 1943, a Northern Synod was formed with no foreign leader; a separate Southern Synod, born out of the original British mission, was formed two years later. Mackay’s efforts had paid off.
Typically, local people had little access to the machinery of power. Some converts consciously decided to join the church to empower themselves in local politics. Sometimes, this self-empowerment and the resources provided by the Presbyterian Church provided good reasons to convert—it was not always a matter of inner faith (Lee 2003). This is not to say that all converts had little belief in the Gospel and lacked commitment to the church. They nonetheless lived in particular cultural circumstances and were affected by local traditions.
Rev J. B. Fraser came to Taiwan in 1875 and stayed with Mackay only three years. He left after his wife died in October 1877. After him, Rev K. F. Junor arrived in 1878 and stayed for four years. He left in 1882 for reasons of ill health. Mackay’s third foreign companion, John Jamieson, lasted for eight years but died in service. Mackay is known to have had misunderstandings with Jamieson’s wife. Church papers contain reports of the “Jamieson Affair.” In 1892, the mission committee sent William Gauld. His relationship with Mackay was good and he stayed for many years (Ion 2006; Mackay 1895). Mackay briefly mentioned all his Canadian helpers in From Far Formosa, but it was only Gauld who received praise for his abilities and good nature (Mackay 1895, p. 332).
This was also the case in other parts of Asia (Young 2002, p. 45).
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Rychetská, M. Thirty Years of Mission in Taiwan: The Case of Presbyterian Missionary George Leslie Mackay. Religions 2021, 12, 190. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12030190
Rychetská M. Thirty Years of Mission in Taiwan: The Case of Presbyterian Missionary George Leslie Mackay. Religions. 2021; 12(3):190. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12030190Chicago/Turabian Style
Rychetská, Magdaléna. 2021. "Thirty Years of Mission in Taiwan: The Case of Presbyterian Missionary George Leslie Mackay" Religions 12, no. 3: 190. https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12030190