Read CHAPTER XXVII of Village Life in China A Study in Sociology, free online book, by Arthur H. Smith, on


However inadequate or imperfect our survey of the life of the Chinese Village may have been, it must at least have shown that it has defects of a serious character. It is therefore a legitimate question how they are to be remedied, on the supposition that they can be remedied at all.

It is certainly conceivable that there might be many remedial agencies set at work with varying degrees of success; but as a matter of fact, so far as we are aware, there is but one the friends of which have been stimulated to try on any extended scale. That sole agency is Christianity. It thus becomes an inquiry of great moment, what effect the introduction into China of Christianity in its best form may be rationally expected to exert upon the springs of the national life and character of the Chinese. What can Christianity do for the Chinese family? What can it do for the Chinese boy and girl?

In the first place it can take better care of them. The dense and impenetrable ignorance which sacrifices so large a proportion of Chinese infants during the first two years of their life, might perhaps be counteracted in other ways, but it is probably safe to predict that it never would be. To the Chinese girl the practical introduction of Christianity will mean even more than to her brother. It will prevent her from being killed as soon as she is born, and will eventually restore her to her rightful place in the affections of her parents. It is never enough merely to point out the folly, danger, or sin of a given course of action. There must be moral as well as intellectual enlightenment, cooperation in a new social order, the stimulus both of precept and example, and adequate moral sanctions. This can be furnished by Christianity alone. History testifies that if Christianity begins to lose its power, the dormant forces of human selfishness, depravity and crime reassert themselves in infant murder.

Christianity will call into existence a sympathy between parents and children hitherto unknown, and one of the greatest needs of the Chinese home. It will teach parents to govern their children, an accomplishment which in four millenniums they have never made an approach to acquiring. This it will do, not as at present by the mere iterative insistence upon the duty of subjection to parents, but by showing parents how first to govern themselves, teaching them the completion of the five relations by the addition of that chiefest one hitherto unknown, expressed in the words Our Father. It will redeem many years during the first decade of childhood, of what is now a mere animal existence, filling it with fruitfulness for a future intellectual and spiritual harvest.

It will show Chinese parents how to train as well as how to govern their children a divine art of which they have at present no more conception than of the chemistry of soils. It will put an end to the cruelty and miseries of foot-binding. Toward this great reform there was never in China the smallest impulse, until it had long been urged by Christian forces. If it shall prove at length to have successfully taken root in China apart from Christianity, that fact would be a luminous star in the East showing that there are no Chinese walls which may not ultimately fall before the blast of Christian trumpets.

Christianity will revolutionize the Chinese system of education. Such a revolution might indeed take place without reference to Christianity. The moral forces which have made China what it is, are now to a large extent inert. To introduce new intellectual life with no corresponding moral restraints, might prove far more a curse than a blessing, as it has been in the other Oriental lands. Christian education will never make the mistake so often repeated of seeking for fruits where there have been no roots. It starts from a fixed point and moves onward to a definite end.

Christian education will teach the Chinese child his own tongue in a rational manner. It will abbreviate to the greatest possible extent “the toils of wandering through the wilderness of the Chinese language to arrive at the deserts of Chinese literature.” It will awaken the child’s hibernating imagination, enormously widen his horizon, develop and cultivate his judgment, teach him the history of mankind, and not of one branch only. Above all it will arouse his conscience, and in its light will exhibit the mutual interrelations of the past, the present, and the future. It will create an intellectual atmosphere in the home, causing the children to feel that their progress at school is intimately related to instruction at home, and has a personal interest to the parents and to the family as a whole. The value of such a stimulus, now totally lacking in most Chinese homes, is beyond calculation, and would of itself easily double the mental output of every family into which it entered.

Christianity will provide for the intellectual and spiritual education of girls as well as boys, when once the Christian point of view has been attained. The typical Chinese mother is “an ignorant woman with babies,” but she is not the Chinese ideal woman as the long list of educated ladies in many dynasties (a number too considerable to be ignored but too insignificant to be influential) abundantly shows. A Chinese girl told her foreign friend that before Christianity came into her life, she used to go about her work humming a ballad, consisting of the words: “The beautiful teacup; the painted teacup; the teacup, the teacup, the beautiful, beautiful teacup.” Contrast the outlook from such an intellectual mouse-hole with the vista of a maiden whose thoughts are elevated to the stars and the angels. By developing the neglected spiritual nature, Christianity will broaden and deepen the existing rills of natural affection into glorious rivers wide and deep, supplementing the physical and the material by the intellectual and the divine. By cultivating a fellowship between mothers and daughters in all these and in other lines, it will make it easier for children to love their fathers and respect their mothers, and will fill the lives of both parents and children with new impulses, new motives and new ambitions. It will impel mothers to give their daughters much needed instruction in their future duties as daughters-in-law and as wives, instead of throwing them overboard as now, often in mere childhood, expecting them to swim untaught, against the current, and in the dark.

It will for the first time provide and develop for the daughters girl friendships, adapted to their long-felt but uncomprehended needs. The education of Chinese women is a condition of the renovation of the empire. No nation, no race can rise above the status of its mothers and its wives. How deftly yet how surely Christianity is beginning to plant its tiny acorns in the rifts of the granitic rock may be seen in the surprising results already attained. When the present isolated and initiatory experiments shall have had time to bring forth fruit after their kind, it will be clearly perceived that a new and an Imperial force has entered into the Chinese world.

Christianity wherever introduced tends to a more rational selection of partners for its sons and daughters than has ever been known before. In place of the mercenary considerations which alone find place in the ordinary practice of the Chinese, it naturally and inevitably leads to the choice of Christian maidens for daughters-in-law, and Christian youths for sons-in-law. It attaches weight to character, disposition and acquirements instead of to wealth and to social position alone. A Christian community is the only one in China where it is possible to learn with certainty all important facts with regard to those who may be proposed for matrimonial engagements, because it is only in such a community that dependence can be placed upon the representations of third parties. As Christian communities come more and more to distinct self-consciousness, more and more care will be exercised in making matches. Christians are indeed the only Chinese who can be made to feel that caution in this direction is a religious duty. The result of this process continued for an extended period will produce by “natural selection” a distinctly new type of Chinese, physically, intellectually, and morally the superiors of all types about them and therefore more fitted to survive.

Chinese customs will not be rashly invaded, but the ultimate tendency will be to postpone marriage to a suitable age, to consider the preferences of the principal parties so far as they may have any and to make wedlock a sacred solemnity instead of merely a social necessity.

Christianity will make no compromise with polygamy and concubinage, but will cut the tap-root of a upas-tree which now poisons Chinese society wherever its branches spread. Christianity will gradually revolutionize the relations between the young husband and his bride. Their common intellectual and spiritual equipment will have fitted them to become companions to one another, instead of merely commercial partners in a kettle of rice. The little ones will be born into a Christian atmosphere as different from that of a non-Christian household as the temperature of Florida from that of Labrador. These forces will be self-perpetuating and cumulative.

Christianity will purify and sweeten the Chinese home, now always and everywhere liable to devastating hurricanes of passion, and too often filled with evil-speaking, bitterness and wrath. The imperative inhibition of all manner of reviling would alone do more for domestic harmony than all the wise maxims of the sages mechanically learned and repeated could accomplish in a lifetime. Indeed, Christianity will take these semi-animate precepts of the dead past, breathe into them for the first time the breath of life, and then reinforce them with the Word of the Lord and the sanctions of His Law.

Christianity will introduce a new and a potent factor into the social life of the Chinese by its energy as a prophylactic. Chinese society has a virtuous talent for “talking peace” when there is no peace, and when matters have come to such a pitch that a catastrophe appears inevitable. But the remedy almost invariably comes too late. Chinese “peace-talking” is usually a mere dust-storm, unpleasantly affecting the eyes, the ears, the nostrils of every one exposed to it, thinly covering up the surrounding filth with even impartiality, while after all leaving the whole of it just where it was before. Christianity is an efficient sanitary commission which aims at removing everything that can breed pestilence. In this it will not, indeed, entirely succeed, but its introduction upon a large scale will as certainly modify Chinese society, as a strong and steady north-east wind will eventually dissipate a dense fog.

As has been already remarked, perhaps there is no single Chinese custom which is the source of a larger variety of mischief than that of keeping large family organizations in a condition of dependence upon one another and upon a common property, instead of dividing it up among the several sons, leaving each free to work out his own destiny. The inevitable result is chronic discontent, jealousy, suspicion, and on the part of many indolence. This is as clearly perceived by the Chinese as by us, indeed far more so, but hereditary cowardice, dread of criticism, and especially of ridicule prevent myriads of families from effecting the desired and necessary division, lest they be laughed at. Christianity is itself a defiance of all antecedent public opinion, and an appeal to a new and an illuminated understanding. Christian communities will probably more and more tend to follow the Scriptural plan of making one man and one woman a new family, and by this process alone will save themselves an infinity of misery. This will be done, not by the superimposition of any force from without, but by the exercise of a common sense which has been at once enlightened to see and emboldened to act, attacking with courage whatever needs amendment.

Christianity will introduce an entirely new element into the friendships of the Chinese, now too often based upon the selfish considerations suggested by the maxim of Confucius, “Have no friends not equal to yourself.” Friendship is reckoned among the Five Relations and occupies a prominent place in Chinese thought as in Chinese life. But after all is conceded in regard to it which can be reasonably claimed, it remains true that its benefits are constantly alloyed by mutual insincerity and suspicion, and not infrequently by jealousy. This the Chinese themselves are ready to admit in the frankest manner; but as they have no experience of friendships which arise from conditions above and beyond those of the material issues of everyday life, no remedy for existing evils is ever thought of as possible. Those Chinese who have become intimate with congenial Christian friends, recognize at once that there is a flavour and a zest in such friendships not only unknown before, but absolutely beyond the range of imagination. Amid the poverty, barrenness, and discouragements of most Chinese lives, the gift of a wholly new relationship of the sort which Christianity imparts is to be reckoned among the choicest treasures of existence.

The theory of the Chinese social organization is admirable and beautiful, but the principles which underlie it are utterly inert. When Christianity shows the Chinese for the first time what these traditional principles really mean, the theories will begin to take shape as possibilities, even as the bones of Ezekiel’s vision took on flesh. Then it will more clearly appear how great an advantage the Chinese race has enjoyed in its lofty moral code. The Classical but not altogether intelligible aphorism that “within the Four Seas all are Brethren,” requires the Christian teaching regarding a common Father to make it vital to Chinese consciousness. When once the Chinese have grasped the practical truth of the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man, the starlight of the past will have been merged into the sunlight of the future.

In China the family is a microcosm of the empire. To amplify illustrations of the modus operandi of Christianity on a wider scale beyond the family is superfluous. What Christianity can do in one place it can do in another. Though soils and climate vary, the seed is the same. For the changes which Christianity alone can affect, China is waiting to-day as never before. Her most intelligent thinkers too few alas, in number recognize that something must be done for her. They hope that by the adoption of certain formulA|, educational, industrial, economical, China may be saved, not perceiving that her vital lack is neither Capital nor Machinery, but Men. The New China is to be penetrated by numerous railways, and by steam navigation of its inland waters. Vast industrial enterprises such as mines and factories will call for great supplies of labour from the most numerous people on earth. In the management of these immense and varied interests, in the conduct of the new education which China cannot dispense with, in the administration of all branches of its government China must have men of conscience, and of sterling character. It has hitherto been impossible to secure any such men except by importation; how is it to be otherwise in the future? Only by the cultivation of conscience and character as they have been cultivated in lands to which China is at last driven to turn for help. Like all processes of development this will be a slow one, but it will be sure; and aside from it there is literally no hope for China.

With its other great benefits Christianity will confer upon China real patriotism, at present existing almost entirely in the blind impulses of the bias of national feeling. During the political crises of the past few years, the great mass of the Chinese people have been profoundly indifferent to the fate of their country, and in this respect there has been little distinction between scholars, farmers, merchants, and coolies. Each individual has been chiefly occupied in considering how in any cataclysm impending he could make with fate the best bargain for himself. If there are any exceptions to this generalization, so far as we know they consist exclusively of those who have been acted upon by forces from outside of China.

The Christian converts are now sufficiently numerous to show in what direction their influence will be felt in the not distant future. They are keenly alive to what is taking place in the empire, and they may almost be said to be the only Chinese in it who are so. China will never have patriotic subjects until she has Christian subjects, and in China as elsewhere Christianity and patriotism will be found to advance hand in hand.

It must be distinctly understood that all which we have said of the potency of Christianity as of “unwasting and secular force” is based upon the conception of it as a moral power “producing certain definite though small results during a certain period of time, and of a nature adapted to produce indefinite similar results in unlimited time.” It is therefore eminently reasonable to point out that under no circumstances can it produce its full effects in less than three complete generations. By that time Christian heredity will have begun to operate. A clear perception of this fundamental truth would do much to abate the impatience alike of its promotors and its critics.

There are some Occidentals with large knowledge of China who seriously raise the question, What good can Christianity do in China? Of what use is it for a Chinese to be “converted”?

To infer from any phenomena of Chinese life that the Chinese do not need a radical readjustment of their relations is to judge most superficially. Patient and long continued examination of these phenomena in their endless variety and complexity, shows clearly the imperative necessity of a force from without to accomplish what all the forces from within operating unimpeded for ages have been powerless to effect. To those who know the Chinese people as they are the question what good Christianity can do them, answers itself. Of the necessity of a new power the Chinese themselves are acutely conscious. If what has been already set forth in proof of the proposition that there is imperative need of renovation is regarded as irrelevant or inadequate, then further debate is indeed vain.

But it may be objected that the views here taken of the efficacy of the remedy are exaggerated. Those Chinese who have had the best opportunity to become acquainted with the nature of the benefits which Christianity affords, perceive its adaptation to China’s need. All that is required to render the proof to every reasonable inquirer as complete as evidence can be made, is a searching and scientific analysis of known facts. The case for Christianity in China may rest solely upon the transformations which it actually effects. These are not upon the surface, but they are as real and as capable of being accurately noted as the amount of the rain-fall, or the precession of the équinoxes. They consist of revolutionized lives due to the implanting of new motives and the influence of a new life. They occur in many different strata of society, and with the ever widening base-line of Christian work they are found in ever increasing numbers. At first few and isolated, they are now counted by scores of thousands. Among them are many immature and blighted developments, as is true of all transitional phenomena everywhere; but the indisputable residuum of genuine transformations furnish a great cloud of witnesses in the presence of which it is unnecessary to inquire further what good Christianity will do the Chinese, and of what use it will be to a Chinese to be converted. It will make him a new man, with a new insight and a new outlook. It will give back his lost soul and spirit, and pour into all the avenues of his nature new life. There is not a human relation in which it will not be felt immediately, profoundly, and beneficently.

It will sanctify childhood, ennoble motherhood, dignify manhood, and purify every social condition. That Christianity has by no means yet done for Western lands all that we expect it to do for China, we are perfectly aware. Christianity has succeeded wherever it has been practiced. It is no valid objection to it that it has been misunderstood, misrepresented and ignored. Whatever defects are to be found in any Christian land, not the most unintelligent or the most sceptical would be willing to be transplanted into the non-Christian conditions out of which every Christian land has been evolved. It must be remembered also that although the lessons of Christianity are old, the pupils are ever new. Each generation has to learn its lesson afresh. It has well been said that heredity, so mighty a force for evil, has not yet been captured for Christianity on any large scale, and its reserves turned to the furtherance of Christian forces. When it has been so taken captive, progress upward will be greatly accelerated.

How long it will take Christianity to renovate an empire like China, is a question which may be answered in different ways, but only hypothetically. First by historical analogies. It took eight centuries to develop the Roman Empire. It has taken about as long to mold Saxon, Danish, and Norman elements into the England of to-day. Each of these race-stocks were at the start barbarous. The Chinese are an ancient and a highly civilized race, a fact which may be in some respects a help in their Christianization, and in others a hindrance. Taking into account the intensity of Chinese prejudices, the strength of Chinese conservatism, the vast numbers involved and their compact, patriarchal life, we should expect the first steps to be very slow. Reckoning from the general opening of China in 1860, fifty years would suffice for a good beginning, three hundred for a general diffusion of Christianity, and five hundred for its obvious superseding of all rival faiths. Reasoning from history and psychology this is perhaps a probable rate of progress, and its realization would be a great result.

There is however a different sort of forecast which appeals to many minds more powerfully. It must be remembered that spiritual development, like that of races, is slow in its inception, but once begun it takes little account of the rules of ratio and proportion. The intellectual, moral, and spiritual forces of Christianity are now far greater than they have ever been before. The world is visibly contracted. The life of the man of to-day is that of “a condensed Methusaleh.” The nineteenth century outranks the previous millennium. Great material forces are but types and handmaids of the great spiritual forces which may be reinforced and multiplied as they have been at certain periods of the past to a degree at the present little anticipated.

Putting aside all consideration of the time element, we consider it certain that what Christianity has done for us it will do for the Chinese, and under conditions far more favourable, by reason of the high vitalization of the age in which we live, its unfettered communication, and the rapid transfusion of intellectual and spiritual forces. The forecast of results like these is no longer the iridescent dream which it once appeared. It is sober history rationally interpreted. When Christianity shall have had opportunity to work out its full effects, it will be perceived to have been pervasive leaven in the individual heart, in society, and in the world. Whether it is to take five centuries or fifty to produce these results appears to be a matter of altogether minor importance in view of certain success in the end.

There are in China many questions and many problems, but the one great question, the sole all-comprehending problem is how to set Christianity at work upon them, which alone in time can and will solve them all.