He spoke the mind of the officials, literati, and the great masses of the people. Heathenism is incarnate selfishness. How can a Chinese understand that men will turn their backs on the ancestral home, travel ten thousand miles with no other object but to do his countrymen good? The natural Chinaman cannot receive it. He suspects us. And he has enough to pillow his suspicion on. Let him turn the points of the compass. He sees the great North-land in the hands of Russia. He sees the Spaniard tyrannizing over the Philippine Islanders. He sees Holland dominating the East Indies. He sees India's millions at the feet of the British lion. "What are these benevolent-looking barbarians tramping up and down the country for? Why are they establishing churches and schools and hospitals? They are trying to buy our hearts by their feigned kindness, and hand us over to some Western monarch ere long." So reasons our unsophisticated Chinese. He is heartily satisfied with his own religion or utterly indifferent to any religion. He has no ear for any new doctrine except as a curiosity, to give momentary amusement, and then to be thrown to the ground like a child's toy.
The missionary appears on the scene in dead earnest. "Agitation is our profession." We are among those "who are trying to turn the world upside down."
The Spirit of God touches and dissolves the apathy, melts the ice, breaks the stone, and we see men alive unto God; "old things are passed away, behold all things are become new." What a change in the recipient of God's grace.
A change, too, takes place in him who resists. Icy apathy becomes burning, bitter hatred. The whole enginery of iniquity is set in motion to sweep off this strange foreign propaganda. Malicious placards are posted before every yamen and temple. Basest stories are retailed. "The barbarians dig out men's eyes and cut out men's hearts to make medicine of them." The thirst for revenge is engendered, until, like an unleashed tiger, the mob springs upon the missionary's home, and returns not till its thirst has been slaked with the blood of the righteous. That is the dark shadow hanging over missionary life in nearly every part of the Chinese Empire.
We have had no name to add to the foreign missionary martyr list, from the region of Amoy.
Chinese martyrs there may have been. Men who have endured the lifelong laceration of taunt and sneer and suffered the loss of well nigh all things, there have been not a few. Though the fires of persecution have burned with fiercer intensity in other parts of China, yet we have not escaped having our garments singed in some of their folds.
Perhaps the most widespread anti-missionary uprising in China occurred during the years 1870 and 1871.
It was during the summer of 1870 that Dr. Talmage was compelled to go to Chefoo, North China, for much-needed rest and change.
On August 8th he wrote to Dr. J. M. Ferris:
"The next day after my arrival at Chefoo the news was received of the terrible massacre at Tientsin on June 21st. (Tientsin is the port of Peking, and has a population of upwards of one million.) Nine Sisters of Charity, one foreign priest, the French consul and other French officials and subjects, and three Russians -- in all, twenty-one Europeans -- were massacred. Many of them were horribly mutilated. Especially is this true of all the Sisters. Their private residences and public establishments, as well as all the Protestant chapels within the city, were destroyed."
Not long after, the American Presbyterian Mission at Tung chow, Shantung Province, North China, was broken up, for fear of an intended massacre. The missionaries were helped to Chefoo by two vessels sent by the British Admiral, Sir Henry Kellet.
At Canton, vile stories about foreigners distributing poisonous pills were gotten up, and such was the seriousness of the crisis that two German missionaries had to flee for their lives, one having his mission premises utterly destroyed. A people whose credulity is most amazingly developed by feeding on fairy tales and demon adventures from their childhood, are prepared to believe anything about the "ocean barbarians" whose name is never spoken without mingled fear and hatred and suspicion.
The ferment, started at Canton, spread along the coast. The people of Amoy were inoculated with the virus.
On the 22d of September, 1871, Dr. Talmage addressed a letter to General Le Gendre, U. S. Consul at Amoy, informing him of the state of affairs in and about Amoy. The missionary knowing the language and having constant dealings with the people would be more likely to know the extent and gravity of any conspiracy against foreigners than the Consul. A part of the letter reads:
"In July last inflammatory placards were extensively posted throughout the region about Canton, stating that foreigners had imported a large quantity of poison and had hired vagabond Chinese to distribute it among the people; that only foreigners had the antidote to this poison and that they refused to administer it, except for large sums of money or to such persons as embraced the foreigner's religion. In the latter part of July some of these placards and letters accompanying them were received by Chinese at Amoy from their Canton friends. They were copied, with changes to suit this region, and extensively circulated. The man who seems to have been most active in their circulation was the Cham-hu, the highest military official at Amoy under the Admiral. He united with the Hai-hong, a high civil official, in issuing a proclamation, warning the people to be on their guard against poison, which wicked people were circulating. This proclamation was not only circulated in the city of Amoy, but also in the country around.
"It did not mention foreigners, but the people by some other means were made to understand that foreigners were meant. The district Magistrate of the city of Chiang-chiu issued a proclamation informing the people of the danger of poison, especially against poison in their wells. Two days later he issued another proclamation, reiterating his warnings, and informing the people that he had arrested and examined a man who confessed that he, with three others, had been employed by foreigners to engage in this work of poisoning the people.
"Their especial business was to poison all the wells. This so-called criminal was speedily executed.
"A few days afterwards a military official at Chiang-chiu also issued a proclamation to warn the people against poison, and giving the confession of the above-mentioned criminal with great particularity. The criminal is made to say that a few months ago he had been decoyed and sold to foreigners. In company with more than fifty others -- he was conveyed by ship to Macao. There they were distributed among the foreign hongs, one to each hong. (Hong is pigeon English for business house.)
"That afterwards he with three others was sent home, being furnished with poison for distribution, and with special direction to poison all the wells on their way. They were to refer all those on whom the poison took effect to a certain individual at Amoy, who would heal them gratuitously, only requiring of them their names. This, doubtless, is an allusion to the hospital for the Chinese at Amoy, where the names of the patients are of course recorded and they receive medicine and medical attendance gratuitously.
"In this confession foreigners are designated by the opprobrious epithet of 'little' -- that is, contemptible -- 'demons.' This, by the way, is a phrase never used to designate foreigners in this region except by those in the mandarin offices. Besides the absurdity of charging foreigners with distributing poison, the whole confession bears the evidence not only of falsehood, but, if ever made, of having been put into the man's mouth by those inside the mandarin offices and forced from him by torture, for the express purpose of exciting the intensest hatred against foreigners.
"In consequence, excitement and terror and hatred to foreigners, and consequently to native Christians, became most intense, and extended from the cities far into the country around. Wells were fenced in and put under lock and cover. People were called together by the beating of gongs to draw water. The buckets were covered in carrying water to guard against the throwing in of poison along the streets. At the entrances of some villages notices were posted warning strangers not to enter lest they be arrested as poisoners. In various places men were arrested and severely beaten on suspicion, merely because they were strangers. The native Christians everywhere were subjected to much obloquy and sometimes to imminent danger, charged with being under the influence of foreigners and employed by them to distribute poison.
"Even at the Amoy hospital, which has been in existence nearly thirty years, the number of patients greatly decreased; some days there were almost none."
In the large cities of Tong-an and Chinchew placards were posted in great numbers. They averred that black and red pills were being sold by the agents of foreigners under presence of curing disease and saving the world.
Instead they were causes of terrible diseases which none but the foreign dogs or their agents could cure. And to get cured, one must join the foreign religion or else give great sums. It was asserted that all this poison emanated from the foreign chapels, was often thrown into wells, and secretly put into fish or other food in the markets.
A preacher, sixty miles from Foochow, one hundred and fifty miles north of Amoy, barely escaped with his life. He was pounded with stones while the bystanders called out, "Kill the poisoner, the foreign devils' poisoner!"
The whole object of this diabolical calumniating was to kindle the people into a frenzy against foreigners, especially missionaries, and to make foreign powers believe that the people are so anti-foreign that the authorities cannot secure a foreigner's safety outside of the treaty ports.
Even when these reports were traveling like wildfire there were those among the Chinese who knew better, and it was often said, "It cannot be the missionaries and native Christians, for have they not been going in and out among us all these years and they never did us any harm?"
Speaking of the "Political State of the Country," Dr. Talmage says:
"With the atrocities committed at Tientsin the world is acquainted, though many seem still to be under the grievous error that these atrocities were designed only against Romanism and the French nation.
"If this were the fact, it would be no justification. Others are under an error equally grievous, that the Chinese Government has given reasonable redress. It has given no proper redress at all. Instead of reprobating the massacre, it has almost, and doubtless to the ideas of the Chinese, fully sanctioned it. The leaders in the massacre have not been brought to justice. The Government has readily given life for life -- a very easy matter in China -- but it has so highly rewarded the families of the victims thus sacrificed to placate the barbarians, and put so much honor on the corpses of these martyrs to foreign demands, that it has encouraged similar atrocities whenever a suitable time shall arrive for their perpetration. The Imperial proclamation stating even this unsatisfactory redress, which the Government solemnly promised should be published throughout the land, has not been published except in a few instances where foreigners have compelled it. The massacre at Tientsin is known throughout the empire, but it is not known generally that any redress at all has been given.
"Instead of the publication of this proclamation the vilest calumnies -- too vile to be even mentioned in Christian ears -- have been circulated secretly, but widely throughout the land. Throughout the coast provinces of this southern half of the empire the people have been warned of a grand poisoning scheme gotten up by foreigners for the destruction of the Chinese.
"Because the foreign residents in China report the truth in regard to the feeling of hatred to foreigners, and warn the nations of the West of the coming war and designed extirpation of all foreigners, for which China is assuredly preparing with all its might, we are charged as being desirous of bringing on war. We know that the Church will not impute such motives to her missionaries. But the testimony of missionaries agrees in this respect with that of other foreign residents. We see the evidence, as we walk the streets, in the countenances and demeanor of the literati and officials, and somewhat in the countenances and demeanor of the masses.
"We see it in the changed policy of the local magistrates toward the Christians; we learn it from rumors which are circulated from time to time among the people; we see it in the activity manifested in forming a proper navy and in preparing the army.
"We learn it from the secret communications, some of which have reached the light, passing to and fro between the Imperial Government and the higher local authorities, and we fear that we have another proof in the barbarous treatment of a shipwrecked crew some two weeks ago along the coast a little to the north of Amoy.
"A British mercantile steamer ran ashore in a fog. She was unarmed. The natives soon gathered in force and attacked the vessel. The people on board attempted to escape in their boats. These boats were afterwards attacked by a large fleet of fishing-boats and separated.
"One boat's company were taken ashore, stripped naked, wounded, and robbed of everything. They finally made their way overland to Amoy. The other three boats, after the crew and passengers had been stripped and robbed, were let go to sea. They providentially fell in with a steamer which took them to Foochow. Such atrocities were once common here.
"We do not believe that any large proportion of the foreign residents in China wish war. We do wish, however, the rights secured to us by treaty. These, with a proper policy, can be secured without war. We wish most heartily to avoid war. Besides all its other evils it would be a sad thing for our work and our churches. We still hope that God in His providence will ward it off. He will do it in answer to our prayers if so it be best for His cause. This is our only hope, and it is sufficient."
The threatening war cloud did blow over, and a restraint, at least temporary, was laid upon the officials and the people in their treatment of foreigners.