China’s Millions: The China Inland Mission and Late Qing Society, 1832–1905

by Alvyn Austin

Studies in the History of Christian Missions. Eerdmans, 2140 Oak Industrial Drive N.E., Grand Rapids, MI 49505, 2007, xxxii + 506 pages, $45.00.

Reviewed by Ryan Dunch, Department of East Asian Studies, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Few stories in the history of missions have been told more often or more rousingly than that of Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission (CIM). From the outset, the CIM had gifted writers who wrote the authorized accounts that shaped later views of the man and the mission—accounts that were inspiring, yes, but also carefully censored and ultimately one-dimensional.

Alvyn Austin’s book sets a new benchmark for the history of Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission. A son of CIM missionaries with a doctorate in history and several previous books, Austin brings a deep sympathy to the topic, and his book succeeds in being insightful and respectful without being beholden to the taboos and omissions of the authorized accounts. More importantly, it places Taylor and the CIM in a much richer historical context than earlier works, and it combines academic rigor with a sparkling readability.

Austin divides his account into three parts covering different periods in the mission’s development up to the death of its founder in 1905. The coverage is most comprehensive in the chapters that cover Taylor’s formative years and the early years of the mission. Austin becomes inevitably more selective in topic and region as the mission expands across China and from Britain into North America and beyond after 1880. The regional focus enables him to draw particular attention to the role of the Chinese province of Shanxi, in northwest China, in the formation of the CIM. It was in Shanxi, in the wake of a devastating famine, that the CIM convert, preacher, and healer known as Pastor Hsi (Xi Shengmo) established a high-profile ministry to opium addicts. Pastor Hsi was vital in translating British evangelicalism into Chinese religious culture, Austin argues, and his success raised problems of policy and control that had repercussions not just for the CIM, but for the transition between nineteenth-century evangelicalism and the more fractious divisions after 1900 between fundamentalists, modernists, Pentecostals, and others.

Highlighting the role of Shanxi is an important contribution of the book, and it points to another of its strengths: Austin’s determination to locate the CIM in an international history of modern Protestantism. He is particularly strong in embedding the early Hudson Taylor into the complex networks and nuances of British evangelicalism, and in pointing to the global repercussions of the CIM story. The book is packed with deft descriptions and judiciously-chosen details. Like the other volumes in this series, it is also well-edited and beautifully produced, with well-chosen illustrations and a full bibliography and index.

In short, this superb book is now the definitive work on Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission. It will be essential reading for students and scholars of modern missions, and deserves to be widely read by interested lay readers, as well.

Check these titles:
Bays, Daniel H., ed. 1996. Christianity in China: From the Eighteenth Century to the Present. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.

Lutz, Jessie Gregory. 2008. Opening China: Karl F.A. Gutzlaff and Sino-Western Relations, 1827-1852. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.

Rawlyk, George A. and Mark A. Noll, eds. 1993. Amazing Grace: Evangelicalism in Australia, Britain, Canada, and the United States. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books. 

Copyright  © 2009 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS. 

 


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