Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) is one of the most formidable names in the history of Christian missions. Although he was not the first Christian missionary in China, he was one of the most daring and most innovative. He established and built the China Inland Mission (now OMF International) despite many personal tragedies and the difficulties of adapting to a fast-changing China during the twilight years of the Qing Dynasty. He was able to successfully reach the Chinese people thanks to his willingness to eschew convention and assimilate to the Chinese way of life.
James Hudson Taylor was born in Yorkshire on the 21st of May, 1832. His father, James Taylor, was not only a chemist but also a Methodist lay preacher. His mother was Amelia Hudson.
Not much is known about Taylor’s childhood, except that his path to Christianity diverged from his parents’. In spite of his youth, he knew that he was destined to become a missionary. One religious literature that motivated him to become a missionary was “Poor Richard,” a pamphlet he had read at the age of 17. He promised himself that he would go to China as a missionary after this life-changing experience.
To prepare for the life of a missionary in China, he befriended prominent contemporary missionaries and lived with the poor in his native England. He also learned several languages, including Latin, Hebrew, Greek, and of course, Mandarin.
Despite these preparations, the journey to China did not start just yet. Taylor studied medicine in London to further prepare for the mission. During this time, he met Karl Gützlaff, a Prussian Lutheran missionary who founded the Chinese Evangelisation Society. Hudson soon volunteered to become the Society’s first missionary to China.
Shanghai and Beyond: The Early Years
Taylor dropped out of medical school in 1853 to sail to China, and arrived in the city of Shanghai on May 1, 1854. The journey to Shanghai was long and difficult. In addition to enduring a grueling voyage, he arrived in the troubled Qing Empire during the height of the Taiping Rebellion.
Life as a missionary in Shanghai was no easy task. Try as he might, Taylor couldn’t connect with his Chinese audience thanks to the language barrier and his foreign outfit. They viewed him with suspicion even when he offered his medical expertise.
However, he did not give up. Taylor adopted the Manchu queue (shaven forehead and braid) and wore the changshan (traditional Chinese dress) to fit in. His adoption of the Manchu dress and hairstyle was a hit among the locals. Distributing gospel tracts and preaching in the Shanghai and beyond were a bit easier after that.
He briefly left Shanghai and worked in Guangdong province with a fellow Englishman. He experienced several setbacks before he decided to relocate to Ningbo, a city just south of Shanghai. He left the Chinese Evangelisation Society, and formed the Ningbo Mission with English and Chinese missionaries.
Marriage to Maria Jane Dyer, Their Family, and Furlough in England
Taylor met Maria Jane Dyer in Ningbo around 1857-1858. Maria was the daughter of Reverend Samuel Dyer, a fellow missionary who was stationed in the Malaysian province of Penang. Reverend Dyer had died in 1843 after his family relocated to mainland China.
Maria, now an orphan, was working at a school for girls run by a fellow missionary when she met Taylor. The couple became husband and wife in 1858. Their daughter, Grace, was born a year later.
The Taylors, along with a young Chinese convert, sailed back to England in 1860 because of health problems. In England, he spent his time translating the English Bible to the Ningbo dialect. He also continued studying medicine at the Royal London Hospital. This time, he was able to complete his diploma.
Taylor traveled all over Britain to preach the gospel and promote missionary work in China. His family grew during their furlough in England. The couple’s daughter Grace was followed by three more children.
However, the pull of China was still strong. In 1865, he and William Thomas Berger founded the China Inland Mission. They were soon joined by other missionaries, and they were able to raise funds for the mission. Less than a year later, the Taylors, along with CIM’s team of missionaries, sailed back to China. The voyage was arduous, but they were able to reach Shanghai safely in the fall of 1866.
China Inland Mission
Life in Qing China as a missionary was hard. During the Taylors’ first few years in China, the family was beset by setback after setback. They faced criticism from other missionaries because they chose to don traditional Manchu clothes. The couple’s eldest daughter, Grace, also died of meningitis in 1867. In addition, the China Inland Mission group was torn by disagreements and discord.
China was a fast-changing, albeit troubled, empire during the 19th century. The Qing Dynasty was already on the verge of collapse due to internal discord and the arrival of technologically advanced Western powers. It was only a matter of time before the troubles would reach Taylor, his family, and the China Inland Mission.
Taylor and his group of missionaries were attacked during the Yangzhou riot (1868). They suffered injuries, and the episode resulted in the intervention of the Royal Navy. Wary of war that might explode between the two empires, British legislators tried to convince Taylor and his team to leave China, lest any more violence occurs. Despite the setbacks, Taylor did not back down and the China Inland Mission endured.
Tragedy would strike him once more when Maria and their youngest child died in 1868. Taylor’s grief and his deteriorating health pushed him to go back to England to recuperate. In England, he married fellow missionary Jane Elizabeth Faulding. The family went back to China in 1872.
In 1876, the Qing government was forced to sign the Chefoo Convention (Yantai Treaty). Finally, some good news for Taylor and the China Inland Mission. Missionary work was now legal all over this vast and uncharted empire. Taylor and his team of missionaries wasted no time in pushing deeper into the heart of China, establishing mission stations along the way.
Thanks to his wife’s promotion of the group’s work in England, English missionaries soon arrived in droves in China. The mission grew until the group was able to establish 59 churches. They were later joined by American missionaries.
Hudson Taylor also traveled to the United States where he attended the Niagara Bible Conference. He met Dwight L. Moody and Cyrus Scofield while in the US. Both men later became supporters of the China Inland Mission.
Taylor and his wife relocated to Switzerland due to his health issues. He resigned from CIM in 1902 and was replaced by Dixon Edward Hoste. His wife died in 1904 in Switzerland, prompting Taylor to return to China. He was able to visit several cities before he died in the city of Changsha in Hunan province in 1905. His resting place is in the English Cemetery in Zhejiang next to Maria, his first wife.
Picture: Public Domain, Link
Pollock, J. C. (1983). Hudson Taylor and Maria: Pioneers in China. Eastbourne: Kingsway.
Pollock, John C. The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by J. D. Douglas and Earle E. Cairns. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996.
Taylor, Howard. Hudson Taylor in Early Years : The Growth of a Soul. Singapore: Overseas Missionary Fellowship, 1998.
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