November 2, 2012   Book  Review      John W    John W's previous articles

(Comments welcome here)

Many items in this book have great relevance for the Church of today.
A fascinating book, full of courageous stories....highly recommended

Frederick, The Life of My Missionary Grandfather in Manchuria  ( 2012, Joint Publishing, HK,  280 pages)
Frederick O'Neill, an Irish Presbyterian missionary, lived for 45 years in Faku, a small town in Manchuria, northeast China. He witnessed and reported the extraordinary events that convulsed China - the Boxer Rebellion, the Great Manchurian Plague, the overthrow of the Qing dynasty, and the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. He also served with the China Labour Corps in France in World War One

By Mark O'Neill, former correspondent for BBC, Reuters and South China Morning Post

Some items from this most interesting book:

* In 1800, China had the largest economy in the world, followed by India and France. In 1820 China accounted for 33 per cent of global GDP, more than all the European countries put together (p.35)

* In 1892, 700 people were beheaded in the city of Jilin for robbery (p.44)

* What persuaded Frederick to leave his native Belfast for China was this decisive consideration: "There being opportunities at home for everyone to hear the Gospel, our Saviour's last command meant that, in my case, I must give a reason for not going abroad" (p.47)

* As a result of the Boxer Rebellion, China was forced by the foreign powers to pay reparation of 500 million US dollars to 11 countries between 1901 and 1939. "One terrible injustice was followed by another" (p.66)

*  "The Church must distance itself from the European powers who had won it the right to evangelise in China and whose greed and privileges had aroused such anger among the Chinese" (p.69)

* The Russian-Japanese War of 104-05 was fought neither in Russian or Japan, but on the land and sea of China (p.73)

* The account of many medical missionaries who assisted Frederick is very moving, especially the story of Dr Isabel Mitchell about whom Frederick wrote a book (p.94-101)

* Frederick was a chaplain to some of the 100,000 men in the Chinese Labour Corps which served just behind the fighting lines in Europe during WWI  - a most interesting first-hand account of this little-known piece of history (p.112-121)

* In the 1920s, there were 140 different Protestant missionary societies working in China. In 1927,  one third of all Protestants in China united to form the Church of Christ in China  (p.128)

* Frederick from the beginning regarded the training of local Chinese evangelists as a top priority

* p.138-141 give an account for the start of Protestantism in Korea, especially through the work of Dr John Ross whose translation of the Bible into simple Korean characters (as opposed to Chinese as in official documents) was a major reason for the rapid spread of Christianity in Korea

* Of the Presbyterian Church's 91 missionaries in Manchuria, 48 were women. Of the 48 (including Mary, Frederick's life-long number one supporter) 14 were doctors. "These were women of great conviction and strong character, who endured extremes of climate, physical danger and risks to health that could not be imagined at home"

* One lady missionary "found Chinese religions to be harsh and uncompromising, without the compassion and humanity which she considered the heart of Christianity" (p.148)

* In May 1927 Frederick commented on the birth of Communism in China: "We are watching the birth throes of a somewhat menacing China, not indeed a monster, but a strange creature, hitherto unknown. Should the Communists gain the upper hand, there will be seen a sustained hostility to what in Russia the present rulers call "the opium of the people", by which they mean religion of any kind" (p.151)

* p.167 begins a long account of the Japanese occupation of the 3 Northeast provinces of China, which it re-named "Manchukuo", the country of the Manchu, from which we get "Manchuria". Many details here re the harshness of Japanese occupation, including the use of opium to control and even wipe out the local people

* On a visit to Ireland, where he was appointed Moderator for one year, Frederick asked prayers for two local Northern Ireland Catholic priests who were due to go to the danger zone of Manchuria.  After the service, at a Presbyterian church, two elders told Frederick he would not be welcome back, since he had prayed for Catholics. On the other hand, in Manchuria itself, relations between Protestants and Catholics were cordial and supportive, as when the Protestants sent a moving letter of condolence to the Catholic mission of the area in May 1901 at the height of the Boxer massacres:  "We express our heartfelt sympathy....we can never forget that, when one of our number fell seven years ago, the first note of sympathy we received was from you" (p187-188

* After the bombing of Pearl Harbour, foreign missionaries were expelled or interned - first in Manchuria, then in group on the outskirts of Nagasaki where they witnessed the dropping of the atomic bomb (p.203ff)

* Frederick and his family returned to Belfast before Pearl Harbour.
Local Chinese Christians kept the faith alive...and it blossomed...despite the Japanese occupation and the Communist takeover (p.229ff)

* Frederick died in Belfast on Oct 7, 1952. He had spent 45 dedicated years in China

* P.248ff has 4 Self-Criticisms of mistakes made by the missionaries:
1. The link with the imperial advance of foreign powers into China.
2. Unconscious arrogance that the West was superior to China in everything.
3. The lack of unity among the missionaries...too many groups/churches.
4. Theology was too Western, too European

* P.271ff is an example of the Back to Jerusalem movement, whereby Chinese Christians now go to other countries as missionaries. (An excellent book on this is Back to Jersusalem by Paul Hattaway).
There is now a large group of missionary-minded Chinese in Belfast who are reaching out to non-Christians and lapsed Christians. The wheel has come a full circle!

See also page 7 of this link for an article about the book "Frederick"
and this YouTube talk by Mark O'Neill!