Revival Among the Chinese
The missionaries found that their lives had been changed and their ministries were increasingly effective in spite of the hard conditions of the time. C. L. Culpepper said that in 1927, the situation was so bleak that many wanted to give up, but they decided that they should pray. And pray they did for four years. By 1937, as a result of the revival, Bertha Smith reports that membership of the churches increased tenfold. The seminary in Hwanghsien, which in 1927 had only four students, had twenty-five during the first year of the revival and over one hundred by 1937. In the hospitals, the native doctors and nurses began going beyond physical service to spiritual service. N. A Bryan reported that “one of the greatest blessings is the spreading of the gospel through the hospital. We have one evangelist and two Bible women who spend their time preaching and instructing the patients in the Bible. Doctors and nurses help in this work, too, as time permits. As we go about doing our daily work we seize every opportunity to witness for Jesus and to try to point these people to the Lord, and many are brought to accept Jesus as their Saviour.” Not to minimize the influence of these mission-sponsored institutions, the greatest impact of the revival was on the native church.
Jonathan Chao argued that one of the main instigators of the Anti-Christian Movement between 1919 and 1927 was the lack of an indigenous Christianity. With the Shantung Revival, Chinese laity and clergy were invigorated to take active roles in the governance, support and propagation of the church. Students from the seminary formed preaching bands and went out to the villages on Saturdays and Sundays. In Tsinan, John Abernathy reported that the church had become self-supporting. They dedicated two new church buildings purchased by local believers. The mission’s gospel tent, which had not been used by the missionaries because of lack of funds, was employed by Chinese evangelistic bands at their own expense. Abernathy said that, “in some of the churches it seems nearly every member is a preacher and the Lord is graciously blessing them in this work.” Mary Crawford found that some of the stations run by the native association, prior to 1932, were almost closed, but with the revival several thriving churches emerged. One of the chapels had been built with the money of a man who sold his own coffin after receiving healing. In other churches, Christians would make restitution for monies stolen or tithes held back from the church, and as these monies came in, they found they were able to support the church themselves.
The Chinese demonstrated the same spirit of confession as the missionaries. One husband humbled himself before his wife and she became interested in learning more about a Jesus who could get her husband to confess his sins, because, as she said, “I have a lot of sins myself.” Another man, Dr. Chao Dei-San, was educated in mission schools, but confessed his prodigal ways. He had taken a concubine, but put her away by providing for her needs financially. He then decided to go “from city to city, where I have lived, confessing my sins and trying to get right with the people whom I have wronged, exhort all to repent of their sins and believe the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Pearl Caldwell reports that at their own discretion, as whole families became Christians, “in many places there has been a ‘great burning’ as people have brought out the gods made with their own hands and burned them.”
Another important aspect of the revival was the renewed reverence for the Bible among the Chinese. In 1935, Pearl Caldwell related that with Christianity came Bible reading. The illiterate masses of women were given access to reading the Bible. She stated that “Bible reading has received great impetus since the beginning of the Shantung Revival four years ago.” In Shantung, more Bibles were bought there in 1934 than in any other province, and the cities of Pingtu and Hwanghsien saw more Bibles purchased than in any other cities in China. Mrs. Liang was a faithful Biblewoman in Hwanghsien who led her father-in-law, who had opposed Christianity, to become a Christian by leaving dozens of Bibles in her home where he could read them in his spare time. One convert went from scoffer to Bible reader-in a matter of days he had read the whole Bible through. One of the abiding results of the revival would be the reverence of the Bible among the Chinese Christians.
Summary of Factors Contributing to the Revival
There are at least five other factors that contributed to the revival-loss of face by missionaries and by Chinese, increased role of women, indigenous leadership, freedom of emotion, and miraculous healings. In Chinese culture, shame was a powerful force of control and stability in society. For decades, through unequal treaties and paternalistic methodology, missionaries had kept native Christians in a subversive position. Whereas foreign missionaries probably rarely faced the shame that native Christians faced, they often were viewed as the source of shame toward the Chinese. By the missionaries’ public confession of sin, including their sin toward the Chinese, they lost face before their Chinese brethren in the best way possible. That gave them a sense of freedom and equality that they had lacked socially and politically. The Chinese in turn found the courage to lose face before those they had wronged and the credibility of Christianity skyrocketed.
However, women in general were looked down upon in Chinese culture. Marie Monsen relates that the term for woman was literally “home-keeper” in Chinese. As such, women rarely left the home, until the socio-political unrest caused by constant war, famine, and floods. As women became more readily seen, the opportunity for missionaries to reach women increased. The role of the Bible woman in the church also served a key function in raising the status of women. Whereas prior to the Shantung Revival, women were rarely seen in churches, the revival brought a whole influx of women and families. This is a key event since idol worship in the home was probably carried on by the women.
The impact of indigenous leadership cannot be underemphasized. Due to missionary retrenchment and cutting of funds, the North China Mission was forced to rely on the national leadership to carry on the work. By no means did the missionaries reduce their own workload, but it was impossible for the few missionaries to make the impact that the revival had made. One pastor in Pingtu is said to have baptized five thousand people. Another native served as a missionary to Manchuria which began to see revival during this time as well. Obviously, the church was being prepared for the absence of missionaries during the Second World War and for their prolonged absence from 1949 through 1995 when missionaries would return to Qingdao (Tsingtao) and Jinan (Tsinan), long after the generation alive during the revival would be dead.
Overall, revivalism in China was characterized by emotionalism. Though this may have been the case throughout China, and even though emotional outbursts occurred regularly in Shantung, this is not a valid indictment of the work. Even though one revival historian labels Marie Monsen as a Pentecostal, but the Southern Baptists defend the revival as being quiet and orderly. One missionary admits being accused of opposing the revival because he warned his students of excess in revival. Even so, both Mary Crawford and C. L. Culpepper unashamedly report the emotion and joy that many experienced during the revival. Though the Baptists were wary of the excesses, the sensationally long prayers, the amazing piety and joy of the believers, and the stories of healing would be attractive to non-Christians. Certainly, many were attracted to the meetings out of curiosity. Nonetheless, the joyful release of the burden of guilt provided an outlet of emotion that the hard life in China of those days could not provide.
Furthermore, the reports of healings could be physically verified. One lady was healed after 28 years of being unable to walk. Others recovered miraculously from their deathbeds. The amazing stories, that were able to be verified by many witnesses, aided the integrity of the Chinese church and of the revival as a whole.
Culpepper, “The Shantung Revival,” audio recording.Smith, How the Spirit Filled My Life,
N. A. Bryan, “Warren Memorial Hospital’s Service to Missions,” HFF 19, no. 5 (May 1935): 8.
See Jonathan T’ien-en Chao, “The Chinese Indigenous Church Movement, 1919-1927: A Protestant Response to the Anti-Christian Movements in Modern China.” (Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1986).
Culpepper, “The Best Year,” HFF 17, no. 10 (Oct 1933): 28.
John A. Abernathy, “The Best Year,” HFF 17, no. 3 (Mar 1933): 30. See also this story on the preaching during the revival. One powerful preacher, Tsang Tie’n Pao, asked, “This Christ, are you his servant, or are you his bond-slave?” Pearl Todd related that Tsang Tie’n Pao had been raised in the mission schools, but later he turned toward modernism and socialism. His mother never gave up praying for him until he said, “I, Tsang Tie’n Pao, am the bond-slave of Jesus Christ.” Pearl Todd, “A Bond Slave of Jesus Christ,” HFF 17, no. 12 (Dec 1933): 14.
Crawford, The Shantung Revival, 85.
Culpepper, The Shantung Revival, 39.
John W. Lowe, “Chinese Prodigal Returns,” HFF 18, no. 3 (Mar 1934): 9.
Pearl Caldwell, “The Gospel Truimphing,” HFF 17, no. 5 (May 1933): 27.
Pearl Caldwell, “The Entrance of God’s Word Giveth Light,” HFF 19, no. 11 (Nov 1935): 3.
Doris Knight, “A Steward of the Word,” HFF 17, no. 11 (Nov 1933): 11.
Crawford, The Shantung Revival, 60.
Pearl Buck’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Good Earth, is an excellent description of the plight of post-Imperial Chinese peasants.
Bays, “Revival in China,” 161ff.
Cauthen, Higher Ground, 153.
Culpepper, The Shantung Revival, 33.