Introduction to the Shandong Revival–Historical Context

shantung-1945.gifDuring years of great duress for missionary and Chinese peasant alike, the church in the Shantung province grew exponentially. This exponential growth became known as The Shantung Revival. This revival recorded the change in the attitudes and actions of Southern Baptist missionaries from 1927-1937 that led to the unity and growth of Christianity among the Chinese people. How this revival occurred during the tumultuous times right before the Japanese invasion goes against the experience of both the Chinese people and the American missionaries. These posts will begin by examining the historical-political background of early twentieth century Shantung against the history of the North China Mission. The following posts will investigate the reports of the revival in light of the ministry of the missionaries and the renewed vigor of the Chinese Christians. My thesis is that though the Shantung Revival was a spiritual movement that defied the cultural background of the Chinese and was unlike the Christianity that the missionaries brought with them, the new Christianity between the Chinese and Americans was characterized by humility, zeal, and unity for the sake of the gospel.

Chinese Culture and the Shantung Revival

Boxers and Bandits (1900-1911)

China from 1899 to 1949 was in a constant state of transition. In a short fifty years, the Chinese government went from feudalistic empire to nationalistic democracy which was finally supplanted by xenophobic communism. Though Western influence in the Middle Kingdom could be traced back to the three millennia-old Silk Road, the influx of British colonialists and American entrepreneurs beginning in the mid-nineteenth century brought with it the favorable advances of Western civilization, the pervasive influence of the Christian religion, and unfortunately, the subjugation of the Chinese way of life. As foreign economic interests in the Orient increased, the imperial throne increasingly lost political clout. As such, the stability of the Chinese infrastructure began to collapse. The Chinese wanted to limit foreign trade, but the Occidental capitalistic powers would not be satisfied with anything less than complete open trade. Soon, the Chinese government was forced into unequal treaties whereby local Chinese had to accept foreign goods. Though Western goods were of greater value and quality, local customs suffered at the hands of imported tradition. Though missionaries generally did not propagate Western power openly, they did rely on the safety net of treaty ports in time of trouble and took advantage of the situation being held in their favor. Therefore, missionaries, intentionally or not, were servants of the colonial paradigm. Such a paradigm crushed the Chinese concept of a Middle Kingdom, a nation at the center of the earth. Chinese civilization may have once excelled others in technology and culture, but by the nineteenth century, that heyday had passed.

Given the oppressive influence of the West upon late nineteenth century China, it is easy to see the rising disdain of foreigners by the people and by the throne. In relation to the Shan Dong Province (Shantung), the growing tension with the West was not unfounded. The treaty port of Yantai (formerly Chefoo) was opened for foreign trade in 1862, and the Germans seized land on the coast to build the city of Qingdao (Tsingtao).[1] These cities were symbols of foreign socio-economic dominance. Historically, missionaries served as translators for negotiations and were quick to insert provisions extending their authority to evangelize.[2] As the events unfolded leading up to the Boxer rebellion, the “sacred province” of Shantung[3] proved to be fertile ground where two rivers of opposing influence collided.

Shantung is the ancient birthplace of Confucius. The great Confucian scholar Mencius also called this province home.[4] Thus, Shantung was considered the stronghold of Confucian orthodoxy. However, as Joseph Esherick states, “‘heterodoxy’ in Shantung had a history as ancient as Confucian orthodoxy.”[5] Sects in the province that practiced shamanism posed a threat to Confucian scholars “whose authority was threatened by those (often women) who spoke with the voice of gods.”[6] Since the peasantry in the poor and overpopulated province were open to the message of the sectarians, the roots for rebellion ran deep. These sects were able warriors, practicing the martial arts from which they receive their name. Esherick argues that boxing had become a “part of a syncretic popular culture of the west Shandong peasantry.”[7] His argument is that when the masses began to defend their cities against imperialism through boxing practices, the stage was set for rebellion.[8] Thus, when the masses banded together as “Boxers United in Righteousness” under the slogan “Support the Qing [dynasty], destroy the foreign,” they did so as a popular rejection of the Western Christian Imperialism.[9] In other words, they feared and hated Christianity.

The movement originally was “antidynastic…[but] changed direction when they received the support of Qing officials prepared to use the movement against the foreign powers.”[10] Soon after the Boxers entered Beijing, the Imperial Court declared war on all the treaty powers. In retaliation, an eight nation force defeated the Boxers at Beijing and enforced more Unequal Treaties upon the Imperial Government. The defeat of the Boxers marked the end of the Confucian worldview.[11] This also would signal the approaching end of the Qing Dynasty and the time of turmoil characterized by raiding bandits and feudalistic Warlords.

Nationalists, Communists, and More Unequal Treaties (1911-1927)

After the fall of the Imperial Regime, the foreign powers played the warlords against one another in order to obtain their economic and political goals. Often, these warlords would impose heavy taxes on the populace and conscript armies to defend their lands. They could no longer rely on centralized authority during this transition period. Occasionally, the only remuneration that bandit armies would receive was the warlord’s permission to pillage the countryside. Robberies were rampant, pirates were on the loose and life in Shantung was restless.

Politically, the intelligentsia, who were favorably influenced by western philosophy, became increasingly nationalistic. Sun Zhongsan (Sun Yat-Sen) led the nationalist revolution under his “Three Principles of the People: ‘nationalism’ (anti-Manchu and anti-imperialist); ‘democracy’ (egalitarianism and constitutional government); and ‘people’s livelihood’ (people’s welfare or socialism).”[12] The republican government lost power slowly and quietly while the Guomindang (Kuomintang), or Nationalist Party, set up a rival government in Guangzhou. Soon after the first world war, the German holdings in Shantung were lost to the Japanese through the Treaty of Versailles, another unequal treaty against the Chinese. In response to this arrangement, students revolted in Tsingtao and around the nation in what became the May Fourth Movement (May 4, 1919). Even though Christianity grew in popularity in the tumultuous time between the Boxer Rebellion and the end of the first world war, the May Fourth Movement marked the beginning of the Anti-Christian Movement (1919-1927),[13] which stood in stark contrast to the revival that was about to occur.

The Chinese Communist Party was formed in 1921 also descending from the May Fourth Movement and the political scene in China continued to twist and turn. Sun Yat-Sen died in 1925, but his successor, Chaing Kai-Shek took the reigns uniting the Nationalists and the Communists against the imposing threat of Japan. The warlord government failed, the communist party was weak, and the Nationalists gained power.[14] The missionaries could identify with the Nationalist cause, though they did not realize the division it could cause between Chinamen and Westerner. Nonetheless, the Nationalist government, because of Western favor, was able to regain a sense of diplomatic equality lost since the 1860s.

In addition to favoring Western political ideology, the Chinese intelligentsia was heavily influenced by western scientific and socialist advances. Thus, “scientism” and “Marxism” fit well with Chinese “Neo-Confucian” and Buddhist thought.[15] Therefore, a level of distrust in the supernatural and in religion fostered within Chinese society, and a disdain for the individualism exhibited by Westerners grew. Though some barriers to things Western were being torn down, other barriers to Western missionaries were being built.  Furthermore, the western missionaries faced internal problems that threatened the effectiveness of the missions.

[1] Joseph W. Esherick, The Origins of the Boxer Uprising. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 7.[2]Ibid., 75.

[3]Though the Chinese pinyin spelling is the common spelling, for the sake of the sources being covered and the time period involved, the Wade-Giles rendering will be used in the paper. As with Yantai and Qingdao, the Wade-Giles spelling is in parenthesis which will be used from that point forward. For purposes of uniformity, except for quotations, the archaic spelling of Shantung will be used over the current Shandong.

[4]See Conrad Schirokauer, A Brief History of Chinese and Japanese Civilizations. 2d ed. (Singapore: Thomson Learning; South Melbourne, Victoria, AU: Nelson Thomson; Toronto: Nelson Thomson; London: Thomson Learning; Madrid: Paraninfo Thomson Learning; New York: The City College of the City University of New York, 1989), 29-31, 40-42.

[5]Esherick, Boxer Uprising, 39.


[7]Ibid., 61.

[8]Ibid., 67.

[9]Ibid., 136.

[10]Schirokauer, History of Chinese and Japanese Civilizations, 475.

[11] Lucien Bianco, Origins of the Chinese Revolution, 1915-1949. trans. Muriel Bell (Stanford: Stanford University Press; London: Oxford University Press, 1971), 1-12.

[12] Rinn-Sup Shinn, “Historical Setting” in Bunge, Frederica M. and Rinn-Sup Shinn. ed. China: a Country Study,  3d ed. (Washington, D.C.: The American University, 1980), 23.

[13] Daniel H. Bays, “Christian Revival in China, 1900-1937.” in Blumhofer, Edith L. and Randall Balmer. Modern Christian Revivals. (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1993), 168.

[14]Ibid., 23-30. The above paragraph is a summary of Rinn-Sup Shinn’s subheading “Republican China.”

[15]Schirokauer, Chinese and Japanese Civilizations, 485.



Add yours →

  1. So, does this mean you are going to post your paper?

    I don’t think I read this one.

    Will you also post your one on the Korean Revival?

  2. BTW, I made the above comment without reading the post. I don’t have time right now, but I do plan on reading sometime today.

  3. Tad de Bordenave September 6, 2008 — 16:45

    I’m looking for some material for a presentation on the Shantung Revival. I have the CT History issue on Christianity in China but I need a couple of references – like books! Got any?

    Tad de Bordenave
    Heathsville, VA

  4. Hi, just stumbled across this place on Google. Nice to be here.

  5. The Person and Work of The Holy Spirit was taught by C.L. Culpepper, at Mid America baptist Theological Seminary 1975-77 maybe beyond. I left in 1976. I was in Dr. Culpepper’s class and had the privilege of driving him home nearly every day. We have pictures of his coming to our home for dinner and he told us many wonderful things. If you listen to the testimony by him on I can confirm that what you hear there is almost word for word as our class heard it from his own mouth. He would only tell us the story after we had promised not to seek an experience like his, but to simply let go and let God. When I found this taped testimony I was thrilled that we had it in his voice, presented just as it was.

    • Ken,

      Thanks! I have heard that message on Sermon Index. I hope to be able to write my dissertation on the Shantung Revival.

      Please share any stories you may have of Dr. Culpepper. Thank you brother!


      • Wes, I am an ESL teacher and have a student from Shantung. Today I showed her my daddy’s original copy of “The Shantung Revival” by Mary Crawford, and another Chinese post-doc student asked me for more info. I was just doing some research and came across your blog. My daddy was a SBC pastor. He received the baptism of the Holy Spirit in 1962 after a retired SBC missionary from Brazil recommended he read the book. He and another SBC pastor in our town had been praying together for “revival” and reading copies of “Herald of His Coming.” Anyway, he was dramatically “filledwith the H.S. and this began a stream of blessings in our family until today. I was a teenager, so I saw firsthand the power of God released in our little SBC church as the whole sanctuary full of people came forward at the invitation that Sunday morning. After a year of really bad conviction of sin, I, too, came to Jesus and was “born again” and filled with the H.S. Well, I could write on and one, but I recommend “Go Home Tell” by Bertha Smith and “Miss Bertha” by Timothy George. Have you finished your dissertation?

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