Medical Missionaries bringing Christianity and Western Medicine into China

In the nineteenth century, both Christianity and Western medicine were brought into China by a group of medical missionaries. China was still a strong empire at that time. With thousands of years of culture, the Chinese did not accept the Western knowledge and religion easily. Nevertheless, after encountering some difficulties, the Western pioneers succeeded to spread the gospel in China, especially the Canton region. At first, the missionaries were simply telling the Bible stories to the Chinese in streets or in churches, hoping them to believe in God.

This was not an effective way of evangelizing in China since the Chinese did not make contact with any Westerners before and also they did not receive any Western education, so it was hard to convince them to believe anything when they were suspicious of the foreigners. They thought the evangelists had no difference with the simple storytellers in streets and the stories were just a kind of entertainment. Moreover, there were lots of traditional beliefs in China, for instance Buddhism.

So, it was difficult to persuade the Chinese to give up their beliefs of thousands of years but trust in Christianity after listening to a few of the Bible stories told by foreigners. A medical missionary was another way to evangelize at that time. Each of the medical missionaries had two roles, doctor and evangelist. (Chao, 1990) The medical missionaries that worked in the less developed countries were all qualified and they were trained at hospitals. (Chao, 1990) This shows that the missionaries were all professional that could bring good medical services to the Chinese.

It also shows that the Westerns had a serious and organized plan to bring both medicine and Christianity into China. This was because Christianity emphasizes spreading the gospel around and let people know the name of the God. It was a better idea to spread the gospel in China. Hospitals were built and the missionaries started curing the Chinese when they arrived. We could see that when the missionaries had the successful cases of healing the Chinese and improving health of the society, they could gain more respect from people or even were treated as another ‘Hua Tuo’.

As a result, the Chinese thought they were the good guys and had less suspicion, letting the job of Christianity evangelizing less difficult. When the Chinese were cured, especially when those who had large tumors removed or eye sight restored, they may thought that there were miracles since the traditional Chinese medicine could not cure them and all of a sudden the Western surgeries cure them in just a short period of time. Thus, they might think that they were blessed by the Western God so that they were willing to know more about Jesus Christ or even start believing in Christianity.

It was a good strategy that the doctors were also evangelists. After being cured, people were grateful and more open to the Western concepts. When the doctor tried to evangelize, people would listen and trust him because he was their lifesaver. Yet, the medical missionaries did encounter some setbacks and difficulties before their success. There were some major reasons that the Chinese did not accept the missionaries in the beginning. The major reason would be the big difference between the Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Western Medicine.

Chinese medicine is based on the concepts of elements and yin yang. (Chao, 1990) However, in western medicine, it includes anatomy, physiology which is entirely different. Western medicine cures disease by drugs and surgeries, but not herbs and acupuncture. It was hard for the Chinese to trust the western medicine system while they knew nothing about the concepts of science at that time. With strong empire and long history, the Chinese had cultural pride that they thought the traditional Chinese medicine was better and they did not trust the western medicine could help them to cure diseases.

Moreover, because of the Confucian, the Chinese was definitely against anatomy, dissecting the human bodies into parts for examinations. It scared the Chinese that they might be killed in the hospital and their bodies were dissected by the foreigners. Another major reason would be the using of knives and other tools in Western surgeries. (Chao, 1990) There were no surgeries performed by the Chinese physicians before that people may doubt its effectiveness. During surgeries, body parts bleed that people may think the Westerners were hurting their bodies.

When the physicians used knives to cut open the patients’ bodies in surgeries, rumors were created. People thought the doctors were evil to snatch their body organs. More importantly, the Chinese had the concept that the bodies were given by their parents, so they should not get their bodies hurt or damaged. As a result, people did not accept surgeries as they thought the idea of using knives in surgeries was hurting their bodies. It is easy to understand the people’s worries since knife is a dangerous tool that people will easily think of murder, especially they had no idea about what is the use of the surgeries tool.

Lying on an operation table and cannot move also makes people feel uncomfortable especially when lying down on table leads the Chinese thinks of lying in a coffin. Last but not least, the physical examinations by doctors were also a reason why people were reluctant to the Western Medicine. The Chinese society was a more conservative one. People had the concept of male and the female should not be too intimated. The western physicians were male mainly at that time. During physical examinations, the physicians and the tools might have physical contact with the female patients’ bodies.

This would be an offense to the Chinese women at that time that they might think it was a kind of molestation. However, Westerners might not aware of that because of the difference of culture. Rumors were then spread that the people from the west were raping or harassing the Chinese women. Though there were reasons for the Chinese not accepting the Western medicine, more people received the medication from the west eventually since the poor Chinese had no choices. People with blindness couldn’t work and it was hard to make a living.

The people with tumors were in great pain and had great inconvenience in their lives. Unfortunately, the traditional Chinese medicine was unable to cure the blindness and the tumors that the Chinese had. When the missionaries claimed that they were able to cure these diseases, the desperate people had a try and seek help from the Westerners. They focus on the efficacy of the treatment. They just wanted to be cured that they actually did not care about the different concepts of Chinese or Western medicine and also how they were cured.

What happened is that the pioneer missionaries did cure the eye diseases and tumors of the people, giving themselves credits. For example, Peter Parker saw more than seven thousands of patients in China from 1845 to 1848, mainly curing the eye diseases of the people. (Chao, 1990) When there were more successful cases, then the Chinese were more open to the western medicine, as well as the Christianity, reaching the goals of the medical missionaries. Sources: Chao, G. H. 1990. “Heal the sick” was their motto: the protestant medical missionaries in China. Chapter 2 – 4.

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