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ព័ត៌មាននិងរឿងផ្សេងៗ

Intersectional and Binary Representations of Non-Christians in China and Britain: An Empirical and Theological Study of Nineteenth-century Mission Publications

Paul Woods

Paul Woods has previously worked with doctoral students at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies and master’s students at Singapore Bible College. Before that, he served as language and culture consultant for the whole Fellowship in Singapore and for the Mekong Field based in Chiang Mai. He now has a new role as outward-facing Theological Educator at Large within OMF (UK).

Mission Round Table 18:2 (Jul-Sep 2023): 15-24

To read articles in this edition, visit this post on Mission Round Table 18:2.

1. Introduction

The characterisation of Christian mission as “from the West to the Rest” is now being replaced by the idea of “from everywhere to everywhere,” reflecting not only current realities but also the history of the enterprise. Such revisions or reworkings are primarily missiological and theological, but may require us to consider ethnicity and race as well. The “from the West to the Rest” understanding of mission associated with the explosion of Protestant, and especially evangelical, mission into the majority world from the middle of the nineteenth century contains representations of non-western people by Western authors for Western readers.

In his A New History of Christianity in China, Daniel Bays mentions the “extensive written communication” of Western missionaries, private correspondence and mission magazines and journals, which were written to inform the Christian public in the western sending countries.[1] Missionaries spoke the languages of their target peoples while local workers rarely spoke English or other Western languages; the most authoritative interpretations of China for the early nineteenth century Western public came from missionaries.[2] “So-called native workers” in various parts of the non-Western world were hardly ever mentioned in missionary correspondence.[3] In her study of local women working with American Presbyterian missionaries in southern China, Christina Wong complains that, “class, gender, and Western hierarchy [made] female workers almost invisible.”[4]

Christina Wong’s research on the portrayal of native workers in American Presbyterian correspondence formed a chapter in the volume Shaping Christianity in Greater China, of which I was the editor.[5] In correspondence with her about her contribution, I detected a gradual change in focus from the representation of native colleagues to the depiction of Chinese people in general, and particularly non-Christians, in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century mission journals and magazines. Similar conversations with other Asian Christians created in me a curiosity about orientalist, paternalistic, or simply pejorative representations of Asian non-Christians.

Later, having dipped into accounts of evangelistic work in the UK in the same period, I began to wonder about the representation of non-Christian English people, especially the poor, in mission magazines. Finally, it occurred to me to compare the portrayals of non-Christians in different social, cultural, political, and religious contexts. Perhaps the representation of the “target people” in one or both contexts might reflect a general sense of neediness, physical and spiritual.

2. Some theoretical concepts

Hall argues that representation works on two levels.[6] First, there is an internal relationship between the objects we see in the world and our mental representations of them. Second, we bring concepts together and organise them into groups by establishing relations we think exist between them. These complex relationships produce meaning and people are able to communicate when they share similar conceptual maps. Such sharing involves not only linguistic but also cultural knowledge. Furthermore, the significance of shared representations implies a constructionist approach, in which meaning is derived not directly from objects in the material world but is mediated by complex systems of culture and thought. Roland Barthes’ refinement of this general position distinguishes between denotation and connotation.[7] Denotation relates to the simplest level at which people would accept the correspondence between linguistic labels and objects, while connotation links words in a language to broader themes and domains. For Hall, denotation concerns our shared understanding of terms such as dress or jeans, while connotation enables us to make higher level assessments of formality or the acceptability of wearing jeans in a specific context, according to shared knowledge and acceptance of complex factors, such as culture, history, and religion.[8]

Such an understanding of connotation within context led Michel Foucault to emphasise the specific nature of a particular discourse, summarised by Hall as “a way of representing the knowledge about — a particular topic at a particular historical moment.”[9] We must think about how language is used in practice rather than in any abstract sense and consider very carefully the cultural influences and ideas impinging upon a discourse, which in this research include theological stance. For Foucault, knowledge is produced within and as a result of discourse, and the creators, recipients, and aims of such knowledge are inextricably linked to questions of power and control.

Finally, Foucault places the idea of the body at the centre of his work on discourse.[10] Initially, the “body” referred to the physical body of, for example, prisoners, but later it developed into a more abstract concept, a canvas on which discourse constructs its ideas and meanings.

Foucault’s ideas of contextual specificity, power dynamics, and the body as essential elements in the consideration of discourse are of value for this research. Mission magazines relating primarily to the last quarter of the nineteenth century constitute a corpus of texts whose authors shared very similar social and theological positions and which reflected a shared cultural background. From Bays and Wong, it is clear that there was a power dynamic between non-Christian people in China and London and those who represented them in mission magazines.[11] Power dynamics are not necessarily evil or exploitative; one group of people writing about another who have no voice involves such a dynamic by its very nature. Finally, representation of the two non-Christian groups involved “bodies”, canvases on which individual and generic non-Christian Chinese people and Londoners were depicted.

3. Two corpora from three sources

As a member of OMF, I thought it important to research representations of Chinese people in the magazines of the China Inland Mission. Apart from its obvious relevance to us, it is well known that from the inception of the CIM, China’s Millions was a remarkably up-to-date, comprehensive, and well-produced publicity tool. I was able to locate and download several issues of China’s Millions from the last quarter of the nineteenth century, which formed my CIM corpus. In order to maintain consistency of authors and target audience, it was decided not to include North American issues of China’s Millions.

In order to facilitate a comparative study, it was necessary to construct another corpus of similar size containing mission magazines and publicity relating to evangelical mission work in England in roughly the same period. In addition, I felt it important that the basic theological position of those undertaking mission work in England should correspond to that of their counterparts serving in China. A long period of online searching led me to construct an LCM-SA corpus, which contained mission publicity from both the London City Mission and the Salvation Army, in order that its size should be roughly equivalent to that of the CIM corpus. Although the Salvation Army materials do present some mission work outside of London, most of the content relates to Britain’s capital.

4. The background and theology of the two mission efforts

As the research explores the representation of non-Christian people in the publicity of the China Inland Mission (CIM), the London City Mission (LCM), and the Salvation Army (SA), it may be instructive to explore briefly the mutual positionality of the three groups. It is far beyond the scope of this study to do this in depth, and what follows is an attempt to site the organisations within some broad trends of nineteenth-century British evangelicalism.

Bebbington describes the growing importance of the holiness movement in the last decades of the nineteenth century.[12] Some important elements of the movement came to Britain from the United States and later took on a particularly British flavour, especially with the formation of the Keswick movement in the 1870s. The holiness movement had a direct and powerful influence on Hudson Taylor, and the theology and practice of what became the China Inland Mission.[13] The general theme of holiness also helped shape the theology of William Booth, who founded the Salvation Army.[14] Another element in the holiness movement was the idea of the separation of the believer from the world, its system of ideologies and allegiance seen as evil and dangerous. Apart from this theological and devotional connection, the person of Mary Reed shows informal, personal ties between these great evangelical missions. The first Australian member of the CIM, Reed was the daughter of a certain Henry Reed, a businessman who gave substantial financial support to William Booth.[15]

It is well-known that Hudson Taylor had strong connections with the Brethren and remained in contact with influential members of the group, especially George Müller, whose work in orphanages in Bristol supported the CIM. Although doctrinally there was some distance between the Plymouth Brethren and the leaders of the Keswick movement, there were similarities in the practical teaching of the two groups on sanctification.[16] In addition, the premillennialism usually associated with the Brethren was a significant influence across evangelicalism, particularly in the non-conformist churches,[17] and led to an expectation of darkness in society and an attendant urgency about the task of evangelism.

“A Visit on the Dust Heaps,” from These Fifty Years, Being the Jubilee Volume of the London City Mission (1884), after p140.

The London City Mission was founded in 1835 as an interdenominational mission dedicated to evangelism by lay workers drawn mostly from the working class, a profile not dissimilar to the China Inland Mission. At the same time, in its emphasis on the inner city it resembled the Salvation Army;[18] the LCM was known for its commitment to social philanthropy as well as its conservative evangelical stance.

The combination of concern for the physical and spiritual was seen in the work and writing of Lord Shaftesbury and Dr. Barnado and is echoed in The Christian as follows: “Neither Jesus nor his apostles ever separated the physical from the spiritual well-being of men. He and they fed and healed the bodies of the people, and the sympathy thus manifested won their attention, and enabled them to impart food and healing to their souls,” as cited by Bebbington.[19] Bebbington notes that even in such a pietistic publication, “the gospel and humanitarianism… were seen not as rivals but as complementary.”[20] Shaftesbury wrote the introduction to three of the LCM books in the corpus used in this research and maintained close relationships with the CIM. Broomhall reminds us that Shaftesbury chaired an interagency meeting on famine relief in China at which CIM missionaries were present, and Dowsett notes that his approach to the fight for social justice in England was an inspiration for Taylor’s opposition to the British opium trade with China.[21]

5. Research sources, methods, and findings

The details of the two corpora are found in Tables 1a and 1b. (Note that The Christian Mission and The East London Christian Mission later became the Salvation Army.)

Table 1a: Details of the CIM corpus

CIM document and date No. of pages No. of words (K)
China’s Spiritual Need and Claims (1865) 102 35
China’s Millions (1876) 282 207
China’s Millions (1877) 192 168
China’s Millions (1878) 208 186
China’s Millions (1879) 184 173
China’s Millions (1883) 196 164
Total 1164 969

 

Table 1b: Details of the LCM-SA corpus

LCM-SA document and date No. of pages No. of words (K)
(LCM) Our Veterans (1881) 279 66
(LCM) These Fifty Years (1884) 403 105
(LCM) Round the Tower (1874) 347 84
(LCM) The London City Mission Magazine 84(983) (1919) 370 208
(SA) The Christian Mission Magazine II(3) (Mar 1870) 11 17
(SA) The Christian Mission Magazine III(3) (Mar 1871) 11 18
(SA) The Christian Mission Magazine II(7) (Jul 1870) 11 18
(SA) The East London Evangelist (Oct 1868) 9 12
(SA) The East London Evangelist (Nov 1868) 9 13
(SA) The East London Evangelist (Mar 1869) 8 15
(SA) The East London Evangelist (Jun 1869) 8 17
(SA) The East London Evangelist (Nov 1869) 8 17
(SA) The East London Christian Mission Report (1867) 12 6.5
(SA) In Darkest England (1890) 227 127
Total 1713 723

 

Very real difficulties in finding suitable non-CIM sources meant that the rough size of the two corpora was determined by the amount of material from London City Mission and the Salvation Army. Table 1 shows that both contained under one-million words, the CIM corpus being the larger of the two. Further limitations caused by the time available for data analysis and paper writing forced me to undertake a relatively simple content and thematic analysis. As I was thinking of words or terms to look for in the two corpora, I was reminded of my discussions with Christina Wong and others about the portrayal of Chinese people as victims, somehow pitiable or oppressed. Later, in view of the growing controversy about how Western people are thought of as labelling non-Western people, and the increasing critique of Western colonial and missionary practice in the past (and possibly the present), I began to think more about terms such as pagan or heathen, especially as these are at best considered dated and often viewed as unfortunate or even racist.

Having constructed two corpora containing a number of mission magazines in PDF form, I used the online analysis tool Voyant-Tools to produce lists of individual words and their frequency of occurrence for each publication. I then arrived at total figures for the two corpora. This was followed by a coding exercise for the two lists of terms according to a general scheme of noun, adjective, verb, person, and location, bearing in mind that some individual terms could belong to more than one category. For example, lost could be part of a verb phrase, or an adjective, or a noun. Consider he lost his book, she found the lost book, and Christian mission concerns outreach to the lost. Following this initial identification of terms, individual categories were then sorted, with the most commonly occurring terms placed at the top of the relevant section in the table. I also categorised terms as positive, negative, or neutral, according to their general sense where explicit.

5.1. Occurrences of the word “poor” in the two corpora

In both corpora, the most commonly occurring terms were men, work, people, and home. These and a few other neutral terms were ignored. Because the study emerged from an initial interest in negative portrayals of Chinese people that was then extended to include similar depictions of Londoners, I decided to identify the most commonly occurring negative adjective. In both corpora, this was the word poor. It occurred more than 530 times in the CIM corpus and 830 times in the LCM–SA corpus and therefore I examined both corpora to identify and code each occurrence of the word poor.

I carried out in an inductive thematic analysis of the two corpora, in which I tried to identify each occurrence of poor and build a taxonomy of usage of the word from the texts themselves.[22] The process of coding involved several passes through both corpora in order to categorise meanings of the word in context and remove occurrences considered irrelevant. Occurrences of poor were only counted if they described some aspect of a non-Christian Chinese person, not including what I initially termed temporarily pitiable, usages such as the poor man got soaked in the rain, which were not judgments of inherent value or status. Likewise, if a missionary admitted to a poor command of the Chinese language, this was also ignored. Reported speech in the LCM-SA corpus in which Londoners described themselves as poor were discounted because they were not representations of “others”.

Table 2 shows occurrences of the word poor according to four broad categories derived from the data; Figure 1 is a visual representation. Poor in what I labelled a financial sense described people suffering from a lack of money only, based on the context. The category pitiable applied to those enduring hardship, difficulty, or suffering. It was usually fairly straightforward to distinguish between financial and pitiable. The spiritual sense of the word was, ironically, in these magazines relating to evangelical Christian mission, occasionally a little harder to identify; a very small number of cases indicated people who perhaps were poor in a pitiable and spiritual sense. In both corpora, a very small number of usages of poor seemed to have no justification from the surrounding text and broader episode it described. It is possible that such unjustified usages of poor reflect a catch-all category of poverty in some broad, undefined sense.

 

Table 2: Summary of the results for poor

  CIM Corpus LCM-SA Corpus
Categories Frequency Percentage Frequency Percentage
Financial 144 35 377 58
Pitiable 171 41 228 35
Spiritual 93 23 41 6
No justification 5 1 6 <1
Total 413 100 652 100

     Figure 1: Summary of poor in the two corpora

The data suggest that, for the CIM sources, poor is as much about financial poverty as being pitiable due to one’s individual circumstances. Spiritual poverty, as a clearly identifiable separate form, occurs less often. There is a much greater emphasis on financial poverty in the LCM-SA mission magazines. Significantly fewer people were labelled as poor in the pitiable sense. Of the usages of poor in the publicity about English people, around one in twenty were explicitly related to spiritual poverty.

I conclude from these magazines depicting evangelistic work in China and London that the concept poor is multidimensional. In both cases, the word represents a concept that is not simple, but complex, involving Wittgensteinian family resemblances. As used by Christian writers to describe non-Christian objects of evangelistic work in the late nineteenth century, poor manifests an inherent intersectionality in the sense of Crenshaw.[23]

5.2. Occurrences of the word “heathen” in the two corpora

This word was chosen for three main reasons. First, it is the second most common negative adjective in the CIM corpus. Second, contemporary Western societies are sensitive to what might be considered politically incorrect labels, especially those more commonly used in the past. It is probably fair to say that while not always associated directly with racism, the word heathen is viewed as pejorative by some. Thirdly, given that heathen does have connotations of racism and cultural superiority, I was intrigued to find that it was not uncommon in the LCM-SA corpus.

Heathen was different from poor in terms of the thematic analysis because the corpora yielded a cluster of related terms, each of which represented a binary opposition: heathen (relating to people), heathenism (in the sense of religious beliefs and practices), and heathendom and heathen lands (referring to territories or domains). Following linguistic convention, I use the form heathen* as a higher-level label to refer to the basic word and its derivatives as a set. All in all, heathen* occurred 346 times in the CIM corpus and 71 times in the LCM-SA materials.

A similar inductive thematic analysis was carried out for heathen* as for poor, and an analogous but ultimately more complex taxonomy was derived from the data. For both corpora, I identified an initial three-category model that represented three broad binary oppositions. Affiliative binary refers to individuals or groups of people in terms of whether they are identified as Christian or not. Systemic binary refers to an equally clear opposition between systems of belief and practice, such as heathenism and Christianity. Finally, territorial binary is used to classify a land, territory, or part of the world seen as non-Christian vis-à-vis the so-called Christian lands or Christendom.

Table 3 and Figure 2 summarise the occurrences of heathen* in the two corpora, using three basic categories that reflect different but related binary oppositions.

Table 3: Summary of the results for heathen*

Category of binary CIM Corpus LCM-SA Corpus
Frequency Percentage Frequency Percentage
Affiliative 233 67 45 63
Systemic 62 18 22 31
Territorial 51 15 5 7
Total 346 100 72 100

    Figure 2: Summary of heathen* in the two corpora

From the data in Table 3 and Figure 2, the most significant occurrence of the word heathen* related to a simple dichotomy of religious affiliation of individuals or groups of people. In both corpora, around two thirds of the total uses of heathen* depicted this simple dichotomy of belief; almost every use of the word heathen was merely an expression of whether or not a person believed in Christ. There were very few examples of the word heathen having a pejorative or racial implication. In addition, despite the very different social, political, and religious environments studied, the similarity of occurrence of the term heathen in the two corpora is striking. The term was used to refer to those without Christian faith in England as commonly as to those in China.

The category of systemic binary was used for occurrences of heathenism that reflected a distinction between Christianity and other religions or practices. Thus, followers of heathenism or “the darkness of heathenism” would be examples of the term heathen* expressing a binary opposition between two religious systems rather than a person’s individual religious affiliation. What was unexpected is that as a percentage, the systemic binary occurred more in the British context than the Chinese by a factor of almost 100 percent. Finally, heathen* was used to refer to physical territories twice as much in the CIM corpus as in the LCM-SA one.

Whereas poor represents a polysemous category, heathen* is arguably a simpler binary, especially when we consider the word heathen as a marker of a person’s religious affiliation. However, during the coding process, it became clear that within the heathen affiliative binary, there were subgroups whose presence made further analysis and coding necessary. Likewise, initial passes through the data revealed a systemic binary of religious beliefs and practices, and it was necessary to categorise further these non-Christian systems. Finally, the territorial binary was similarly refined. During this process, insights were gained from particular examples of the use of heathen* in context and these will be referred to in the analysis.

Table 4 presents a more detailed analysis of the three broad categories and identifies subgroups within them for the CIM corpus.

Table 4: Breakdown of binaries associated with heathen* in the CIM corpus

Category of binary Subject of binary Frequency Percentage
Affiliative binary Chinese heathens 183 53
Generic 24 7
In biblical teaching 17 5
British heathens 7 2
Karen heathens 2 <1
Systemic binary Chinese religions 56 16
Hinduism 2 <1
In biblical teaching 1 <1
Non-Christian religions 2 <1
Unknown 1 <1
Territorial binary Generic 34 10
China 16 5
Shan State 1 <1
Total   346 100

 

Turning first to the affiliative binary, half of the heathen people mentioned in the CIM texts were Chinese. This is not surprising, as the magazines describe evangelistic work among these people. The second subcategory, generic, contains references to non-Christian people with no specification of who they were. Thirdly, heathens were mentioned in the context of biblical teaching recorded in the CIM publicity. Finally, a small number of occurrences of heathen affiliation refer to British and Karen non-Christians. Some commentary on heathen as a marker of personal religious affiliation might be helpful. The following examples concern so-called Chinese heathens. In China’s Millions, the elderly mother of a Chinese man is described as “still a heathen.”[24] Missionaries were grateful for her “hearty welcome,” which included pancakes, tea, and “a good supper.” This behaviour can be contrasted with the attitudes of certain “nominally Christian” westerners, “whose lives are less moral than those of the heathen around them.”[25] After an incident on a boat, we read that “the heathen boatmen more than once said, ‘your God certainly is the true God.’”[26] Later, a missionary writer concedes that “we have many things to teach the heathen, but they teach us some things.”[27] We also read that the Chinese heathen included literati[28] and that “enlightened heathen” viewed opium as a calamity.[29]

While there is no directly pejorative or critical characterisation of heathen individuals, two uses only of the term are associated with ethnicity. In one comparison between Chinese and Western people, the word heathen to some degree conflates ethnicity and religious belief.[30] Something similar appears in China’s Millions,[31] where it is claimed that while evangelism in the slums of London is difficult, “it is a great deal harder… to make any impression on the minds of heathen people.” Kathryn Gin Lum is strident in her critique of the conflation of religious and racial identities in some parts of the American church, informing us that, even as late as 1971, a US mission executive spoke about “a white world and a colored world,” and inferring that such a racial binary reflects a development in Europe towards the end of the Middle Ages in which “othering based on belief gave way to othering based on bodies.”[32]

Against the background of such strong views, I must point out that the same corpus describes missionaries preparing for work in China “by doing such [evangelistic] work among the London heathen.”[33] There is also a comment in China’s Millions that “work among the heathen looks somewhat different at home to what it does out in the field.”[34] The quantitative data and the direct quotes from the corpus suggest that the affiliative binary associated with the word heathen essentially concerns a person’s religious affiliation as Christian or non-Christian and nothing else. To all intents and purposes, we could replace the word heathen with the phrase non-Christian.

My sense that heathen* functioned as a binary emerged from the textual data itself. The binaries identified are the result of a process of emphasising difference, which will be discussed later. For the moment, however, note the reference to “heathen sisters” in China’s Millions, which suggests a concern at the human level that goes beyond faith affiliation and reduces the othering between Christian and non-Christian.[35] Finally, in the quotations relating to non-Christian faith of Chinese individuals, there are eleven mentions of conversion, either accomplished or expected. From this, we can conclude that although faith affiliation is portrayed as a binary opposition in the CIM corpus, a person could move from one pole to another, a process which for the missionaries would entail, but not require, behavioural change. The missionaries of the China Inland Mission were clear that salvation came by grace and through belief alone.

The systemic binary refers to the dichotomy between religious systems rather than their followers. From Table 4, it can be seen that references to heathenism add up to only around 20 percent of the total occurrences of the form heathen*. Naturally, the vast majority of those references (16 percent of all occurrences of heathen*) concern Chinese religions. Interestingly, while there was no value judgement attached to an individual being a heathen, that is to say a non-Christian, attitudes to Chinese religions in the CIM corpus are clearly negative. Heathenism in the shape of Chinese religions is characterised as “darkness” (many times), “useless,” “deceived and deceiving,”[36] providing “sensuous pleasures,”[37] inferior to Christianity (many times), and even “a surging tide.”[38] Even here though, those caught up in the heathen religious system are described as earnest and sincere[39] and it is acknowledged that some of the teachings of heathen religion “may keep men [sic] from outward sin.”[40]

The third category to look at is the territorial binary. Around 16 percent of all of the occurrences of heathen* refer to the characterisation of territories or parts of the world as heathen as opposed to an implicit or explicit Christian West. There are 51 characterisations of lands or regions as heathen; of these, 34 refer to unspecified regions or parts of the world, 16 refer to China specifically, and one concerns the Shan State. Heathen lands were generally characterised as neutral, neither good nor bad, although there are a few mentions of sin, darkness, and lack of hospitals. By contrast, an article in China’s Millions describes the Chinese people as strong, intellectual, dramatic, and enterprising.[41] They were skilled at arts and sciences and able to influence and even colonise the territories around them. Yet in the same breath, the writer claims that “mere civilization is no criterion of the moral condition of the people,” and “there is therefore no hope for China in itself.”

An interim conclusion is that the use of heathen* (the word heathen and its morphological derivatives) creates a binary on three levels. In addition, while the affiliative and territorial binaries are essentially neutral, with small amounts of positive and negative characterisations of people, the systemic binary between religious systems is fundamentally more negative. It may be that the writers of China’s Millions wished to transmit a connotation[42] of non-Christian religious systems as negative and harmful, while portraying the “heathenness” of individual people almost exclusively as their lack of affiliation with Christianity. One wonders if the CIM writers were trying to portray a powerful, dark religious system operating in certain parts of the world, whose residents were its unwitting victims.

I now look at the detailed breakdown of uses of heathen* in the LCM-SA corpus. The figures are presented in Table 5.

Table 5: Breakdown of binaries associated with heathen* in the LCM-SA corpus

Category of binary Subject of binary Frequency Percentage
Affiliative binary Non-Western heathens 29 41
Western heathens 13 18
Gypsy people 2 3
In biblical teaching 1 1
Systemic binary Western godlessness 14 20
Non-Christian religion 6 8
Immoral behaviour 2 3
Territorial binary Non-Western lands 3 4
London 2 3
Total   72 100

 

Beginning with the affiliative binary, we see that just under two thirds of all occurrences of the form heathen* relate to the faith affiliation of individuals or groups of people. Within this category, there are more than twice as many references to non-Western heathens as to Western ones, the majority of whom were British. Among the non-Western heathens were “Asiatics”, South Asians, and East Africans, some of whom were present in London. The overwhelming sense of heathen within this affiliative binary is simply non-Christian; as with the CIM corpus, there is no pejorative element. There is one mention of the apparent openness of the heathen to the gospel, yet that same paragraph also contains the words, “we mean the heathen proper, from the dark places of the earth.”[43] This suggests some conflation of non-Christian status with ethnic origin. Concerning heathen as a marker of non-Christian affiliation, it is noteworthy that in two places, so-called “Mahommedans” are portrayed as distinct from the heathen. It is difficult to know whether this represents a special status for the Abrahamic faiths or the idea that people belonging to a faith with a fixed Scripture and strict religious and behavioural norms were perceived as “more civilised” and therefore less heathen than others.

As with the CIM corpus, there is a juxtaposition between “the foreign [and] the home heathen.”[44] However, the LCM-SA publicity describes British heathens in negative terms not found in the CIM portrayals of Chinese heathens. Consider this description: “the heathen of London, who are as ignorant, as besotted as miserable, as wicked, nay more so, and in danger of a greater damnation than the heathen abroad.”[45] Another negative portrayal of the poor in the East End of London describes them as “savages in the midst of civilization, and the heathen in the midst of Christianity.”[46] The parallelism here may suggest an identification between Christianity and civilisation on the one hand and savages and heathen on the other. This would question a straightforward use of heathen to signify non-Christian only. That said, such usages in the LCM-SA corpus were very rare. Regarding the construction of the heathen in the British context, perhaps we should leave the last word to William Booth: “we have in our midst a nation of heathens to whom the ideals, the practices, and the commandments of religion are things unknown.”[47]

The systemic binaries identified in the LCM-SA corpus are also more complicated than those found in the CIM publicity. In a way, this should not be surprising. In the case of the CIM, Christian mission was being undertaken in virgin territory, where the two competing belief systems were Chinese religions and Christianity and the missionaries sought to replace one with the other. In late nineteenth-century England, however, Christian mission had to confront not only what were perceived as non-Christian worldviews, in the sense that people lacked familiarity with and understanding of the Christian message, but also the effects of de-Christianisation, an apparent move from understanding and following the gospel to ignorance of it. In examining the systemic binaries, it is therefore impossible to separate moving away from the Christian value system and a deterioration in standards of morality and behaviour. As in the case of the CIM materials, it was felt that religious systems or the lack of them could affect people’s ethics and values.

Table 5 shows three kinds of systemic binary in the LCM-SA corpus. Fully one fifth of all mentions of heathen* related to a fundamental opposition between Christianity and what I coded as “western godlessness”; only 8 percent referred to non-Christian religions. Again, within the context of Christian mission to English people in England, it is not surprising that the mention of non-Christian religions is relatively rare. There are only one or two explicit characterisations of non-Christian heathen religions as negative; the word darkness appears two or three times.

The relatively high percentage of incidences of “western godlessness” is striking, as are the ways in which ignorance or rejection of Christianity is described. The heathenism among the godless English people of the East End is described as “revolting” and “like a pestilence.”[48] Elsewhere, there are mentions of “the moral wilderness of heathenism”[49] and the heathenism of “the native poor.”[50] While such quotations suggest an interpretation of systemic heathenism beyond religious faith and seem to expand the notion of heathen* to include immoral lifestyles, other occurrences of heathenism seem to refer to the removal of the individual from the Christian religious system.

The London City Mission Magazine laments the advance of heathenism, complaining that among 400 people in a slum area, there was “not one professing Christian.”[51] There are several mentions of a move from Christianity into heathenism; the word lapse appears four times. There is also a reference to a group of Germans living in London who “were sinking into a heathenish state.”[52] The sense of movement here—deconversion—is the mirror image of the conversion possibility mentioned in the affiliative binary in the CIM corpus. Belonging to a particular system of religious faith and practice was considered neither fixed nor a matter of ethnicity and culture.

Finally, the LCM-SA mission magazines contain a small number of examples of the territorial binary. There were three mentions of heathen lands as opposed to an implied Christian West, but the texts also contain references to “heathen London” and “heathen districts of the metropolis,” establishing clear distinctions between Christian and non-Christian territory within a supposedly Christian West. Again, such binary oppositions undermine any simple identification of territory as intrinsically Christian or non-Christian.

The quantitative data from the LCM-SA corpus and the direct quotations from it roughly parallel the pattern discerned from the CIM data. That is to say, the affiliative binary is fundamentally one of opposition between Christian and non-Christian. That said, while the CIM data suggests an almost black-and-white division, the picture from Britain is more nuanced. There are one or two hints of an association between ethnicity and heathenism, but at the same time, the negative portrayal of heathens, particularly British ones, is stronger than anything that appears in the data from China. The territorial binary contains a very small number of examples, but this is also intrinsically more negative than the analogous binary from the CIM corpus. The references to “heathen London” may suggest a degree of dissatisfaction with a situation seen as unacceptable within Christendom. As for the CIM corpus, the most significant binary in terms of negative characterisation is the systemic one. The LCM-SA descriptions of “western godlessness” are more negative and more strongly worded than the CIM portrayals of Chinese religions. Again, heathen individuals are critiqued for uncivilised behaviour, but they are also victims of a broader systemic heathenism resulting from movement away from Christian faith and morality and in moral deterioration.

6. Theological and missiological reflections

I now turn to theological and missiological reflection on the findings concerning representation of non-Christians through the words poor and heathen*.

6.1. Poor

From the analysis of the two corpora above, poor is a polysemous concept containing four ostensibly separate characteristics. It was found that the term refers to financial poverty, spiritual need, and a person being pitiable in one way or another, but also includes usages with no clear justification from the context.

“Down the court,” Round the Tower; or, The Story of London City Mission (1894): 108.

The profiles of the term poor in the two corpora are a little different, yet from the ways in which the writers use the word, I conclude that poor represents an intersectionality.[53] That people are poor means that they have financial and spiritual needs, and are somehow pitiable. In the LCM-SA data, this intersectionality contains a significant incidence of poor that cannot be explained or justified. Generally, those being reached through cross-cultural mission abroad or in their own country are presented as needy. Poor has connotations;[54] poor people are lacking in various ways and the reader is somehow supposed to feel sorry for them. People are presented as poor in a spiritual sense far less than as pitiable or financially bereft, which we might consider surprising in publications of evangelical mission societies. This is the case in both corpora, but is especially pronounced in the British materials.

We are reminded that the (visible) body lies at centre of discourse[55] and is a canvas for depictions of people that may have theological roots. Theologically, these visible characteristics of people could be the outward manifestations of lives marred by sin and its consequences. After all, every non-Christian, regardless of their forms and degree of poverty, is spiritually needy. The representation in both corpora evokes Foucault’s point that discourse relates to a given historical moment,[56] which, in this case, has a theological component. Spiritual need is accepted across the board, theologically, yet here, particular attention is drawn to practical, personal, and social needs. The two sets of mission publicity were written before the fundamentalist-liberal divide in the United States,[57] which subsequently had such a marked effect on evangelical mission theory and practice.[58] Mission in China and in London is described in the two corpora as essentially holistic; the gospel is proclaimed verbally but also demonstrated practically through alleviation of hunger, provision of education, assistance to women, and medical interventions. Such integral mission was shaped by and tailored to the realities of particular settings and care for the body meshes with concern for the soul. At the same time, the description of people as poor in a composite sense would have inspired middle-class Christians—many of whom were the principal readers of the material and primary donors to the mission work—to pray for and give to the evangelistic enterprises described in the two corpora; this is a “point of doctrine and a persuasive rhetorical device.”[59] The representation of and resulting concern for the lost are produced by and within a discourse;[60] there is both theological and practical meaning. Few readers of the mission magazines would visit London’s East End or China and their conceptualisations of non-Christian people would have been meditated by the representations within.

6.2. Heathen

Positive comments about Chinese and Indian civilisations are juxtaposed with a small number of negative characterisations. It seems that being civilised is a good thing but is not enough, which points to the significance of faith in evangelicalism.

If the most important and possibly sole factor in the discussion relates to faith, then what about associations of the word heathen* and descriptions of poverty? It seems probable that the view that a person can be “civilised” but still live in darkness reflects the view that all humanity and all cultures are fallen. The writers in the two corpora apparently do not embrace the idea that Christ is king of the world as well as king of the church. Their position would appear to align more with a “Christ against the world” sort of view.[61]

Where the behaviours of individual heathens are criticised, the inference is twofold. One is that moral weaknesses and unfortunate social and financial situations are directly or indirectly a consequence of not being Christian. The implication is that becoming Christian would enable change in one’s behaviour, social status, relationships, and financial situation. Indeed, the corpora contain stories of people becoming believers and treating their wives better and giving up opium or alcohol. Following Christ brought opportunities to learn new trades and offers of employment and a generally more organised and disciplined life. These testimonies might resolve an apparent paradox between the intersectionality of poor and the binary of religious affiliation of people. Problems in people’s personal and social lives were manifestations of an incorrect relationship with God and could be solved if that relationship were restored. This position stands apart from something similar articulated by Lum. She concedes that ancient Europeans who worshipped Norse gods were also considered idolaters, but suggests that at some point they received the Bible and were “lifted… into ‘Christian civilization.’”[62] This term needs to be problematised; did such a thing ever exist anywhere and can it be considered monolithically?

The second relates to the theology of the CIM, LCM, and Salvation Army. The testimonies of converts to Christ recorded in both sets of mission magazines tell of lives changed and new beginnings, primarily at the personal and relational level, without any sense of cultural civilisational change on the part of people in either group. Had the Bible been credited with elevating people in China into (Western) “Christian civilisation”, this would presumably have been such an obvious change that it would have featured in the mission’s publicity. In addition, “civilisation” is a system locked into culture, and the data in this study show a theologically-based suspicion of any such human system. While Lum sees heathen as a term conflating faith and culture and Fischer describes a change in the metaphor of light and dark from one of spiritual status to degree of civilisation (in western eyes), the conservative theology of late nineteenth-century Christian missions employs the word heathen as an indicator of religious affiliation only. A person might be “civilised” as a result of coming to Christ and undergoing a process of transformation and sanctification, but, pace Lum, this is more a matter of being lifted by “Christian values” than into “Christian civilization.”[63] In this regard, consider 1 Corinthians 12:2, 1 Peter 4:3, and Colossians 3:7, which all remind Christian people of Gentile backgrounds of their immoral behaviour before they came to faith—when they were “pagans.” The exhortation to transformation in Romans 12:2 follows Paul’s remarkable doxology; in the light of God’s glory, Christians must remove the influence of the old system and take on the wisdom of the new. My distinction between values and civilisation is fine and open to critique, but this is what the analysis of the two corpora reveals.

Movement, or change of affiliation, is evident in both corpora. The publicity of the CIM and the LCM and SA reflect their theological position and raison d’être: conversion was extremely important. Regardless of one’s race or culture, religious affiliation could be changed. The corollary of this appears in the LCM corpus, where the missional effort is partly responding to a move away from the liberating power of the gospel. Individual human beings are categorised as heathen, an ethnically neutral term describing their religious affiliation, while the heathenism of religious systems is more clearly negative. In addition, the binary religious affiliation of a person is not related to culture and is not fixed; there is evidence of movement between Christian and non-Christian affiliation in both corpora. The inference is that human beings are affected by the religious systems in which they find themselves. Chinese religions are painted as dark and unpleasant, and the heathens that follow them are in some sense their victims.

In the case of London, non-Christian religions are similarly depicted, but this corpus also contains stronger negative characterisations of a form of Western heathenism that has departed or lapsed from Christianity, resulting in the kind of individual and social problems associated with the word poor. There are parallels here with the powerful critiques of an Israel that has departed from the true faith, in, for example, Amos 2 and Hosea 4. In the West too, people who do not belong to the Christian religious system are at risk of being influenced by various kinds of evil. There are theological connotations associated with the different non-Christian beliefs and practices. It seems that Fischer’s “doctrine of depravity,”[64] which he detects in mission writings about non-Western, “native” peoples, also applies to English people who did not know Christ.

Hall remarks that many cultures are increasingly closed to outsiders and mentions Kristeva’s view that this is a form of purification.[65] The strong binary established between Christianity and other religions suggests the maintenance of boundaries between systems of belief and the reinforcement of a conservative Christian faith and ethical position. I am reminded of the negative connotation of “world” in John.[66] Yet, this fundamental theological antipathy to belief systems other than evangelical Christianity (a small number of references to heathenism also mention Roman Catholicism) is juxtaposed with concern for the souls of individuals in China and London. While the presence of the other helps us define our own identity,[67] evangelism seeks to move that other from outside to inside without change to the group identity.

As before, representations are made by people with the power to write and disseminate them, and perspectives on the different belief systems emerge from within a “particular historical [and theological] moment.”[68] There is a slightly clearer connection between the forces of evil and Chinese religions than between spiritual darkness and Western heathenism. Perhaps in the minds of the authors of the day, the fact that Chinese religions were so totally different from Christianity and incomprehensible to the Western mind meant that it was easier to associate them with spiritual forces. The meanings surrounding religious systems are created within a discourse,[69] but one structured by a select group of people who share a theological persuasion with their readers and represent non-Christian beliefs in accordance with that shared orientation and resulting connotations. From the systemic binaries in both corpora, we can infer that non-Christian religions, especially from East and South Asia, are seen as powerful forces that affect individuals. The effects of those forces in the lives of unfortunate people in China and Britain appear in the mission publicity.

7. Conclusion

This paper has looked at the use of two words, poor and heathen*, in late nineteenth-century mission magazines and found that within the evangelical constituency of the day, they were used very similarly within culture and cross-culturally. Poor and heathen* appear to have no clear pejorative or ethnic element at the personal level. Detailed analysis of occurrences of heathen* reveals a difference in the way in which the term is used of people (in an affiliative binary) and of religions (in a systemic binary). Whether used in mission magazines describing work in Britain or in China, heathen is a neutral term that would today be expressed as “non-Christian”, while heathenism definitely brings negative connotations about certain systems of religious belief. The non-believing individual is a victim of non-Christian religion.

While poor represents an intersectionality and heathen* constitutes a binary opposition, the two meanings come together in a connotation of need. Various forms of poverty result from and represent lives without Christ; being poor is the consequence of being heathen. Lum’s critique of nationalistic uses of the term heathen in the United States and Fischer’s exploration of British conflations of culture, Christianity, and civilisation in early nineteenth-century mission writings surface and address genuine concerns and real hurts. However, from this study of mission magazines, I conclude that a theological position that saw the world as inherently negative and even doomed to destruction viewed no culture in positive terms and emphasised salvation in Christ as the only answer to the human predicament.

 

Reflection Questions

  1. The use of the term “heathen” remains controversial and for many has racist and neo-colonial associations. What terms might we use today, even only within the mission community, which could cause similar misunderstanding or offence?
  2. In the research shared in this article, “heathen” primarily refers to a person’s faith standing. In that sense, it reflects a legitimate dichotomy for those whose vocation is to help move people from a no-faith or other-faith position to one of faith in Christ. What dichotomies exist in our thinking which are unhelpful or create negative characterisations of the “other”? What can we do about them? How Christian is it to divide people into “us and them” groups that do not reflect faith affiliation?
  3. The word “poor” was found to represent a complex category much broader than financial poverty. In nineteenth-century sources from mission groups in the UK and China, “poor” seemed to have connotations of being pitiable and needing assistance. How appropriate is it to think of those who need the gospel as pitiable in general terms? Does thinking of people in such a way mean that we put ourselves above them?
  4. In our globalised twenty-first century mission endeavour, missionaries sometimes serve in countries as developed as or even more developed than their own. How do we reconcile a traditional sense of “helping the needy”, albeit with spiritual needs at the centre, with the reality of a world where the West is no longer the only “developed” part?
  5. If we are not offended by the use of the word “heathen” explored in and revealed by this research, how should we respond to colleagues who are? How important is it to try and see issues from someone else’s point of view?

 

[1] Daniel Bays, A New History of Christianity in China (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 49.

[2] Benjamin Fischer, “Civilized Depravity: Evangelical Representations of Early-Nineteenth Century China and the Redefinition of ‘True Civilization,’” Victorian Language and Culture 43, no. 2 (2015): 409–29.

[3] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China, 49.

[4] Christina Wong, “Revisionist Women’s Work for Women: The Contribution of Native Women Workers in Canton,” in Shaping Christianity in Greater China: Indigenous Christians in Focus, ed. Paul Woods (Oxford: Regnum, 2017), 152.

[5] Wong, “Revisionist Women’s Work for Women,” 152–66.

[6] Stuart Hall, “The Work of Representation,” in Representation, ed. Stuart Hall, Jessie Evans, and Sean Nixon (London: Sage, 2013), 3.

[7] Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers (London: Cape, 1972).

[8] Hall, “The Work of Representation,” 23.

[9] Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972–1977 (Brighton: Harvester, 1980); Stuart Hall, “The West and the Rest,” in The Formations of Modernity, ed. Stuart Hall and Bram Gieben (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992), 291.

[10] Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of Prison (London: Tavistock, 1977).

[11] Bays, A New History of Christianity in China; Wong, “Revisionist Women’s Work for Women.”

[12] David W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London: Routledge, 1989).

[13] Okky Chandra Karmawan, “The Impact of the Keswick and Cambridge Holiness Movement on British Protestant Missions in Asia (1881–1906), with Special Reference to the Church Missionary Society and the China Inland Mission” (PhD thesis, University of Edinburgh, 2021), https://era.ed.ac.uk/bitstream/handle/1842/38012/Karmawan2021.pdf (accessed 22 May 2023).

[14] Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain.

[15] Ian Welch, “Mary Reed of Australia and the China Inland Mission,” Working Paper, Department of Pacific and Asian History School of Culture, History, Australian National University Canberra, August 2014, https://openresearch-repository.anu.edu.au/bitstream/1885/13040/1/Welch Mary Reed 202014.pdf (accessed 22 May 2023).

[16] Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain.

[17] Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain.

[18] Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain.

[19] Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, 120.

[20] Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain, 120.

[21] A. J. Broomhall, Assault on the Nine, Hudson Taylor and China’s Open Century (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1988), 186; Rose Dowsett, “History and Context: Shaping Mission and Church,” Mission Round Table 13, no. 3 (2018): 10–14, https://omf.org/history-and-context-shaping-mission-and-church (accessed 22 May 2023).

[22] Richard E. Boyatzis, Transforming Qualitative Information: Thematic Analysis and Code Development (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1998); Victoria Clarke and Virginia Braun, “Using Thematic Analysis in Psychology,” Qualitative Research in Psychology 3, no. 2 (2006): 77–101.

[23] Kimberle Crenshaw, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum 1989, Article 8, http://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/uclf/vol1989/iss1/8 (accessed 22 May 2023).

[24] China’s Millions, British edition (1876): 232.

[25] China’s Millions, British edition (1876): 31.

[26] China’s Millions, British edition (1877): 130.

[27] China’s Millions, British edition (1877): 101.

[28] China’s Millions, British edition (1878): 6.

[29] China’s Millions, British edition (1879): 75.

[30] China’s Millions, British edition (1878): 101.

[31] China’s Millions, British edition (1878): 109.

[32] Kathryn Gin Lum, Heathen: Religion and Race in American History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2022), 7, 10.

[33] China’s Millions, British edition (1876): 69.

[34] China’s Millions, British edition (1877): 160.

[35] China’s Millions, British edition (1877): 159.

[36] China’s Millions, British edition (1877): 23.

[37] China’s Millions, British edition (1877): 140.

[38] China’s Millions, British edition (1877): 121.

[39] China’s Millions, British edition (1876): 38.

[40] China’s Millions, British edition (1883): 26.

[41] China’s Millions, British edition (1877): 120.

[42] Barthes, Mythologies.

[43] John Matthias Weylland, These Fifty Years, Being the Jubilee Volume of the London City Mission (London S.W. Partridge, 1884), 324, https://missiology.org.uk/book_these-fity-years_weylland.php (accessed 22 May 2023).

[44] Weylland, These Fifty Years, 201.

[45] The East London Christian Mission Report, 1867, 21–22.

[46] John Matthias Weylland, Round the Tower, or, The Story of the London City Mission (London: S. W. Partridge, 1874), 63, https://archive.org/details/roundtowerorsto00weylgoog (accessed 22 May 2023).

[47] William Booth, In Darkest England (London: Salvation Army, 1890), 220, https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/475 (accessed 22 May 2023).

[48] Weylland, These Fifty Years, 12.

[49] Weylland, These Fifty Years, 116.

[50] Weylland, These Fifty Years, 183.

[51] London City Mission Magazine (1919): 81.

[52] Weylland, Round the Tower, 181.

[53] Crenshaw, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex.”

[54] Barthes, Mythologies.

[55] Foucault, Discipline and Punish.

[56] Hall, “The West and the Rest.”

[57] George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth Century Evangelicalism (New York: Oxford, 1980).

[58] David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991).

[59] Fischer, “Civilized Depravity,” 414.

[60] Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge (London: Tavistock, 1972).

[61] Cf. H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper, 1951).

[62] Lum, Heathen: Religion and Race, 190.

[63] Lum, Heathen: Religion and Race, 190.

[64] Fischer, “Civilized Depravity,” 413.

[65] Hall, “The Work of Representation,” 226; Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982).

[66] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Leicester: IVP, 1991), 123.

[67] Hall, “The Work of Representation.”

[68] Hall, “The West and the Rest,” 291.

[69] Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge.

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