Hudson and Maria Taylor’s Graves Found in China

Article featured in 2013 East Asia Insight Q2

By Chad Berry

“If I had a thousand pounds, China should have it; if I had a thousand lives, China should have them. No, not China, but Christ.” – J. Hudson Taylor (1832-1905), founder of the China Inland Mission (now OMF International)

On June 3, 1905, at the age of 73, J. Hudson Taylor passed away in his beloved China.

He was buried next to his first wife Maria Dyer Taylor and four of their children in Zhenjiang in Jiangsu Province. The family was buried in what was then called the “Western Cemetery.” Tombstones written in English were erected. Later, in 1931, Taylor’s son Herbert Hudson Taylor added a memorial plaque in Chinese.

The 20th century was a tumultuous time in China. The years following Hudson Taylor’s death saw the end of the Qing dynasty, the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45) and the civil war between Communist and Nationalist forces. After the Communist victory in 1949, CIM missionaries embarked on a “reluctant exodus” from their beloved country. Within China, vestiges of Christianity or anything foreign were often destroyed.

In the late 1970s, China began to gradually open up and institute economic reforms. The Taylor family, including Hudson Taylor’s great-grandson, Dr. Jim Taylor, and great-great grandson Jamie Taylor, were able to make a tour of “Taylor family sites” in 1983, during which time they located the Western Cemetery in Zhenjiang. Unfortunately, a factory warehouse and residences were built on top of the cemetery, making the actual gravesites impossible to find. However, the trip did lead to the eventual discovery of Hudson Taylor’s tombstone, which was found in the Zhenjiang Museum in 1986. In 1999, the tombstone was re-erected at Zhenjiang Gospel Church, whose pastor, Reverend Yin, the Taylors had met on the 1983 trip.

In September 2012, Jamie Taylor received an e-mail from a Taiwanese businessman who claimed to have bought Maria Dyer Taylor’s tombstone at an antique store in Yangzhou, about 20 miles away and across the Yangzi River from Zhenjiang. After Jamie visited Yangzhou in October, Maria’s tombstone was moved to Zhenjiang and placed beside Hudson’s tombstone in the church.

Then, in March of this year, the pastor of the church (Rev. Yin) contacted Jamie again and told him that the Zhenjiang government had torn down the warehouse and residences (making the necessary financial compensation for relocation) and sold the land to developers to build luxury residential apartments. An archaeologist had already tested the ground of the site and said it was possible that Hudson and Maria Taylor’s graves were still intact. The testing also led to the unearthing of the Chinese memorial plaque placed at the graves by Herbert Taylor.

On March 19, Jamie Taylor, along with members of the Chinese Christian community in Zhenjiang, the archaeologist and two members of the development company, visited the possible gravesites. With the help of an earthmover, dirt and debris were removed on the east side of the property and the base of two tombstones came into clear view. Immediately, Jamie and Rev. Yin both exclaimed, “These are the exact sizes of Hudson’s and Maria’s tombstones!” The Taylor family’s long search for Hudson and Maria’s graves was over.

“For myself, the very thought of actually finally being able to find the burial site of Hudson and Maria is nothing short of a miracle,” Jamie Taylor says. “If the government had not torn down the warehouses as well as relocating the residents, we would never have been able to locate the actual site. Furthermore, to recall all the political upheaval since the time of their burial, actually finding the plots is almost unimaginable. On top of this, one cannot help but wonder why in the midst of near complete destruction of the entire cemetery, only this one section remained intact!”

After discussion with the local government, the developers, the church and the Taylor family, it has been decided to exhume the graves and relocate them and the tombstones to Zhenjiang’s newly-built Xuan De Church (宣徳堂). A Chinese Christian architect has designed a memorial hall as part of the church’s bell tower, which is topped by a red cross visible from miles around. Current plans include reburying Hudson and Maria Taylor’s remains at the base of the bell tower and providing a brief summary of their lives, with photos.

Behind the bell tower will be a small garden containing four other tombs from the cemetery, as well as a number of missionaries’ tombstones collected by Zhenjiang Gospel Church. In Jamie Taylor’s words, the memorial and garden “will serve as a wonderful memorial to the many who gave their lives so that the gospel might be proclaimed across China and an indigenous and vibrant Chinese church might emerge. May their presence also be the means by which Chinese Christians are revived to indeed win China for Christ!”