Hunan Mission (1915–1951)

By Milton Hook

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Milton Hook, Ed.D. (Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, the United States). Hook retired in 1997 as a minister in the Greater Sydney Conference, Australia. An Australian by birth Hook has served the Church as a teacher at the elementary, academy and college levels, a missionary in Papua New Guinea, and as a local church pastor. In retirement he is a conjoint senior lecturer at Avondale College of Higher Education. He has authored Flames Over Battle Creek, Avondale: Experiment on the Dora, Desmond Ford: Reformist Theologian, Gospel Revivalist, the Seventh-day Adventist Heritage Series, and many magazine articles. He is married to Noeleen and has two sons and three grandchildren.

First Published: October 5, 2022

Introduction

The province of Hunan (湖南) was considered a part of the South China Mission in 1910.1 Later, it was placed in the North China Union Mission.2 Due to a further re-organization of the China field in 1919 it became an entity within the Central China Union Mission.3 Its headquarters were always at Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province.

Percival Laird (Lài Yǐdé, 賴以德) and his wife Dr. Emma Perrine Laird (Lài Yǐdào, 賴以道) began the Adventist evangelistic work in Hunan Province. They married at the British Consulate in the provincial capital, Changsha (長沙) (now Zhǎngshā), on October 19, 1906,4 commencing a ministry almost immediately. Percival was previously attached to the Church Missionary Society and could speak the Mandarin language. Emma pursued language study while conducting a dispensary with limited facilities. Among their first converts was one who devoted himself to evangelism and another who worked as a canvasser.5 Percival opened a city chapel and facilitated the issue of tracts dealing with the singular beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist faith.6

The Lairds laid a firm foundation for the Adventist mission work in Hunan, and when they were transferred in 1910, a national evangelist, Brother Huang, and two canvassers continued their efforts. John Westrup visited Changsha in late 1910 and found a local uprising had caused some damage to the chapel. Repairs were made and the national men continued their work.7 Roy Cottrell (Kāng Shèngdé, 康盛德) located at Changsha in 1911. A general meeting of one hundred Sabbath-keepers was held, seven companies of believers having formed throughout the province.8 The Cottrells, assisted by Charles Lillie and his wife, made their headquarters on an island in the river that ran through the city.9 In 1912 Roy Cottrell was supervising fourteen national evangelists and twenty-nine canvassers in the field, some coming from the Nanjing Training School during their holidays.10 There were twelve out-station chapels functioning from which 200 believers were drawn to another annual meeting in April/May 1913.11 The Cottrells would cross from their island home to the city to conduct public meetings at the chapel and teach at a girl’s school they had opened.12

Cottrell made regular visits to his outposts, baptising converts, celebrating the Last Supper, inspecting any elementary schools associated with the chapels and organizing new churches where appropriate.13 In 1914 he reported there were twelve organized churches in his mission, some with schools offering the elementary grades.14 He also wrote of a visit to a mountain range in southern Hunan where approximately ten thousand of the Wang tribe were living, a few ancestors having migrated from Jiangxi Province four hundred years earlier. One of their number had become a Seventh-day Adventist and had attended the training school at Nanjing. Cottrell imagined thousands joining the church and told them of the mass conversion on Pitcairn Island but a repeat of that event was not forthcoming.15

Inauguration of the Hunan Mission

Almost nine years of mission work in Hunan, October 1906 through May 1915, yielded good results. At the Asiatic Division Conference held in Shanghai, May 1915, it was voted to officially name the territory as the Hunan Mission. Seabert White (Huái Dé, 懷德) was nominated as the acting director of the entity16 until Julius White (Huái Tè, 懷特) could briefly serve in the leadership role.17

Mission Progress

One of the strongest features of the mission was the literature evangelism done by the committed canvassers. Thirty canvassers were working in the province in 1915. They paid tithe on their profits, but their sales were so prolific that the mission began to retain an extra 20 percent of the proceeds. This was increased to 50 percent.18 The policy was not popular, indeed counter-productive, there being only eight canvassers in the province five years later19 and ten at the close of 1929.20

In mid-1921 the mission director, Otto Kuhn (柯得恩) reported that there were thirteen nationals caring for chapels in his territory, in addition to two national itinerant evangelists conducting tent crusades in various cities. The baptized membership had reached four hundred and there were twelve schools with a total enrolment of approximately 350 students.21 In 1923 a boarding school for young men was established at the foot of Yolo-shan (now Heng Shan) or Balancing Mountain, one of the five sacred mountains in China. It was located to the south-west, far from the mission headquarters at Changsha.

Statistics from the early 1920s reflected some of the best results in the China Division. However, for the next two decades the growth rate was minimal. The peak year was 1938 when membership reached 476 among eight organized churches.22

Civil unrest came to the region in 1922 with looting by soldiers and bandits. Although the mission properties were spared, many evangelistic efforts were hampered.23 The situation worsened in 1927 through 1928 when communism gained a strong foothold in the province and an anti-Christian spirit prevailed. Soldiers occupied some of the mission chapels, caring little for the sanctity of the worship centers. Some national evangelists suffered imprisonment.24 Persecution of Seventh-day Adventists became severe in 1930, an anti-Christian mob surrounding the homes of three believers and beating them to death.25

The following few years brought war conditions again. The Changsha church and adjoining missionary quarters were burned in the general destruction of the city. A training school had been established near the city, but classes had to be suspended during 1938 and 1939. The building itself survived damage and so did the mission property on the river island. It became impossible to get literature supplies from Shanghai, so the canvassers had no work.26 When some supplies reached Hunan in 1941 the missionaries came under an aerial bombardment while they were unloading the goods. They narrowly escaped with their lives.27 Most expatriate missionaries evacuated to their homeland for the duration of the Second World War. National evangelists did their best to continue their mission work, most of them gravitating to the mountains and small villages where many of the church members had sought safety.

During the Second World War years statistics relating to progress were unreliable, the same set of figures being provided each year.28 When the expatriate missionaries returned the real numbers, the statistics showed a marked decline had taken place. The mission cause had suffered badly. Figures published in 1947, reflecting the 1946 situation, told of only three churches and twelve companies fully operational with a total baptized membership of 270.29 In the little time of post-war peace, 1946-1951, numbers rose slightly to four churches and fourteen companies with a baptized membership of 362.30 This was similar to the 1920 report31 and a small remnant in the context of a provincial population that numbered over 28 million people.

The brief period after the war was a time of re-building membership and mission buildings. The city church in Changsha was one reconstructed after its devastation.32 Improvements had barely begun before the evacuation of expatriates began to take place from some areas of China. At the same time mission officials believed they could overcome internal war conditions as they had done in the 1920s and 1930s. In mid-1950 they were still making extensive plans for expansion, including the opening of a mission in Xinjiang Province and for a concerted crusade among the mountain tribes of western Hunan.33 However, the communist takeover was virtually complete by 1951 when the bamboo curtain came down.

Directors of the Hunan Mission

Seabert White (Huái Dé, 懷德), acting 1915; Julius White (Huái Tè, 懷特), 1916-1917; Otto Kuhn (Kē Déēn, 柯得恩), 1917-1923; Clarence Davis (Dài Tiāndé, 戴天德), 1923-1931; H. L. Graham (Gé Lièhàn, 葛列漢), 1931-1934; Du Shu Ren (Dù Shùrén, 杜樹人), 1935-1939; E. H. James (Jiǎn Mòshì, 簡墨士), 1939-1940; Carl Currie (Kē Eryì, 柯爾義), 1940-1941; E. H. James (Jiǎn Mòshì, 簡墨士), acting 1942; Jerald Christensen (Gāo Zhérú, 高哲儒), 1943-1945; Liu Djung Gwang (Liǔ Zhǒngguǎng, 柳種廣), 1945-1951.

Sources

Anderson, Jacob N. “Hunan, China.” ARH, July 9, 1908.

Appel, George J. “Central China Union Session.” China Division Reporter, June 1948.

Appel, George J. “Hunan Annual Meeting.” China Division Reporter, April 1, 1940.

Brewer, Nathan F. “The Hunan Annual Meeting.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, January 1929.

“Brother R.F. Cottrell writes…” Asiatic Division News, June 1, 1913, August 1, 1913.

“Concerning his recent trip in Hunan…” Asiatic Division News, July 1, 1912.

Cottrell, Roy F. “Central China Mission.” ARH, March 19, 1914.

Cottrell, Roy F. “Itinerating in Central China.” Asiatic Division Mission News, June 1914.

Cottrell, Roy F. “Visit to a Mountain Home.” Asiatic Division Mission News, September 1, 1914.

Davis, Clarence H. “Report of Hunan Mission for Year Ending Dec. 31, 1923.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, November 1924.

Evans, Irwin H. “The Chang-sha Meeting.” ARH, July 27, 1911.

Evans, Irwin H. “The Council at Mokanshan, China.” ARH, December 1, 1910.

Finster, Lewis V. “The Hunan Annual Meeting,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, April 1930.

Hamp, Glenn G. “For the Youth of Hunan.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, July 1929.

James, E.H. “Under Bomb Fire in Hunan.” China Division Reporter, September 1941.

Kuhn, Otto B. “The Hunan Provincial Mission.” Asiatic Division Outlook, November 15, 1921.

Laird, Percival J. “The Work in Hunan, China.” ARH, September 3, 1908.

Lee, S.J. “Problems and Prospects in the China Division.” China Division Reporter, May 1950.

“Nominations for Central China Union Mission.” Asiatic Division Mission News, July 1, 1915.

“Percival John Laird.” FamilySearch, Intellectual Reserve, 2022. Accessed May 7, 2022. https://www.familysearch.org/tree/pedigree/landscape/LDB7-13N

Selmon, Arthur C. “Hunan General Meeting.” Asiatic Division Mission News, November 15, 1915.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1917-1952).

“Statistical Summary.” China Division Reporter, July 15, 1939.

“Statistical Summary.” Far Eastern Division Outlook, January 1930.

Westrup, John J. “Hunan, China.” ARH, December 1, 1910.

Woodward, Charles N. “A Trip to Central China.” Asiatic Division News, August 1, 1913.

Notes

  1. Irwin H. Evans, “The Council at Mokanshan, China,” ARH, December 1, 1910, 10-11.

  2. E.g., “Hunan Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1918), 158.

  3. E.g., “Hunan Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1920), 156-157.

  4. “Percival John Laird,” FamilySearch, Intellectual Reserve, 2022, accessed May 7, 2022, https://www.familysearch.org/tree/pedigree/landscape/LDB7-13N

  5. Jacob N. Anderson, “Hunan, China,” ARH, July 9, 1908, 13.

  6. Percival J. Laird, “The Work in Hunan, China,” ARH, September 3, 1908, 12.

  7. John J. Westrup, “Hunan, China,” ARH, December 1, 1910, 11.

  8. Irwin H. Evans, “The Chang-sha Meeting,” ARH, July 27, 1911, 13.

  9. Roy F. Cottrell, “Central China Mission,” ARH, March 19, 1914, 12-13.

  10. “Concerning his recent trip in Hunan…” Asiatic Division News, July 1, 1912, 7-8.

  11. “Brother R.F. Cottrell writes…” Asiatic Division News, June 1, 1913, 7-8.

  12. Charles N. Woodward, “A Trip to Central China,” Asiatic Division News, August 1, 1913, 4-5.

  13. “Brother R.F. Cottrell writes…” Asiatic Division News, August 1, 1913, 5-6.

  14. Roy F. Cottrell, “Itinerating in Central China,” Asiatic Division Mission News, June 1914, 2.

  15. Roy F. Cottrell, “Visit to a Mountain Home,” Asiatic Division Mission News, September 1, 1914, 1-2.

  16. “Nominations for Central China Union Mission,” Asiatic Division Mission News, July 1, 1915, 17.

  17. “Hunan Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1917), 153-154.

  18. Arthur C. Selmon, “Hunan General Meeting,” Asiatic Division Mission News, November 15, 1915, 1.

  19. Otto B. Kuhn, “The Hunan Provincial Mission,” Asiatic Division Outlook, November 15, 1921, 3-4.

  20. “Statistical Summary,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, January 1930, 4.

  21. Otto B. Kuhn, “The Hunan Provincial Mission,” Asiatic Division Outlook, November 15, 1921, 3-4.

  22. “Statistical Summary,” China Division Reporter, July 15, 1939, 10.

  23. Clarence H. Davis, “Report of Hunan Mission for Year Ending Dec. 31, 1923,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, November 1924, 10.

  24. Nathan F. Brewer, “The Hunan Annual Meeting,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, January 1929, 14.

  25. Lewis V. Finster, “The Hunan Annual Meeting,” Far Eastern Division Outlook, April 1930, 4.

  26. George J. Appel, “Hunan Annual Meeting,” China Division Reporter, April 1, 1940, 2.

  27. E.H. James, “Under Bomb Fire in Hunan,” China Division Reporter, September 1941, 5,8.

  28. E.g., “Hunan Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1945), 87.

  29. “Hunan Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1947), 89.

  30. “Hunan Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1951), 102.

  31. Otto B. Kuhn, “The Hunan Provincial Mission,” Asiatic Division Outlook, November 15, 1921, 3-4.

  32. George J. Appel, “Central China Union Session,” China Division Reporter, June 1948, 4-6.

  33. S.J. Lee, “Problems and Prospects in the China Division,” China Division Reporter, May 1950, 2.

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Hook, Milton. "Hunan Mission (1915–1951)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. October 05, 2022. Accessed May 24, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=AHPK.

Hook, Milton. "Hunan Mission (1915–1951)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. October 05, 2022. Date of access May 24, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=AHPK.

Hook, Milton (2022, October 05). Hunan Mission (1915–1951). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved May 24, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=AHPK.