03 December 2015

The Drug Smuggling Missionary of the Pearl River

by Eve Fisher
Karl Friedrich August Gutzlaff.png
A young Karl Gutzlaff

I talked a while back about the opium trade in China, run by Western "trading companies" like Jardine-Matheson and Russell & Company, who smuggled and sold opium (then illegal) all up and down the coast and rivers of 19th century China.  And how that led to two Opium Wars, which eventually forced the Chinese (who lost) to make opium legal.  And Christianity.  Both legalizations merged in the person of the one and only Karl Gutzlaff (1803-1851), missionary, journalist, translator...

What do you do with a person like Karl?  He started out as a missionary when he was 23, sent to Java by the Netherlands Missionary Society in 1826.  (Karl was German, born in Pomerania.)  He left them after 2 years, and spent the rest of his life in the mission field as an independent operator, earning his living in a variety of ways, some of which were highly unorthodox.  Please remember this:  Karl Gutzlaff was never "officially" affiliated with any organized church ever again. 

He moved around a lot:  from Macau, to Singapore, and eventually Hong Kong. He was a superb linguist, speaking/writing Chinese, Thai, Cambodian, Lao, and perhaps Japanese.  He translated the Bible into all of these languages and wrote dictionaries for at least three of them.  He also - and this is VERY key - married a very wealthy English missionary, Maria Newell, who died in childbirth within a year, leaving him all her money.  In 1834, he remarried, to missionary Mary Wanstall, who at that time ran a school and home from the blind in Macau.  (She died in 1849, and Karl remarried, one last time, in 1850 to an English woman in England.)

Karl, in native dress
1834 was when Karl's "Journal of Three Voyages Along the Coast of China in 1831, 1832, and 1833" was published.  It became hugely popular, partly because it described more of China's interior than any previous book written by a European.  It also described his missionary work, distributing tracts and pamphlets and talking to the people.  Karl did not mention the fact that the 1832 voyage was on an East India Company ship, and the 1833 voyage was on the Jardine Matheson opium smuggling/trading ship "Sylph."  He worked for both as a translator, and while he said he was opposed to the use of opium, he also said that he saw this (distributing Bibles as the opium was being traded) as a great opportunity to spread the gospel.  (G. B. Endacott, A Biographical Sketchbook of Early Hong Kong, p. 106)

In 1840 his Chinese translation of the Bible was published.  It would be the text adopted by the leader of the Taping Rebellion, God's Chinese Son Hong Xiuquan (and I hope to write about that wildly improbable man some day).  It was also the year that the First Opium War began, and Gutzlaff translated for the British throughout, assisted at the negotiations for the peace treaty, and got an official government position afterwards for his trouble.  NOTE:  He did not work for free.

In 1844, he set up his own training school for native missionaries and an organization - the Chinese Union - to send them out.  It succeeded well enough that Gutzlaff went on a hugely popular European fund-raising tour from 1849-1850.  Back in China, though, things were nowhere near as rosy as Gutzlaff proclaimed:  Most of his native Chinese "missionaries" were criminals and/or opium addicts who faked their conversion figures, taking the Chinese Bibles that Gutzlaff had given them to distribute and selling them back to Gutzlaff's own printer, who then resold them to him.  (Jessie Gregory Lutz, Opening China:  Karl F. A. Gutzlaff and Sino-Western Relations, 1827-1852, p. 276) A huge scandal erupted, forcing him to return to Hong Kong in 1851.  It was still going on when he died in 1851.

Despite the scandal, Gutzlaff's legacy was wide-spread and varying.  His idea of native missionaries and foreign missionaries speaking the native language, wearing native dress, living as the natives did, caught on, and was continued through the founding of the China Inland Mission under Henry Hudson Taylor.  This (now the Overseas Missionary Fellowship, a/k/a OMF International) became the primary missionary organization in China.

HSParkes.jpg
Harry Parkes, Consul
He and his wife ran a boarding school in Hong Kong, where all the up-and-coming future European leaders of Asia were boarded.  Among them was Mrs. Gutzlaff's nephew, Harry Smith Parkes.  Harry stayed with them from age 13 to adulthood, learning fluent Chinese, and accompanying his uncle on many of his travels, including the signing of the peace treaty for the First Opium War.  Over time, Parkes became acting Consul in Canton, and in 1856, he began the Second Opium War in true British Imperial style:  there was a Chinese ship called the "Arrow", owned by a Chinese, manned by Chinese sailors, under a British flag.  Well, the Chinese sailors were drunk and unruly, the Chinese authorities arrested them and (rumor has it) took down the British flag.  Mr. Parkes saw this as an insult to Britain, stormed into the jail, yelling, swearing, and beating on the jailers with his walking stick.  One struck back, and voila!  Parkes declared war on China.  The British won, and the opium trade and Christianity were both finally, fully legalized in China.

"Dr. Livingstone, I presume."
And then there was Gutzlaff's writing, which influenced both Dr. Livingstone and Karl Marx.  (It's not often that you get to write those two names in the same sentence...)  David Livingstone read Gutzlaff's "Appeal to the Churches of Britain and American on Behalf of China" and decided to become a medical missionary.  Unfortunately, it was 1840, and the outbreak of the First Opium War made China too dangerous for foreigners.  So the London Missionary Society send him to Africa, where (in 1871) Henry Morton Stanley would find him working hard in Ujiji, Tanzania.  "Dr. Livingstone, I presume."

Karl Marx 001.jpg

Remember the European fund-raising tour that Gutzlaff went on to raise money for the Chinese Union?  Karl Marx went to hear him speak in London (David Riazonov, "Karl Marx on China", 1926).  He also read Gutzlaff's many writings, which became sources for Karl Marx' articles on China for the London Times and the New York Daily Tribune in the 1840's and 1850's, all of which are anti-imperialist and anti-religion.

(Alas, I have searched for, as yet in vain, for a direct written-in-Karl-Marx'-hand connection between Gutzlaff and Marx's well-known statement, "religion... is the opium of the people."  All I can say is, it was written in 1843, nine years after Gutzlaff's "Journal of Three Voyages..." was published.  Who knows?)



HK Central Gutzlaff Street sign near Wellington Street.JPG
"HK Central Gutzlaff Street sign near Wellington Street" by Wenlensands - Own work.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File: HK_Central_Gutzlaff_Street_sign_near_Wellington_Street.JPG#/media/File

A very influential man.  And also, in many ways, a mystery:  a profoundly earnest missionary, who would use any means that came to hand, including the opium trade.  A man of great pride and presumption, who was convinced that the Chinese were inferior to Europeans, and yet was the first to train (or at least try to train) native missionaries.  A great linguist, who made sure he got paid very, very well for his translating work.  As you can see above, there's a street in Hong Kong named for him.  There's his writings.  And there's the image of him, in his twenties, handing out Bibles from the back of the opium ship as the traders are handing out opium from the front...  Karl, Karl, Karl...



7 comments:

Paul D. Marks said...

Fascinating history, Eve. I love learning things I didn't know.

janice law said...

Fascinating- and I love your title
Amitav Ghosh deals with some similarly complex characters in his trilogy about the India, China, Europe opium triangle

Leigh Lundin said...

Charming people, Eve, certain of their own infallibility.

Eve Fisher said...

Janice, I put Anitav Ghosh on my reading list.
Leigh, the characters of the 1800s put everyone in modern times in the shade for their shameless infallibility, pride, arrogance, and general self-satisfaction as they strode through ruins of their own making. Seriously. But they're really interesting to read about.

R.T. Lawton said...

Thanks, Eve, I always enjoy your history lessons. It's amazing how these characters stride onto the world stage with their personal convictions and rationalizations for their actions, influencing their present and our future.

Anonymous said...

Extraordinary story and a beautiful job of telling it! Thank you!

houseofjacob said...

Sounds like you've succumb to a Marxist reading of Gützlaff... read his own thoughts on his journey as he snuck aboard an Opium ship before you too quickly align him with the imperializing enterprise of the 19th century. Hudson Taylor highly revered him... considering him the father of CIM... Sure he thought Karl had been duped in more ways than one in as much as his mobilizing efforts in the 1840s failed miserably.... But I'm not sure I appreciate your tone nor the sweeping generalizing you're making with respect to Gützlaff's intensions, interests, and expectations.