Primary Sources: Missionary Perspectives on China

This page will collect some links to online sources related to missionaries and their perspectives on China. These sources may be especially useful to students studying modern Chinese history wanting to make use of primary sources in their essays but who are a) limited to the English language, b) may have limited access to databases available at universities with strong East Asia collections, and c) are in lockdown due to a global pandemic. If used with a careful critical approach to the sources, there is a wealth of material here to explore.

Let me start by saying there are already many great library guides to primary sources out there. Some of these I have linked to at the bottom of a growing list of primary sources I provide my own students each semester that you can find here. I also suggest you pay a visit to the Biblioteca Sinica 2.0 which in March, 2020, just posted its last entry after 5,000 entries linking sources on Sino-Western encounters over a period of 10 years. See, for example, just their entries tagged missionaries or its list of digital collections.

First, let us list some of the missionary periodicals available online. These often went well beyond reporting on the success or challenges of individual missions to offer writings on a whole host of aspects of Chinese society.

The Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal (1867-1941)
Wikipedia | Print Index | More Links at Biblioteca Sinica

This is a rich source of missionary perspectives on China, with over seventy volumes, with later volumes often over 800 pages in length. Kathleen Lodwick has created a valuable two-volume printed index of the collection, The Chinese Recorder Index: a Guide to Christian Missions in Asia, 1867–1941 and there are proprietary databases, at least one of which seems to build off this print index. All the volumes 1-54 (up to 1922) of this important missionary journal are unambiguously out of copyright in the US and available on Internet Archive, with OCR text recognition here:

1860s: v1, v2
1870s: v3, v4, v5, v6, v7, v8, v9 , v10
1880s: v11, v12, v13, v14, v15, v16, v17, v18, v19, v20
1890s: v21, v22, v23, v24, v25, v26, v27, v28, v29, v30
1900s: v31, v32, v33, v34, v35, v36, v37, v38, v39, v40
1910s: v41, v42, v43, v44, v45, v46, v47, v48, v49, v50
1920s: v51, v52, v53

The Chinese Repository (1832-1851)
Wikipedia | Archived Note by Michael Poon | More Links at Biblioteca Sinica

This early missionary periodical in twenty volumes has issues about 60 pages in length. Compared to the Chinese Recorder there is a far higher percentage of articles that are academic articles, reflections on Chinese culture, agriculture and nature, as well as many travel narratives. There are also many articles on educational, medical, and commercial initiatives in China. There is also a convenient index volume by term but also by subject.

Full Year Volumes:
v1 (1832-1833), v2 (1833-1834), v3 (1834-1835), v4 (1835-1836), v5 (1836-1837), v6 (1837-1838), v7 (1838-1839), v8 (1839-1840), v9 (1840), v10 (1841), v11 (1842), v12 (1843), v13 (1844), v14 (1845), v15 (1846), v16 (1847), v17 (1848), v18 (1849), v19 (1850), v20 (1851), General Index of the 20 Volumes

Almost all (over 200) of the individual issues of the twenty volumes are also available on Internet Archive by individual issue download, and the few missing issues are fortunately to be found in the full year volumes for the journal available above. You can browse through them here: Chinese Repository Issues on Internet Archive. There are also more more download options nicely compiled by Biblioteca Sinica.

China’s Millions (1875-1964)

This is one of the missionary periodicals published by the important organization, the China Inland Mission founded by Hudson Taylor. A large number of volumes from the journal can be found online, with many of the earlier volumes available on the Internet Archive, as well as many later volumes available open access through Yale University’s digital library collections with convenient PDF download.

1870s: 1875-6, 1877, 1878, 1879
1880s: 1880, 1881, 1882, 1883, 1884, 1885, 1886, 1887, 1888, 1889
1890s: 1890, 1891, 1892, 1893, 1894, 1895, 1896, 1897, 1898, 1899
1900s: 1900, 1901, 1902, 1903, 1904, 1905, 1906, 1907, 1908, 1909
1910s: 1910, 1911, 1912, 1913, 1914 1915, 1916-7, 1918-9?
1920s: 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923-1925?, 1926, 1927-8, 1929
1930s: 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935

One relatively recent and particularly useful secondary work related to the China Inland Mission is: Alvyn Austin, China’s Millions: The China Inland Mission and Late Qing Society, 1832–1905 (2006).

The China Review (1872-1901)
Online Collection at HKU | Wikipedia | Introductory Essay in Volume I | List of Contributors and ToC

The China Review, or Notes and Queries on the Far East, 1872-1901 was not a missionary publication, but featured many writings by missionaries based in China. HKU has created a very nice online archive of the journal where you can download individual articles on separate pages dedicated to specific volumes but no full issue or full volumes, so it is less convenient for browsing. Helen Wang has created a convenient list of contributors to the journal and combined the contents list of all the article titles together.

Full Year Volumes: v2 (1873-1874), v4 (1875-1876), v6 (1877-1878), v7 (1878-1879), v10 (1881-1882), v13 (1884-1885), v21 (1894-1895)

Individual Issues: 1874 v2.4, 1875 v4.3, 1876 v4.4, 1876 v4.6, 1876 v5.2, 1877 v5.4

The China Mission Year Book  (Shanghai: Christian Literature Society for China,  1910-1925, after 1925 as China Christian Year Book).

Articles, reports, reviews, statistics and charts. Internet Archive has links to a number of volumes, here , and SOAS has some issues in its digital collection, here.

1910, 1911, 1912, 1914, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1919
1920?, 1921?, 1922?, 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927?, 1928, 1929,
1930?, 1931, 1932-1933?, 1934-5

Report of the Foreign Missions China, Formosa, the Straits Settlements, and India – Presbyterian Church of England

These reports, usually 100-200 pages in length are reports of the English Presbyterians Mission (EPM), founded at Xiamen (Amoy) in 1850, and later at Shantou (Swatow), Guangdond, and in Taiwan in 1865. You can read an overview of their archival records and missions here. See also L. Cheng A Short History of the Presbyterian Church among the Mountain Tribes in Taiwan (1965) and J. Johnstoun China and Formosa: The Story of the Presbyterian Church of England (1897). Here is a list of issues on the Internet Archive.

1894, 1903, 1904, 1905, 1906, 1907, 1908, 1909, 1910, 1911, 1912, 1913, 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1919, 1920, 1921

Reports of the American Presbyterian Missions

A number of issues of the Report of the American Presbyterian Mission in Canton, China are available on the Internet Archive: 1886, 1887, 1888, 1889, 1890, 1891, 1894, 1896, 1897, 1900, 1901, 1902, 1903, 1904, 1905

A few issues of the Annual Report of the Tsinan Station from Jinan, Shandong are also available: 1919 and 1922. And the 1918 Annual report of Tenghsien Station, also in Shandong. Finally a 1906 Annual report of the American Presbyterian mission in the island of Hainan, China hosted by Yale.

Directory of Protestant Missionaries (1902-1917)

Eleven volumes of this directory are scanned by Cornell University and linked from the Yale University Missionary Periodicals Online collection: Directory of Protestant Missionaries in China. The HathiTrust links will only allow full download of issues to partner institutions, and if you are outside the United States you won’t even be able to view the issues (VPN to the US seems to work fine).

Some of the directories are on the Internet Archive as well:

Annual Reports of the Society for the Diffusion of Christian and General Knowledge among the Chinese

A collection of these reports is available on Internet Archive from 1888-1904: 1888, 1889, 1890, 1891, 1892, 1893, 1894, 1895, 1896, 1897, 1898, 1899, 1900, 1901, 1902, 1903, 1904

The Missionary Echo of the United Methodist Free Churches

A collection of the issues of this journal, not limited to coverage of China but with significant China related content, is available at SOAS, University of London: 1894, 1895, 1896, 1897, 1898, 1899, 1900, 1901, 1902, 1903, 1904, 1905, 1906, 1907, 1908, 1909, 1910, 1911, 1912, 1913, 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1919, 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932

West China Missionary News (1908-1940)

The Yale University Mission Periodicals Online contains issues from several decades of this Chengdu publication. Each issue is relatively short in length but conveniently downloadable as PDFs directly: West China Missionary News.

Note: I got an error message trying to reach the digitized issues via the above page. This deep link directly into their catalog worked for me. If that changes for some reason, try googling the title and bypassing the publications info page to enter the catalog directly. I have reported the problem to the library.

China Medical Missionary Journal (1887-1908)

Another one of the large collection of missionary publications in Yale’s digital collections: China Medical Missionary Journal. In this case the catalog link from there worked for me.

There are also a number of full volumes on Internet Archive:
v1-2 (1887-1888), v3-4 (1889-1890), v7 (1893), v9 (1895), v10 (1896), v11 (1897), v17-18 (1903-1904), v19-20 (1905-1906), v21-22 (1907-1908)

China Medical Journal 1908-1928

Another missionary medical journal in Yale’s digital collections: China Medical Journal. Again, I got an error to the catalog from this info page. This deep link into the catalog worked for me. I have reported the problem to the library.

Annales de la Propagation de la Foi
Online Archive at BnF Gallica

Bonus for those who read French. The BnF Gallica has over 200 issues of this important French language missionary periodical (Annales de la propagation de la foi : recueil périodique des lettres des évêques et des missionnaires des missions des deux mondes, et de tous les documents relatifs aux missions et à l’Association de la propagation de la foi) ranging from 1834 to 1933. The periodical covers the world but issues often cover China. Issues can be easily downloaded as full issue PDFs. It is also located on HathiTrust.

There are a host of other missionary periodicals, including those not specific to China, but often with sizeable China sections in their issues worth browsing if you know which missionary organization was active in the part of China you are interested in exploring. See the alphabetical list on the Mission Periodicals Online home page.

Medical Missionary Reports and Publications

See below for more on Yale University archive of missionary reports.

A Few Reference Works

Bonus for post-lockdown life. If your library has them, the following are a few volumes that include especially useful pointers to sources in this area, and give an indication of the massive amount of sources available in many languages:

  • Xiaoxin Wu ed., Christianity in China: A Scholars’ Guide to Resources in the Libraries and Archives of the United States (2nd edition, 2008)
  • R. G. Tiedemann ed., Handbook of Christianity in China Volume Two: 1800-present (2010)
  • R. G. Tiedemann Reference Guide to Missionary Societies in China: From the 16th to the 20th Centuries (2009)
  • Daniel H. Bays A New History of Christianity in China (2011)
  • Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christian Missions in China (New York: Macmillan,  1929).  Comprehensive reference, using English language sources. Available free online at Hathi Trust.

Memoirs, Biographies, and Other Missionary Books Online

There are hundreds, probably thousands, of books and pamphlets out of copyright and online written by or about missionaries who served in China. There are many bibliographies that contain dozens of pages of entries of interest. If the book was published before 1923, there is a good chance you will be able to find a copy of it on the Internet Archive, and sometimes fully readable books on Google Books or HathiTrust. I’ll just start a list here from some titles at hand, and expand the list over time as works cross my path.

Collection of book and book selections here: Anglicanism in China

Photographs and other Images

There are a wealth of historical photographs related to China, scattered in collections around the world and many of these come from former missionaries based in China. One of the best and growing collections there is now:

See also the Yale University collections of thousands of missionary postcards in the International Mission Photography Archive and ATLA Cooperative Digital Resource Initiative

Here are a few more (not all missionary related):

Archival Papers, Bibliographies, and Other Collections Online

Digitized Selections from the George and Marion Blydenburgh Papers, 1920-1934, 1998 – “Missionaries to China, 1920-1931; George T. Blydenburgh was the superintendent of a new hospital in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province. Correspondence to family members describing daily life, family matters, and news of the hospital’s progress; photographs, newspaper clippings, and glass lantern slides documenting the Blydenburgh family’s experiences (bulk 1920-1931). Statements and descriptions of incidents related to military campaigns in Nanjing, Shanghai, and Nanchang. Writings and outlines about life in China (1921-1934). Annual reports from the Nanchang General Hospital (1924-1932). Publications from the Nanking [Nanjing] Language School (1921-1922). Scrolls of woodblock prints, calligraphy, and painting (circa 1920-1930).”

Wason Pamphlet Collection – Charles W. Wason (Wikipedia) was not a missionary, but his pamphlet collection, available at Cornell University has many missionary pamphlets and other primary sources of interest.

War and Occupation in China: The Letters of an American Missionary from Hangzhou, 1937-1938. Companion Digital Repository – “This Deep Blue web repository is designed as a digital companion for a collection of letters produced by Rev. Robert McMullen, an American Southern Presbyterian missionary (provost of Hangchow Christian College) during the Second Sino-Japanese War, available in Charles Bright and Joseph W. Ho, eds., War and Occupation in China: The Letters of an American Missionary from Hangzhou, 1937-1938 (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, Lehigh University Press, 2017).”

The Flower Mountain Murders: a “Missionary Case” Data-base – this online collection of documents explores the murder of eleven British subjects tied to the Anglican Church Society in Fujian.

Chinese Christian Texts Database – “The database is set up as a research database, both in regard to its content and search possibilities. The description of primary sources, divided into Chinese and European primary sources, is intended as to be extensive and to allow for multiple links. In addition to the usual bibliographical references such as title, author, impressum or reprints, these references include: a content description, the mentioning of call numbers in major library collections, references to translations or secondary sources, and various notes on the author or text history. The database is multi-lingual in the sense that there are references to documents and publications in a wide variety of ancient and modern Asian and European languages.”

Project Canterbury hosts an online archive of out-of-print Anglican texts. See their section on texts related to Asia for some relevant to China.

Anthony E. Clark History of Christianity in China Archive Catalog – Western Language Books

Missionary Etexts Archive is an electronic repository of historical texts by and about missionaries, including a number of missionaries who worked in China.

Frog in a Well contributor Charles Hayford produced a bibliography on this topic including reference works, published biographies, and other secondary sources: American China Missions: An Introductory Bibliography

Boston University History of Missiology Online Collections – These include missionary biographies, many scanned books that are accessible via their collection at the Internet Archive, and several special digitization projects.

Princeton Theological Seminary Theological Commons – Includes a wide range of digital collections, including books, pamphlets and journals related to China. See for example some of their pamplets related to China here.

The Mission Work of the Presbyterian Church in the United States in China, 1867-1952. This over two thousand page five volume history of the Presbyterian Church in China by James Edwin Bear has been digitized and made freely available.

London Missionary Society documents at the National Library of Australia. The NLA has hundred of digitized materials related to the L.M.S., and around a third of these are related to its work in China.

Bibliography of Christianity in China

The “The History of Western Medicine in China” project (IUPUI Indiana University- Purdue University Indianapolis) has digitized archive guides, primary sources, digitized sources, books, and visual materials. It also includes a rich database of hospitals and medical institutions.

The Archives on the History of Christianity in China at Hong Kong Baptist University has digitized a range of documents and images. Many of these are in Chinese but their document database includes many English language reports, handbooks, and other sources, especially related to Christianity in Hong Kong.

See also the links and resources available at the China Christianity Studies Group (中國基督宗教研究學會)

The American Context of China’s Christian Colleges and Schools project includes an online collection of biographies, correspondence, and articles from student newspapers and journals. It focuses on the interaction between Christian colleges in China and American liberal arts colleges 1900-1950.

Atla Digital Library – The Atla digital library gives easy access to digital archival collections related to religion and theology from over seventy contributing libraries and archives, with many of these offering material related to China.

Yale University Digital Collections

Among the most comprehensive and well organized pages of links well worth exploring are Yale University Library Missions and World Christianity: Online content As can be seen from the many resources above linked to their digital projects and publications, it is well worth exploring their online collections more thoroughly. A few additional resources to point out:

This page was put together thanks to the contributions of: Konrad M. Lawson, Joseph W. Ho, Charles Hayford, and Felix Boecking.

We most welcome your corrections or suggestions for additions to the page. You can reach Konrad at or @kmlawson on Twitter.

Last Updated: August 13, 2021