The Archives on the History of Christianity in China at Hong Kong Baptist University Library: Its Development, Significance, and Future

Article excerpt

The Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) is a regional pioneer in establishing a valuable archives collection on the history of Christianity in China, with the aim of preserving various facets of the Christian heritage in China. (1)

Archives on the History of Christianity in China

The Archives on the History of Christianity in China (AHC) collection, consisting mainly of materials in either English or Chinese, covers topics of Chinese Christians, missionaries, church history, and the history of Christianity in China. The archives emphasizes the period before 1950. At the end of 2003, there were 3,084 volumes of monographs (2,078 in English and 1,006 in Chinese), and 31,000 microform items, with thirty linear feet of archival records on the history of Christianity in China.

The archives contains over 200 biographies and memoirs detailing prominent missionaries, such as Hudson Taylor, James Outram Fraser, Karl Ludvig Reichelt, David Abeel, and John Leighton Stuart. The archives contains various valuable and scarce materials, including letters and postcards written by Frederick Webb and 219 lantern slides taken by missionaries of the China Inland Mission. These lantern slides, useful in documenting the social and economic activities of the Chinese from the 1900s to the 1930s, were donated to the HKBU Library by the Billy Graham Center, Wheaton, Illinois.

The library also includes later works. For example, of the 183 titles discussed by Jessie G. Lutz in "Chinese Christianity and China Missions: Works Published Since 1970," (2) 2120 titles are held by the various archives in HKBU.

Importance of the Archives

One of the growing areas of study in Asia is the history of Christian missions in China. Faculty members of the Department of History and the Department of Religion and Philosophy of HKBU have come to recognize that this is a new source of documentation for the study of East-West relations. Besides bringing religious teaching to China, missionaries played an important role in the transfer of knowledge and values between East and West, helping to cross-fertilize the distinctive cultures of Confucianism and Christianity. Missionaries had a long-term impact on Christian education, the adoption of Western medicine, and social services in China as they established Christian schools, hospitals, orphanages, and publishing houses. Christian missions contributed to leaders' training "in the fields of education and medicine; in the introduction of professions such as journalism, nursing and dentistry, library science, physical education, and agriculture; in the fostering of formal education for women; [and] in the inculcation of ideals of civic responsibility and mass education." (3) In addition, women missionaries made important contributions as educators, role models, and social service workers.

Archival materials on Christianity in China help to shed light on the anti-Christian movements in the 1920s that were supported by political parties hoping to raise their political profile. Some recently surfaced publications on the Chinese churches under the People's Republic of China will allow more understanding of official churches, that is, the Catholic Patriotic Association and the Three-Self Movement, as well as of their counterparts among the underground churches.

Development and Mission of the Archives

Although Christianity first spread into China over 1,300 years ago, formal research on the history of Chinese Christianity did not begin before the 1930s and the 1940s. (4) From 1949 to 1976 missionary activities in China were considered to be associated with Western imperialism. With the open-door policy adopted in China in the late 1970s, studies have been undertaken of the history of cultural exchange between China and other nations and have consequently aroused scholars' interest in researching the history of Christianity in China.

The initial search for archival materials on Christianity in China began sporadically in the early 1960s in North America. …