Baptist History Homepage

Fifty Years in China - An Eventful Memoir of Tarleton Perry Crawford
By L. S. Foster

Chapter VII
Beginning Work

[p. 44]
      As the bracing days of autumn came on, and their knowledge of the language increased, they desired to be doing something for the salvation of the people. Having read a good deal of missionary literature before leaving America, and having constantly heard methods of work discussed since reaching the field, Mr. Crawford began to form some definite ideas as to his course. From the first he adopted direct evangelization as his main line of labor, and they, with undivided minds, prepared themselves for it. Mrs. Crawford, barely out of girlhood, and not feeling much confidence in her aggressive ability, wished for a day school in which she could work near at hand. A native, they thought, could teach the Chinese classes and she would tell the pupils about Jesus, and, by winning their love, she might gain access to their mothers. Not then seeing how she could go directly to the women of the city with the gospel message, she proposed to use this round-about method of reaching them. The degradation of woman was to them both one of the most distressing outside features of heathenism, and they longed to bring her under the elevating power of the gospel. How to accomplish this was a difficult question. They had planned to go hand in hand in their labors, and believed the sexes must advance in Christianity together. As soon as Mr. Crawford should be able to preach in the chapels she would go with him, and by her presence induce the women to attend; she would from their acquaintance and privately tell them of the Saviour, but in the meanwhile she would open a school.

      There were already two day schools for boys and one boarding school for girls, superintended by the ladies of this mission. The Crawfords did not desire the former, because the Chinese are accustomed to educate their sons, nor the latter, because it involved too much expenditure of time and money. In mission boarding schools the girls, as their education is not valued, had to be furnished with food, clothing and much else, to induce the poor people to send their daughters. Without such inducements it had not

[p. 45]
been found possible to secure them. But they heard of one lady who had procured day pupils by giving each girl ten cash, or two-thirds of a cent per day, ostensibly to buy lunch. This bribery (as it certainly was, though they did not then realize it) seemed, less objectionable than giving a full support. They could impart religious instruction daily in the school and still have most of their time for gospel work among the people, all the care of the children resting where it should, on the parents and the native teachers. Some of their missionary friends, whom they consulted, discouraged this plan, but as they proposed to bear the expenses of the experiment from their own private funds, others heartily approved. So they fitted up one of the lower rooms of their house and engaged a teacher. Mrs. Yates kindly accompanied Mrs. Crawford on a visit among the neighbors, and told them of their intention and solicited, pupils. In due time the school was opened with about a dozen girls. A part of each afternoon was devoted to hearing the teacher examine them in a scripture catechism (then in manuscript), and in talking to them as well as she could about the true God and the Saviour of the world. They were lovely children, she thought, and they both became much attached to some of them.

      One morning the teacher came upstairs in great distress, saying, "Only two or three girls are here. The parents of the rest are alarmed by a rumor that you intend to take their daughters to the 'outside country.'" After comprehending the situation, Mrs. Crawford asked, "What can be done?" The teacher replied, "Go down and tell those now here that you have no such intention." Again she asked, "Will my bare word satisfy them since they suppose me capable of so great wickedness?" He said he thought it would. So she went down with him to the school room and told them in her broken way that she had no idea of taking them anywhere; that she wished to teach them to read good books, and they would continue to live with their parents at their own home. They and the teacher went to tell the other girls what had been said to them, and the next day all were present as usual.

      About the end of the Chinese year they discovered that the teacher was not only an opium smoker, but that he took two of the ten cash given daily to each girl. They, therefore, dismissed him, and through Mr. Nee engaged another teacher, Wang Ping San, who later became their first convert and a consecrated preacher of the gospel. His history by Mrs. Crawford has been published in a booklet.

[p. 46]
many of whom came to see their foreign neighbors. Their broken accent, peculiar ways, strange furniture and household arrangements greatly interested these visitors. Ignorance of Chinese customs and modes of speech sometimes placed the young missionaries in embarrassing positions. They were one day invited to a wedding at the home of a rich neighbor. Mr. Crawford remained in the gentleman's hall, while the wife was conducted to the women's apartments. While awaiting the coming of the bridal party refreshments of various kinds were passed around among the gaily attired guests, who gave themselves up to merriment. The visiting missionaries managed to understand and answer some of their numerous questions. The first question asked of a stranger is, "What is your honorable name?" The next is, "What is your honorable age?" To the latter question Mrs. Crawford replied, "Wait four months - twenty-three." This unusual answer amused the hearers exceedingly. She could hear them repeating to each other and to every new arrival, "she says, 'Wait four months - twenty-three.'" The Chinese do not reckon age from the birthday, but from the new year, all alike adding a year each at that time. Hence she ought to have said, "twenty-two," until the next new year, when she would be twenty-three.

      In those early days, among others, a near neighbor frequently called. On his last visit he seemed delighted with Mr. Crawford's watch, and asked if he had another. Mr. Crawford, suspecting nothing, gave him his wife's to look at. The man saying "ten thousand thanks" (not understood by Mr. Crawford), hung the watch on his gown button, presented in return a copper incense pot, worth probably a dollar, and with profuse bows took his departure. Mr. Crawford followed him, not to his home, but far down town. The situation becoming more and more exciting as they proceeded, he finally took possession of the watch and brought it back, much to his wife's relief. The incense pot was returned to the young man and here terminated their acquaintance with him.

      During this first winter Mr. Crawford spent much of his leisure time inventing a phonetic system for writing the Shanghai dialect, the history of which he published in the Chinese Recorder in March, 1888.

      It is the opinion of some who are acquainted with this phonetic system, and with the present state of China, that, while it is admirably adapted to the purpose for which it was invented, its failure in being accepted for general use is mainly due to the fact that on first sight the learning of it seems (but really is not) formidable to

[p. 47]
the missionaries. A Romanized system was therefore adopted at an early day for some of the dialects. Now when China is mad on learning European languages, especially the English, and great multitudes have acquired its alphabet, it seems to many better for all to fall into line and adopt some particular mode of representing the Mandarin sounds by means of Roman letters than to take something that is new to all parties. The latter system is now in an experimental stage. The labor expended on this invention was by no means lost, as it greatly aided in analyzing the sounds and otherwise mastering the language.

      Mr. Crawford's first sermon in Chinese was written in this phonetic system. (The reader is referred to the Appendix for a complete description of the system.)

Go to Chapter 8

[From L. S. Foster, Fifty Years in China - An Eventful Memoir of Tarleton Perry Crawford, D. D., 1909, chapter 7; reprinted and reformatted in 2005. The document was provided by Jackie Battles, Winchester, VA. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

More Baptist China Missionaries
Baptist History Homepage