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Recollections of M. T. Yates, the Missionary.
Rev. A. B. Cabaniss
      As Dr. Yates' weak eyes prevented his learning to read the Vunlee, or written language, he employed a man to teach him to speak the Mandarin or Court dialect. Thus he became well prepared to talk with the traders and officers who came to Shanghai from the Northern provinces. He could learn this dialect while the rest of us were studying the written language. To appreciate this the reader must understand that the spoken language of China is distinct from the written. While each Province has its own peculiar dialect, not spoken in the other Provinces, the written language is read all over the Empire; just as each State in Europe has its own peculiar dialect, yet the Latin language is taught and read by the literary people in all these Empires or States.

      As the Chinese print no books in the local dialects, when we read our Scriptures in the churches we had to translate them as we read, at every service, from the written language. This made us feel the necessity of a translation into the local Shanghai dialect. Before I left I made a translation of the Gospel of Luke into this dialect. As we needed a hymn book, as an imperative necessity for our worship, the last literary work I performed at Shanghai was to prepare and publish a hymn book in the local dialect. This has doubtless been enlarged and improved since then either by Dr. Yates or some other missionary.

      In reading Dr. Yates' biography I was pleased to see that his loss of voice caused him to occupy his time in translating the whole New Testament into the local dialect, a much-needed work. He also prepared a vocabulary or dictionary of that dialect. These two books, if they have been published, will be of great value to our Chinese members, and especially to new missionaries.

      As Dr. Yates had been so long among the people, and had become so familiar with their spoken language and mode of thought, he was no doubt better prepared than any other missionary to make that translation.

      Since it has been stated that his eyes prevented his learning to read the written language, the uninitiated may wonder how he could translate into the spoken dialect. All he had to do was to employ a good Chinese scholar as an amanuensis. As Yates already understood the Greek, the English and the Shanghai dialect as well as any Chinaman, he would explain to this Chinese the exact meaning of every sentence he wished written or translated into this dialect. He would tell him the exact words or sentences he wished written. His Chinese teacher or amanuensis would then write it down, unless he could suggest some other sentence that be thought would better express the meaning. Thus Yates could make a first-rate translation in the Shanghai dialect, which he doubtless did. Yates taught singing schools while he was getting his education in North Carolina. His knowledge of music was quite helpful to our church in infancy. He was so fond of good church music he imported a parlor organ from London and presented it to our church. He would play it himself and lead the singing till he taught some of the Sunday-school girls to play and lead the music. After I got out my hymn book they learned to sing, "There is a Happy Land," and other songs. We had some really good church music and Sunday-school singing which our members greatly enjoyed. I learn from the missionaries returning from China that those Sunday-school children are now grown and are the leading members of the church, as the most of the old members are dead. Deacon Wong was Sunday-school Superintandent [sic] and a good singer also. He assisted me in getting out my hymn book. At my suggestion he wrote some hymns for this book, which warn very popular with our members. Three years after I left he was elected pastor and preached every Sunday for fifteen years, when he died, and I have no doubt is now in heaven.

      Dr. G. W. Burton of Murfreesboro, Tenn., went to Shanghai as our medical missionary about the time I went out. Like myself, he came back to recruit the health of himself and family. The war caught us here, prevented our return, and providential circumstances have kept us here.

      After the war Dr. Burton settled in Louisville, Ky., to practice medicine, while I was there as Secretary of the State Mission Board. Some business matters took us [to] China, where he spent a month In Shanghai. When he returned to Louisville he said to me: "Cabaniss, while in Shanghai I thought I would go to our chapel the first Sunday to hear Pastor Wong preach and afterwards go to hear some of the foreign missionaries. As I came out of the church Yates said, 'Burton, that was a very fine sermon. I wish you could have understood it.' I replied, 'I did understand every word of it but one sentence. If you will tell me that, I will have it all, as I have not forgotten my Chinese yet.' That was such a good sermon I thought I would go the next Sunday to see if he could duplicate it. As that was still better I was induced to try him a third Sunday. That proved to be so good I concluded I must hear him the fourth and last Sunday I was there. I would as soon hear him as any of our preachers in Louisville. Not one of them is a better gospel preacher."


[From the Baptist and Reflector, Nashville, Tenn., January 12, 1899, p. 2. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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