Going Native

by Da Yong on January 4, 2011 · 0 comments

“Let us in everything not sinful, become like the Chinese, that by all means we may save some.” – Hudson Taylor

Hudson Taylor was beyond most of the missionaries of his day.  It was common for missionaries to build themselves a little compound surrounded by walls and to invite locals in and adopt English ways.  In the colonial days of Shanghai and Hong Kong the practice of adopting local dress was outrageous and hilarious to Westerns.  But, full Chinese dress was a rule that Taylor held fast and hard to with those that join China Inland Mission.  The Western appearance of missionaries as well as churches and the attitude that China was “backwards” had long hindered and bogged down the rapid dissemination of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The “simple” adoption of Chinese dress was anything but simple.  China was a heirarchical system of life and culture, therefore, every lace, stitch, thread, cuff, ruffle and ripple of silk told who you were and what you did.  Dress was an important part of Chinese society and it revealed who you were, where you came from and what you did for a living.  So, going native was not as simple as it appears to us today.  In modern China,  missionaries do not have to “adopt” Chinese dress.  Clothing in much more uniform to what you would find in NYC or Moscow.  Of course there are still remote areas where women still don traditional clothing, but, that is not the norm.  In Hudson Taylor’s China missionaries had to be careful when choosing the right clothing.  They did not want to be mistaken for Buddhist monks or Confucian scholars.

The clothes the CIM missionaries wore were of poor school teachers, humble clothing that fit their goals of sharing the Gospel with the common Chinese people.  Because CIM missionaries donned Chinese dress they are responsible for some of the most exciting and dangerous expeditions to inland China at a time when travel by foreigners was controlled and restricted by the emperor.  For example, in 1875 two men and a Chinese evangelist walked across China without incident.  Traveling inland was a dangerous thing and often ended in tragedy for foreigners.  They were an easy target, seen as invaders and often killed and murdered.

This policy of CIM met a great deal of resistance and dislike.  Men had to wear a queue, a type of ponytail that Chinese men wore.  The queue was imposed on the Chinese by the “barbarian’ Qing dynasty who conquered China in the 1600′s.  If a Chinese man cut off his queue it was considered treason and punishable by death.  Growing a queue involved shaving the front of your head everyday and growing the hair located in back into a long ponytail.  For the CIM women Chinese dress was very difficult.  Depending on what they wore the ladies risked being confused with courtesans or sing-song girls or even worse, sorceresses.

This policy was revolutionary for the times and missionaries of Hudson Taylor’s day.  But, for a long time it opened thousands of doors of opportunity to share the Gospel that would never have been opened if it had not been adopted by CIM.  CIM missionaries planted thousands of churches and saw thousands of coverts in China, in fact, you can still find CIM churches and converts in China today!


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Da Yong
American serving the Lord in China
Contributor – Baptist.org

Featuring : God In The Chinese Written Characters, Part 1
email: [email protected]

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About Da Yong

Grew up in New Jersey, was saved at a young age of 8, went on to Liberty University and was called to missions on a missions trip to Asia, married a southern girl from Charlotte, NC, we have five children, finished seminary in '94, went to Asia in 97-2000, 4 years back in the US developing an Asia Outreach program for a small missions agency in VA, after four years returned to Asia in '04 to developed the Asia side of the program, discipled over 100 local Christian lay-leaders and pastors, helped plant a local indigenous house church. We are currently in the US for a year looking for opportunities to share our ministry and to find more ministry partners.