Really. William Jones Boone (my 2nd cousin 4 time removed) decided at age 26 to leave South Carolina for China. He was the first Anglican missionary to China, with the title of Bishop.
In this long 1837 address, Boone explains the reasons for his choice. A summary:
1. Christ’s words in Mark 16: 15 are explicit: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” There are 300 to 400 million people in China, a third of the human race.
2. The Chinese are obedient, because they are used to patriarchy and despotism. They are cheerfully industrious and lovers of education. They will be easily converted to Christianity.
- The gospel once fairly established in a nation where order, peace, and industry thus dwell, may be expected soon to extend over the whole empire; for we know that it is the orderly and industrious of every country who constitute the great class from which the Christian Church is filled . . . the further removed they are from savagism, the sooner shall we be able to make them acquainted with the gospel of Christ.
3. The Chinese are idolaters and heathens who need to be rescued “from the shades of night and death.” Who can resist this call to be “a co-worker with God”? Who can resist “millions of perishing sinners calling upon us by their destitution to supply them with the bread of life”?
4. Christian missionaries are excluded from China at present. (That’s because the Jesuits made the Chinese government think Christianity was a scheme of political intrigue.) But we can still send missionaries to the Chinese “out of empire,” to the islands of Batavia, Singapore, Penang, Bianca, and so forth. We can thus create “internal ministers” to return to China. We can also send books to China, translated from English to Chinese—for instance, the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.
These are Boone’s reasons. Looking at his expression in this picture, I believe I can see a zealous and unstoppable resolve.
In June of 1835, Boone sailed from New York with two other Episcopalian ministers to Batavia. Two years later, he returned to America to marry Sarah DeSaussure from South Carolina. He sailed with her in 1837 from Boston to Batavia and Singapore.
Boone was certainly sincere. His life’s work was to spread the word of God. The Episcopal Mission worked hard to help the Chinese.
Yet people are to some degree shaped by their culture. In Boone’s address, I hear not only a minister but also a Southerner who comes from a long line of slaveholders, back to his 2nd great-grandfather who founded Boone Hall.
As I read Boone’s words, I substitute “African slaves” for “Chinese.” I compare and contrast his probable understanding of the two groups, so as to further comprehend why he spent his life in China. American slavery, after all, is somewhat like an “at-home” version of colonialism, with its mix of cruelty and paternalism.
Boone sees the Chinese people, unlike the African slaves he grew up with, as perfectly obedient and industrious. The Chinese thrive under a despotic system. The Chinese are cheerfully industrious and eager to learn—the opposite of the stereotype for African slaves. Maybe Boone’s silent undertext goes like this: How much more the Chinese would appreciate our religious instruction than the slaves back home ever could! From these 360 million souls, Christianity could spread throughout world!
Such a vision may have helped motivate Boone to sail to the other side of the planet.
Boone presumed that he understood the Chinese people, just as Southern slaveholders presumed that they understood their slaves. The white man, carrying the “white man’s burden,” used to believe he knew what was best for those heathens and savages of a different color. (Perhaps in some circles he still does, alas.)
The slaveholders were wrong about their slaves. They did not understand them. They were astonished, when freedom arrived, to know what their slaves had actually been thinking and feeling:
- Perhaps the most striking illustration of the freedmen’s quest for self-improvement was their seemingly unquenchable thirst for education . . . white contemporaries were astonished by their “avidity for learning” . . . when [a Freedmen’s Bureau agent] informed a gathering of freedmen that the “were to have the advantages of schools and education, their joy knew no bounds. They fairly jumped and shouted in gladness.” (1)
- [In Sherman’s wake] on plantation after plantation, “perfect anarchy and rebellion” reigned, as the accumulated resentments of slavery burst forth in violence and in the conscious flouting of the planter aristocracy’s authority and self-esteem. Planters’ homes, smokehouses, and storerooms were plundered; an overseer was murdered; on one plantation blacks refused to listen any longer to the local white minister, but “would shout and sing after their own fashion.” The magnificent plantation home at Middleton Place near Charleston was burned to the ground, the vaults of the family graveyard broken open and the bones scattered by the former slaves. Charles Manigault, who had considered himself and indulgent master, was stunned by the “recklessness and ingratitude” of his slaves . . . (2)
- [Freedmen] took particular offense at contentions that American slavery had been unusually benevolent and that “harmonious relations” had existed between master and slave. ‘All of us know how happy we have been . . .’ declared one black orator. . . . (3)
- Northern whites who ventured South to proselytize among the freedmen proved no more successful than Southerners in winning black converts, partly because of their ill-disguised contempt for uneducated black ministers and their emotional services. Teachers employed by the American Missionary Association used Bible classes to inveigh against “heathenish habits such as shouting” and “unchristian” behavior like that of the black funeral mourner who “clapped her hands, threw them over her head screaming ‘glory to God’ . . . dancing up and down in front of the pulpit.” (4)
Yes, the slaveholders were wrong about the slaves.
So was Boone similarly wrong in his preconceptions of the Chinese? What conflicts had to be “sorted out,” as the British would say?
There is more to this story. I’m about to read some lengthy correspondence in The Southern Churchman. That will inform me about the heated objections to the consecration of Boone’s son, William Jones Boone Jr., as the 4th Anglican Bishop of China.
To be continued in the next post . . .
(1) Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution. 1863-1877. Harper & Row, 1988. 96
(2) Foner, 71-72.
(3) Foner, 78-79.
(4) Foner, 91.
(5) The East India Company iron steam ship Nemesis, commanded by Lieutenant W. H. Hall, with boats from the Sulphur, Calliope, Larne and Starling, destroying the Chinese war junks in Anson’s Bay, on 7 January 1841.