Community hero – Hudson Taylor

April 15, 2010
White Devil: manga about Hudson Taylor

White Devil: a manga about Hudson Taylor - click to enlarge

To the Protestant Christian communities of East Asia, Hudson Taylor is a founding hero. He lives in their collective memory as the brave, anti-racist man who brought salvation to their ancestors. I am his descendant. Hudson was born on 21st May 1832 in Old Mill Lane, Barnsley – 17 miles from where I live now. He trained in medicine and then decided to be a medical missionary in China.

In 1853 at the age of 21 he left England and spent five months sailing before he reached Shanghai. He found out the hard way that in Chinese folklore the devils wore black and had long hair. So it is obvious what the local people called the long-haired missionaries with black coats! Many of the first Christian missionaries were stoned and driven away.

Hudson did something no Christian missionary had ever done before. He tied his hair in a Chinese queue, shaved his forehead and wore a light coloured quilted cotton coat. An exceptionally talented linguist, Hudson found the best preaching was direct to the people without an interpreter. These improvements resulted in success. The people stayed to listen to his preaching and a community of believers grew steadily.

I am familiar with the superb two volume hardback biography of Hudson written by his son Howard Taylor and his wife and published in 1911 and 1918. What would I make of a 21st century paperback manga, written and drawn in Hong Kong for young people who read Mandarin and then translated into English?

Well, its amazingly good! Unlike the 1911 and 1918 books it is heroic and romantic, sad and triumphant and keeps to a strong story line throughout. And it’s accurate. You get a real sense of what was happening at each stage in Hudson’s life, his failures and triumphs and yet it follows the narrative facts detailed in the big biography very closely. The author, Tien Dao, clearly respects Hudson and his life’s work – the China Inland Mission.

I’ve some minor criticisms. The title of the manga White Devil: the life and legend of Hudson Taylor is inaccurate. Hudson was first referred to, when he looked like a European missionary, as a ‘black devil’. There is a positive inaccuracy – this manga is not really about a ‘legend’. Tien Dao has kept it faithful to history, entertainingly accurate.

A few anachronisms in the drawing will make you smile. Click the diagram above to look at the left hand page. The young man is drawn wearing a modern backpack instead of a nineteen century leather shoulder satchel! In Spring 2010 the ‘cross-shoulder bag’ has now come back as the latest women’s fashion!

Overall, White Devil is perfect for its readership. An accurate and moving tribute to a brave, energetic and brilliant man. Appropriately, it’s published by Lion Hudson!

Hudson Taylor 2 vol set - buy discount from OMF Books

White Devil - £1.20 from


Manga about Hudson Taylor

April 2, 2010

Today I ordered a cartoon manga written – and drawn – by Chinese authors to letThe life and legend of Hudson Taylor young people know about ‘the life and legend’ of Hudson Taylor, my heroic and good 19th century ancestor. I have heard it carries a powerful moral message for the young about faith and anti-racism.

I will review it for this blog when it arrives and link to the best online reviews.

So far the review at Global Connections looks promising.

Levathes 3, Menzies 0

March 22, 2010

When I was a small boy our school class visited Whitby on the Yorkshire coast and its Captain Cook Memorial Museum. When we got back to school our teacher instructed us to write about how James Cook discovered Australia in 1770.

Of course, the first European to land in Australia was the Dutchman Willem Janzoon as early as 1606, followed by several other Dutch captains. Much, much earlier, the first nations of Australia, the aboriginal peoples, settled the continent from their homelands on the Pacific Rim of Asia.

My youthful pride in a ‘Great Yorkshireman’ is similar to the pride of many Chinese people in the great fifteenth century seafarer Zheng He – and other imperial eunuch explorers of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

The author Gavin Menzies, who I mentioned in my last posting, appears to have done what my junior school teacher did, interpret history to enhance local pride.

When China Ruled The Seas by Louise LevathesReading Louise Levathes’ well written and securely researched When China Ruled the Seas: the treasure fleet of the dragon throne, 1405-1433 after reading Gavin Menzies’ ‘1421’ is a cheering experience. Her book is a true ‘3-Dimensional’ book. Its well researched in terms of the material (1-D) and textual (2-D) evidence and shows a keen sense of the transmission (and suppression) of knowledge of the voyages over the centuries (making the book truly 3-Dimensional).

Scholars have documented the many factual errors of ‘1421’ at the 1421 Exposed website and the 1421 Bunkum website. For me, the really convincing evidence is the translations by Dr Geoff Wade of the references to the Zheng He voyages found in the Ming Dynasty imperial annals. Dr Wade is a scholar based at the Australian National University in Canberra. In contrast to Mr Menzies, Dr Wade is a specialist in the history of fifteenth century South-east Asia with a knowledge of the languages of the contemporary texts which refer to the Chinese voyages of exploration.

I admit to being wrong about ‘1421’ in my earlier post. The weight of the scholarly evidence shows the book may not quite reach the level of being truly 1-dimensional.

‘1421’ and 1-D, 2-D and 3-D history

March 21, 2010

I paid 1p. last week for 1421: the year that China discovered the world by1421 - a book by Gavin Menzies Gavin Menzies. Initially, I felt I paid too much for it! However on reflection,  provided you want a Dan Brown style yarn which you don’t really believe in, it’s good entertainment.

His thesis, widely derided by scholars throughout China as well as abroad, is that Chinese fleets reached America and Australasia before Europeans and sailed to Italy (before the Suez canal!) to spark the Italian Renaissance. All with a lack of contemporary witness reports as evidence.

In yesterday’s post I pointed out, based on Walter Watson’s book The Architectonics of Meaning, how important it is to look at the entire developmental range of a civilization over time. Well, Menzies was a submariner, and he never gets his head up for any length of time out of the watery world into the world of signs, of textual evidence, into comparative cultural evolution.

Flatland - annotated edition of the classic book by Edwin A. AbbottOn reflection, though, I think a good metaphor for the quality differences in history can be found in Edwin A. Abbott’s short novel Flatland. Recently an excellent new edition annotated by Ian Stewart has been published. Abbott was a Victorian headteacher who specialised in mathematics and theology. He talks about a 1- dimensional Lineland and the creatures who live there, and then a 2- dimensional Flatland with the other creatures who live there and finally migrating to the wonderful 3-dimensional Sphereland. Salvation! The inhabitants of each ‘-land’ are unaware of the other dimensions, until some special circumstances occur, which gives Flatland its plot.

Gavin Menzies’ is a 1-D history, unaware of the world of the general ideas which animate the Chinese literati and their Neoconfucian orthodoxies.

Felipe Fernandez-Armesto is a fine historian who has been particularity trenchant about Gavin Menzies. In his book Millenium: a history of our last 1000 years he describes the history of China and of the West in cross-sections sliced into time. For example, in one scenario he shows that in the year 1000 CE , China was far more advanced than Western Europe, both culturally and materially. In this book he uses a  2-D method. By that I mean a method which is aware of the world of general ideas but does not take into account the transmission of cultural ideas over time.

In other books Fernandez-Armesto uses a 3-D method, which includes anCivilization and science in China vol 1 - masterpiece by Joseph Needham awareness of the generational transmission of the shared concepts of a civilization. The supreme example of the 3-D history method applied to China is Joseph Needham’s multi-volume masterpiece Science and Civilization in China. This traces the Middle Kingdom’s core ideas and their application in technologies as they mutate over the centuries. A breathtaking vision!

Correction. Since posting this article I have been contacted by Dr Geoff Wade, of the Australian National University. Dr Wade made the valid point that Gavin Menzies clearly does not market his book as a fictional entertainment, as does Dan Brown. Mr Menzies expects us to read it as alternative history. Dr Wade provided the web link to ‘The ‘1421’ Myth Exposed’ which I strongly encourage you to visit. My next post will summarise the evidence from the perspective of ‘signs of communities’.

Confucian and Jewish cultures

March 16, 2010

OMF International have a superb website – China’s Millions – which givesOMF International logo a  consistently faith-focussed image of China’s history. However, I think we need to add something to complete the picture.

There are significant similarities between the Confucian and Neo-Confucian tradition on the one hand and the tradition of Tanakh and its developments on the other, in the way they have culturally evolved.

Confucianism and Judaism are the world’s two great community traditions of this-worldly belief. Both have shown, through millennia, a cultural resistance to doctrines of salvation through rebirth or through paradise. It seems extraordinary that their parallel cultural histories over the past five thousand years have not been fully explored by the scholars of religion and of communities. In addition, for hundreds of years there has been a similar history of discrimination against Chinese and Jewish entrepreneurial ‘middlemen’ communities in Asia and in Europe.

Given this family resemblance between the two cultures, the two recent best-selling antisemitic books of Song Hongbing – ‘Currency Wars’ – published in China, South Korea and Vietnam, are particularly deplorable.

Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, comments on these books: “The Chinese have the highest regard for what they see as Jewish intellectual and commercial acumen, with little or no concurrent culture of antisemitism. This claim, however, plays to the most discredited and outmoded canards surrounding Jews and their influence. That it should gain currency in the world’s most important emerging economy is a great concern.”