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


Global villages – Barnsley and Alipore

April 13, 2010

In my posts on Hudson Taylor in Signs of Communities I looked at how Barnsley, which was a large village in the nineteenth-century, had a world-wide effect through the work of Hudson Taylor. The effect of West on East.

I will look then to the east, to the village of Alipore in India from which people came to settle in Kirklees. The effect of East on West.

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.

The wisdom of pluralism and diversity – East and West

March 20, 2010

Richard McKeon was a one-time Chair of the University of Chicago’s Department of Philosophy. An exponent of the comparative method in the history of philosophy he supported the Great Books approach to Western Culture and had a major role in the United Nations Declaration On Human Rights. He wrote many books including the standard partly-abridged translation of Aristotle into English.

McKeon  set his  face against Leo Strauss joining the Philosophy Department. Strauss is better known that McKeon today – because he founded intellectual neo-conservatism. McKeon felt that neo-conservatism was an unstable mixture of exoteric authoritarianism layered over esoteric relativism. Strauss joined the Politics Department at Chicago for the rest of his career.

McKeon’s pluralism has its best expression in his essay ‘Philosophical Semantics and Philosophical Enquiry’ in his Freedom and History and Other Essays: an introduction to the work of Richard McKeon. He sees the works of the great European philosophers falling into four categories, four great traditions. We can describe them as traditions of Matter, Mind, Media and a Mixture of the first three. Matter is represented by the tradition of the Eleatic materialists, Democritus and Epicurus – and modern science. Mind by Pythagoras, Plato,  the Neo-Platonists – and the central traditions of Christianity and Islam. Media by the Sophists such as the benign Protagoras, the malign Gorgias, modern existentialist and pomo thinkers – and the persuasion professions such as public relations, marketing and journalism. The Mixture of these three is represented by Aristotle and the Scholastic tradition.

His work was then developed by Walter Watson from the State University of New York at Stoney Brook. His book The Architectonics of Meaning: foundations of the new pluralism has a more Aristotelian take on pluralism and support for the diversity of thought and enquiry. ‘Architectonics’ is the Aristotelian’s term for their own eclectic method of interpreting all aspects of human life and of the natural world.

You may think: so far, so Eurocentric, so outdated! That would be very incorrect. The work of McKeon and Watson was taken further by David A. Dilworth, a Columbia University philosopher and orientalist.  In his great extension of the work of McKeon and Watson, titled Philosophy in World Perspective: a comparative hermeneutic of the major theories, Dilworth applies the pluralist method worked out for 2,400 years of European thought to the thought of East Asia over a similar period. His interpretation of the interpretations of the cosmos and the world shared by the great thinkers of the two civilizations is a dazzling success. Matter is Taoism, Mind is Buddhism, Media is Confucianism/Legalism. Media is Neoconfucianism, the ideology of the Imperial bureaucracy, the examination syllabus of Max Weber’s ‘Chinese Literati’ from 605 CE down to 1912. Once we see that China kept its equivalent of Aristotelianism, its own Scholasticism, for 300 years longer than Europe, we can see why Chinese science and civilization did not develop from an early high. There were no Chinese equivalents of Bacon and Hobbes, Leibniz, Montaigne and many others who overthrew the Scholastics and their descendants in Europe.

Dilworth shows in detail the commonality of humanity’s high culture. A pluralism and a diversity in both East and West. He is a life-changing read. Once you’ve read his book you won’t ever again think from a biassed Orientalist or Occidentalist viewpoint.

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.”