Soothill, William Edward
1861-1935; e.m. 1882

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Distinguished UMFC missionary to China, born on 23 January 1861 in Halifax. After a year spent as a solicitor's clerk, in 1882 he was accepted for the UMFC ministry. Instead of going to the UMFC college at Victoria Park, Manchester, he was sent in 1882 to replace the pioneer missionary Robert Exley, who had died at Wenchow, China. He served there for 25 years, founding a hospital, training college, schools and many preaching stations. Under his leadership the Wenchow District was formed and by 1906 consisted of seven circuits and 150 congregations. He became a master of the Chinese language, with translation of the New Testament being published in 1902 and of the Analects of Confucius in 1910.

In 1907 he was appointed Principal of the Imperial University of Shansi and in 1911 President-elect of the proposed Central China University. During World War I he worked for the YMCA among the Chinese in London and France. He retired in 1919 due to ill health and in 1920 accepted the Chair of Chinese Language and Literature at Oxford. An outstanding Chinese scholar, his many books included A Mission in China (1907), a lecture on The Three Religions of China - Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism (1913) and, with Lewis Hodous, A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms (1937). He came to know and admire the Baptist missionary Timothy Richard and wrote his biography. Among his other interests was Chinese music, based on a pentatonic scale. He died on 14 May 1935 and his funeral took place at Wesley Memorial Church, Oxford.

His wife Lucy (née Farrar) was the author of A Passport to China: being the tale of her long and friendly sojourning amongst a strangely interesting people. Their daughter Dorothea was the second wife of Sir Alexander Hosie.

His younger brother Alfred Soothill (1863-1926; e.m. 1885) was born in Halifax on 25 July 1863. He was Headmaster of Ashville College, Harrogate from 1905 until his death in September 1926.

  • The Times, 15 May 1935
  • Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1935, pp. 783-5
  • John Young, 'William E. Soothill (1861-1935): missionary and sinologist': at