When British Methodism withdrew from China in the early 1950s, its work was spread over seven Districts. Three were started by the WMMS (South China, Hubei and Hunan); and four by the three bodies which became the United Methodist Church in 1907: the MNC (North China), the UMFC (Ningbo and Wenzhou) and the BC (South West China).

South China District: The first British Methodist missionary to China was George Piercy of the WMMS, who arrived in Hong Kong in January 1851. He moved on to Canton (Guangzhou) and the first Synod of the Canton District (later South China District) was held in December 1853. Piercy felt that education was to be stressed in his mission and he and his wife started schools in Canton, which were the beginning of the co-educational Wa Ying College which exists in Hong King today. In 1868 T.G. Selby established work in Fatshan (Fushan) which later became the headquarters of the South China District. Medical work was started by Charles Wenyon in April 1881, when he founded the Fatshan Hospital. Another missionary doctor, Roderick J.J. Macdonald, began medical work in Wuchow.

Wuchang/Hubei District: Josiah Cox had joined Piercy in Canton in 1853 and was responsible for beginning work in Wuchang, which, because of its distance from Canton, became a separate District in 1865 and, from 1932, became the Hubei District. He purchased a site in Hankow (Hankou) which along with the cities of Wuchang and Hanyang form Wuhan. In response to his appeal for a medical missionary, Dr. Frederick P. Smith arrived in Hankow in May 1864, the first medical worker to be sent by British Methodism. A hospital was built in 1866. To strengthen the work David Hill and William Scarborough arrived in Hankow in April 1865. Although Cox had emphasized the need for education from the beginning, it was not until 1884 that a Boys' High School opened in Wuchang under the leadership of W.T.A. Barber. In 1898 a Girls' Boarding School opened in Hanyang.

North China District: In 1861 the MNC began work in Tientsin (Tianjin) under John Innocent and William N. Hall. The work spread to Shanton (Shandong) Province in 1866 when a Chinese inquirer came to the church in Tientsin, promising accommodation and a preaching place if a teacher could be provided. A Mr. Hu Enti was sent and within a year fifty people had been prepared for baptism. A Preachers' Training School was established in Tientsin in 1871. Medical work began in 1878 when the Laoling Hospital was built. A small hospital was opened at Yung Ping in 1905. A number of village schools were established and a girls' boarding school was started in 1889 under Miss Annie J. Turner, who worked there until 1928. A Middle School was built in Tongshan in 1924.

Vicious rumours regarding the oversight of children by French nuns in the Tientsin RC orphanage resulted in rioting in 1870, in which the Methodist chapel and other property was destroyed and W.N. Hall was in grave danger. Further trouble during the Boxer rising of 1900 resulted in the death of 37 Chinese Christians, including several children, commemorated by the 'Martyr Memorial Hospital', built at Wuting in 1931 under the direction of D. F. Craddock.

The Ningbo District was founded by the UMFC in 1864. Because the Rev. W.R. Fuller soon had to retire because of ill health, the real founder of the mission was Frederick Galpin, who arrived in 1868 and served in China for 30 years. In 1875 he was joined by the Rev. Robert Swallow, who trained as a doctor in order to add the ministry of healing to that of evangelism. Ningbo College was opened in 1906, and educational work among girls began in 1924.

Wenchow (Wenzhou) District was the second District to be founded by the UMFC. The area had been explored from Ningbo by Frederick Galpin. Its first missionary, the Rev. I. Exley, appointed in 1878, died three years later. The mission was firmly established by William E. Soothill, who arrived in 1882. Under him and his wife the mission grew in 25 years from a membership of 30 to 10,000, with 200 churches. The Wenchow College was opened in 1903 and the Wenchow Hospital was in 1897 under the guidance of Dr. Alfred Hogg, the first UMFC missionary to China.

Yunnan/South West China District: Hudson Taylor of the China Inland Mission addressed the 1884 BC Conference and a mission to China was decided upon as a result. The 'field' allocated by Taylor was in the far south-west province of Yunnan, where the first missionaries Thomas G. Vanstone and Samuel T. Thorne began work in 1886. They were followed in 1887 by Francis J. Dymond and Samuel Pollard and over the years by a succession of dedicated men and women. By 1900 churches had been established in Zhaotung, Kunming and Huitseh, together with primary schools and some medical work.

The Miao of south-west China were distinguished from the dominant Han Chinese by dress, language and customs. They were serfs, tenants on the large estates of wealthy landlords. They were disadvantaged, degraded and despised, but in 1904 a 'revival' began among them. The first enquirers were received by Pollard in Zhaotung and within months people from village after village came seeking to be taught. A new mission station on a hillside 25 miles from Zhaotung came to be known as 'Stonegateway', and here evangelism, education and medical work among the Miao was centred. Associated with Pollard from the beginning of this work were Harry and Annie Parsons and, from 1910, William H. Hudspeth. These four mastered the Maio language, hitherto unwritten, and Pollard devised an ingenious script for it. By 1919 the New Testament had been translated and the British and Foreign Bible Society undertook its printing. Movements towards Christianity also developed among two groups of the Yi race, the Nosu and Kopu, and among the River Miao in the north of the province. A hospital was built in Zhaotung.After 1932 the Mission was reorganized into the 'South West China District' and divided into circuits, with a fully representative Synod, where an increasing share of responsibility was undertaken by national ministers and leaders. In spite of considerable persecution, political unrest and the effects of two World Wars, the work grew until the coming of Communism in 1950. Although all missionaries had to leave, overseas support ceased and schools and medical work were taken over, the Church survived the vicious onslaught of the Red Guards, to emerge into new life in the 1980s. In 2017 a group of researchers and a film crew from China visited Britain in search of their Bible Christian roots, and especially places associated with Pollard, Parsons and Dymond.

The Hunan District was the last of the seven Districts to be established and the third under the auspices of the WMMS. Hunan was fiercely anti-foreign and consequently opposed to Christianity. The initial Methodist penetration was made by two Chinese laymen from Hubei Province on 12 April 1893. They returned gladdened by the response they had received. A year later a Mr. Tsang Yih Tsz (Chang Yi Chih) returned from another visit eager to form a Chinese Missionary Society to send preachers into Hunan. By the turn of the century three missionaries from the Society were working there. They were followed by western missionaries, including Gilbert G. Warren and W.H. Watson. By 1902 a Church had been established in the Provincial capital Changsha and from this base other area were gradually reached with the gospel. Educational and medical work was established, notably in Lingling and Shauyang.

The Sino-Japanese war (1937-1945) brought disruption to the Church in China. Six of the seven Districts suffered varying degrees of occupation, the exception being the South West China District which, because of its remoteness, became a refugee centre for many who fled from the Japanese advance. The Districts which came under Japanese occupation were divided into 'free' and 'occupied' zones, making travel and administration difficult. Preachers sometimes had to use devious routes to pass through Japanese lines to reach their appointments. On Japan's entry into World War II missionaries in occupied areas were interned. Of the MMS missionaries, 70 were placed in 'Civil Assembly Centres' (30 men, 23 wives and 17 women missionaries), along with 23 children. The majority were in and around Shanghai, with a few in North China, Ningbo, Canton and Fatshan. With the capitulation of Japan most interned missionaries returned home, but a few, including Donald B. Childe, returned to their Districts for a short period to gather news of Chinese colleagues and attend Synods. After the collapse of Japan civil war broke out between the Chinese Nationalist (Kuomintang) and the Communists.The Communist victory and the formation of the People's Republic of China on October 1949 brought further pressures on Church life and the need for it to be under local leadership and self-supporting. The outbreak of the Korean War (1950-1953) brought a resurgence of nationalism. The take-over of mission institutions was accelerated, with Communist Party members appointed to run them. Missionaries had hoped to be able to carry on as usual, but by now many had reached the conclusion that their continued presence was an increasing embarrassment to Chinese colleagues. So by February 1951 only a few missionaries remained - in South West China - and by the end of the year all MMS personnel had withdrawn.

A survey in 1950 indicated that there were 21,000 full members and a Chinese community of 57,000 in the Chinese Methodist Church. Today there is no Methodist Church in China, but many of its former Chinese ministers are playing a leading role in the Three-Self (self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating) United Protestant Church of that land. Their faithfulness, despite passing through the traumas of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), when many were imprisoned or sent for reform through labour, is living proof that the Methodist mission in China was not wasted or lost. There is still a Methodist Church in Hong Kong which, since its hand over to China by Britain on 1 July 1997, has become a Special Administrative Region of the People's Repulbic of China.

See also Macau.

  • G.G. Findlay and W.W. Holdsworth, The History of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society (1921-1924), vol. 5 pp.421-562
  • Mrs Thomas Butler, Missions as I Saw Them (1924)
  • Henry Smith, John Edward Swallow and William Treffry, The Story of the United Methodist Church (1932)
  • Harold B. Rattenbury, This is China (1949)
  • Stanley H. Dixon, 'The Experience of Christian Missions in China', in International Review of Missions, July 1953
  • 'Bible Christian Missions in South West China', in A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, vol.4 (1988) pp.618-22
  • G.R. Senior, The China Experience (Peterborough, 1994)
  • John Pritchard, Methodists and their Missionary Societies 1760-1900 (2013), pp.119-30

For the Bible Christian work in South-west China: Methodist Recorder, 8 December 2017 and