CHINA is still complicated for Christians. How much more so in 1897? A newly qualified Scottish doctor, Thomas Cochrane, who came to faith through Moody and Sankey’s Glasgow crusade in 1874, and worked his way through medical school, had offered himself to the London Missionary Society (LMS), to work in the Sudan. That proved impossible, however; so he offered to go to “the neediest place on earth”. The Society took him at his word, and sent him and his bride to Chaoyang, on the border of China and Inner Mongolia.
Using Cochrane’s diaries and papers and the LMS archives, his step-grandson Andrew Adam, himself a doctor, has written an account of Cochrane’s time in China in the tumultuous years from 1897 until 1911, during which imperial China was replaced by a modern republic. The shameful British-initiated Opium Wars had introduced opium to China, undermined Chinese society, and opened China to Western trade, exploitation, and missionaries. In such circumstances, missionaries were hardly welcome, especially when many treated the Chinese as “backward natives”.
Cochrane, in a remote town, with no knowledge of recent advances in Western medicine, hygiene, and sanitation, had a vision for a mission hospital, training Chinese doctors to the highest Western standards. Working out his commitment to reflecting God’s love for humankind, he treated beggars, lepers, and addicts, in the most adverse circumstances, including hostility and xenophobic guerrilla warfare. Providential coincidences, including, improbably, becoming a confidante of the empress’s chief eunuch and securing her approval and donation, enabled him to establish the first government-recognised medical school and teaching hospital in China providing Western-style training for Chinese doctors. He thus played an important part in indigenising modern medicine and Christianity in China.
This accessible, well-told account illustrates the courage of 19th-century Christian missionaries to China, and Cochrane’s unusual enlightenment among missionaries in seeking to train Chinese to work with him.
The Ven. Dr William Jacob is a former Archdeacon of Charing Cross.
Thomas Cochrane and the Dragon Throne: Confronting disease, distrust and murderous rebellion in Imperial China
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