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Robert Morrison

the first Protestant missionary in China

Robert Morrison

Robert Morrison was born in Buller's Green, Morpeth, in Northumberland, England, on January 5, 1782, the youngest son in a family of eight children. He was educated at a local school under the tutelage of an uncle, and at age 14 was apprenticed to his father, a last and boot-tree maker. He joined the Presbyterian Church in 1798, and soon decided he wanted to be a missionary. Because his mother did not approve of his chosen profession, she made him promise not to do anything to further that dream while she lived.

Morrison's mother died in 1802, and in 1803 he was accepted to the Hoxton Academy, a training college for congregational ministers. In 1804 he was accepted to the London Missionary Society, which decided to prepare him for duty in China. Knowing a working knowledge of the Chinese language would be of invaluable benefit, he took in a Chinese gentleman living in London, from whom he learned to read and write in Chinese. In 1806, he found a translation of the Gospels into Chinese in the collections of the British Library, which he began studying and transcribing. He also began transcribing a Latin-Chinese dictionary, a copy of which the Library allowed him to take home. He was ordained a minister on January 8, 1807.

Morrison was now ready to become the first Protestant missionary in China, but he had to overcome one more obstacle. He had intended to sail to China aboard an East India Company ship, but company policy specifically forbade the carrying of missionaries as passengers. So he booked passage on a merchant ship bound for New York, from which he traveled to Philadelphia, where he was able to get a letter of introduction to the American Consul at Canton. He then managed to get passage on a ship bound from New York, and arrived at Macao in September 1807; he arrived at Canton soon after.

Hoping to gain acceptance among the Chinese, who greatly mistrusted Americans (they only knew that Morrison had arrived on an American ship), Morrison immersed himself in the Chinese culture. He dressed in Chinese costume, wore a false pigtail, let his fingernails grow long, ate only Chinese food, and always traveled in public with his Chinese tutor. Unfortunately, the sudden change in lifestyle made him ill, and he was forced to abandon the experiment. He was forced to return to Macao in June 1808 to regain his health, but was able to return to Canton by the end of August. He would spend the next 26 years working in Canton, teaching Christianity to the Chinese using their own language, translating the Bible and other Christian works into Chinese, and writing volumes of other works in both Chinese and English.

Robert Morrison died in Canton on August 1, 1834, and was buried at the Old Protestant Cemetery in Macao.

His Translations and Writings

translation of Acts of the Apostles (1810)

a summary of the doctrine of divine redemption, in Chinese (1811)

translation of the Gospel of St. Luke (1811)

translation of the New Testament (1812)

Horae Sinicae, English translations from popular Chinese literature (1812)

an annotated catechism on the teachings of Jesus Christ, in Chinese (1812)

translation of Genesis (1814)

short abstract relative to the scriptures, in Chinese (1814)

Dictionary of the Chinese Language (published in three parts, 1815-1823)

an outline of Old Testament history, in Chinese (1815)

A Grammar of the Chinese Language (1815)

Translations from the Original Chinese (1815)

Dialogues and Detached Sentences in the Chinese Language (1816)

A View of China, for Philological Purposes (1817)

a collection of edifying hymns in Chinese (1818)

translation of the Book of Common Prayer (1818)

a collection of miscellaneous theological essays, in Chinese (1818)

A Memoir of the Principal Occurences During an Embassy from the British Government to the Court of China in the Year 1816 (1819)

a fictional travelogue in Chinese, written in the persona of a Chinese scholar named "Dusty Traveller" (1819)

A Retrospect of the First Ten Years of the Protestant Mission to China (1820)

complete translation of the Holy Bible (1823)

Notices Concerning China and the Port of Canton (1823)

A Grammar of the English Language (1823)

China: A Dialogue, for the Use of Schools (1824)

Memoirs of the Rev. William Milne (1824)

Chinese Miscellany (1825)

Vocabulary of the Canton Dialect (1828)

a book of domestic instruction, in Chinese (1832)

an occassional Chinese magazine (1833)

four issues of an English-language occassional magazine, The Evangelist: And Miscellanea Sinica (1833)

The Morrison Collection

East India Company

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This page was last updated on January 04, 2018.