Changing Manchuria and the Manchurian Chaplaincy, by the Rev. H. W. Overs (1936)

IF IT CAN be said that the Orient is changing, how much more truly can it be said of that part of it which has been the scene of so much political activity during the past decade. Manchuria is not only changing—it has changed.

During the time that the writer has lived there, since 1926, a new regime has arisen, which is so far different from the old as to warrant a change of name for the country.

Manchukuo does not seem to our western eyes so euphonic as Manchuria. There is difficulty with the pronunciation. Radio broadcasters call it “Manchu-kewoh” or “Manchu-quo.” And they have every reason for so doing. Who would guess that kuo in Chinese—the name means simply country—is pronounced gwar? The name rhymes with heretofore, not status quo.

This difficulty over pronunciation is not trivial. It is symbolic—for us westerners. Manchuria has a nice welcome sound; Manchugwar is anything but nice. The change in the name sums up in a word the effects of the change in the country.

Before 1931—that date is now alluded to as the year of the “Incident”—there was a welcome to “foreigners,” as all non-Chinese are called in China. Now it is not so.

The “Open Door” policy is a joke: or it would be if it were not so serious for foreigners who formerly tried to make a living there and have now given up trying. It may be an open door. It is, in fact, an open exit. There comes to my mind a riddle which my old headmaster boasted that he had invented—the only alternative answer to the old riddle, “When is a door not a door.” His startlingly novel answer was “When it’s an egress.”

But enough of joking. The opinion of the present writer —formed after ten years of living in the country—is that foreigners are no longer welcome in Manchukuo. And it is not to be wondered at. Look at it from the point of view of the nation that has expended much money and energy in creating the new state. Do they welcome those who desire to do business and to take money out of the country? I trow not.

In 1926 there were a dozen firms, British, American, and German, working in Manchuria. Now there is only one of any importance, the British-American Tobacco Company. The oil monopoly of 1935 caused the closure of the two last big firms there, the Standard Oil Company and the Asiatic Petroleum Company.

But what has all this to do with the work of the Church in Manchuria? The answer is, A great deal. The work of the Church may be divided into two parts: evangelistic and pastoral, i. e., missionary and “chaplaincy” work.

Evangelistic or missionary work in Manchuria is mainly in the hands of the Church of Scotland mission and the Irish Presbyterian mission with their joint headquarters at Mukden. The Anglican Church—for obvious and good reasons—does not overlap with missionary work, but confines its activities to the care of its own people who are residents in Manchuria.

As regards missionary work, the new regime has recently adopted a “positive policy” towards native Christians, somewhat similar to the experience of Korea twenty years ago. Native Christians have been arrested and “examined” for alleged complicity with Communist plots to overthrow the new state. The new regime is most suspicious of this Communism, whatever is meant by the term. Proximity to Russia is the excuse for this suspicion. If the Christians happen to be working for foreign firms they are especially liable to arrest. If they belong to any society—however innocent—they are asking for trouble. Some Christian students of the Manchuria Christian College in Mukden belonged to a society for assisting a poor student to pass through college. They called it the One Cent Society because they contributed one cent per day. They were all arrested and imprisoned for weeks or months.

This persecution, however inconvenient for the persecuted, may have its benefits in the long run. Church history bears this out. It is a time of discipline and testing for the Church in Manchuria. Up to the present only those who are connected with British firms or missions have been subject to persecution. The reason for this is that they are associated with the nation which was mainly responsible for the Lytton Commission whose findings are unpopular with the present regime. In fact, some of those arrested were questioned as to what they told the commission which visited Mukden four years ago. The Oriental has a long memory.

It is hoped that only good will come out of the present distress. Good in the way of a better quality of Christianity. From now on, those who are influenced to join the Church will know that their decision may entail suffering for their Faith. This has ever been so in the history of the development of the Faith.

AS REGARDS the chaplaincy—that side of the Church’s work which is concerned with the spiritual oversight of the non*native or foreigners in Manchukuo—the effect of the new regime has been disastrous. Whereas when the present writer took over the chaplaincy in 1926, there were upwards of 500 persons in the four congregations scattered in Manchuria, now there are less than a hundred. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel which has partly maintained a chaplain in Manchukuo for nearly 30 years has now decided at least temporarily to stop the grant. It is a sorry tale; and sympathy is felt for the few remaining Christian folk in Manchuria who are at present without a resident chaplain. The Church of Scotland Mission in Mukden, with whom the most cordial relations exist, will continue to help in maintaining a weekly service in Mukden. This arrangement, which has the sanction and blessing of the Bishop of North China in whose diocese Manchukuo is, has gone on happily for the past ten years. The absence of the chaplain in other places on certain Sundays in the month has been an occasion for this happy experiment in Church union. A weekly service has been held in St. Barnabas’ Church, Mukden, since its consecration in 1933, either by the chaplain or a member of the local Scottish or Irish mission. It has resulted in nothing but good on all sides.

There are two beautiful little churches which have been built and maintained by the foreign congregations, at Newchang—once a flourishing port and now reduced to a handful of foreigners—and Mukden. Here, it is hoped, the Bishop of North China will be able to arrange for occasional celebrations of Holy Communion. The Church in Dairen is used mainly by the Japanese Congregation of the Sei Kokwai—the Episcopal Japanese Church. The future outlook for the Church in Manchuria is unsettled, but “God sitteth above the water-floods.”

The Living Church (Milwaukee), 1936, pp. 789-790.


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