The Young John Allen Papers Site
This site contains transcriptions of letters and documents included in the Young John Allen Papers housed at Emory University's Stuart A. Rose: Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL). For a complete inventory of the collection, see the collection finding aid. The Young John Allen Papers project began as a lab site to instruct graduate students and librarians in text analysis that included text markup in XML, using the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) standard. The Beck Center and MARBL staffs selected the primary source documents.
Brief Biography of Young John Allen (1836-1907)
An 1858 graduate of Emory College, Georgia native Young John Allen became an influential missionary and publisher in China, playing a "significant part in the ultimate breakup of her ancient imperial tradition." Allen arrived with his young wife and baby on the foreign shores of Shanghai in 1860 after a grueling eight-month voyage. The family soon found that the impending Civil War in the United States would have a huge economic impact on their lives, leaving them cut off entirely from any financial support from the Methodist Episcopal Church mission for four years.
This unlikely journey of a small town Georgia boy is rooted in his conversion to Christianity in 1853, while in school in Starrsville. Recalling the time prior to his conversion, Allen remembers being so moved during a sermon by the Rev. John W. Yarbrough in 1851that he jumped out of the window of the church and fled into the nearby woods. Upon his salvation, he also immediately felt called to the ministry. Allen did not speak of being called to the service of God to others, however, for several years, keeping this a private, sacred purpose.
Wiley and Nancy Hutchins, his aunt and uncle, raised Young John Allen. This was the last request of his mother, who passed away twelve days after Allen's birth in 1836 (his father having died two months prior). His mother desired for him to be cared for by her sister and her husband, and Allen did not know of the existence of his birth parents until he was 15. At that point, a cousin Allen encountered at school informed him of his real heritage. Allen wrote home for confirmation, which he received from his uncle. This discovery did not diminish his love for the couple he considered his parents, and he communicated with them and pleaded for their conversion to Christianity, even in letters home from China.
Birth father Andrew Young John Allen had "accumulated a small fortune" through cotton planting. Allen inherited this, and the funds were under the guardianship of William Norsworthy. It is not clear when or where the funds were distributed, though presumably at least a portion went toward Allen's education. There is a report, also, of Allen loaning money to pay for a classmate's move to Augusta for a new job, and given Allen's character, this was most likely a common occurrence.
Young John Allen met the love of his life while he was in college. Mary Houston (Mollie) was born in 1839, three years after Allen. The couple became engaged in 1854, as he later wrote to her, "when first your beauty my heart enthralled". At the age of 16, Mollie became a Christian while in college in Lagrange in 1855. Following a three-year engagement, they were married 1858 in Atlanta after each had graduated from college.
During the years Young John Allen looked forward to becoming a missionary, he thought that Africa was a desirable field for him to spread God's word. But opportunities for Protestant churches to introduce Christianity to China opened up due to the country's defeat by England in the First Anglo-Chinese War (1839-1842). The Treaty of Nanking was signed at the end of the war, which was also known as the "Opium War with England", providing for Chinese ports to be opened to foreign residence. At this time the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, decided to send missionaries to China for the first time. Young John Allen was appointed to China to replace the first missionary appointees, who had to come back to the United States due to poor health.
Young John Allen had to spend almost the entire year of 1859 asking for donations to fund his mission after he was appointed to China. Biographer Warren A. Candler writes that:
"The hardships and toil involved in the work of foreign missions will not be undertaken by one who has adequate knowledge of them unless moved by the commandment of Christ and the behest of the Holy Spirit. The Allens knew what such work meant and entered upon it with intelligent consecration."
Allen finally left Georgia with Mollie and newborn Mellie on November 21, 1859. He was the only one of their group (they traveled with the Rev. Marquis L. Wood and his wife) who did not fall ill during the long, stormy voyage. Mollie lost over 25 pounds while Allen gained twelve, as he writes in a letter, having "not had an unwell hour since leaving". When the ship finally arrived on July 13, 1860, there was no one to meet them, as the other missionaries believed the ship had been lost due to the long length of the voyage.
Cut off from the church due to the Civil War, there were no funds available to support the mission and Allen had to find ways to earn income. Demonstrating the strong work ethic he possessed throughout his life, Allen worked as a coal and rice broker, a cotton buyer, and teacher. He learned the Chinese language and adopted the name Lin Yuezhi (or Lezhi). Allen took his first job in journalism as an editor at the Shanghai News (Shanghai xinbao) in 1868. After only four months in the business, he founded The Church News (Jiaohui xinbao), a journal with a religious focus. In 1874 Allen reorganized this paper to match the secular interests of the urban Chinese elites and renamed it The Globe Magazine (Wanguo gongbao). Allen served as general editor of The Globe until 1883, when he decided that his work as Superintendent of the Methodist Mission in China, to which he had succeeded J. W. Lambuth in May 1881, required his full attention. With financial backing from the Society for the Diffusion of Christian and General Knowledge Among the Chinese (Guangxeuhui), The Globe Magazine resumed publication under the new English title A Review of the Times in 1989. Allen returned as general editor, a position he held until his death in 1907.
Under Allen's editorship the revived The Globe Magazine (Wanguo gongbao) became the most influential news magazine in 1890s China. The journal was seen as the richest and most reliable source of information from and about the West and other regions outside of China. Many essays and translations serialized in the Review were published as monographs, adding to Allen's reputation as one of Shanghai's most capable publishers.
Tragedy struck the missionaries in China in many ways. Allen and his wife suffered the death of three of their children. Three others lived, and Mollie journeyed back to Georgia in 1881 for the education of their two youngest children, leaving their eldest child, Mellie, in China with her father. Other difficulties faced in those years included the theft of Allen's boat, purchased for making trips by water, and the pony used for his rounds on land died.
Life as a missionary in China was not easy, and Allen wrote of danger in his September 15, 1869 letter:
"News of the most unpleasant character has reached us from Tientsin and Tun Chow, in North China. Rev. Messrs. Hodge and Williamson, the former of the Methodist and the latter of London Mission, while en route from Tientsin to their interior stations near Loh ling, the district in which the great awakening occurred two years since, were brutally attacked by parties about midnight of 26th August, resulting in the death of Mr. Williamson and considerable injury also to Mr. Hodge. Their boat was anchored for the night and they were quietly sleeping, and hence altogether unconscious of the impending danger which not only threatened their little property, but even their own persons and even their lives.
The body of Mr. Williamson was recovered some three days after from the grand canal into which it had fallen and was taken back to Tientsin for interment."
Through his work as journalist and editor, Allen was able to build an extensive network of acquaintances throughout China. Allen was a very busy individual, determined to do God's work to the best of his ability. He taught at least three hours per day to earn monetary support for his family, he was responsible for raising and overseeing funds, published newsletters, journals, and magazines, and sought to bring souls to God in all his endeavors. He became deeply involved in the debates of the time. In his journalistic writings and more than one hundred volumes of translations and original works published in his name, he communicated Western concepts of economics, history, politics, international relations, natural science, and gender equality. His calls for basic changes in Chinese society and political institutions had a profound impact on reform-minded scholars and officials in the decades leading up to the fall of the Chinese empire in 1911.