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[Letter from Young John Allen to Dr. Lehon]View image of page
My dear Dr. Lehon,
Having in previous letters nos 1 & 2 urged the necessity of qualifying and thrusting out a greater number of vigorous native agents to meet the wants of our work and extend the area of our operations, I will now venture to call your attention to the field which seems most open and assaible [unclear] for the full development of our church system. Our church in spirit and cast is essentially missionary in its organization, based on the great principle that redemption by Christ is general, and that consequently, christianity is a universal remedy for the wants [deleted] sin [added] and woe of the world, and true to that principle and spirit, it has set to work, accepted the world as its parish, and adopted a system, at once characteristic and competent as a means to the end, of reaching and meeting tho [unclear] its wants.
The success which our church has had in the West during the past century has been unparalleled and marvelous and while we may not claim all the honor of its efficiency as attaching to and belonging to the illiteracy [unclear] , yet we conceive [unclear] this greater share of its triumphs is due to the ubiquitous and vigorous enterprises [unclear] of that system.
While therefore, we are anxious to see our church established here, and that
characteristic and efficient feature of it in large and extensive exercise among
this people, (yet we cannot
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to discern great embarrassments, and hence great and just reasons for careful consideration of the field that we should broach and occupy in view of the largest measure of success and protracted usefulness.)
We think it becoming in us, in view of the vastness of this Empire, and the great diversity of its dialects, as well as the utter impossibility inability [added] under which the church suffers labors [added] to meet the demands made upon it to use every caution to make a selection from the numberless dialects and sections of this great country, which shall give us the widest range of efficiency and usefulness.
As you are aware, and as I have stated above, the country while it is nominally
one, governed by the same Emperor and laws, and having the same written and
printed characters, is really divided into as many sections or tribes, with
altogether different spoken dialects, quite as dissimilar and unintelligible to
each other, except by means of the written character as the nations of Europe,
who use the roman letters but have an idiom and dialect peculiarly their own. So
extensive are these differences that scarcely any two of the ports now open to
foreign commerce in China, have the same dialect or are intelligible to each
other. These difficulties not only occur on the coast they are
still in the Interior where each large
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city becomes the center of a different dialect which is gradually shaded down and lost as you proceed still farther beyond. Besides, none of these dialects, admit of being written, no works [deleted] books [added] are attempted to be printed in them by the natives. If they read at all, which is exceedingly rare, perhaps about one in a hundred, may have some idea of what a few of the simplest [ [Characters]] are called- they must read the terse [unclear] literary style, or the Mandarin which is a simpler style, consequently they have to use what to them is a dead language.
These remarks apply more particularly to that Section of Country to the South of
the great river Yang Tze, where the tribes and dialects are as numerous
apparently as their large cities. Having learned one of
their dialects, you are
The acquisition of one of them does not qualify
you for access to or work among the others, for the natives
themselves find it impossible to acquire anything like a proficiency to enable
them to communicate very readily. North of the great river however while there
exists slight changes in dialect yet the idiom, and expression is the same and
apparently had a common origin, in one distinct tribe. Their language is what is
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is [sic] usually [unclear] known as the Mandarin which is both written and printed [unclear] . It is the language of the Consul [unclear] and has always been, both where the Capital was at Nankin and in Pekin. All [added] teachers and tradesmen are supposed to speak and understand more or less of it. It is estimated that 3/4 of the Provinces of the Empire can read it understandingly and that it is the spoken dialect of nearly one half the whole Empire. Through this vast section from Nankin its most southern city you may travel north to Pekin and be readily understood & vice versa or from the Shantung province on the eastern coast to the far [unclear] interior provinces of Szechuan and Shensi and be also intelligible.
While in the Southern regions a native preacher would be almost useless away from his own immediate city and dialect, in the north he may travel and preach & be [added] understood throughout the whole region.
These are facts which I think it worth while to notice, in view of our future operations here, for although it is our desire to give all this people, whatever be their dialect, the opportunity of having the gospel &c- yet I think it far more compatible with common sense, and the system of