Mesny in China’s Millions

David Leffman Mesny, Miao, Miao War Leave a Comment

On 19 February 1877, British missionaries Charles Judd (Zhu Mingyang, 祝名扬) and James Broumton (Ba Zicheng, 巴子成) arrived at Guiyang, capital of Guizhou province, to establish the city’s first Protestant mission. They recorded first impressions of the city – including their welcome from Mesny – in China’s Millions, journal of the China Inland Mission.

China’s Millions, 1878

On their way to Guiyang, Judd also wrote how he and Broumton had their first glimpse of the Miao ethnic minority, many of whom later converted to Christianity:

“We afterwards met many Miao on our further journey of a few days to the capital of the province, Guiyang. At that place we found a few in the employ of our kind friend General Mesny, who is there in the service of the Chinese Government. From him we learned much about them. There are in all about seventy-two tribes of these Miaozi, having several different dialects; and some tribes are distinguished by difference in dress. The black Miaos, the most numerous and powerful of them, are probably so called from their dress being all of a dark colour. Since their late conquest by the Chinese, the men have been compelled to shave their heads, and have very largely adopted the Chinese style of dress; but the women wear a black tight jacket, much like an English lady’s, and below that a short skirt of many folds. They bind a long strip of dark calico round their ankles, and another long piece round the head. Pieces of pretty embroidery encircle the elbows and wrists.”

Broumton described how Mesny helped them from the start:

“When I arrived near the city two men met me, sent by one who has proved a warm friend [Mesny], to escort me to his house. Mr. Judd and I had intended to put up at an inn till we saw whether we could obtain a house or not; for we thought that [Mr Mesny], being in a high official position, it might involve him in some difficulties if we were to go direct to him. However, when I arrived I met with a most hearty welcome [from Mesny], and found that Mr. Judd had been here some time, and had met with the same. So here we are, ensconced in a beautiful house, where we are invited to remain as long as we please; our host offers us also a house that he owns in the city, or one in the country 60 li distant (near a market town). He is to visit the latter place to-morrow, and we are to accompany him… Our host had told all his friends that he was expecting us, and yesterday and to-day we have been quite busy meeting visitors. He thinks there will be no difficulty at all in itinerating in this province, and will be able to furnish valuable information as to routes, etc. [Luckily we didn’t delay our arrival, as Mesny] expects shortly to leave this place. He is known by everyone ; he does everything possible to make us comfortable, and seems delighted to have us here.”

Judd elaborated: “Now about our premises. The desolation of other cities by the Miao war has caused people to flock to the capital; hence there are very few empty houses to choose from. Our host [Mesny] has one now occupied by one of his employés, who will give it up to us very soon. Its position is excellent, on high ground, and on a moderately quiet street near the grandest thoroughfare in the city. We are welcome to do what we like with it; and if ever it should be required, [Mesny] kindly offers to repay us whatever we may have spent on it. The buildings are not worth much, but all the material on the ground we are welcome to use. No one could possibly be more kind and liberal towards us than our kind host. We have almost daily intercourse with mandarins of high rank, to whom he helps us to give the message of the Gospel.”

The next day, Judd and Broumton made the journey to Mesny’s farm at Shuitian village, where they met two men who had accompanied Mesny to Guizhou in 1868 and enlisted alongside him in the Chinese military:

“We spent two nights in the house of Mr. Fan, who is now placed there to watch these recently-conquered Miao tribes. Mr. Fan is a pleasant and plain Chinese gentleman, who was one of the kings in the great T’ai-p’ing rebellion. At one time 5,000 taels (more than £1200) was offered for his head. But he is now put into this quiet little place out of the way. He and his neighbour Mr. Peh were professed Christians in the rebellion, but have now gone back to some degree of idolatry, having had no Christian teacher to help them, and but little knowledge of the Word of God. Mr. Fan said with some sadness, “It is true that we have gone astray from the true God in many things; but our hearts are still believing in Him.” We urged upon them both to come out clearly for the Saviour; but their confessed fears are, that if they do so, they will losewhat little living they now have.”

On 2 March, Judd departed Guiyang, leaving Broumton as the sole representative of the CIM in the city, though three more missionaries arrived on 27 June. Broumton’s diary records a few more impressions before Mesny himself left the city two months later:

“ March 6th. To-day bricklayers and carpenters commenced work at the house I hope to occupy, pulling down the shop and preparing the timbers for the chapel.”

“April 1st.—This morning, being Easter Sunday, I thought I should like to see the service at the Roman Catholic Cathedral [French Catholic priests had been in Guizhou since 1756, and claimed 800 converts]; so I went to the seven o’clock mass. The Cathedral stands in the north quarter, and is the most prominent building in the city. The body of the edifice is in the Gothic style, and the ends in Chinese ; the spire being a pagoda, in which are a clock and bell. The interior is lofty and arched gracefully. A partition runs down the centre to divide the women from the men, as it is against Chinese etiquette for men and women to sit together indiscriminately. There are neither pews nor seats, but low long stools to kneel upon, so that the people must either stand or kneel. The service was conducted much in the same style as at home; the garments and vestments were different, being made to suit the Chinese taste.”

“Sunday, 27th May. In the afternoon received word that the goods General Mesny was expecting had arrived. They consisted of several cases of Christian books and tracts which General Mesny had ordered some time since. He kindly handed them over to us to dispose of as we thought best. This gift is most opportune, for Mr. M’Carthy’s stock of books is nearly exhausted, and he was counting on being able to replenish from my store, which also is almost run out, so that these come in very nicely. In the evening we had some prayer together at General Mesny’s, and I felt sad to think that this was the last of these happy Sunday evenings I am to spend with this kind friend, as he is leaving here to-morrow.”

“May 28th—Major-General Mesny left Guiyang this morning [for the capital of Sichuan, Chengdu, where he had arranged to meet William Gill]. He called to say good-bye to us, and to leave some things in my charge. We had some prayer together, and parted reluctantly. I do not remember having felt a parting so much since I left England ; for the kindness and Christian love of this good friend has endeared him to me, and has in no small measure tended to my happiness and comfort here.”

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