From Far Formosa

The Island, Its People, and Missions Chapter XVII  



By George Leslie Mackay, D.D., Edited by the Rev. J. A. Macdonald.

How Bang-kah Was Taken

The stronghold -- Waiting an opportunity -- Forbidden -- Expelled -- Back again -- Mobbed -- Victorious -- Changes -- Honored

BANG-KAH was the Gibraltar of heathenism in North Formosa. It is the largest and most important city, thoroughly Chinese, and intensely anti-foreign in all its interests and sympathies. In 1872, I visited it with A Hoa and got a foretaste of the reception awaiting me on every subsequent occasion. In my journal of 1875 I find the following entry, made after having experienced anew the malignant hate of the Bang-kah people:

"The citizens of Bang-kah, old and young, are daily toiling for money, money -- cash, cash. They are materialistic, superstitious dollar-seekers. At every visit, when passing through their streets, we are maligned, jeered at, and abused. Hundreds of children run ahead, yelling with derisive shouts; others follow, pelting us with orange-peel, mud, and rotten eggs. For hatred to foreigners, for pride, swaggering ignorance, and conceit, for superstitious, sensual, haughty, double-faced wickedness, Bang-kah takes the palm. But remember, O haughty city, even these eyes will yet see thee humble in the dust. Thou art mighty now, proud, and full of malice; but thy power shall fall, and thou shalt be brought low. Thy filthy streets are indicative of thy moral rottenness; thy low houses show thy baseness in the face of heaven. Repent, O [p. 165] Bang-kah, thou wicked city, or the trumpet shall blow and thy tears be in vain!"

We had previously established churches north, south, east, and west of Bang-kah. She sent hirelings to surrounding villages and towns to reprimand the magistrates, incite the people, and frustrate us in the execution of our work. Three large clans, through their head men, ruled the city. All the others had to acquiesce in every proposal. Foreign merchants never succeeded in establishing themselves there. Attempts were made, but their Chinese agents were dragged out of the city and narrowly escaped death. It might seem that mission work should have been begun in Bang-kah first. Indeed, I received a communication from a very devoted and excellent missionary in China -- one who has now gone to his reward -- in which he said, "I hear you have stations in several towns and villages. Why don't you begin at Jerusalem?" Now I did not begin at the "Jerusalem" of heathenism for the same reason that I did not go to Madagascar or to India. I sought to follow the lead of my Captain. He led me to Formosa, and to point after point where chapels were already opened. I knew the time would come when Bang-kah would be entered.

The authorities of Bang-kah issued proclamations calling on all citizens, on pain of imprisonment or death, not to rent, lease, or sell either houses or other property to the barbarian missionary. But in December, 1877, the time came for establishing a mission there, and in spite of all their attempts to prevent our entrance I succeeded in renting a low hovel on the eastern side. On getting possession I placed a tablet of paper on a wooden frame above the door, with the inscription, "Jesus' Holy Temple." Shortly afterward several soldiers who were returning to their encampment near by came, stood, looked up, read the inscription, and immediately threatened me with violence. Then they returned to their encampment and reported to the general, who despatched a number of [p. 166] officers to order me out of the place, stating that the site belonged to the military authorities. I demanded proof of their statement. It was produced, and it was at once evident that I could not maintain my position there. We must respect Chinese law and act wisely if we would successfully carry on the Lord's work, and so I at once admitted their claim, but stated that, as I had rented from a citizen, I would not leave that night. Till long past midnight angry soldiers paraded the streets, shouting threatening words. At times they were at the door, on the point of smashing it, rushing in, and disposing of me with their weapons. Again and again they approached, and it seemed in that dark, damp place as if my end were at hand. On leaving the place in the morning great crowds went in front; others followed after, jostling and sneering; and many viewed me from their low-roofed houses and flung filth and missiles down at me. It took me several hours to make my way a short distance to the river's bank. Entering a boat, I went down the river to the Toa-liong-pong chapel, three miles away, to find my students. We spent the rest of the day there, and in the evening, after preaching in the chapel, we entered the little room and prayed to the God of heaven to give us an entrance into the city of Bang-kah. Rising from prayer, we returned immediately to the city. It was dark, but some lights were visible. Not knowing exactly whither we were going, we met an old man, and inquired if he knew any one who would rent even a small house for mission work. "Yes," he replied, "I will rent you mine." We accompanied him, and, passing through dark streets and over rubbish, came to a small back door opening into a dirty room with mud-floor. We entered and began to write a rental paper. The house had to be rented by a native, for foreigners cannot hold property away from the treaty ports. To be particular I said, "Do you own the site?" "Oh no," said he, "but I can secure the owner this very night." In half an [p. 167] hour the owner was with us, another paper prepared, and both contracts signed and stamped. l was in full possession, and that according to Chinese law, by midnight. He gave us possession at once, crept out a back way, and disappeared.

In the morning I put up a tablet over the door with the same inscription as before: "Jesus' Holy Temple." In less than an hour crowds filled the street, and the open space in front of a large temple was thronged with angry citizens. People came and went the whole day long. The second day the whole city was in an uproar, and the hubbub produced by their thousand voices fell very unpleasantly upon our ears. Still I walked the street among them, now and again extracting teeth, for we had friends even among so many enemies. On the third day lepers and beggars and other lewd fellows, hired to molest us, pressed around with their swollen ears and disgusting-looking features. They tried to rub against us, expecting us soon to quit the premises. About four or five o'clock the excitement grew to a white heat. Hundreds had their cues tied around their necks, and blue cloth about their loins, to signify that they were ready for the fray. One stooped down, picked up a stone, and hurled it against the building. In a moment their screams were deafening. They were on the roof, within and without, and the house was literally torn to pieces and carried away. No material was left. They actually dug up the stones of the foundation with their hands, and stood spitting on the site. We moved right across the street into an inn. No sooner had we done this than scores were on the roof and many more climbing the walls. The crash of tiles could be heard as they attempted to force an entrance. By this time the shouts and yells were inhuman. One who has never heard the fiendish yells of a murderous Chinese mob can have no conception of their hideousness. The innkeeper came to us with the key of the door in his hand and begged us to leave, lest his house be destroyed.

[p. 168] Then there was a lull. The Chinese mandarin, in his large sedan chair, with his body-guard around him, and with soldiers following, was at the door. Just then, too, her Britannic Majesty's consul at Tamsui, Mr. Scott, put in an appearance. We sat down together. The Chinese official told the consul to order the missionary away from the city. The consul quickly retorted, "I have no authority to give such an order; on the other hand, you must protect him as a British subject." I love British officials of that caliber. When the consul left I accompanied him to the outskirts of the city. On my return the mandarin was literally on his knees beseeching me to leave the city. I showed him my forceps and my Bible, and told him I would not quit the city, but would extract teeth and preach the gospel. He went away very much chagrined, but left a squad of soldiers to guard the place. In two or three days the excitement subsided. In a week I was offered a site outside the city, and the promise of help from the Chinese authorities to erect a building there. I refused point-blank. As I was lawfully in possession of the site as well as of the building which had been destroyed, I was determined to have our mission building in Bang-kah, and on that spot. The officials then said that I would not be allowed to build in that place again because it was within only a few feet of the examination hall, although, in fact, the hall was a mile and a half away. Having exhausted their whole stock of excuses and subterfuges, they yielded. I erected a small building on the original site -- not one inch one way or another -- and opened it, with soldiers parading the street to preserve the peace. Still the three strong clans continued to be bitterly opposed to us and our work. Every citizen who dared to become even a hearer was boycotted. The former owner of the site had to flee for his life. In time a few became friendly. We purchased a larger site and erected a good, commodious place of worship, roofed with tiles. During the French invasion in [p. 169] 1884 that building was destroyed by the looters, the materials carried away, and indignities heaped upon the preacher and converts. Within three months after the cessation of French hostilities three stone churches were erected. One of these was in Bang-kah. It is a solid, handsome, substantial church, with stone spire seventy feet high, and lightning-rod three feet higher. It is of stone hewn at the quarry; has pillars and turrets of modern style; the inside is plastered beautifully white, the outside finished in stucco-plaster like colored stonework. There are rooms for the preacher, and an upper room -- the only one in the mission -- for the missionary.

In 1879 six students and I, on foot, and my wife in a sedan chair, were going through one of the streets after dark on our way to the chapel. It was the tenth day of a heathen feast, and the idolatrous procession was about to disband, so that the devotees were wrought up to the highest pitch of fury and agitation. There were thousands of them in the procession, leaping and yelling as if under the afflatus of evil spirits. We were recognized. There was a pause, and a torch was thrust into the face of my wife in the chair, nearly destroying her eyes. A dozen dragged two students by their cues, while others were tumbling a third on the stone pavement. Wilder and wilder grew the infuriated mob. Louder and louder sounded their gongs and yells. Things looked dangerous, when an old man from a house right there rushed up and said, "This is Kai Bok-su, the barbarian teacher. Do not interfere with him or his company. Take my advice and go on in your procession." Fortunately there was a narrow lane at right angles to the street where we met the processionists. Into this he hurried us out of danger. We went directly to the chapel, where I preached on the words of the psalm, "As the mountain, are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people from henceforth even forever."

Changes have taken place in that once proud city. In 1887 [p. 170] I was there during the time of idolatrous rites and processions. Perhaps there never was such a gathering of people in that city before. A Hoa and myself took our position purposely at various places near the temple, on the cross-streets, by the wayside, and on the wall of the new city. Once we were right above the gateway through which the processionists passed, but we were neither molested nor slandered. They went along with smiling faces. That very evening we sat in front of the large temple where years before the mob met to kill us. The same Bang-kah head men were in the procession, and as they came near us they halted and greeted us kindly. Before dark I extracted five hundred and thirteen teeth and addressed an immense throng. But what a change! Who ever dreamed of such a change! I never witnessed such a half-hearted, listless procession. By removing an idol or two the whole performance would have amounted to little more than a sight-seeing farce. But idolatry is far from being dead yet. There is indeed a great change, but hard battles must yet be fought before heathen hearts will yield to Jesus and follow him.

But it was on the eve of our departure to Canada in 1893 that Bang-kah gave evidence of the greatness of the change produced in that city. In the chapel, on the occasion of our last visit, two marriage ceremonies were performed in the presence of a large assembly. The head men of the city sent their visiting-cards, with a message to ask if I would be willing to sit in a sedan-chair and be carried in honor through the streets of their city. I begged some time to consider, and decided that, as in the past they had acted toward us as they chose, so now I would allow them to do the same. A procession was formed on the same level ground, near the same old temple. Eight bands of music, with cymbals, drums, gongs, pipes, guitars, mandolins, tambourines, and clarionets, took the lead. Men and boys with flags, streamers, and banners followed; [p. 171] scores with squibs and fire-crackers set off after the manner of Chinese celebrations. Five head men, a magistrate, a military official, and two civil officials came next in order; and then three large red "umbrellas of honor," with three flounces each, presented by the people, with their names inscribed, were carried in front of me, as I sat in a handsome silk-lined sedan chair. Following the chair were six men on horseback, twenty-six sedan-chairs, three hundred footmen in regular order, and various other parties behind. Thus we passed through the streets of Bang-kah, and on all hands received tokens of respect and honor.

On arriving at Bang-kah "jetty," where the steam-launch was waiting, our Christians stood and sang, "I'm not ashamed to own my Lord." Heathen and Christian alike cheered us as we boarded the launch. Two bands of music accompanied us all the way to Tamsui, and from the launch right up to our dwelling-house. In front of our door was the climax of the demonstration. And all this was from the head men and citizens of Bang-kah, the erstwhile Gibraltar of heathenism. And thus was Bang-kah taken. Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy holy name, be the glory!