In September, 1855, after Hudson Taylor had served as a missionary in China for only eighteen months, he made a decision that was very radical for that era. Rather than living in a missionary compound in Shanghai and wearing European clothing, he decided to live right among the Chinese and to adopt their native dress and other amoral aspects of indigenous culture. He desired to do this in order to lessen cultural barriers to the dissemination of the Christian Gospel and to show his high regard for the native culture of those he was trying to reach.
He hired a barber to shave his head. A single shock of hair on the back of his head was preserved to be grown into a queue. This remaining hair was dyed black, and was plaited to a temporary queue of proper length.
Taylor adopted the attire of a native teacher. He put on thick calico socks, and his satin shoes had flat bottoms and curled up in front, squeezing his toes uncomfortably. The trousers, which were two feet too wide around the waist, he folded in front and kept in place with a strong girdle. The billowy legs of these breeches fell to just below the knees, and he tucked them into his socks.
A white jacket with wide sleeves took the place of a shirt. Over all that went a richly colored, heavy silk gown, with broad sleeves which reached a full foot past his fingertips. At that time of the year no cap was worn, which caused Taylor’s freshly bared head great discomfort in the intense sunlight.
He must have caused quite a stir when he made his first appearance to some of his missionary colleagues. Dr. William Parker, a Scottish missionary physician, looked him over and remarked good-naturedly of the voluminous trousers, “You could store a fortnight’s provisions in those!”
Initially Taylor was not treated as respectfully by the Chinese as he would have been had he been dressed as a foreigner. But that always changed when he offered medical treatment to the people to whom he was seeking to minister. Women and children seemed more willing to come to him for medical treatment than they had before.
Taylor also noticed that, while ministering in inland cities, he attracted far fewer troublemakers by not dressing like a foreigner. If he needed to pass through a crowd quickly without causing a stir, he was able to do so. On the whole he concluded that adopting Chinese garb would greatly promote his evangelistic endeavors to China’s interior.
In Shanghai, however, he soon learned that his fellow Europeans did not approve of the step he had taken across cultural lines. Many merchants and government officials reacted to him with undisguised contempt. More difficult to bear was the obvious disapproval of his missionary associates.
But he bore that disapproval and contempt for the sake of advancing the Gospel and making his ministry more effective among the Chinese. In fact, Taylor continued to wear Chinese clothing throughout the remainder of his five-decade missionary career. After he established the China Inland Mission in 1865, all missionaries who served with the CIM adopted Chinese dress and other amoral features of native culture.
Hudson Taylor mirrored the method and motive of the Apostle Paul who testified in 1 Corinthians 9:20-23: “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the Gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
You can learn much more about Hudson’s life of exceptional Christian faith and service in my book Hudson Taylor, Gospel Pioneer to China. I think you’ll find (as I certainly have) his outstanding example both instructive and encouraging in your own relationship with and service for the Lord.
Copyright 2018 by Vance E. Christie