Born in Fayette, Wisconsin, Bashford studied at the University of Wisconsin and Boston University School of Theology. After serving first as a pastor, then for 15 years as president of Ohio Wesleyan University, he was elected a bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles and in 1904 was assigned at his own request to China at age 55, the first resident bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church in China. (Three branches of American Methodism operated in separate regions of China until they merged in 1939 to form the Methodist Church. The Chinese Methodist churches did not elect their own bishops until 1930.)
An able administrator and a man of vision, Bashford bought great progress to his church and its institutions in his 15 years as episcopal leader in China. Always a loyal Methodist, he led the way toward union and cooperation among Protestant forces in China, especially in educational and medical work, Bible translation, and production of a common hymnal; he was instrumental in introducing a spirit of interchurch cooperation among his fellow Methodists. In 1904 he served as first president of the board of Hwa Nan Women’s College, Foochow (Fuzhou), and encouraged the union of colleges for men and for women in four major cities as early as 1905. He helped bring about union theological seminaries in Foochow and Nanking (Nanjing).
Bashford favored the union of the northern and southern branches of Methodism in China as early as 1906, as well as Methodist participation in forming the National Christian Council in 1922. However, he opposed a Chinese Methodist Church independent from the American church, believing that a “world church” like Methodism should maintain its integrity “organically as well as in spirit.”
This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright (c) 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of The Gale Group; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.
Bashford wrote China and Methodism (1906) and (his major work) China: An Interpretatian (1916; rev, and enlarged, 1919). G. R. Grose, James W. Bashford: Pastor, Educator, Bishop (1922); Jerry Israel, “The Missionary Catalyst: Bishop James W. Bashford and the Social Gospel in China,” Methodist History 14 (1975); Walter Lacy, A Hundred Years of Methodism (1948). Bashford’s journals are in the Missionary Research Library, New York.