Dong Jingan was born circa 1875 in Yin County (??), Zhejiang. While a young child he was a precocious student at a local school. At age 8 he entered the school of Northern Baptist missionary, the Rev. Josiah Ripley Goddard (1840-1913) in Ningbo, who singled him out for his outstanding ability. He was taught English by Mrs. Goddard and attained a mastery of the language. He converted to Christianity in 1888. He graduated from the school at age 18, and taught for 5 years at the primary school, after which he was appointed as teacher at the Yimen Yangzheng school. He associated with local scholars, and received the distinction of Xiucai in the Confucian examination system, although he failed to obtain a government post. After arriving in Ningbo, the Northern Baptist missionary Francis Johnstone White (1870-1959) started Ningbo Baptist Secondary School, and Mr. Dong became vice-principal and teacher at this school from 1901 to 1904.
Mr. White was then appointed to the Shaoxing theological seminary from 1904 to 1906, and Mr. Dong joined Mr. White as an instructor in Shaoxing.
In the August, 1906, Dong was invited to become an instructor in the Chinese department of the Shanghai Baptist Seminary, a position which he held from 1906 to 1911. In October 1906, Southern Baptist missionary Principal Robert Thomas Bryan, Dong, and Northern Baptist professor Francis Johnstone White, along with a Mr. Wu were the founding faculty of the Shanghai Baptist Seminary, which held classes at North Sichuan Road in Shanghai. Mr. Dong and Mr. Wu were primarily responsible for teaching the compulsory Chinese language courses in the three-year program as well as the courses of the preparatory year. In the following year, the campus in the northeast part of Shanghai was occupied.
Dong was one of the smattering of Asian and other non-Westerners Christians, including five Chinese delegates, to attend the 1910 Edinburgh World Missions Conference. Appointed a delegate by his Baptist convention, en route he visited Russia, Germany, Belgium and France to study their systems of education and religion. The only Chinese Baptist to attend the conference directly from China, he made a great impression on the delegates gathered, partly because he was the only one to be decked in traditional Chinese attire. In his address to the Conference, he appealed “for a deeper study of the Confucian doctrines”: “They must have more educated Christian teaching in their schools. It was not right that Christian scholarship should be dependent on Confucianism for literary instruction.” At the conference, which was held at Edinburgh University, he was acclaimed with the honorary title of “university professor.” He visited the United States on his way back to China.
Dong was formally appointed to the rank of full professor of the Shanghai Baptist College and Seminary at the beginning of 1911. In the spring of 1911 “Professor Tong reported the evangelistic work done by the seminary faculty and students, stating that there were six preaching places in the villages near the campus where Sunday schools were conducted and work was done among Chinese women.” The village evangelistic work was continued until 1918, when a decision to focus on work on the Yangtsepo Social Center resulted in a two-year disruption. Outstanding graduates of the college trained by Dong included Bao Zheqing, 1914 Yan Qifu, 1914 and Shen Renhe, 1915. In 1913, as an evangelist Dong began what became the Hujiang Baptist Church on the campus of Shanghai Baptist College and Seminary. Students were encouraged to form evangelist bands for spiritual encouragement and spreading the gospel. He was ordained in 1916 as a minister of the Chekiang-Shanghai Baptist Convention. In 1915 Dong was appointed Vice-President of the Shanghai Baptist College and Seminary. He served as acting President of the College during Mr. White’s furlough in 1916-1917.
While teaching at the Shanghai Baptist College and Theological Seminary and conducting evangelistic work among the villages near the campus, Dong became particularly interested in the Christian education of illiterate Chinese. He developed pamphlets of Christian doctrine and Bible exposition that were written with a limited vocabulary of 600 Chinese characters. Dong described his plan to develop 9 tracts: 1. Primer teaching the 600 characters. 2. Reader on Hygiene. 3. The Relations of Man. 4. The Country. 5. Ethics. 6. Physical Geography. 7. Farming and Mechanics 8. Reform of Customs. 9. Letter Writing. He also gave the following four suggestions for missionaries, pastors and teachers to educate the common people: 1. To start evening schools at every station to teach men or women, especially inquirers, 1-2 hours per day. 2. To enlist pastors and teachers, or special teachers who are strongly patriotic to do such work without little or no pay; 3. To use chapels, boys school or Christian homes as class rooms; 4 To obtain books from himself, who was prepared to provide needed assistance.
In December 1912, Dong announced that all the books had been published and were on sale at Presbyterian Press, and there were already 47 schools with 947 students. He was also preparing “a catechism on Christianity, a Bible story based on the New Testament, one based on the Old Testament, and a hymn book” with 600 characters. He also planned to issue a Chinese newspaper using only 700 characters to appear once every 10 days with 8 pages per issue, at a subscription cost of 50 cents for 34 issues per annum. The paper would have 10 departments: 1. Editorial 2. National affairs 3. Important World News. 4. Hygiene 5. Scientific facts 6. Spiritual help 7. Industry 8. Religious 9. Stories 10. Miscellaneous. In 1918, Dong published five brief apologetic tracts of 8-19 pages.
While serving as professor of the Shanghai Baptist College and Seminary, Dong gave his time to volunteer in various inter-church activities. He served as recording secretary of the Chinese YMCA, which planned the Sixth General Convention of the Chinese and Korean YMCAs, which was held in December 12-15, 1912 in Beijing. He lectured on church history at the Chekiang Christian Worker’s Institute, Hangchow Christian College, in July, 1912. November 20-21, 1912, he spoke at the Kiangsu Provincial Federation, St. Paul’s Church, Shanghai, on “How may we best assist Church members in Bible study who are not able to enter Bible Colleges,” recommending the establishment of night-schools, Bible correspondence classes, summer institutes and good text books. In 1913, he was added to the Executive Council of the China Sunday School Union and by the following year he was also serving on the Committee on Theological Education of the China Continuation Committee. In 1918 the educational society of the five southeast provinces of China convened in Shanghai, and Mr. Dong was appointed vice-chairman of the society.
Dong promoted the self-support and self-leadership of the Chinese churches. In the September, 1914, issue of the Chinese Recorder Dong wrote an article “The Chinese Church: Its Activities,” that decried the Chinese church’s reliance on missionary support. Describing “The Pastor’s Duty,” he argued that “some of the pastors do not seem to be concerned about the growth of their churches, numerically and spiritually.” He suggested that a system of accountability should be established between the Chinese congregation and its pastor: “The pastor’s salary should be paid through the hands of the Chinese members…The Church should fix, after consultation with the pastor, a schedule of the pastor’s work.” He suggested a vigorous pastor’s schedule: from Monday to Friday, 9-10 am Devotional Study; 10-12 visitation; 1:30-4:30 visitation, preaching, preparation or helping Sunday school leaders; and 7-8 pm night school teaching or supervising or Wednesday prayer meeting; Saturday preparation for Sunday; and Sunday Regular Work, and that “the pastor should render reports of the past month to the Church.
Emphasizing “Laymen’s Work,” he suggested “Special effort should be made to increase the Christian culture of every layman,” and “Every layman should be given opportunity to do personal work,” and “Every layman should help in the Sunday School work.”
Regarding Social Service, he suggested “A union Christian club could be organized,” “Night schools should be started in connection with the Church,” and “Temperance hotels should be established in all large centers at least.” On Self-Support, Dong argued that industrial work and leadership training should be developed among church members so that they might support their pastors. He argued against missions giving money directly to pastors “as fostering paternalism,” and maintained that the practice of allowing non-Christians in Christians schools, colleges and universities detracted from the development of Chinese Christian leaders.
Despite the efforts of President White to dissuade him, Dong resigned from Shanghai College at the end of the spring, 1919 term. All the students of the college erected a memorial tablet in the chapel, to express their remembrance of him. In July of that same year, Dong opened the Datong Editorial and Translation Society. His editorial and translation work secured his financial independence. His wife, Yuan Peiwu, died in that year, and in the following year he married Zu Nudi.
In his contribution to an Editorial in the July 1919 issue of the Chinese Recorder, in the wake of the May 4 movement, his patriotic feeling was shown in his emphasis on Chinese leadership of the Christian churches and the indigenous expression of Christianity. At “The Evangelization of China—A Symposium,” he argued that “The present method of evangelization should be that strong Chinese leaders ought to do evangelistic work themselves. Most sensitive people do not like to accept Christ because they see foreigners preaching and feel Christianity is a foreign doctrine.” And “the future evangelization of China will be by means of primary education.”
In “How to meet the anticipated Enlargement in Support of Mission work: A Symposium,” questions were posed regarding how the increase of foreign mission support could best help the independent development of Christian organizations in China. In response to two questions (1) If the financial income for your work were doubled next year, what could be done with it? And (2) If the financial income for your work were doubled next year, how would you use it so as to avoid the pauperization and develop the independence of the Chinese affected thereby?” Dong answered “It would be much better to invest it in education work to secure and train the best and strongest Chinese leaders for the churches. I am sure this would not kill but help self-support and the growth of the independent spirit.” Dong served as a delegate to the Conference on Women’s Work, Shanghai, January 2-8, 1920, which welcomed representatives of women’s missionary societies in America.
Continuing his interest in Christian education, Dong established the Dinghai Zhoushan Secondary School in 1921 and then the supporting social institutions, Dinghai Hospital and Dinghai Park, a public recreation field. After four years as principal of this school, he took a period of study of education in Japan in 1925. In 1928, Dong retired from the Dinghai Zhoushan Secondary School. However, he remained active as the honorary pastor of the Shanghai Northern Baptist Church in Shanghai for 15 years. During this period the church underwent many difficulties. In Japanese attacks on Shanghai in 1931 the church building and parsonage were destroyed. They were rebuilt but destroyed again at the onset of the Anti-Japanese war in 1937.
Although no longer a faculty member, Dong maintained his support for the Shanghai College that he had helped establish, serving on the board of managers in the 1920s. In 1926, in order to accommodate changes in the law, it was required that all Christian colleges in China establish Chinese board of directors and appoint a Chinese as president. The board of managers was replaced by the board of directors in 1928. During this transition, as a Chinese board member Dong may have had some role in the appointment of Herman Liu as the first Chinese President of Shanghai College in January 1928. In 1928, Dong was appointed one of 8 Chinese serving on the board of directors of the College, which was then renamed the University of Shanghai in 1931. In 1934, with the support of President Herman Liu, Mr. Ren Ta Ling, one of the University of Shanghai’s graduates, began serving as a missionary of the Chinese Home Mission Society, an organization that was led at the time by Dong. In the 1930s Dong was serving as the general secretary of the Chinese Home Mission Society, an interdenominational organization founded in 1918 by Cheng Jingyi and six others with solely Chinese sponsors that sent missionaries to western China and Mongolia.
The fact that Dong would take a leadership role in an organization established by the Rev. Cheng Jingyi (1881-1939) of Beijing, shows the closeness of their relationship. In the 1910s Dong served on the China Continuation Committee led by Cheng, and he shared Cheng’s ideas of the self-support and indigenous expression of the Chinese church.
In November, 1937, issue of the Chinese Recorder, Dong wrote an article on “The Chinese Missionary society.” The detailed historical account demonstrates Dong’s long familiarity with the work of the society. He noted the vision of the original founders was to “organize a self-supporting Chinese Missionary Society.” At its founding, seven missionaries had been sent to Yunnan. Although the Yunnanese were originally suspicious of the missionaries, when they realized that the Society “was a Christian organization composed purely of Chinese, this old suspicion and misunderstanding disappeared.” Indicating his own personal visits to the mission fields, Dong noted “I have seen personally that nine out of ten men in Szechuen and Yunnan, smoke opium and nine out of the people in Mongolia have venereal diseases. In consequences of this the women and children are suffering most of all.” He noted, “During the past four years the membership has been multiplied from 304 to 1,027 and the most striking fact is that there are 115 whole Christian families.” The “Society is supported by free will offerings from the Chinese Christians.”
Dong practiced calligraphy. His calligraphy work featured in the book Christian Scrolls by Famous Chinese Writers, published by Mission Book Company and on the cover of Chinese edition of the 1936 centennial history of Chinese Baptists.
Dong suffered from high blood pressure, and resigned from the pastorate of the Shanghai Northern Baptist Church when aged 69. The following Lunar New Year, he passed away, being survived by his wife and 70 children and grandchildren.
While in Shanghai Dong was a position to mediate between the evolving evangelical theology of Northern Baptists that was placing more emphasis on social issues, the dynamic conservative theology of Southern Baptists, and the evolving dynamic of the inter-church movement. This was a time of great transition both in the Western world and in China. Dong had a broad range of contacts with Chinese Christian educators and leaders of his day. While teaching at the Shanghai Baptist College and Seminary, he was a role model to the students, was active in evangelistic work in nearby villages, established a church on campus, and began a basic Christian education and literacy movement. After leaving the Shanghai Baptist College and Seminary, he continued his publishing and translation work. He played a major role in establishing institutions for the Ningbo Baptist community in Shanghai, and in China home missions.
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