Duncan lost his parents at a young age. He went to Scotland Baptist College and later graduated from Glasgow University, where he earned a bachelor of arts degree. He furthered his studies at Mansfield College, Oxford University, and was tutored by James Legge, a pioneer missionary to China. Showing a natural talent for languages, Duncan learned Wenli from Legge. Duncan came to China in the winter of 1887 and received on-the-job training in Shansi until he could debate in Chinese.
During the Yi-he-tuan crisis in 1900, he found shelter in Shanghai. Shortly after, he became a translator for the Eight-Power Allied Forces and went to Shanxi, Tai-yuen-fu. After the crisis was over, he worked on relieving famines in Shanxi and Shenxi. In 1902, when Shansi University was founded, he was recommended by Timothy Richard to be the acting principal. He rejected for admission to the university the nephew of Shansi’s governor-general’s and was well commended by local Chinese from middle- and high-class society. He died in Tai-yuen, China.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from A Dictionary of Asian Christianity, copyright © 2001 by Scott W. Sunquist, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.
- Stanley, Brian, The History of the Baptist Missionary Society (1994).