Huang Guangcai was a prominent figure in the history of the American Episcopal Church Mission in China. He was the first convert to be baptized, the first candidate for Holy Orders, and the first clergyman to be ordained.
Huang Guangcai was born in Xiamen, Fujian in 1827. When Bishop William J. Boone started his mission work in Xiamen in 1842, Huang, a 15-year old boy, was offered by his father, the caretaker, to the Boones to help take care of the household including two children, Henry and Mary. Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Boone died of cholera. During her illness, Huang cared for two children by himself. In 1843, Huang was taken to America by Bishop Boone as a companion and returned with him in 1845. On the return voyage to China Huang came to the bishop, saying that he wished to become a Christian, but on arriving in China family circumstances separated Huang from the missionaries, and it was not until some months had passed that he joined them again.
Boone was in Shanghai, where he had been reassigned by the Mission Board. He kept inviting Huang to come to Shanghai, with no results until late that year when he suddenly showed up, weak and forlorn, with a very sad tale. On arrival in Xiamen, he had nursed his father back to health, but then his mother was sick for a month and died; his father followed her a month later, along with two brothers (age 3 and 7) — it was clearly some kind of local plague. He himself was sick for 3 weeks but recovered. He had to pay all the major funeral expenses and had nothing left but the clothes on his back. The Boones took him in, repaid some debts, bought new clothes, asked for prayer for him, and arranged to continue his English education themselves while paying a teacher to continue his Chinese education. All along, Boone hoped Huang would become a Christian and then a church leader.
Huang Guagcai applied himself to the study of doctrine and gave proof of his faith, so that on Easter Day, April 12th, 1846, he received baptism. On this day also the bishop for the first time used his knowledge of the Shanghai dialect to deliver a short address and prayer after the baptism.
Bishop Boone’s spoken Shanghai Chinese seems to have been adequate both from his earlier residence among Chinese and because the young Huang Guangcai was his informal teacher. Thus, while the other missionaries struggled with Shanghainese, Boone was immediately able to devote himself to translating and preparing materials in Chinese, including the Prayer Book, a Catechism and Communion Service.
In 1851, Huang was ordained deacon, having been thoroughly tested and having entirely proved his sincerity and fitness for the office. Shortly thereafter he was betrothed. He did not get married then, for he was waiting Boone’s returning from the State to perform the ceremony.
The bride had attended Miss Emma Jones’s Girls’ School, and was the first of its pupils to receive baptism. It is told of her that on her wedding day, being questioned as to why she did not cry, which was then considered the proper thing for a Chinese girl to do at her marriage, she replied, “What have I to cry for? Am I not marrying a young man who is liked and respected by everyone, and a clergyman, too? I shall certainly be very happy; I have nothing to weep about.”
Huang became the first Chinese deacon, and after thirteen years in this office, on November 8, 1863, he was ordained as the first clergyman of the Protestant Episcopal Church in China.
Huang Guangcai was liked and respected by everyone who knew him. His life was devoted to the work of the mission, and he was as efficient as he was dedicated and faithful. He lived to see the second Bishop Boone consecrated, to see the work of the mission extending and prospering, and his own children following his example in faithfulness to the Church. His daughter, Huang Su’e, was also a leading figure in the American Episcopal Church Mission, the first woman principal of St. Mary Hall. She later became the wife of Francis Lister Hawks Pott, the President of St. John’s College.
Huang Guangcai died in Shanghai on November 12th, 1886, at the age of 59.
- Annette B. Richmond, The American Episcopal Church in China, published by The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, New York, 1907.
- Muriel Boone, The Seed of the Church in China, Philadelphia: a Pilgrim Press Book, United Church Press, 1973.