1823  — 1890

Huang Pinsan

First pastor of the Shanghai Chinese Baptist Church, poet, musician, saint.

Pastor Huang encountered foreigners in the capacity of a teacher for a day school for girls that had been founded by the wife of the Rev. Tarleton Perry Crawford. He not only performed his duties well, but at once took an interest in the religious teaching; he was by nature inquisitive and religious. He himself said that “when he was seventeen, he was a diligent inquirer after truth.”

He was once a Daoist priest. He had also delved into the mysteries of Buddhism and the doctrines of Confucianism. He was a typical Chinese scholar. He knew their philosophy, their chants, and their ceremonies, but he found nothing to satisfy his soul.

He turned to the Christian religion. His struggles were long and bitter. His mind was greatly agitated. But he thought how much better would be eternal life than either transmigration or annihilation [of his soul].

While in this state of mind, he one day brought a sketch representing a soul sitting in the clouds, looking down on its deserted skeleton as it lay stretched upon the ground. A verse of poetry described the soul’s emotion as it contemplated its former habitation.

He was assigned to transcribe the Gospel of Matthew. As he wrote sentence after sentence his heart was moved. He felt the power and life in the wondrous story. He said to Mr. Crawford, “My heart is near the heart of Jesus. I have broken only a few of the commandments, and I think I can henceforth keep them all.”

Mr. Crawford taught him the true doctrine of the law, and that offending in one point was to be guilty of all (James 2:10). Huang was startled. He reflected. He saw it was true. He began to cry mightily for help.

There was no acquaintance who could sympathize with him, and no one to go to but the foreigner. He even thought that foreigners might be in some way different from his people and perhaps Chinese could not experience the same peace and joy in believing. He had been taught, however, that he could have the same blessings as soon as he was in a spiritual condition to receive them.

One day he began to read the Lord’s Prayer. Between each petition he paused to examine himself whether it was said in all sincerity. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matthew 6:12, 14-15). He stopped. “As we forgive! Ah! I have not forgiven some of my old enemies. I will do it – I do forgive them all.” At this moment he felt his sins like a great house come crumbling to the ground, and the love of God filled his heart. There was great joy when he related his experience to us.

It is very interesting to read of his ideas about joining the church. When asked if he wished to join the church, he said: “If the church is what you say it is, and what I read of in the Holy Book, I wish to do so. Many vile things are said about the foreigners and their religion. I do not credit [believe] them. If Christianity is what I see and believe it to be, I wish to unite with you and follow the Lord.”

In 1855, Dr. Matthew Tyson Yates baptized him in the Huang Pu River. After the ceremony, he was so overcome with emotion that his strength gave way, and he had to be assisted out of the water. He found it almost impossible to make his neighbors believe that he did not receive money, or some other consideration, for becoming a Christian.

His conversation and his zealous labors were the beginning of a religious interest in Shanghai which lasted several years, and resulted in the baptism of seventeen or eighteen persons. Huang was the natural leader of the rest, and in a few years was ordained the first deacon of the Shanghai Baptist Church.

He was an earnest, fearless, and persistent preacher. In 1863, he became associated with Dr. Yates in translating the New Testament into the Shanghai dialect and was given major responsibilities in the church. This gave him intimate and accurate Scriptural knowledge. He and Yates became very good friends.

In 1870, he was he was ordained to the ministry and became co-pastor of the Old North Gate Church. In later years, most of the pastoral duties fell to him. Under his leadership, others in the church took the gospel to surrounding provinces as well. He was not only an acknowledged leader among the Baptist brotherhood but held a high place in the estimation of Christians of other denominations. He was often consulted by them on important religious matters; and he was general adviser to his own flock on all questions, secular as well as religious.

Early in 1890, after a few days of illness, he fell asleep in Jesus, deeply regretted by us all. His wife had been a Christian and a helpmeet for many years. They reared a large family.

Their eldest son (called “Tsong” [Zong] from having been adopted into his sister’s family) has been in the employ of the Chinese Religious Tract society for forty years. He edits The Illustrated Chinese News and Child’s Paper. His son was educated in America, and is now a professor in the Anglo-Chinese College in Shanghai.

Another grandson is in the Baptist Anglo-Chinese School. A granddaughter is a teacher in the Methodist Mission.

Pastor Huang’s youngest son, Sing San (Zion), has been connected with the British and Foreign Bible Society for some twenty years, and is now an accountant in that society. He is a deacon in his church, also. Huang’s sympathies were broad, and he had unusual originality of thought for a Chinese. He had also great respect for women. He once, after aiding in translating a story for children, was asked for criticisms upon it. He replied, “let me take it home and read it to my wife. If there are any defects, her fine perceptions will detect them.”

As a preacher, he spoke to the consciences of men, earnestly and faithfully begging them to flee the wrath to come (Matthew 3:7), and trust the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. He often related the story of his own conversion.

He remained to the last modest and unpretending in manner, never presuming upon the influence he had gained over others.

Socially, he was an interesting companion, genial, and instructive in conversation, possessed of a ready wit and a philosophical turn of mind. His expressions often fixed themselves in the minds of his hearers.

Huang Pinsan was a poet as well as a musician. Some of his verses, a sample of which is included below, were pronounced by competent critics to be the best in the Chinese language.

He had a great reputation as a peacemaker among his people. And he has left a blessed memory.

A hymn by Pastor Wang

Before my lips break forth in praise,

My tears should downward flow,

From thinking o’er my countless faults –

A life of sin and woe.

A fearful hell of endless night,

One seemed to drag me there;

A thousand thoughts distressed my mind

And plunged me in despair.

But God has opened wide the door,

Has sent his only Son,

Who shed for me his precious blood

And saved the hopeless one.

With weeping thanks for saving grace,

My help the Holy Ghost,

I cast myself and all I have,

On thee, my Saviour Christ.


M.F. Crawford, in William Preston Bentley, ed., Illustrious Chinese Christians. Cincinnati, Ohio: The Standard Publishing Company, 1906, 130-139.

Shen, Liang. bdcconline.net/zh-hant/stories/huang-pinsan.

About the Author

G. Wright Doyle

Director, Global China Center; English Editor, Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA.