Born in England and raised in a conservative Plymouth Brethren home, Rawlinson went to China in 1902 as a Southern Baptist missionary but in 1921 was separated from that mission for his liberal views and became a missionary of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Living his entire career in Shanghai, he was at the center of ferment, both in church and mission, and in the national scene, as China struggled to find national unity while the Protestant churches sought ways for interchurch unity. He was the liberal, outspoken editor of the Chinese Recorder from 1914 until his death in Shanghai in 1937, which occurred as a result of Japanese bombing.
In later years Rawlinson constantly questioned his own missiology and role, his personal struggles reflecting those in church and nation. As he contemplated the enormity of social problems in China, he looked for solutions in ecumenical cooperation, such as the National Christian Conference (1922) and the National Christian Council of China. He was a principal organizer of the Moral Welfare League of Shanghai and, beginning in 1922, was editor of the China Christian Yearbook, published by the China Christian Council. Always sympathetic to Chinese nationalism, he hoped that China might some day have a universal religion, based on Christianity and supported by the weight of Chinese tradition. His writing constantly probed the questions of the day, asking “Whither China?” or “Whither church and mission?” An early issue of Life magazine called him “one of the most influential white men in China.” He was a prototype for the progressive, socially concerned missionary of his time. The best source of his thinking can be found in the many articles he wrote for the Chinese Recorder.
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.
- Katherine Lodwick, ed., The Chinese Recorder Index: A Guide to Christian Missions in Asia, 1867-1941 (1991); Wallace Merwin, Adventure in Unity: The Church of Christ in China (1974); John Lang Rawlinson, Rawlinson, the Recorder, and China’s Revolution: A Topical Biography of Frank Joseph Rawlinson, 1871-1937 (1990).