Born in northern Scotland, Ross served several Gaelic-speaking churches before leaving for China under the United Presbyterian Church in 1872. His ministry deeply touched two areas, Manchuria and Korea. By 1873 he had preached his first sermon in Chinese and had pioneered Manchurian work through wide itineration from his post in Shenyang (Mukden).
Known for his generous spirit toward Confucianism and Chinese ancestral rites, he supported the idea of a Chinese church that would not be a Western replica. In 1873, living on the northern border of a Korea still closed to outsiders, he met traders from the “hermit kingdom.” His growing interests produced the first Korean primer (1877) and grammar (1882) in English, the first history of Korea in any Western language (1879), and, under his direction, the first Korean translation of the New Testament (1887). Its unheralded distribution in Korea produced an authentic church there before Protestant missionary itineration began widely within the country. He retired to Scotland because of ill health in 1910 but continued to write and lecture.
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.
- John Ross, Chinese Foreign Policy (1877), The Manchus (1880), The Boxers of Manchuria (1901), The Original Religion of China (1909), and the posthumous Origin of the Chinese People (1916). Ross’s most widely acclaimed work was Mission Methods in Manchuria (1903). Sung-il Choi, “John Ross (1842-1915) and the Korean Protestant Church” (Ph.D. diss., Edinburgh Univ., 1992); James H. Grayson, John Ross: First Missionary to Korea (in Korean; 1982). A limited number of Ross’s letters are available in the records of the United Presbyterian Church housed in the National Library of Scotland; some materials are also available in the National Bible Society of Scotland, Edinburgh.