1801  — 1861

Elijah Coleman Bridgman

Eliza Bridgman (1805-1871)

First American missionary to China; evangelist; pastor; writer; Bible translator; respected Sinologist.

Bridgman was born April 22, 1801, in Belchertown, Massachusetts, of godly parents who were descendants of the Pilgrims. In 1812, he came under the influence of God’s grace during a revival in Hampshire County. He joined the Congregational Church in his hometown the next year.

In his youth, he struck those who knew him as “always kind and affectionate, obedient and faithful, diligent in business, assisting his parents, ‘fervent in spirit, serving the Lord’” (Bridgman 2. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from this work.). He later wrote of his mother: “I can never forget her instructions, nor her anxiety for my salvation… My dear mother talked, prayed, and wept over me. I felt my rebellious heart rise against God, when his truth was brought to bear upon my mind; she saw it, but slackened not her efforts. To have her weep over my stubbornness was too much; I could listen to her words, but her tears I could not withstand” (3).

Bridgman’s mother died in 1814, and he often spoke of her decease later. “So peaceful, so full of faith, Christ so precious; in her departure from this life there was nothing to regret but the loss of her prayers and tears upon the survivors” (5).

Through reading The Missionary Herald (then called the Panopolist), and columns in the Boston Recorder, he became interested in the work of overseas missions. With the encouragement of his parents and his pastor, he decided to prepare himself for the work of Christian ministry.

He obtained degrees from Amherst College (1826) and Andover Theological Seminary (1829). In response to the urging of Robert Morrison of the London Missionary Society and of pious American merchants who offered free passage, Bridgman was ordained and was appointed for service in China by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in 1829.

A few months before, he had written: “And now, as God has brought me to this place with a view, as I humbly hope and trust, of using me as an instrument for the good of the gospel of his dear Son, unto Him, therefore, even unto thee, O God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, I desire to render thanks and consecrate myself anew, through Jesus Christ. Amen” (6).

First years in China

Bridgman arrived Macao in February 1830, where he was welcomed by Mrs. Mary Morrison. Three days later, he went to Guangzhou (Canton) to meet Robert Morrison. He immediately began language study under Morrison until all foreigners had to leave Guangzhou and be reunited with their families in Macao. Bridgman and Morrison “had found each other’s company congenial and enjoyed working together. Bridgman was quick with the language and a scholarly writer in English” (Broomhall 1.214).

Despite his close association with Morrison and his son John Robert, Bridgman felt very lonely, as he was the only missionary with the American Board. In 1836, the Rev. Edwin Stevens, who had worked with the Seaman’s Friend Society in Guangzhou, joined Bridgman’s society, greatly encouraging him.

When Robert Morrison died in 1834, Bridgman’s grief was intense. He had spent much time with Morrison during the latter’s last days, reading the Bible and praying together with him. He preached Morrison’s funeral sermon.

Literary labors

He soon began the literary labors to which he devoted much of his life. In 1834 he became the first joint secretary of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge; he was a founder of the Morrison Education Society and its president for many years, and he was active in organizing the Medical Missionary Society in China (1838). Later he edited the journal of the North China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society.

In 1832, Bridgman started a mission press and, working with Robert Morrison and his son John, began publication of the Chinese Repository, which he edited until 1847. His goal was “to impart information concerning China, by arousing an interest in the spiritual and social welfare of her millions” (74). “Success was immediate, and Bridgman was still editor twenty years later” (Broomhall 1.215). In addition to an open correspondence column, where all sorts of opinions were shared, the journal featured articles that became “a storehouse of information about China… . Translations of Chinese edicts and news provided a service otherwise unavailable. Political information and comment were welcomed. As a result, merchants became interested in Chinese law, literature, customs, culture, and happenings” (Broomhall 1.215–216). With growing knowledge came increased respect for Chinese officials and the culture generally.

By 1836, he had begun the revision of Morrison’s translation of the Bible, working with Walter Medhurst and John R. Morrison. At first, they had to use wooden block types, but they later acquired metallic types, making them independent of Chinese printers.

From 1839 to 184,1 he worked at Macao, preparing a “Chinese chrestomathy” to aid in language learning. Published in 1841, this volume of 730 pages “embraced a great variety of subjects, and ‘as its title indicates,’ was designed to furnish a series of easy lessons comprising simple instruction, or that which is plain and useful,” about all facets of Chinese culture (116).

Along with other missionaries, Bridgman wrote tracts that were used by Liang A-fa in his evangelistic and pastoral ministry.

Perhaps because of his early publications, Bridgman was awarded the honorary Doctor of Divinity degree by the University of New York in March 1837.

Other activities

In addition to his writing and translation, Bridgman regularly engaged in language study (in the earlier years), teaching from the Scriptures, and correspondence.

Though he was still single, in 1831 Bridgman took young Chinese children into his home. He taught them English, as they desired, but also the gospel. Later, he also welcomed into his home a boy named Achun, aged ten; another was the son of Liang A-fa, China’s first evangelist.

This shows just how much of an early missionary Bridgman was. He was personally instructed by Robert Morrison, knew Liang A-fa and worked with him, become close friends with Morrison’s son John Robert, and heard the colorful and controversial German missionary Charles Gützlaff preach in 1832. When Dr. Peter Parker arrived in Guangzhou, Bridgman formed a friendship with him that lasted the rest of his life.

Appeals for more workers

Almost from the beginning of his career in China, Bridgman began to call for more workers to come and join him. He often bewailed the “apathy” toward foreign missions that he discerned in the churches in America, and repeatedly urged them to awake from their somnolence and see the needs and opportunities of the vast field of China.

In a letter composed by him and John Robert Morrison to friends at home, after listing the names of the few missionaries working among Chinese in Asia in 1835, he wrote:

But what are these, a dozen missionaries among the millions of Chinese to whom the Gospel is to be preached? And where are the converts, the churches, and the Christian families among the Chinese? Where are the Christian schools and colleges? Where are the thousands of Christian pastors and teachers who are needed for so great a multitude? And where are the millions of Christian books and Bibles to supply all these numerous families? Darkness covers the land, and gross darkness the people. Idolatry, superstition, fraud, falsehood, cruelty, and oppression everywhere predominate, and iniquity, like a mighty flood, is extending far and wide its desolations …
[He describes the fierce opposition of the government and persecution of Liang A-fa.]
Though the prospect before us is dark, very dark, yet we see no reason to be discouraged; on the contrary, we find much to call forth new faith, new zeal, new efforts, new laborers, and above all, more frequent and fervent prayers. The field seems boundless; and in many places it is already white for the harvest. But the laborers are few. “Pray ye, therefore, the Lord of the harvest that he will send forth more laborers into his harvest” (98).

Both the Chinese Chrestomathy and the Chinese Repository were meant to mobilize other missionaries for effective service among the Chinese, as were Easy Lessons in Chinese and a Chinese Vocabulary. “Dr. Bridgman was a man of close observation and used his pen to mark in his walks the result of that habit. Notices in the Chinese Repository are frequent of what he saw and considered on the sea and on the land, in the country and in cities” (165).

Service for the American government

During negotiations to secure American access to China, Bridgman assisted as translator and adviser from 1842 to 1844. Though the United States had not been as belligerent or active in the opium trade as were the British, the treaty that resulted from these negotiations made Americans just as complicit as the British. He did not approve of the opium trade but, like most missionaries, believed that the First Opium War was used by God to open China not only to commerce but also to the gospel. At least in the memoirs preserved by his wife, Bridgman did not seem as outraged by the evil actions of Great Britain and other imperial powers in forcing the hated drug upon the Chinese people as did Hudson Taylor.

We should note, however, that when Commissioner Ling destroyed foreign opium in Guangzhou, he invited Bridgman and Charles King, of the Olyphants company, to observe. Lin reported to the emperor that “they were attentive and respectful of him” (Broomhall 1.246). And, after Britain had agreed to discourage the opium trade after the treaty, smugglers found ways around this barrier. The Chinese Repository reported on this offense. Bridgman clearly did not want China to be swamped by this terrible drug.

Still, he seemed to be more aware of the arrogance and stubborn isolation of the Manchu regime than of the national pride of the British.

As a result of the new treaty, “the absurd claim of universal supremacy, long ago made clear by the Chinese in their books, and always avowed and claimed … has been exposed and exploded” (119), and “the Chinese empire was removed from its old, isolated condition, and was placed in a new sphere, where all its relations, domestic and foreign, are subject to new and powerful influences” (120). These “influences” included, supremely, the gospel of Christ.

Thus, Bridgman was optimistic toward the future of China, partly because of his post-millennial theology: “Holy Writ gives full assurance of a coming period, when pure religion shall universally prevail, and that conduct be exhibited which are in accordance with the laws of God” (121). After the Treaties of Tianjin in 1858, he was even more confident that the unfettered access to foreign missionaries would result in a great expansion of the church in China. “A wide breach has been made in the wall of exclusiveness, which so long interposed a formidable barrier between the heralds of salvation and the perishing millions of this empire” (233).

As a recognized expert on the language, culture, and politics of China, Bridgman was sought out as an informal advisor by some of the foreign negotiators. He was happy to be of some help. As in 1842, he did not – at least as recorded by his wife – express abhorrence at the other effect of the treaties, which was to legalize the opium trade. To him, the freedom to spread the gospel was paramount. Though he did not approve of the opium trade, he merely commented on the effects of the Opium Wars, without giving his moral assessment.

From one standpoint, his views were warranted: In the six months after the signing of the treaties there were “more converts … than during the first half century of Protestant missions in China” (236). Now more than ever, he appealed for the churches at home to send out more workers, not just young men, but pastors as well.

Noting with joy the many thousands who had come to Christ during the great revivals in American during the same period of time, and the zeal for commerce with China that was driving hundreds of young men to profit from China’s open doors, he pleaded for believers to consecrate themselves to the great work of bringing the news of saving grace to the Chinese.

Views of Chinese character

Elijah Bridgman had what seems to be a fair and balanced appreciation of the mental capacities and cultural attainments of the Chinese people:

Probably the Chinese have more peculiarities than can be found among any other people; this, however, does exempt them from feeling grief, pain, reproach, honor, hope, fear, and the like as keenly as any other mortals. With their peculiarities we have little more to do than to understand them with the simple object to meet and hear the Chinese men, not as infernal or celestial, but as human beings (105).
Taking them all in all, we suspect the Chinese will not, in natural endowments, suffer in comparison with the inhabitants of any other equal portion of the globe. The impress of the Creator’s hand is clearly seen in the east, as in the west … In useful attainments they have advanced as far as any people ever have gone, or can go, without the aids of divine revelation…
Foreigners are without any great influence over the Chinese, because they have too little knowledge of their character (109).

Bridgman sought all his life to grow in his knowledge and understanding of the Chinese language, culture, and history, and he urged other missionaries to do the same, lest “embarrassments, growing out of ignorance, [be] constantly experienced” (109).

With regard to whether, or how much, the ancient Chinese “knew and worshiped” God, he writes: “Some broken rays of pure light, no doubt, were communicated to the eastern patriarchs, having been transmitted from the great progenitors of our race through their immediate descendants. But all traditionary light was soon extinct; all correct ideas of Deity, and of man’s origin and destiny were soon lost; and the human mind groped in darkness. Thus [they are] alienated from their Maker, the source of all good” (108).

That is, though we may find some evidence of creation, sacrifice, and the Flood in Chinese characters, myths, and their concept of Shang Di, the supreme ruler, these are not enough for the Chinese truly to know or worship the one true God. “The people are in darkness, and they need the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (108).

His letters and articles provide vivid descriptions of idol processions on the “god’s” “birthday,” the “gloomy” graveyards, worship in temples and at shrines, and other evidences of what he considered futile bondage to superstition and ignorance.

In 1845, Bridgman married Eliza Jane Gillett, an American Episcopalian missionary. She had founded and managed for 15 years the first girls’ school in Shanghai. Sensing God’s leading to preach the gospel of Christ in large cities, Bridgman saw Guangzhou and its environs as a vast mission field. In Guangzhou, they moved into a large, newly built foreign-style house with three stories. Bridgman explained that missionaries had to dwell in such buildings in order to escape the diseases that were rife in the low, close-packed, and poorly constructed Chinese homes.

Their Chinese servants lived on the first floor. “The printing press located on the second floor; the third story afforded apartments for the family… There was a small study, where sat the missionary, who was always accessible to the Chinese, that daily came to talk more or less on the Gospel doctrines, from the Buddhist priest to the Chinese soldiers,” one of whom became a believer. “There was also a weekly Bible-class for literary men, who met for instruction and prayer” (138). One of these was baptized in 1845.

“The cool of the day was devoted to street or boat-preaching. The whole time was filled up either with the labors of the pen or oral teaching” (138–139). On the Lord’s Day, Bridgman spoke in the chapel in the morning and took his turn conducting services in the hospital in the afternoon. He was always busy: “One man comes with this matter, and another with that… and one must write and work on through all these difficulties” (140).

His wife adds: “The missionary’s house was seldom without guests” for missionaries passing through Guangzhou. “His study, among other uses, was like a post-office, with letters to his care, and parcels to be forwarded to missionaries at the different posts… The printers were counseled and prayed with among his in-door labors; the Repository edited; correspondence had a due share of thorough attention, and preaching to the poor idolaters, in God’s temple, under the canopy of heaven, was his special delight” (143). Bridgman also loved distributing tracts to people whom he selected out of the crowds in the streets. He spoke from five to eight minutes to groups of twenty to fifty in an hour and a half.

Unlike some missionaries, Bridgman was not looking for quick results. “I am not so anxious for baptisms and churches as I am for conversions” (146). He had seen too many who had fallen away after baptism. He explained to his home office that he could have had a church earlier but aimed for long-term fruit from his daily ministry of preaching and distributing Christian literature.

He was thrilled to have a very capable helpmeet: “Mrs. Bridgman relieves me from all domestic cares, and renders assistance in many ways, studies Chinese as she goes about the house, reads with the teacher, and now and then comes and sits by my side. Then we go to the hospital, and she leads the singing in Chinese. Just the help, just the wife I needed” (141). He found that Chinese women and children responded warmly to her: “When a [foreign] lady speaks to them, takes notice of their children, or hands them a book, they are much pleased. They have an old proverb, ‘Seeing the face creates kind feeling.’ This is verily so” (148).

Often accompanied by Eliza, he would sometimes walk to the surrounding villages beyond the southern side of the city. He was amazed by their “multitudes,” and constantly wrote home: “Come and help preach the Gospel to the great people of China!” (149).

Sometimes the people of city, provoked by some foreigner’s offensive act, or stirred up by rumors promulgated by the literati, expressed anger, even hatred, towards all foreigners, including the missionaries. On one occasion, the Bridgmans were nearly killed by a mob when they went on a boat into the countryside. Bridgman showed great calmness and courage, and God protected them, but it was a close call. They had to move to safer places on several occasions to escape anti-foreign agitation and riots. None of this deterred them, however, or altered their determination to share the love of God among the Chinese. Bridgman’s writings show no sign of bitterness or resentment, only pity towards those who did not know Christ.

Chinese who dared to rent premises to the foreigners or otherwise to help them sometimes also suffered loss or even harm. After the treaties of Tianjin were fully ratified, the atmosphere changed markedly, but in Guangzhou there was still some danger. Bridgman worked with Liang A-fa, the pastor of the Chinese church there. This took courage on his part, for resentment against foreigners still lingered.

An open home

His cousin, the Rev. James G. Bridgman, who had come to do missionary work, moved into their home in 1845. In the fall of that year, a little Chinese girl of seven was taken into their home; a second came at the end of the year. “These two children formed a nucleus of a female school subsequently under Mrs. Bridgman’s care,” he wrote (142).

The Bridgmans had no children of their own, but they welcomed the children of others into their home and their hearts. From 1852–1853, they took one of Eliza’s pupils, a girl named King-meh, with them on their furlough to the United States. The girl “interested the friends of missions by her gentle and winning manners” (194). King-meh became not only a strong believer but a teacher of Chinese women. Eventually, she married a Chinese Christian man.

After moving to Shanghai, they built a commodious house that could accommodate a number of residents. Thus, they were able to take in several new missionaries during the Taiping rebellion. Among the missionaries to whom they extended hospitality was the young Hudson Taylor, who arrived in 1854. They did not know how much their kindness meant to him, but he remembered with gratitude. When he had been forbidden to live outside Shanghai, Taylor later sought advice and counsel from Bridgman and other senior missionaries.

Later in 1854, he and another missionary visited the camp of the Taiping rebels on behalf of the foreign consuls. At this early stage in the rebellion, they were not able to glean much information, however. At one point, the Taiping armies drew dangerously close to the foreign settlement in Shanghai. Bridgman joined other missionaries and merchants on the night watch but, unlike the others, did not arm himself.

In 1855, they were asked to adopt the infant daughter of a missionary wife who had just died. After prayer and consultation with their Chinese pupils, who encouraged them, they agreed. King-meh had said, “I will help the Chinese nurse” (209).

Eliza’s narrative continues: “Ere the sod had covered the form of the young mother the babe was brought in the arms of her nurse, and two hearts, at least, beat in unison to welcome the little birdling from the Lord. It may be asked, what has this event to do with Dr. Bridgman’s life and character? Well, it is one of those golden links in the chain of providences that developed a ‘perennial spring’ in the heart’s depths, and a new fountain of blessing” (209). The girl grew and, under the instruction and influence of her foster parents, believed in Christ and was baptized. Bridgman spent as much time with her as possible. “Thus, this tendril entwined itself about that loving heart, which beat in sympathy as Jesus’ did, with all humankind” (210). He called her his “little star,” from the nursery rhyme he taught her to sing repeat at night. When Margo turned four, she returned with her biological father to their home country. Both Elijah and Eliza felt her absence keenly.

Years later, after Margo’s father had remarried, this second wife also died, and his infant daughter was again given into the Bridgmans’ care. Once again, Bridgman became deeply attached to the little girl, and she to him. He held her in his arms and sang lullabies to her to help her fall asleep. Once again, he had to endure a hard loss, for she died after only twenty months in their home.

Bridgman had suffered another grief when he learned that his cousin, James Granger Bridgman, who had shown great promise as a missionary, “in a fit of derangement had destroyed himself” (187). They thought that he had gotten depressed from living alone and from too much work and contemplation. Only later did they learn that he had suffered a concussion when a stone thrown by a Chinese hit his head.

Church-planter and pastor

Though he considered Bible translation to be his main responsibility, Bridgman continued sharing the gospel. Gradually, a small group of converts gathered, meeting in their home, cared for by Bridgman and his wife. Some were children whom they had taken in; others were mature adults. When he died, this congregation numbered twenty-four.

Scholar and supporter of the dissemination of broad knowledge

Though he had turned over the editorship of the Chinese Repository to another missionary, Bridgman continued to expand his knowledge of Chinese culture as well as of literature and science. In 1858, he and Alexander Wylie formed the North China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, of which he was president. He was also president of the Shanghai Literary and Scientific Society, composed mostly, but not exclusively, of fellow missionaries. He believed that China needed to know about Western civilization, as it was based largely upon Christian revelation, and that such knowledge would “shed forth healthful influences on all sides of us, to the very remotest limits of this vast empire” (217). With prophetic insight, he foresaw a day when Shanghai would become a center of modern learning.

Increasingly, however, he turned more and more of his attention to the study of the Scriptures, not only as a translator, but as a pious believer. “He studied the characters of the Old Testament saints, made this study his theme of conversation in the family circle, and rejoiced in the prospect of meeting them before the throne of God” (217–218).

Above all, he was thrilled when he heard of how God had spoken to Chinese who had read the Scriptures and come to know Christ.

Bible translation

Shortly after baptizing his first convert, he moved to Shanghai in 1847, where he was primarily occupied in working on Bible translation, his version appearing shortly after his death. The revision of Morrison’s Bible had been published in 1840, the work of Walter Medhurst, J.R. Morrison, Karl Gützlaff, and Bridgman, whose role in this translation “was not a conspicuous one,” though he spent much time on it. One reason was that Medhurst and Gützlaff were responsible for most of the translation; another was his disagreement with the other men on certain terms, including the proper rending of words for “God” (Peng 40–41). This version had an immense influence on later translations of the Bible into Chinese.

Beginning in 1843, he was one of fifteen missionaries who participated in the translation of the Delegates’ Bible, a joint effort of British and American missionaries from different societies. Bridgman was originally the appointed delegate from Guangzhou and Hong Kong. After his move to Shanghai, he met in Medhurst’s home with William Boone, Walter Medhurst, John Stronach, and Walter Lowrie, until Boone retired from the group and Lowrie was killed by pirates, to be replaced by W.C. Milne. They worked together for three years and published the four Gospels in 1850. They were assisted by Chinese men, whom Bridgman described as “intelligent and well educated” (Peng 47).

Eventually, the “term question” led to a split between the American and British delegations. The Americans – Culbertson and Bridgman – produced a new version, though neither man lived to see its publication in 1863. Though this translation, called the Bridgman/Culbertson Version, was not as well received as the Delegates’ Version, because it was a more literal translation rather than one intended to appeal to educated readers by its style, “it is superior in the matter of fidelity to the original. As Wherry stated, ‘This Bible is a valuable aid to the theological student or to the preacher who wishes to get at the exact mind of the Spirit and is a safer basis on which to build a textual discourse than the previous translation’ [the Delegates’ Version]” (Peng 49).

For a variety of reasons, Bridgman and Culbertson chose the Chinese word Shen as the translation of Hebrew and Greek words for “God,” and Shengling for the Holy Spirit. (Some of their arguments, as well as other considerations, are presented in (DOC) Names for God in Chinese | Wright Doyle - Academia.edu). From his studies, he concluded that:

This people, from the earliest period noticed in their history, have been the worshippers of many gods, as they are at this day… So far as I have been able to learn, the Chinese have no knowledge of God, or of the immortality of the soul… Accordingly, we are obliged to take their words, with the meanings which have been current for thousands of years, and employ them in a sense essentially new. For example, we must take the word ‘Shin’ [Shen], commonly used to denote the imaginary beings whom they adore and worship, falsely called gods, and use it for the true God, as he is revealed in the Scriptures. So of the soul; so of heaven; so of hell (169–171).

Eliza writes that “as a translator of that Revelation [that the Chinese did not have] Dr. Bridgman was a man of laborious research. He deeply felt his responsibilities, and a fear, a becoming awe, in such a work as translating the Holy Scriptures into the difficult language of this people” (176–177). He took very seriously the warnings in Revelation 22:19 not to add or subtract anything from the words of that prophetic book.

When Culbertson was on furlough in 1857, Bridgman continued the work on both Old and New Testaments until his colleague returned. They sought to produce a version in “colloquial Mandarin,” which was “a mode of speaking, and also of writing, used at court, and by all the officers and literary men in all parts of the empire. It will carry the traveller (if he speaks it well) all over the country, and enable him, which he speaks, to be understood by all the officers and all the educated men, and also by multitudes of the illiterate” (223).

We see more evidence of his great care to produce a basically literal translation in a letter to the secretary of the American Board: “It is my opinion that the style of the translation should be precisely that of the sacred text, equally plan and simple, preserving and exhibiting, as far as practicable, all the peculiarities of the original” (186). The result was hard for people unfamiliar with the Bible to understand, but most useful for Christians.


In October 1861, he became very ill and was diagnosed with chronic dysentery. As his condition worsened, he sent “messages of parting love” to friends, relatives, various missionary families, and to “the Board and other Missionary Societies, the Bible and Tract Societies, and the native Church.” He admitted that he wished to recover, but “I bow with submission to his will.” At the end, he said to Eliza and Bishop Boone, who were at his bedside, “Now commend my spirit to God … I shall not speak much more, except to Jesus; God will never forsake those who trust in him, no, never” (262).

At his death, long-term friends testified to his Christian character. The Rev. S.R. Brown said, “He was a man of most amiable disposition, the friend of all, of the greatest simplicity of purpose and purity of mind” (265). Bishop Boone published an obituary in the North-China Herald:

He produced the same impression upon all who had [interactions] with him. Guileless simplicity and earnestness were his distinguishing characteristics. He was guarded in his speech, and singularly pure, harmless and without offence. We doubt if there is a person living, who has ever felt himself aggrieved or injured by him by word or deed. His natural temperament was quiet and collected. He was not a man of unusual talent. The amount of good he was enabled to effect was owing to his singleness of aim… His influence was cumulative. He was always increasing the sum by his gentle, consistent Christian deportment, and never did he, by one unkind or foolish word or deed, detract from the already accumulated amount. This was the beautiful point of his character; it was of one piece – consistent throughout. He, perhaps, never performed a single great act in his life; yet such a life, we may surely say, is itself a GREAT ACT (275).

Though we must take into account the Victorian style of biography, which did not easily include the faults and flaws of the subject, we have every reason to believe that the evaluations of Bridgman by his wife Eliza, whom he clearly loved very dearly, and by his old friends, reflect the reality of Elijah Bridgman’s character and conduct. He seems to have been an eminently “Christian” man, in the true sense(s) of that word.

To give one other example: When writing to an old friend on his sixtieth birthday, he said, “I am yet but a young and inexperienced man; old in sin, and in many bad habits; but not in godliness, which alone has permanent value … Oh, for the pure heart, the meek, the lowly mind! … I long to be like my Saviour, and I long to see all my friends too like Him” (254–255).

After her husband’s death Eliza moved to Peking, secured substantial property and started Bridgman Academy, noted for educating a large number of Chinese women leaders.


Elijah Bridgman’s legacy included his family, his writings, the small church he founded, the (auto)biography compiled by his widow, and his example.

“His great work” was the translation of the Bible into Mandarin Chinese. Working with Culbertson, he revised the existing New Testament and translated all of the Old Testament except some of the Old Testament prophets.

G. Wright Doyle


Bridgman, Elijah Coleman. The Pioneer of American Missions in Chinese: The Life and Labors of Elijah Coleman Bridgman. Edited by Eliza J. Gillett Bridgman. New York: Anson D.F. Randolph, 1864. Reprinted 2019 by HardPress, Miami, Fl. This biography consists of extracts from his letters and other writings, the letters of others, and his wife’s editorial observations. That is why she calls her late husband the author.

Broomhall, A.J. Hudson Taylor China’s Open Century. Seven Oaks, UK: Overseas Missionary Fellowship and Hodder & Stoughton. Book One. Barbarians at the Gates, 1981; Book Two. Over the Treaty Wall, 1982.

Peng, Ann Cui’an. The Translation of the Bible into Chinese: The Origin and Unique Authority of the Union Version. Studies in Chinese Christianity. Edited by G. Wright Doyle and Carol Lee Hamrin. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2021.

Stowe, David M. “Elijah Coleman Bridgman.” In Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions. Edited by Gerald H. Anderson. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, Macmillan Reference, 1998.

About the Author

G. Wright Doyle

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