Wilhelm Lobscheid, a Lutheran born in Germany in 1822, was sent out by the Rhenish (Barmen) Mission to China in 1848. He learned Chinese in Hong Kong and began helping Karl Gutzlaff, playing an important role in the opening of China to the Gospel as an adventurous pioneer missionary. One of his apprentices during that time, Wang Yuanshen, became an evangelist in Hong Kong and Shenzhen for over thirty years. Wang’s two sons, Qianru and Yuchu, also became ministers.
Lobscheid resigned from the Rhenish Mission and returned to London from 1851-52 in order to gain further medical training and experience. He married Alwine Kind shortly before his return to China. Lobscheid’s reports, published in The Gleaner, greatly influenced Hudson Taylor, who traveled to see him in London. Despite Lobschied’s first impression that Taylor would “never do for China” because of his fair complexion, Lobschied became his mentor and language teacher in the four months spent on ship back to China (Broomhall).
In 1852, Lobscheid became the first medical agent of the Chinese Evangelization Society (CES). Based in Hong Kong, where he helped to lead a church along with Arthur Taylor, he worked extensively with the Cantonese on the mainland in eastern Guangdong (Kwangtung). Along with Theodore Hamberg, Rudolf Lechler, and Ferdinand Genahr, Lobscheid was one of the first Protestant missionaries to reside outside treaty ports.
Alwine and their son, William, died in 1854, and their two daughters, Olga and Lydia, were taken in by Arthur Taylor and his wife, who at the time was ill with dysentery. That same year, Lobscheid was robbed as he traveled through the tumultuous mainland. Being left with no possessions, he was safe as he passed through dangerous areas, sometimes even joining bandits for protection. On his return to Hong Kong, he relieved the Genahr family, who had not been able to travel to safety and had become “nearly skeletons” (Broomhall). Lobscheid later married Bertha Thekla Agnes Rogalla von Bieberstein.
Faithfully continuing Gutzlaff’s work when others severed ties with the Chinese Christian Union, Lobscheid promoted Gutzlaff’s project of manufacturing stereotyped plates for printing his revision of Medhurst’s translation of the Bible into colloquial Chinese. Even after part of the Delegates’ translation was completed (which most thought superior to Gutzlaff’s translation), the CES sponsored Lobschied to employ 30 men in printing 10,000 copies of Gutzlaff’s translation. Lobscheid also prepared and printed several medical treatises.
Medical work was essential to the freedom Lobscheid experienced in working and preaching on the mainland. His skill in medicine was renowned, with “Palankins with bearers constantly sent to fetch him … He [was] often for months together, in places where no European [had] ever been before” (Broomhall). A mandarin had led Lobschied throughout southern China, connecting him with Chinese leaders and opening opportunities for him to preach and administer medical help, and by 1855, two congregations had formed with a total of 220 baptized members. Lobscheid called for Western aid to form a school on the mainland for educating Chinese believers in both Western and Eastern sciences. He said, “the difficulty does not consist in getting a footing in China, but in thoroughly cultivating the occupied ground” (Broomhall). He also encouraged more female missionaries to be sent to China as teachers, and said, “the Chinese are an intelligent and a very interesting people who can be educated easier than the children of Europeans” (Broomhall).
With his ability in the Chinese language and some knowledge of Japanese, Lobschied served as a Dutch interpreter on Powhattan’s voyage to Japan in 1855 in order to ratify an American-Japanese commercial treaty. He reported having given the secretaries of the Fukong magistrate a geography, Wanguo shizhuan, and a copy of the New Testament. Lobscheid then sent a report and appeal to European churches to send a missionary to the Japanese. He returned to Japan again that year with a British expedition.
While working in Ho-an, Lobscheid was forced to flee from the angry Chinese after the British attack on Canton in 1856. He traveled to Winnes’ house in Pukak during the night, but a violent Chinese mob held them for ransom. Winnes remained trapped in the house with the mob, but Lobscheid was able to escape. As he made his way to Genahr’s house, the mob chased him over rooftops and through a field until he hid in a cold river among pineapple plants for hours. After walking over rough ground in the dark and almost breaking his leg, he finally reached the house by morning, and he and Genahr sailed to Hong Kong. Genahr’s home was looted; Winnes was eventually rescued by British troops. Once hostilities had subsided, the missionaries were able to return, and in 1857, Lobscheid reported 54 new converts in Ho-an and Palowai.
Lobscheid was closely connected to George Smith, the Bishop of Victoria, who praised him to the CES, among other missionaries, as having “high character and efficiency.” However, after unjust criticism from the CES, Lobscheid resigned in 1857 to work for the government in Hong Kong, as well as the Netherlands West India Emigration Co. In 1870, he moved to San Francisco, California, where he pastored St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. He then settled in Youngstown, Ohio, in the 1880s, where he worked as a doctor, optometrist, and pastor until his death in 1893.
- A.J. Broomhall, Hudson Taylor and China’s Open Century: Barbarians at the Gates, 318, 338, 342, 346, 372, 400.
- A.J. Broomhall, Hudson Taylor and China’s Open Century: Over the Treaty Wall, 26, 34, 36-8, 46, 53-5, 69, 75, 78, 162-4, 179-80, 190, 236, 247-8, 313-14, 329, 345, 350-51, 386-90, 402, 414.
- A.J. Broomhall, Hudson Taylor and China’s Open Century: If I Had A Thousand Lives, 24, 43, 63, 135, 153, 238, 399.
- Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christian Missions in China, 460.
- Jessie Gregory Lutz, Opening China: Karl F.A. Gutzlaff and Sino-Western Relations, 1827-1852, 201, 306, 311.
- R.G. Tiedemann, Handbook of Christianity in China, Volume Two: 1800-present, 256.
- For more details and bibliographic information, see the article on Wilhelm Lobschied in the Ricci Roundtable.