1843  — 1911

William H. Murray

Developer of a system for the blind to read Chinese.

After losing an arm in a sawmill accident, Murray, a Scot and a devout Christian, became first a letter carrier, then a Bible colporteur. He learned Latin, Greek, and Hebrew on his own. After seven years as an itinerant colporteur for the National Bible Society of Scotland, he was appointed by the society to serve in that capacity in north China.

Deeply moved by the fate of the blind in China, he determined to invent a way to make the Scriptures accessible to them. The Braille system, based on the Latin alphabet, was unsuited to the Chinese language. A system based on numerals was revealed to him in a vision, a system that he successfully developed so that blind people could learn to read in a matter of weeks. Over time, the Bible, hymnals, and other books were published in Murray’s numerical type, schools were opened, a Mission to the Blind and illiterate was organized, and thousands learned to read, leading to a flood of Christian conversions among the blind and illiterate. Many former social outcasts found jobs in printing, bookbinding, music, teaching, and preaching.


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.


  • Chinese Recorder vol. 20 (1889): 128 and 22 (1891): 257; Constance F. Gordon-Cumming, Inventor of the Numeral Type for China (1899; repr., 1918?); “Records of the Missionary Conference, Shanghai” (1890).

About the Author

Donald E. MacInnis

Formerly Director of the China Program, National Council of Churches in the USA, Coordinator for China Research of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, Maryknoll, New York, USA