Born at Shotts, Scotland, Torrance trained at Cliff and Livingstone Colleges for missionary service. In 1895 he was sent by the China Inland Mission (CIM) to Chengtu (Chengdu), Szechwan (Sichuan), and put in charge of several outstations. He survived the Boxer Uprising of 1900. At the Edinburgh Missionary Conference in 1910, he was asked by the American Bible Society (ABS) to take over their agency in Chengtu. Bible production and distribution saw immense development, and new ABS premises were established that proved an invaluable center for widespread evangelism and the training of converts. In 1911 Torrance married Annie Elizabeth Sharp of the CIM.
During the summers Torrance engaged in evangelizing visitations to the aboriginal peoples who inhabited the upper Min Valley and established churches in Wenchuan County, at the confluence of the Min and To Rivers. There he found the Chi’ang (now Qiang) tribes, who were evidently the remnants of an ancient emigration from the Middle East.
In 1927, when several missionaries were killed by Communists, the Torrances returned to Scotland. The next year, Torrance returned alone to Chengtu, where he engaged in extensive evangelistic and teaching missions in western Sichuan, not least, among the Chi’ang, large groups of whom he took to Chengtu for biblical instruction. In 1935 missionaries were once more forced to leave. All but one of the churches established in the Upper Min and To Valleys were destroyed by Mao Tse-tung’s Communist army in its “long march” in an attempt to wipe out the Christian enclave.
Over the years Torrance gained a considerable reputation as a scholar through research in unpublished Chinese archives and archaeological operations and was primarily responsible for the establishing of the museum in the West China Union University.
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.
- Thomas Torrance, The History, Customs, and Religion of the Ch’iang, An Aboriginal People of West China (1920), The Beatitudes and the Decalogue (1921), Expository Studies in St. John’s Miracles (1938), and China’s First Missionaries (1937, 1988).
- The latter (T. F. Torrance, ed.) contains a selection of articles and research papers about the Ch’iang.