China’s Qing dynasty (1633–19 11) was weak and precarious. The arrival of missionaries in the 19th century, and colonial attempts to exploit Asia’s vast wealth, took advantage of that weakness to overcome China’s long-standing resistance to foreign missionaries. Roman Catholics had already reached China in the 17th century but the 19th century was the beginning of the Protestant missionary effort, and it came in the wake of Britain’s imperial exploitation of China, which involved trade in Indian opium to gain a commercial toehold in Asia. In the First Opium War (1839–42) Britain compelled China both to open its ports to the opium trade and allow missionaries to enter. The Taiping rebellion broke out in 1850. Its instigator and leader, Hong Xuiquan, blended his own visions with Christian teachings to produce an apocalyptic movement, which proclaimed that he was Christ’s younger brother. This quasi-Christian movement was not defeated until 1864, in a war that cost as many as 20 million lives. Missionaries found the Chinese language extremely hard to master, but there were some successes. At the treaty port of Amoy (Xiamen), the American missionary John Talmage built the first Protestant church in China, and soon his congregation were electing Chinese elders, following the Presbyterian model a network of further churches, schools, seminaries and hospitals soon followed.
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