CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne


Portrait of the Heathen/Bible Womanhood: Minnie Mackay, Aboriginal Converts to Christianity and Victorian Female Association

by Jane Lee (Aletheia University, Taiwan)
A paper presented at The 2009 CESNUR Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah, June 11-13, 2009

        In most of the scholarship surrounding George Leslie Mackay, the focus has been on the great man, missionary, medical doctor, and educator. Very little has been written about the native Christian women in his life and ministry. One reason for such a glaring omission is a patriarchal predilection that persists in academia and despite the gains and insights of feminist scholars. Another is that Taiwanese women’s history is still something of a mystery to Western feminists. To be sure, the subject of his Taiwanese female converts proves difficult because of the lack of archival materials and documents. That said, a cursory reading of Mackay’s biographies, Mackay’s autobiography, From Far Formosa, as well as the Mackay Diaries provide important clues to the crucial role that native women played.  

Mackay was unique in many respects, and in this study the focal points will be on Mackay’s marriage and the aboriginal converts to Christianity. Mackay’s taking a Taiwanese wife against the expressed wishes of his colleagues in Canada is an unconventional and audacious act. His marriage to Chang Tsung-Ming, the chattel of his first female convert, Chen A-So, was not done for love, but out of compassion and devotion to the Christian faith, his belief in the practicalities of native female missionaries and spouses. Formosa was not a place for the average Canadian young woman. The average Canadian young man might find it less inhospitable, too, with a Taiwanese woman at his side—helping him master the language and navigate the culture. Scholars who marvel at Mackay’s mastery of both the language and culture of Taiwan would do well to consider the important role that his wife “Minnie” played.

The aborigines in Formosa had a similar fate as that of the Native Americans. Despised and cheated by the Chinese, they lost their land and were forced to lead a meager life either on sterile soil or high in the mountains. Aboriginal females were the more pitiable as they often had to toil to support the whole family at great expense to their health, while the male warriors’ sole concern was hunting and collecting Chinese’s heads. Thus aborigines were thought to be mere savages in need of the Christian gospel and salvation. Minnie, along with her famous husband, saw their plight, felt sympathy for them, and spread the Word among them at the risk to their health and life.

Keywords: George Leslie Mackay, Chang Tsung-Ming, cult of womanhood, nineteenth-century evangelical feminism, aboriginal converts, civilization and savagery

Christian/Chinese Womanhood in the Nineteenth Century

There is a saying prevailing in China, “Women hold up half of the sky.” This is even so in the church that George Leslie Mackay founded, women making up more than half of the congregation. And so, it’s high time the silenced women of Taiwanese Christian history be heard, their stories waiting to be told.

In order to understand better the experience of Mackay’s so-called “Bible women,” the experience of Victorian evangelical women, the parallels and, indeed, the fact that Western ideas of womanhood travelled to Formosa in religious garb, bears repeating—although in brief. The ideal female in nineteenth-century America, as Smith-Rosenberg has shown, was gentle, refined, sensitive, and loving, acting as “the guardian of religion and spokeswoman for morality” (79). This went hand in hand with the idea that women were “fitted by nature” for Christian benevolence, and as Sterns argues, “religion seems almost to have been entrusted by its author to her particular custody” (11).[1] Christianity was thought to perform a unique service for women, giving them social opportunities and spiritual hope, but with certain moral strings attached (Cott 126). While men, as the “self-styled lords of Creation,” pursued wealth, politics, or mere pleasure, it was the divinely-appointed duty of “the dependent, solitary female” to concentrate on the heavenly pursuits. As Reverend Joseph Buckminister believed:  

[I]f Christianity should be compelled to flee from the mansions of the great, the academies of the philosophers, the halls of legislators, or the throng of busy men, we should find her last and purest retreat with woman at the fireside; her last altar would be the female heart; her last audience would be the children gathered around the knees of a mother; her last sacrifice, the secret prayer, escaping in silence from her lips, and heard perhaps only at the throne of God.[2]

Importantly, nineteenth-century Christianity in America was largely female in nature and composition (Cott 131), and related to this was the belief that Christianity “made men willing to treat females as equals” (Chaplin112), “exalted women to an equal rank with man in all felicities of the soul, in all the advantages of religious attainment, in all prospects and hopes of immortality” (Clarke 11), and “redeemed human nature from the base passions and taught reverence for domestic relations” (Worcester 12-13). Western womanhood was thus a “different but equal” doctrine with important social and cultural implications for society (Cott 157). In church settings, evangelical wives and mothers worked tirelessly to advance the cause of the Gospel, but as Cott also points out, “God has made known that it is his will that females should not be public teachers of religion, nor take an active part in the government of his church on earth” (qtd. in Cott 157). As so, despite her elevated moral position in society, evangelical women were subordinate to men, confined to acts of pious self-expression and gender-specific roles. Ironically, such cultural confinements had the opposite effect, giving impetus to a female social and religious activism that took many woman well outside the bounds of home and family, endowing women with a strong sense of identity and purpose among their female and male peers (Cott 159).

Western evangelical women throughout the nineteenth century, if we can generalize for the sake of argument, viewed their non-Western or “heathen” sisters as simply “ignorant—degraded—oppressed—enslaved” (qtd. in Cott 131). Rebeccah Lee, the wife of a Marlborough, Connecticut pastor, illustrates this cultural bias very well. Commenting on the state of her “sex” in “those regions of the globe unvisited and unblessed with the light of Christianity,” she writes:

we see them degraded to a level with the brutes, and shut out from the society of lordly man; as if they were made by their Creator, not as the companions, but as the slaves and drudges of domineering masters. . . . Let each one then ask herself, how much do I owe?[3]

To be sure, advances in Western society that clearly benefited a certain class and race of Western women had yet to make an appearance in China and where a two-thousand-year-old tradition of male superiority was deeply ingrained into the political, social, and economic consciousness of the Orient; and so, there was a grain of truth to the Western feminist critique of Eastern womanhood however colonialist it might have been. 

The degradation and devaluing of women is illustrated by the Confucian saying, “Of all people, women and small-minded men are the most difficult to keep in the house.” Chinese women were deprived of an education because of the generally held Confucian idea, and in stark contrast to the Western idea of womanhood, that “inability in women is a virtue.” Marriage was not in any sense a matter of freedom of choice for most Chinese women who were under the complete control of husbands or parents. Every Chinese woman was required to abide by the “Three Obediences,” that is, obedient to her father before marriage, her husband when married, and her son in widowhood. In old China, most women lived lives of quiet desperation, lacking a sense of self identity and purpose beyond their domestic duties.   

Western visitors to China were particularly critical of the practice of taking concubines and foot binding. Taking a concubine was justified in Chinese society as a perfectly “legitimate” avenue open to any Oriental patriarch without as yet a male heir to carry on the family name. Concubines were also a measure of male social status, debasing Eastern women as mere tools of reproduction. Of course, polygamy and prostitution were twin social problems that Americans had to contend with at home, too. Likewise, Chinese foot binding found a Western counterpart in the controversy surrounding the corset and the rise of the so-called “dress-reform movement (Haller 46). Foot binding originated during the late Tang dynasty (618-907) and practiced primarily by elites for “beauty’s sake.” By the 19th century, the practice had made its way to the lower classes, working families waiting until daughters were a little old than usual because of the need for their daughters’ labor. However, it was unique to the Han Chinese, as the ruling Manchus and ethnic minorities such as the Hakkas were not so inclined. 

In general, women in 19th-century China adhered strictly to Confucian social and gender norms wherein the family was the primary social unit and the domestic sphere synonymous with true womanhood. The birth of a daughter was regarded as something of a calamity. The inferiority of women was taken for granted: useful, but the death of a wife or mother was trivial compared to that of a brother or son.[4] Within the average 19th-century Chinese home, daughters deferred to parental authority, assisted their mothers in domestic tasks, and only in elite families were taught to read and write. Young women married into a family of the parents’ choosing and once married, occupied a position of social importance relative to her husband’s place in the family, subject to the whims of mother-in-law and husband respectively. Such marriages had little regard for the feelings or preferences of the bride and groom. Prenatal betrothals were rare but did take place, the average age for girls, between fifteen and twenty years of age. It was not uncommon for a family to purchase a young girl to be raised in the home of her future husband as one way of avoiding the expense of a dowry. Although a member of the family, such “child brides” were often treated little better than slaves (FFF 120). It was rare indeed for the son not to marry his betrothed since this was thought to bring great shame and even calamity to the family (FFF 121). Importantly, being cloistered within the home was a sign of propriety and restraint, qualities highly valued in neo-Confucian culture. Rural women, on the contrary, had more freedom, regularly leaving home to tend to the fields or visit the market. Finally, as a woman advanced in years in Chinese society, more respect and compensation were her reward for a life of selfless devotion (FFF 120). Among the Chinese of Formosa, women occupied a slightly higher status than that of native/aboriginal women per se, albeit lower than women living in Christian lands (FFF 119-120).

Mackay’s Mission to Taiwan and Marriage

Soon after arriving in Formosa, Mackay faced a challenge: “How are women in such a state of society, with such social customs, and such a country as Formosa, to be reached and taught the gospel of Jesus?” (FFF 300). Mackay’s answer to the thorny question of the plight of women in 19th-century Formosa was to take a Taiwanese “child bride” and bring her up in the ways of a Western Bible-woman. Indeed, interracial marriage was Mackay’s solution to the problem, as he saw it, of “heathen womanhood.” At the same time, native Bible-women served his evangelizing purposes all too well, for they were by their very nature better equipped to navigate the difficult social, cultural, and linguistic problems associated with attracting other native women into the church—a task any foreign/non-native female missionary wouldn’t be on a par with the native. In fact, the idea of Bible-women first emerged in England where working class women were trained to go into the homes of poor families after middle-class women had failed miserably due mainly to their inability to cross class lines.[5] In Formosa, Mackay would cross racial lines with the same idea in mind.  

Mackay did not let Victorian prejudices against inter-racial marriage stop him from what some considered an audacious act when he married Chang Tsung Ming (also known as Minnie in the West).[6] He defended his marriage by arguing that the Lord in heaven made no distinctions on the basis of race and neither did he. However, his marriage to Minnie was for the greater good of the mission and glory of the Lord. He wrote the Foreign Board of Missions Committee in 1877, five years after arriving in Formosa, explaining:  

I have been for a long time grieved at heart to see the women here despised and left within their homes, whilst husbands and brothers attend services. I have pleaded and prayed and wept. Sometimes amongst 200 hearers only two or three women are present. Such being the case, after long and prayerful consideration, I have determined, God willing, to take a Chinese lady to become my helpmeet, and labor for these perishing thousands. She is a young, devoted, earnest Christian who will, I believe, labor until death for the salvation of souls. My great motive in this is that I may be more instrumental in the salvation of souls. I cannot reach that class myself, and as I believe that Chinese and Canadians are alike in the presence of our Lord, I act accordingly. It matters nothing to me what some people may think, if I can only win more souls, and I think I can. Brother R. just sent me a note saying there are ‘charming ladies in Canada, one of which would come out as my helpmeet.’ I am not thinking about ‘charming ladies.’ I am thinking how I can do most for Jesus. This is a trying climate for foreign ladies. A foreign lady cannot live in the chapels in the country, and she can not reach the women by living in the port. This lady can go from chapel to chapel and thus gather perishing souls. (qtd. in Mackay R. P. 33-34)

After the marriage, an obvious increase in the number of female converts lent credence to Mackay’s unorthodox decision to marry as he did. His biographer, the Rev. R.P. Mackay, defends Mackay’s decision by referring to the wise words of a Dutch missionary to Formosa, arriving before Mackay and whose sage advice, in hindsight, Mackay had followed to the letter:

He should bring out a wife with him, that he may escape the snares of Satan and may with his family be unto the people as a mirror and living example of an honest, virtuous and proper life. But for several reasons a much better arrangement would be for him, being un-married, to take to wife one of the native women. It would also be very expedient, were ten or twelve of our countrymen to take up their abode in the island’s persons of good and virtuous conduct not without means and inclined to marry the native women of the place. These would be the magnets that would attract the whole country; and in this way the undertaking would succeed and God would grant his blessing thereon. (qtd. in Mackay R.P. 33)

What’s more admirable in Mackay’s case is that there is an absence of the colonialism implied in the quotation above. Mackay’s eventual goal is to nurture a locally self-sufficient church independent of foreign aid. 

Mackay characterized Minnie as “a young, devoted, earnest Christian” who would be an able minister to other local women. Her capacity for learning, her diligence in study, her gifts as a home-maker and a companion were soon clear for all to see. In one Mackay’s biography, for example, Minnie is described as “a beautiful Christian character . . . a great help in the church. But as Mrs. Mackay . . . a marvelous assistance to her husband.”[7] In another, she is described as a devoted and loving wife and Christian co-worker and that Mackay “never found occasion to regret his unusual and independent action” (Mackay R. P. 34). In yet another, “Miss Chang . . . made her husband a loving and devoted wife to the day of his death” (Malcolm 48). Eventually, Minnie was regarded as no less than “the spiritual mother of the growing Presbyterian Church in Taiwan.”[8]

Unbelievably, they spent their honeymoon going from chapel to chapel preaching the Gospel, Minnie taking charge of the conversion of scores of local women. “At every station,” Mackay wrote friends back in Canada,

women who never entered the chapel before attended and listened as she, sitting amongst them, told the story of redeeming love. Women who had formerly attended but seemed afraid to come forward, now took their places confidently by her side. Having visited all the northern stations except Kelung, we started south and arrived at Liong Lik drenched with rain and with blistered feet. On the following day we were again overtaken with pouring rain. Mrs. Mackay was blown off the chair in which she was borne and the men who were carrying her were prostrated beside the muddy path. We reached a chapel in the evening and it was ample compensation for our slight inconveniences to witness such prosperity in the work. In the evening quite a number of women were present, and after worship Mrs. Mackay spent an hour in teaching them to sing several hymns. We travelled over beds of burning sand and under scorching sun. Mrs. Mackay went from house to house exhorting the women to attend the service, and the result was gratifying. (qtd. in Mackay R. P. 36, italics added)

Not unlike Mackay, Minnie endured endless physical discomforts to bring the Gospel to native women by the scores. With a Formosan wife, Mackay’s missionary work moved forward, penetrating the boundaries of Chinese and Taiwanese womanhood, reaching out to the spiritual and material needs of the mothers, wives, and daughters of independent farmers, mechanics, laborers, and merchants.

The Girls’ School that Mackay and Minnie established is a case in point. It stands side by side Oxford College, the two buildings of equal size and grandeur. More importantly, it took into account social conventions in Formosa wherein young women were not permitted to reside in a boarding school unless accompanied by a senior relative, a provision the school made allowances for. Single and married Taiwanese women, young and old, pursued their studies together while fathers, husbands, and brothers did likewise at the College across the way. Minnie, assisted by two native assistants, ran the school with remarkable skill, the progress of her students nothing short of phenomenal. In fact, there was something very Chinese about the way Minnie worked. Female converts often brought two or three girls with them to the Girls’ School in keeping with the custom of mothers entrusting their daughters with another woman when far from home. As a result, this boosted numbers at the Girls’ School to as many as eighty during a single session, outnumbering male enrollment at the College on occasion (FFF 306).

At the Girls’ School, women were taught to read, write, and sing, along with courses in Bible history and geography, the Larger and Shorter Catechism. Their days were spent reciting and evenings in exercises of various kinds. This included teacher training which was intended to equip them for the job of spreading the Gospel. Upwards of forty female students at a time worked as itinerate preachers, travelling from station to station and even remote parts of the island where they offered their services, spiritual and material, to women (Mackay R. P. 38). In From Far Formosa, Mackay singles out A-So, the first female convert, as one such exemplary Bible-woman:

There is A So, a gray-haired widow, one who has reared a family, has grandchildren, and will, therefore, command respect. Some of her sons are married, and she has an influence over their households. At one time she knew not of Jesus, but a chapel was opened near her door. At first she reviled the ‘foreign devil,’ but liked to hear the singing through her lattice-window. Then she listened to the preacher, and noticed the students, who seemed so neat, clever, and affable. At last she began to enjoy the services in the building, and more and more was delighted with expositions of the truth. Especially did she love the psalms and hymns, for she found comfort in their consolatory truths. Her idols were thrown away and she publicly declared herself a Christian. By and by Canadian ladies gave a large sum of money, and the Girls’ School was erected. Having spent several sessions there, A So was sent to a chapel, where her time was fully occupied in teaching children and young girls, visiting the neighbors, answering their thousand queries regarding the mission, the missionaries, God and heaven, and in telling them of the truth that she had learned, and of how she came to cast her idols away. She reads and they are surprised; prays, and they listen; sings, and they are delighted. She finds out their ailments and afflictions, and, in common with the preacher and his wife, she endeavors to comfort them. She knows when and how to appear in a neighbor’s dwelling, and how to act in such a way that her visits may be acceptable. She is respected on account of her gray hairs, neat appearance, and woman-like manners, and the heathen women look up to her because, like the preacher’s wife, she is better posted in all the affairs of life than they are. She sympathizes with the women, for she has suffered just as they. She knows all about foot-binding. Sickness and death have been in her home, and when the little ones they love are taken away she knows how to sympathize, and with the comfort wherewith she herself was comforted of God in the dark days of her own sorrow she goes in to bereaved mothers, and not in vain talks of the Shepherd and his fold. Every Saturday she visits the houses of new converts, and tells women to be ready at a certain hour the next day, when she will call for them to go to worship. Gradually and almost imperceptibly the women are drawn toward the truth, and they scarcely know how much they have learned to love this devoted Bible-woman till she is transferred to another station. Not a few of these Bible-women are most enthusiastic and efficient workers, and all are of great assistance to the native preachers. Some of them have been the means of bringing whole families to Christ, and more and more is the Master’s seal set to the work of these native workers. (FFF 303-304) 

It was A-So, a woman, who built the first chapel in North Formosa (FFF 149). She was also a “matchmaker,” introducing Mackay to Minnie, her adopted granddaughter, whose conversion to Christianity owed much to A-So (FFF 151).

The importance of women, indeed native Bible-women, was not lost on Mackay, who writes in From Far Formosa that a “large, flexible, and Chinese-like plan” which relies on native Bible-women “will North Formosa ever be evangelized” (306). He goes on to expound the practical advantages of a native female ministry:

The expense of maintaining a large foreign staff is so great, the language and social customs of the people present such formidable obstacles, the climatic conditions are so wasteful of life, making the field, except in and about Tamsui, a hungry devourer of men, and the success which by God’s manifest favor has attended the work of those native Bible-women has been so real and abiding, that I have stood and still stand, now as confidently as ever, for the plan that is least expensive, most effective, and that succeeds. In North Formosa that plan is native workers for native women (FFF 307).

At each of the sixty chapels Mackay and Minnie established, a native preacher and trained native Bible-woman were installed.

Chang Tsung-Ming—from “Tsung-ze” to “Mrs. Mackay”

To many people, the life story of Chang Tsung-Ming (張聰明) from Go-ko-khi, a country village ten miles up river from Tamsui, remains a mystery; however, it is possible to piece together a rough approximation of this remarkable Taiwanese girl. As she was given away since little, she was more or less an orphan. From Mackay’s thirty years’ diary, all we know about her birth parents is found in two diary entries. In one, her father is said to be ill (30 Sep. 1888), and in the other, it says he passed away the next day (1 Oct. 1888). Her Chinese name provides an important clue to her status—in keeping with Chinese custom. Before her marriage, she was called simply “Tsung-ze (蔥仔),” which means “young green-onion” and thus something or someone “insignificant and dispensable.” She was not aboriginal as Austin argues.[9] Tsung-ze was, after all, an adopted “child bride.”[10] However, her husband-to-be died before they could be married, bringing grief upon the family and making her something of a liability. Her life was made worse by the fact that she refused to bind her feet, making her less than feminine, lady-like, and graceful in the eyes of her adopted family. Indeed, they might never be rid of her, too, for what sort of man would want to marry such a woman. For this she was beaten daily. However, she would go on to become an outspoken critic of the Chinese practice of foot binding.[11]

Because of A-So and the need of mission work, Mackay often stayed overnight at A-So’s house and came to know of Tsung-ze’s pitiable life there. He certainly felt sorry for her.[12] But Mackay was impressed by her diligence and intelligence, winning a silver coin monthly for being the best at Bible and catechism—which, as it turned out, elevated her in the eyes of A-So’s family. She also mastered the English language. Five years later, Mackay proposed marriage, for Tsung-ze was finally ready it seems to fulfill the role of Christian missionary, wife, and mother.

Tsung-ze was baptized on 3 February 1878 and her name changed to “Tsung-Ming (聰明),” which means intelligent and smart. A few months later (27 May 1878) she married the so-called “Bearded Barbarian” and with the blessing of her adopted mother. Hers is very much a Chinese Cinderella story, for she went from Tsung-ze to “Mrs. Mackay,” now the wife of a highly respected Canadian missionary. Marrying Mackay served her social and cultural needs very well, for she would travel the world, seeing more of it than many Western women.[13] They chose to be married in a public ceremony at the British consulate of Fort San Domingo, where local prejudice against interracial marriage would fear to rear its ugly head. “By forsaking bachelorhood,” as Malcolm argues, “Mackay was able to interest many more Taiwanese women in Christianity. Mrs. Mackay, with her attractive personality, brought many Chinese women to Christ” (48). Moreover, Minnie’s “charm” was legendary in Canada following their trip to Canada in 1880.[14] “Now prosaically called Minnie Mackay,” she “disarmed criticism by her earnest convictions and forceful nature” (Austin 31). R.P. Mackay writes that their Canada trip was “a whirlwind,” and the “reception was everywhere an ovation” (9). Minnie was also the object of much envy, her Canadian counterpart in Formosa Annie Jamieson writing the Woman’s Missionary Society to complain that, unlike Mrs. Mackay, she “did not grow up among the people.” “I have not been at their homes,” Annie writes, “I do not know their children and aunts and uncles and neighbors, and all about their family troubles. How could they be expected to come to me?” (qtd. in Austin 33). Obviously, any foreign missionary’s wife would simple pale besides Minnie Mackay in executing mission work among the native females.

Mrs. Mackay in Mackay’s Diaries

Given Minnie’s obvious importance to Mackay’s ministry and success in Taiwan, it is surprising to discover that she is barely mentioned in From Far Formosa, Mackay’s official autobiography, and only shows up a bit more in the Mackay Diaries. MacDonald, who co-authored From Far Formosa, suggests that Mackay meant no disrespect. Instead, it was a factor of wanting his life with Minnie to remain a very private affair.[15] That said, there is indeed “much” we can learn from the Mackay Diaries about Minnie and which can be classified according to the follow nine general categories:

1.     Visiting female converts by entering into their domestic spheres.

2.     Conducting women’s meetings.

3.     Visiting the sick, for example, Jamieson’s death and her bedside manner.

4.     Visiting chapels and tending to the needs of local congregations.

5.     Teaching at the Girls’ School and in contravention of the Pauline interdiction “I suffer not a woman to teach; but to be silent” (Corinthian I, 14: 34).

6.     Raising her children, more or less alone, for Mackay was not a doting father in any sense.

7.     Issues surrounding her health and expressions of concern.

8.     References to her “taking the (sedan) chair” as a token of respect.[16]

9.     References to her as “Mrs. Mackay” throughout, which is very Chinese as well as British and suggests both a high degree of mutual respect and even a degree of equality in the marriage.

The following 28 diary entries also give us some idea of what Minnie’s life was like.

1. “one man holding a long lighted torch put it in chair to burn Mrs. M. cried out ‘let us beat them,’ excited crowd all around in front, back” (11/17/1879).

2. “Mrs. M. by chair” (11/28/1879)

3. “Mrs Mackay called on Li-ko-kang wife. Many old converts called throughout the day” (02/24/1886).

4. “Mrs. Mackay and children and A Hoa came at 12 A.M. all wearied” (05/20/1886).

5. “Mrs Mac. And children left at 10 A.M. to call on her father, mother and converts (05/21/1886).

6. “Mrs. M. visiting converts etc-Returned late” (05/24/1886).

7. “Mrs. Mackay Sun-a and myself started very early and went to Sin-tang chapel then on to Tho-a-hng, had dinner, Spoke, sung a hymn and came back” (09/21/1886).

8. “Mrs. M all day attending to me because down with fever” (09/22/1886).

9. “Mrs. M not well” (10/16/1886).

10. “Mrs. Mackay Slept on the floor wearily?” (12/11/1886).

11. “Mrs. Mackay, myself and eight preachers went first to Toa-tiu-tiaN and examined the new building closely” (12/25/1886).

12. “Busy the whole time with Church Matters. Mrs. Mackay not very well” (11/09/1887).

13. “Mrs. Mackay very ill with ‘Quiney’” (11/13/1887).

14. “All night in the room seeing to Mrs. M” (11/14/1887).

15. “Mrs. Mcakay’s birth day” (12/03/1887; 11/22/1888).

16. “All day attending to Mrs. M” (03/25/1888).

17. “Mrs. Mackay and children” (04/15/1888; 05/12/1888; 05/19/1888; 05/26/ 1888; 10/21/1888; 10/28/1888; 11/04/1888; 11/18/1888; 04/12/1889; 04/13/ 1890; 05/03/1890).

18. “Mrs. M. down with fever” (8/24/1888).

19. “Mrs. Mackay’s father had cholera and not expect to live” (9/30/1888).

20. Mrs. Mackay’s father died” (10/01/1888).

21. Mrs. Mac. And myself being very busy till late at night (11/07/1888).

22. “Mrs. Mackay helping wonderfully” (11/08/1888).

23. “meeting in the Col. Mrs. M. called on the women to read also our little children read aloud” (5/25/19889).

24. “Mrs. Mac’ Donkey breathed his last” (05/30/1889).

25. “Preacher’s wives etc. all met in Girl’s School for prayer meeting. Mrs. Mackey led. Some sang, some read a chap., others prayed continued two hours. Students preachers met in the Col. For prayer. I addressed the [w]hole in the hall afterwards and we had a splendid meeting . . . The women enjoyed so much their meeting” (08/04/1889).

26. “Went at 6 a.m. to see Jamieson. He was conscious . . . Went over at 6 p.m. and remained till near midnight. Mr. Crichton, Mrs. M, and Dr. Rennie were there” (04/17/1891).

27. “At 6 a.m. saw Jamieson. Was weak but conscious. . . Became conscious said ‘Dr. Mackay will always do what is sensible.’ ‘I have high respect for Dr. Mackay’” (04/23/1891).

28. “Jamieson breathed his last. Dr. Rennie, Kau-a, Mrs. Jamieson, Mrs. Mackay and myself were at the beside . . . He  was unconscious the whole time” (04/23/1891).

From these diary entries, it is clear that Minnie was a great help to Mackay and the degree to which they were partners in crime.[17]

From Tsung-ze to Mrs. Mackay (Minne), Minnie’s was an extraordinary life. A victim of Chinese patriarchy and servitude, she went on to become a model of true Eastern womanhood and Western Christian piety.[18] When her husband died in 1901, it is said that an era died with him (Austin 34). Minnie outlived Mackay by some twenty-four years, but she is remembered only as “Mrs. Mackay” and little more. Given her obvious importance it is high time that something more be done to correct this terrible oversight and lost opportunity. Chang Tsung Ming’s story is surely well worth the effort, promising to shed light on the lives, the personal sacrifices, and the achievements of native women of faith at a crucial juncture in Taiwanese religious history.

The Mission to Aborigines and Minnie’s Role

 Mackay’s special interest in converting aborigines lies much in his own family history. His parents had emigrated from Sutherland, the barren, northernmost tip of Scotland to Zorra Township, Ontario, when the notorious “highland clearances” displaced tenant farmers for flocks of sheep in the 1820s and 1830s. Thus, the Mackays had firsthand experience of being forced out of their homeland, which explains at least partially Mackay’s deep sympathy for the aborigines in Formosa. The “victory” was won with perseverance and strong faith, but none of it would have been possible without Minnie.

One Sabbath, Mackay and Mrs. Mackay, their three children, women from the Girls’ School, and students from the College attended a service conducted by an able, earnest preacher whose wife was a Pe-po-hoan brought up since childhood by the Mackays. The place was literally packed—there were even scores sitting on the branches of a tree. Several speakers were invited. The first was a former Tauist priest; then a Pe-po-hoan from the east coast and another from one of the southern stations; then four Pe-po-hoan women whose homes were in Kap-tsu-lan rose and sang “Jesus loves me”; finally, six Chinese Bible-women sang another hymn—all of them had relatives and friends among the congregation. Such a variety was impressive and inspiring. Each hearer got a suitable portion of the bread of life. A few weeks afterward ten young agreeable and intelligent Pe-po-hoan women who became interested in the way of salvation went out to Tamsui to see the Girls’ School and Oxford College. In this way, the work among Pe-po-hoan went on prosperously, and arriving at and leaving a Pe-po-hoan village was simply soul-inspiring (FFF 224).  

High on Mackay’s list of priorities was Christian outreach to native women, in large part because the lot of the Formosan woman was very hard. “The heaviest burden rest upon her,” he writes:

All day long she toils in the fields, and at night carries home the fruit of her work. Then she goes out into the bush and gathers firewood, returning with a heavy load on her back. Exposure, drudgery, poor food, and all the other ills of her burdened life soon tell on her strength; the strong, healthy, finely developed girl is old before her time, and at an age when her civilized sister is in her prime she is worn, haggard, and utterly repulsive in her decrepit ugliness. Centuries of civilization and the influence of Christianity would equalize the burden of men and women, and teach those idle braves that the weaker sex is not the beast of burden for the lords of the tribe. Whatever new burdens might be imposed by the sharper struggle for existence in a more highly organized and complicated state of society, they could scarcely be more cruel or crushing than those that make a savage woman’s life too dreary for pleasure and too unromantic for tragedy. (FFF 264-265)

With his usual extreme confidence, Mackay looked forward to “meeting in the land of the hereafter one and another who first heard of God and heaven around the gleaming night fires in the forests of Formosa” (FFF 266). Moreover, one measure of his success can be seen in the percentage of Christians in Taiwan of aboriginal origin—the vast majority—and the large numbers of Christian women, past and present. Many of aboriginal Kavalan ancestry have surnames “偕” (“Kai” or “Kay”) in memory of and traceable to Mackay. Importantly, none of this would have happened were it not for Minnie Mackay.

When Mackay passed away in 1901, an era died with him. Never again will there be another Mackay, who would rather burn in flames than rust away; nor has there been anyone quite like Chang Tsung Ming, who lived up to her new name, a woman of intelligence and promise, a “new woman,” and, importantly, an Asian model of late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century Christian femininity. Her story has yet to be explored and written in full.


Christian Feminism and Contemporary Asian Women

In the West, feminist theory and Christian feminists continue to search for ways to make the modern world more equitable and inclusive of women (Chopp 217). Increasingly, Christian women of Asian origin are beginning to articulate a feminist theology they can call their own. For too long, the meaning of Christian faith has been defined by their colonizers--the Western world, the academy and the church and its decidedly male scholars and spiritual advisers respectively. Their understanding of the founder of Christianity can be seen as an active engagement that strives to bring the humanity of Jesus into being (Fabella 211).[19] Chang Tsung Ming’s story, and her role in bringing the Christian faith to so many of her Chinese and aboriginal sisters, is exemplary.  

The present reality suggests that a mission and missionary like Minnie is still needed. “In all spheres of Asia society, women are dominated, dehumanized and dewomanized . . . viewed as inferior beings who must always subordinate themselves to the so-called male supremacy . . . treated with bias and condescension;” everywhere “the myth of the subservient, servile Asian women is blatantly peddled to reinforce the dominant male stereotype image.”[20] Women’s status in Asian cultural and the popular patriarchal consensus have proven degrading and dehumanizing to women in all areas of life—not to mention the internalization of this “ideology of female subordination” by many Asian women themselves. Part of the work of an Asian feminist theology is the emancipation of women (Fabella 219-220). Freeing Asian women from the patriarchal institutions of family, church, and society, using the experience of Jesus Christ but adapted to their own cultural needs is reason for hope. Such hope gave us Minnie Mackay. As Kyung explains, “Asian women as meaning-makers jump into an unknown open future shaping a new Christianity out of their own experience that never before existed in history” (232). This emergent Asian Christian feminism, Carr notes, “encourages the autonomy, self-actualization, and self-transcendence of all women (and men)” (208). It recognizes the uniqueness of each woman’s story and affirms her choices, a new vision for the Christian tradition based on the female experience of God and sense of Christian service to others.  

To the question of the impact of Christian Mission on women as either liberating or enslaving,[21] one answer is surely Chang Tsung Ming: Bible women, missionary wife, and in every way equal to her famous husband, George Leslie Mackay, in short, an ideal of Christian womanhood in the past and for the future.

Works Cited

Austin, Alvyn J. Saving China: Canadian Missionaries in the Middle Kingdom

    1888-1959. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1986.

---. “George Leslie Mackay: The Black-Bearded Barbarian of Taiwan.” Presbyterian

    Record (April 1997): 14-19.

Bowie, Fiona. Introduction: Reclaiming Women’s Presence. Women and Missions:

  Past and Present Anthropological and Historical Perceptions. Ed. Fiona Bowie,

  Deborah Kirkwood and Shirley Ardener. Oxford: Berg, 1993. 1-19.

Buckminster, Joseph. “A Sermon Preached before the Members of the Boston Female Asylum, September 1810.” Hand-copied and bound with other printed sermons to the BFA. Boston Public Library Rare Book Room, Boston, Massachusetts. 7-9.

Carr, Anne E. Transforming Grace: Christian Tradition and Women’s Experience. New York: Continuum, 1988.

Chaplin, Daniel. A Discourse Delivered before the Charitable Female Society in Groton [Massachusetts], October, 1814. Andover, Mass., 1814.

Chopp, Rebecca S. and Sheila Greeve Davaney, eds. Horizons in Feminist Theology: Identity, Tradition and Norms. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997.

Clarke, Pit.  A Discourse Delivered before the Norton Female Christian Association, on June 13, 1818. Taunton, Mass., 1818.

Cott, Nancy F. The Bonds of Womanhood: “Woman’s Sphere” in New England,

    1780-1835. New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1977.

Fabella, Virginia. “Christology from an Asian Woman’s perspective.” Asian Faces

 of Jesus. Ed. R.S. Sugirtharajah. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1993. 211-222.

Guo, Her-lieh. George Leslie Mackay. Chia-yi: Taiwan Missionary, 1971.

Haller, John S. and Robin M. The Physician and Sexuality in Victorian America.

Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1974.

Herber, Robert Wesley. “Comparisons in Aboriginal education: Taiwan and Canada.”

    188-196. 15 Fe. 2009 <http://www.arts.ualberta.ca/cms/herbert.pdf>.

Kung, Wei-Chi. Report on Aboriginal Policy in Taiwan. Taipei: Council of Aboriginal Affairs, Taipei City Government, 1999.

Kyung, Chung Hyun. “Who Is Jesus for Asian Women?” Asian Faces of Jesus. Ed.

R.S. Sugirtharajah. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1993. 223-246.

MacDonald, J. A. Editorial Preface. From Far Formosa. Ed. J. A. MacDonald. Taipei,

    Taiwan: SMC Publishing Inc., 1991. 3-6.

MacGregor, Mary Esther Miller (aka Marion Keith), The Black-Bearded Barbarian:

 The Life of George Leslie Mackay of Formosa. 3 Nov. 2008


Mackay, George L. From Far Formosa. Ed. J. A. MacDonald. Taipei, Taiwan: SMC

    Publishing Inc., 1991. Originally edition published by Oliphant Anderson and

    Ferrier, Edinburgh and London: 1896.

---. Mackay’s Diaries 1871-1901. Original English Version. Trans. & edit by

    Mackay’s Diaries Group, Neng-Che Yeh, Chil-Rung Chen, etc. The Northern

    Synod of Taiwan Presbyterian Church / Aletheia University, 2007.  

Mackay, Robert Peter. Life of George Leslie Mackay, D.D. 1844-1901. Toronto:

Board of Foreign Missions Presbyterian Church in Canada, 1913.

MacLeod, Alex. “George Mackay: Canadian Pioneer to Taiwan Part 1.” 11 Nov. 2008 <http://www.urbana.org/wtoday.witnesses.cfm?article=62>.

Malcolm, George A. The Christian Layman in Formosa—One Hundred Years of Christian Witness. Master of Theology submitted to Toronto School of Graduate Studies, Knox College, Toronto, 1965.

Prochaska, F. K. “Body and Soul: Bible Nurses and the Poor in Victorian London.” Historical Research 60 (1987): 337-348.

Smith-Rosenberg, Carroll. “The Hysterical Women: Sex Roles and Role Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America.” The Yellow Wallpaper. Ed. Thomas L.Erskine and Connie L. Richards. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers UP, 1993.  77-104.

Stearns, Jonathan.  Female Influence, and the True Christian Mode of its Exercise: A Discourse delivered in the Presbyterian Church in Newburyport, July 30, 1837. Newburyport: John G. Tilton, 1837.

Worcester, Samuel. Female Love to Christ. Salem, Maas., 1809.

[1] The use of the word “almost” “here is to encourage male church-goers and also to account for the exclusion of women from the ministry” (Cott 126).

[2] Joseph Buckminster, “A Sermon Preached before the Members of the Boston Female Asylum, September 1810.”

[3] Mrs. Rebeccah Lee, An Address, Delivered in Marlborough, Connecticut, September 7, 1831 (Hartford, 1831), p. 4. It was also pointed out that “There is not a town or village in our country, perhaps, where females are not actively engaged in this good cause, and from us much is expected in the present day.”

[4] George Leslie Mackay, From Far Formosa (Taipei, Taiwan: SMC, 1991), 120. Subsequent citation is from this version, abbreviated as FFF.

[5] Hellen Ranyard (1809-1879) is the one who initiated the ideal of “Bible woman,” and Prochaska described her Bible women as such: “This missionary cum social worker, a working class woman drawn from the neighborhood to be canvassed, was to provide the ‘missing link’ between the poorest families and their social superiors . . . . Given a three month training . . . in the poor law, hygiene, and scripture, Mrs Ranyard agents sought to turn the city’s outcast population into respectable, independent citizens through an invigoration of family life” (49).

[6] Alex MacLeod, “George Mackay: Canadian Poineer to Taiwan Part 1.” 11 Nov. 2008 <http://www.urbana.urbana.org/wtoday.witness.cfm?article=62>.

[7] Mary Esther Miller MacGregor, The Black-Bearded Barbarian: The Life of George Leslie Mackay of Formosa.

[8] “Reverend George Leslie Mackay 1844-1901,” Ontario Heritage Foundation. 2001. 16 Nov. 2008 <http://www.heritagefdn.on.ca/userfiles/page_attachments/Library/1/975022_Reverend Mackay_EGG.pdf>.

[9] Alvyn Austin says, Mackay “learned the Taiwanese language and married a Taiwanese wife, and, more significantly, an aboriginal” (“George Leslie Mackay” 14-19).

[10] The true cause of Tsung-ze’s adoption is unknown. In the nineteenth century, girls were much less important than boys, so girls born in the poor family were often given away/sold for adoption by a better family. The purposes for adopting a girl were various—to re-sell her at a better price; to bring her up as a profitable prostitute; to induce a married-in husband/half-son (for a family without a male heir); to be a maid. Thus, the fate of an adoptive daughter is more miserable than a “child bride” because the latter would eventually become “a bride” while the former might not fare this way. As a devoted Christian, A-So wouldn’t think of profiting from Tsung-ze; she would rather store up her fortune in Heaven. So, according to Guo Her-lieh (郭和烈), the public marriage ceremony held at the British Consul is the best way to protect Tsung-ze and their marriage from being ridiculed or mocked (132).   

[11] Guo Her-lieh (127).

[12] Guo Her-lieh’s description (136).

[13] This refers to the two furlough trips to Canada and back to Formosa. The places and countries they went through include Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, Ceylon, India,, Jerusalem, Egypt, Italy, German, France, England, American, etc.  

[14] Alex MacLeod.

[15] J. A. MacDonald describes Mackay’s personality as a man not willing to talk about his private self, which may explain partially why Minnie is hardly mentioned in From Far Formosa. With chances of intimate contact with Mackay during the period of editing From Far Formosa, MacDonald comes to have great admiration for Mackay for “his modest self-effacement,” which is “the secret of his success” (5).

[16] In Chinese society, only women of upper-class would take a sedan chair when going out. Before marriage, Minnie would very likely have never taken a chair.

[17] This is how Alex MacLeod evaluates Mackay’s attitude towards the local pastors.

[18] To know more about Chinese gender ideology in regard to the Chinese women’s “Three Obediences” and “Four Womanly Attributes,” see Mei-Mei Lin’s “The Episcopalian Women Missionaries in Nineteenth-Century China: What Did Race, Gender and Class Mean to Their Work.” Dong Hwa Journal of Humanitic Studies 3 (July 2001): 133-188.  

[19] Virginia Fabella points out that christology is “at the heart of all theology,” for it is Jesus who has revealed to the believers the deepest truths about God (212). Historically, however, “christology has been patriarchalized and has been the doctrine of the Christian tradition most used against women”; thus, an Asian christology needs constructing (Fabella 212).

[20] “Proceedings of the Asian Women’s Consultation,” Manila, Philippines, November 21-30, 1985.

[21] Bowie, Introduction 11.