Born in 1884, Arthur Jackson grew up in the English county of Cheshire, although his parents were Scottish Presbyterians. He was just 15 when he heard stories of thousands of Christians being massacred during the Boxer Rebellion in faraway China. Shocked and yet strangely stirred inside, little did the teenage boy know that he would emulate the heroic sacrifice of those martyrs just 11 years later. Although he attended church each Sunday, Jackson showed no special interest in spiritual things until the age of 16, just a year after the Boxer massacres. He fully dedicated his life to Christ and studied medicine so he could better reach people on the mission field.
Dr. Arthur Jackson finally arrived in China in November 1910, just a few months before his service was to come to a sudden and tragic end. A graduate of the prestigious Cambridge University, Jackson was on the cusp of a distinguished medical career in his homeland, so many people were astonished when he willingly chose to leave his high-paying position for humble missionary service in China.
Medical workers in Shenyang in their protective gear during the pneumonic plague of 1910-11.
During the winter of 1910-11, northeast China was ravaged by the pneumonic plague. The impact of the epidemic was widespread, with 100 percent fatality rates reported for those infected. One writer summarized the effects of the plague: "43,942 cases were recorded, and 43,942 deaths. There was no authenticated case of recovery. As this inexorable deadliness became known, it seized on the public imagination, and the general terror of the forward march of the disease was quite out of proportion"1
The plague's origin was never determined, although it was first thought to have been found in a species of marmot, which inhabits the Mongolian steppes throughout north China. The plague is believed to have been transferred to humans who ate the rodents.
Between January 2 and 13, 1911, a total of 33 deaths from the plague were reported in Shenyang City. It was far worse further north. In Harbin (Heilongjiang Province) more than 200 people were dying every day. By the end of the plague more than 9,000 out of Harbin’s population of 80,000 were dead.2
Arthur Jackson and his co-workers were overwhelmed as they tried to help the victims. The hospital staff were placed under extraordinary pressure, as all available beds were already taken. A number of sheds and inns near the train station were secured, and a military guard prevented anyone from entering or leaving the area. A missionary later lamented, “The inns were as unsuitable as could be—filthy, dark, damp, low-roofed, huddled close together, veritable traps for infection."3
Missionary-doctors Gordon and Young in protective gear during the Plague of 1911.
Despite fully knowing the personal risks involved, Jackson and two other missionary-doctors volunteered to treat the quarantined Chinese patients. Jackson took every precaution against the epidemic and threw himself into the work, even having a lively interest in the medical side. "Not many fellows get such a chance as this," he said, on his final working day. The plague found its way through his mask and into his lungs, his spit turned to blood, and death soon followed. The other missionaries did all they could to save their 26-year-old colleague's life, but he died little more 24 hours after contracting the disease.
Although Arthur Jackson had been in China scarcely two months, the outpouring of grief from the Chinese in Shenyang was genuine. When it was learned that the doctor had willingly left the comforts of his home country and the prospects of a high-paying career to serve the Chinese because of his love for Jesus Christ, people were awestruck by his selfless act of love. Numerous tributes for Jackson poured in, with one fellow missionary saying:
"As soon as he arrived in China, Jackson was well-liked by the Chinese despite his lack of ability with the language. A co-worker noted, 'Personally he won the hearts of all with whom he came into contact. We have known many new missionaries, but none who became popular with the Chinese so rapidly.'"4
Chinese newspapers all carried reports of Arthur Jackson’s life and death. Although the articles were penned by non-Christians, the following extracts from three publications show a clear grasp of the motives behind Jackson’s service:
“Now he has given his only life for the lives of others, we see that he was a true Christian, who has done what Jesus did thousands of years ago;"
“His death in laboring for our country was actually carrying out the Christian principle of giving up one’s life to save the world;"
“He did the will of God, to die for all. He came to China to be a teacher in the Medical College, but all that he had learned he offered up, to save men. His work is not finished, and his death will not destroy it."5
Arthur Jackson was considered a true martyr of the faith—someone who did not hesitate to lay down his life in service of God and his fellow men.
In the end, the plague killed at least 60,000 people, and was finally brought under control after the government heeded the advice of Wu Liande, a 32-year-old doctor from Penang, Malaysia. Wu strongly advised them to take drastic actions to stem the spread of the disease, and convinced both the Chinese and Russian authorities to close down the railways, quarantine the sick, and quickly cremate the bodies of the victims.
1. Christie, Thirty Years in Moukden, p. 235.
2. Mrs. Dugald Christie, Jackson of Moukden (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1923), p. 104.
3. Christie, Thirty Years in Moukden, p. 239.
4. Christie, Thirty Years in Moukden, p. 237.
5. Christie, Thirty Years in Moukden, pp. 241-2.