Hunter Corbett, the 'Grand Old Man' of Shandong.
Hunter Corbett and his family, natives of Pennsylvania, managed to rent a house in Yantai for a surprisingly inexpensive rate. They soon discovered it had a reputation for being haunted, and all the local people avoided it.
During one of his first preaching trips in 1865, Corbett met a Chinese scholar named Wang Zei, who showed a hunger for the truth. After Wang visited Corbett's home,
"He could neither sleep nor eat until he found hope in Jesus. He spent the summer with Corbett in earnest study, and in the autumn of 1865 he and two others were baptized.... Wang became an eloquent preacher, whose labors God greatly blessed in the saving of souls....
When he first returned home after his conversion, Wang's kind and gentle manner was so different from the stern and overbearing ways of former years that it filled his wife and son with fear.... After a few days Mrs. Wang had an experience of her own. She argued that if the Christian religion had power to make her husband gentle and kind it must be true."1
As the Corbetts settled into Christian work their lives were far from easy. In the autumn of 1873 Hunter and his three children traveled to the town of Jimo in eastern Shandong, where they hope to relocate and establish a church. Initially, Corbett found many people "anxious to renounce their superstition and become adherents of the Christian faith."2
For the first few months all went well and the friendly locals seemed to like the foreigners in their midst. The Accuser started to do his insidious work however, and gradually rumors began to circulate against Corbett, accusing him of stealing children, of plotting an insurrection, and of having weapons hidden under the floor of his house.
The people of Jimo suddenly became hostile, and stones were regularly thrown at the foreigners. Two weeks later, as Corbett and two Chinese evangelists rode into the town of Hua Yen,
"He was again attacked and mercilessly stoned, escaping from a cruel death almost miraculously, being extricated by a native who was an entire stranger.... To use Corbett's own words: 'A man whom I did not know came to me and said, 'You must get out of harm's way.' I replied, 'I have no way to get out.' He answered, 'Give me your riding-whip and follow me.'
He took the whip and opened a way with it on either side, and I followed him rapidly; he at the same time said to the crowd, 'I know you all, and I will bear testimony against you if you injure this man.'
I tried afterwards to find who this man was, so as to make an acknowledgement of my indebtedness to him, but could not."3
After escaping with his life, Hunter Corbett decided to move his family back to Yantai, only to find his home had been ransacked in his absence. Corbett went on to serve in China for a total of 57 years, and was called upon to endure many storms. His first wife Lizzie died after ten years in China, while his second wife Mary also passed away after 13 years of missionary service.
Corbett's ministry was marked by his use of unconventional methods. For example, in Yantai he found it difficult to attract locals into the chapel to hear the gospel, so he rented a theatre and converted the back rooms into a museum stocked with objects of interest from around the world. Before viewing the exhibits, visitors were required to enter a room at the front of the building where they were presented with the gospel. Only when the service concluded were the museum doors opened. In one year alone, about 72,000 people listened to his preaching and visited the museum.
Although it felt like the devil himself had thrown everything at the American Presbyterians, the men and women of the mission persevered and succeeded in establishing a beach-head for the gospel in Shandong. Over a three-decade span, commencing with the difficult start in 1865, the Shandong Mission grew to become the largest Presbyterian field in China. In 1895 they counted 63 missionaries in Shandong with 36 organized churches, 300 'preaching points, ' and 3,797 baptized members.4
Over the course of his long service until his death in 1920 at the age of 85, Hunter Corbett came to be affectionately known as the 'Grand Old Man' of Shandong. He personally baptized more than 3,000 Chinese believers.
1. Brown, Earthen Vessels and Transcendent Power, p. 56.
2. "The Late Emeute at Chi-Mi," Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal (September 1874), p. 270.
3. "The Late Emeute at Chi-Mi," Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal (September 1874), pp. 270-1.
4. Brown, Earthen Vessels and Transcendent Power, p. 78.
© This article is an extract from Paul Hattaway's book 'Shandong: The Revival Province'. You can order this or any of The China Chronicles books and e-books from our online bookstore.