Young John Allen (1836-1907)
Young John Allen was a Methodist minister and Georgia native who spent his adult life in Shanghai, China, as a missionary, educator, and publisher. Allen was part of a larger wave of missionary activity that began in China following that nation's loss to Great Britain in the First Opium War (1839-42) and subsequent opening to foreigners.
Missionary Life in China
In July 1860 Allen arrived in Shanghai to find a stagnant mission. He immediately established plans to build an itinerancy (the Methodist system of rotating ministers) in the region, and began seeking means to support it. Allen began his mission work exclusively as an evangelist, but after several years in Shanghai it became apparent that this strategy was not working. He and his fellow missionaries were not reaching the congregation numbers they desired, and those who did attend sermons often were not particularly receptive.
The second part of Allen's crusade involved translating books and writing original essays aimed at convincing the Chinese to abandon their Confucian system, which he considered a hindrance to Christian conversion. The Confucian system's communal ethos stood at odds with Christianity's individualist concepts, and Allen understood that Chinese people would need to know other Western concepts in order for Methodism to make sense.
In the latter years of Allen's life, he focused on education, especially on founding the Anglo-Chinese College and working to see it become a full university. In 1901 Soochow (later Suzhou) University, a merging of three local colleges including Allen's Anglo-Chinese College, was founded in the city of Suzhou. During these years, he worked with Laura Haygood, another missionary and educator in the area and the sister of Methodist bishop and Emory College president Atticus G. Haygood.
Throughout his life Allen faced challenges from conservative missionaries and home boards who felt that his deviation from the standard mission plan was both misguided and beyond his responsibility of "saving souls." Allen staunchly rejected such criticism, insisting that the best way to convert Chinese souls was through education. Even though he lived among the Chinese his entire adult life, his writings suggest that he never regarded Confucianism as anything but an atrocity. He also believed to his death that his mission was religious and that he was first and foremost an evangelist, even though his methods stemmed from social work.
Allen died on May 30, 1907, in Shanghai, at the age of seventy-one. His biography, published in 1931, was written by his longtime friend and Methodist bishop Warren Akin Candler. In 1923 the Jinlin Church was built in Shanghai to honor Allen's life and work in China, and the Allen Memorial United Methodist Church in Oxford, Georgia, built in 1910, is also named in his honor.
Adrian A. Bennett, Missionary Journalist in China: Young J. Allen and His Magazines, 1860-1883 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1983).
Warren A. Candler, Young J. Allen: The Man Who Seeded China (Nashville: Cokesbury Press, 1931).
Walter N. Lacy, Hundred Years of China Methodism (Nashville: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1948).
Eunjin Park, "From 'Saving Souls' to 'Reforming Society': Changing Educational Goals of the American Methodist Mission to China, 1847-1911," Miguska yongu=Korean Journal of American History 20 (2004): 29-57.
Jessica C. Edens, Georgia State University
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