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Arthur Henderson Smith (1845-1932)

Arthur Henderson Smith (July 18, 1845 – August 31, 1932) was a missionary of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions famous for spending 54 years as a missionary in China and writing books which presented China to foreign readers. These books include Chinese Characteristics, Village Life in China and The Uplift of China. In the 1920s, Chinese Characteristics was still the most widely read book on China among foreign residents there.


He was born in Vernon, Connecticut, served as a soldier in the Civil War before graduating from Beloit College, then briefly attended Andover Theological Seminary before taking a degree from Union Theological Seminary. After marrying Emma Jane Dickinson, he was ordained into the Congregational ministry. The couple sailed for to China in 1872. They then established themselves at Pangjiazhuang, a village in Shandong, where they stayed until the Boxer Uprising, which did not harm their establishment.

The Boxer Rebellion[]

In 1898 and 1899 an indigenous anti-foreign movement arose in Shandong province. One of the missionaries there, possibly Smith, named the participants, mostly farmers, the “Boxers” because of their athletic rituals. The Boxer movement rapidly spread to several provinces in northern China and, eventually, received the support of the Chinese government. Smith and his wife were attending a missionary conference in Tongzhou in May 1900 when all the missionaries in Northern China found it neccessary to seek safety from the Boxers by fleeing to Beijing or Tianjin. The missionary William Scott Ament rescued Smith, 22 other American missionaries and about 100 Chinese Christians in Tongzhou and escorted them to Peking. They took refuge in the Legation Quarter during the famous siege of the legations from June 20 to August 14, 1900.[1]

Smith’s role in the siege was a minor one as a gate guard, but he gathered material for his book, China in Convulsion, which is the most detailed account of the Boxer Rebellion.[2] In 1906, Smith helped to persuade President Theodore Roosevelt to devote the indemnity payments China was making to the United States to the education of Chinese students. More than $12 million dollars was devoted to this cause.[3]

Later Life and Legacy[]

Due to his books, Smith was probably the most famous American missionary of the day. His prominence was recognized in 1907 when he was elected the American co-chairman of the China Centenary Missionary Conference in Shanghai, a month long conference of more than 1,000 Protestant missionaries. He retired as a missionary in 1926, 54 years after his arrival in China. His wife died the same year. He died in California in 1932, 87 years old.[4]

Famous Chinese author Lu Xun has written that he was influenced by Smith's Chinese Characteristics, which was translated into Chinese, as well as Japanese and several European languages. He is remembered for speaking out against the Chinese practice of killing baby girls and drawing attention to this problem that was often ignored, even among other missionaries[5].

Works by Smith[]

  • Arthur H. Smith, Chinese Characteristics (New York: Revell, 1894). Reprinted: EastBridge, D'Asia Vue, with a Preface by Lydia Liu, 2003. ISBN 1891936263.

———. Village Life in China; a Study in Sociology. New York, Chicago [etc.]: F. H. Revell Company, 1899. Various reprints.

  • ___ China in Convulsion. New York,: F. H. Revell Co., 1901.

———. Proverbs and Common Sayings from the Chinese, Together with Much Related and Unrelated Matter, Interspersed with Observations on Chinese Things in General. New York, 1914. Reprint, Paragon 1965.

See also[]

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  1. Thompson, Larry Clinton. William Scott Ament and the Boxer Rebellion: Heroism, Hubris, and the Ideal Missionary. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009, 47
  2. Thompson, 90, 189
  3. Thompson, 219
  4. Thompson, 216,219
  5. Mungello, David (2008). Drowning Girls in China. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9780742555310.  p. 73


  • Theodore D. Pappas, “Arthur Henderson Smith and the American Mission in China,” Wisconsin Magazine of History 70.3 (Spring 1987): 163-186.
  • Charles Hayford, “Chinese and American Characteristics: Arthur H. Smith and His China Book,' in S.W. Barnett, JK Fairbank, Ed., Christianity in China: Early Protestant Missionary Writings (Harvard 1985).
  • Myron Cohen, Introduction to a paperback reprint, Village Life in China (Boston: Little, Brown, 1970).
  • Lydia Liu,”Translating National Character: Lu Xun and Arthur Smith,” Ch 2, Translingual Practice: Literature, National Culture, and Translated Modernity: China 1900-1937 (Stanford 1995). Shows how Chinese nationalists made use of Smith's Chinese Characteristics which had been quickly translated into Japanese, thence into Chinese.
  • Larry Clinton Thompson, William Scott Ament and the Boxer Rebellion: Heroism, Hubris, and the Ideal Missionary. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009

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