The China Inland Mission (CIM), later known as the Overseas Missionary Fellowship, was a British Protestant society founded in 1865 by Reverend James Hudson Taylor and William Thomas Berger to advance the interdenominational evangelization of the interior of China. The society had a very intrepid and, in some ways progressive, culture, in that the missionaries were expected to adapt to the Chinese way of life, while it was (controversially) one of the first international evangelical organizations to employ single women, including in senior field roles. These traits were responsible for the CIM’S extraordinary success in one of the world’s largest and most challenging theatres. Importantly, the CIM missionaries were amongst the first Westerners to travel through and settle many of the most remote parts of China.
Taylor led the maiden field mission, departing England in 1866, whereupon they established their first station at Hangzhou, Zhejiang. Other stations in the same province soon followed and from 1867 to 1871 several missions were established in Jiangsu. From 1874 to 1878, stations were founded in Hubei, Hunan, Henan, Shaanxi, Gansu, Sichuan, Yunnan and Tibet. The CIM’s headquarters were established in Shanghai in 1873, and in July 1875, the society published the inaugural issue of its journal, China’s Millions.
By the time that the present map was issued, the CIM had proven wildly successful at attracting converts, despite opposition from certain elements of the local communities and the personal suffering of many of the missionaries.
In the years to come, the CIM expanded into more parts of China, and also Mongolia and Upper Burma. In 1915, the society employed 2,063 workers at 277 stations, while by 1934 (the peak of the CIM’s operations), it engaged 1,368 workers at 364 stations. By the 1930s, the CIM had been responsible for converting many thousands of Chinese people to Christianity, rooting the faith in virtually all regions of the country. It had also provided high-quality education and healthcare in many places where such services were scarce.
However, the Japanese invasion of China, which commenced in 1937 and dovetailing into World War II, was a disaster for the CIM. Many of its stations were forced to close upon the advance of the Japanese forces, while many missionaries and followers were interned in Japanese prison camps. The Communist takeover of China in 1949 spelled the death knell for the CIM’s operations in its main theatre, as the new regime considered Western missionaries to be ‘imperialist spies’; the last CIM workers left the country in 1953.
The CIM subsequently retooled itself to focus upon activities in Southeast Asia, with its headquarters being moved to Singapore. The organization was renamed the Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF) in 1964. Today the organization, re-branded as OMF International, remains an active concern, employing 1,400 workers in over 40 countries.
The main archives of the CIM are today held by the University of London’s School of Asian and African Studies (SOAS).
Mapping the CIM’s Operations
The China Inland Mission operated in many remote parts of China and surrounding lands that were little known to their recruits and supporters in Britain. It was thus important for the CIM to commission a custom ‘master map’ that would locate their missions, and, as in the case of the present example, demarcate the routes of the missionaries’ often-harrowing journeys to their intended stations.
The CIM engaged Edward Stanford’s Geographic Establishment to design and print such a map. The firm, founded in 1853, by Edward Stanford (1827 – 1904), was by the time that the present map was made the world’s leading cartographic publisher. It owned this status to its unrivalled connections to governments, surveyors, explorers and missionaries throughout the world. Maintaining a very high standard of lithographic production, Stanford’s maps were remarkable for their signature style, employing clear, carefully placed text, clean lines and attractive colours, as brilliantly exemplified by the present work.
The first edition of the CIM map was issued by Stanford in May 1878 and took the form of a finely designed general map of the country, clearly labelling all topographical features, cities, towns, and major roads, with all of the empire’s provinces distinguished in attractive colours. Importantly, below the title (lower-right), a key explains that locations of the CIM stations are underlined by bold lines, while ‘Free Ports’ (European trade ports, ex. Hong Kong, Shanghai, Qingdao, etc.) are underlined by intermittent lines.
The large chart, in the upper-left quadrant of the map, labels the ‘Missions and Course of Route’ of every CIM station established from 1866 to 1878, classified by ‘Province’ and giving space to distinguish the ‘Indication of Route on Map’ used by each of the missionaries to reach their respective stations (although this space is not filled in on the ‘regular’ examples of the map). In the far lower-right corner is a small inset map of England and Wales, supplied to demonstrate the relative geographical immensity of China.
Please see a link to an image of the a ‘normal’ example of the 1878 first edition of the CIM map, courtesy of the Basel Mission Archives (Switzerland):
Importantly, however, the present ‘special’ variant of the first edition of the CIM map, while being the same as the ‘normal’ edition in its underlying template, features dramatic additions of information. Here the named itineraries of all of the missionaries en route to their respective stations is stenciled over the base map in red lines and text, with the different types of lines used to express each filled into the chart (upper left) under the heading ‘Indication of Route on Map’. These routes crisscross China, and are valuable records of the always challenging, and often dangerous, routes that the ‘missionary-explorers’ followed to arrive at their new stations, which were often in areas scarcely ever visited by Westerners. The technique of over-stenciling applied here was often used by the Stanford firm to customize or improve upon their maps.
Stanford regularly issued subsequent editions (at least once every 5 years or so) of the map up to 1928, updating the locations of the CIM’s missions across China and the surrounding countries. To the best of our knowledge, the present special version of the first edition is the only issue of the map to show the itinerary routes of the CIM missionaries.
A Note on Rarity
The early issues of the CIM maps by Stanford are all very to extremely rare, as they were separately issued in only small print runs for limited circulation within the missionary community.
The present variant of the first edition of 1878, with the missionaries’ itineraries stenciled over in red, is especially rare. We can trace only a single institutional example, held by the Royal Geographic Society in London.
References: Royal Geographical Society: MR CHINA S.186; Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record, vol. 1 (1879), p. 80.