E. C. Bridgman (1801-1861), America’s First Missionary to China

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This biography critically examines the life and career of Elijah Coleman Bridgman. Bridgman was sent to the port of Canton in southern China in 1830 as a representative of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. One of the small number of Protestant missionaries who arrived in China prior to the Opium War, he played a key role as a pioneering scholar and cultural intermediary, laying the foundations for American sinology and shaping the development of early Sino-American relations. Editor of the world’s first major journal of sinology, The Chinese Repository, Bridgman became America’s first ‘China expert’. Among his other works was the first Chinese language history of the USA, and he also contributed greatly to the formulation of America’s first treaty with the Chinese government.


“This is an exceptional book; one could even call it a tour de force. It is farm more than the life of Elijah Coleman Bridgman, the first American missionary to China. It is a book that captures a life, an era, and an important cross-cultural encounter. . . . The author of this book is alive to every nuance here, his prodigious research and familiarity with his sources is apparent on every page, including recent publications in Chinese. He picks his way through this minefield with crystal clarity for his readers, and his account is balanced, judicial and impartial. The story is gripping and focused, to the degree that it is ‘difficult to put down.’ . . . . This is a book for moralists, politicians, businessmen, diplomats, theologians, and historians as well as sinologists.” – Asian Affairs

“. . . an interesting and thoughtful biography. . . .Lazich also details life in the Canton factories and the foreigners dealings with the Chinese in the 1830s and 1840s, and gives glimpses of life elsewhere along the China coast. The author has the great ability to place the reader on the scene. This work is well-written and solidly researched. . . “ – Sino-Western Cultural Relations Journal

“Lazich is a meticulous craftsman and his prose throughout the book is crystal clear and finely honed. He has the ability to integrate substantive data in the form of quotations and paraphrasing with well stated mini-analysis of this same material. . . scholars in a number of disciplines such as Chinese history, mission history, the history of Christianity, and the history of Sino-western relations would find interesting and important. It is also a major contribution to Sino-American studies and to diplomatic history. . . It is a book that captures a life, an era, and an important cross cultural encounter.” – Murray A. Rubinstein

“This book is an important contribution to the field of Sino-American history. . . . a carefully-researched and thoughtful study by the China historian Michael C. Lazich. Bridgman was a complex figure whose strengths and flaws contended for dominance. This complexity is admirably handled in a portrait that is both objective and empathetic. This is no work of hagiography, but neither is it an unsympathetic portrayal of a man whose view of Christianity was fused, for better or worse, with a triumphal view of nineteenth-century American culture.” – D. E. Mungello

“Lazich provides not only detailed textual analyses of Bridgman’s writing but clearly analyzes the wider social context within which Bridgman wrote. This wider historical context includes the relations between economic and religious institutions, the cleavage between British and American interests in the Opium war, the interdenominational conflicts over Biblical translations, and the evolving relations between Protestant missionaries and Chinese society. This carefully researched study of the first American Missionary in China makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the foreign missionary movement in Asia through the lifework of a pioneer in China.” – Marion Kilson

Table of Contents

Table of contents:
Foreword; Preface; Introduction
1. The Millennial Impulse: America’s First Missionary to China
2. “Christian Union in China”
3. The Diffusion of Useful Knowledge
4. Opium, Politics, and the Gospel
5. Missionary Diplomacy: The Lures and Perils of Political Service
6. Images of Shangdi: The “Term Question”
7. North China Mission: Shanghai vs. the “Heavenly Capital”
8. Missionary Diplomacy II: Millennial Promise Fulfilled and Belied
Bibliography; Index

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