Hsi Shengmo

David Hill (1840-1896) was a pioneer missionary in central China with connections to the Wesleyan Missionary Society. Hill was from a privileged background and gave generously to missionary and church work. He founded schools for the blind, set up orphanages, and homes for destitute elderly. He founded the Christian Literature Society, labored against the opium trade and worked for famine relief.

One of the great trophies of Hill’s ministry was Hsi (pronounced Sigh), the Confucian scholar. Hsi was a literary graduate whose scholarship became well-known in the Chinese province of Shansi. He was an influential lawyer, a community leader, a man of private means, high culture and assiduous self disciple, but after the death of his first wife he was crushed. His health began to fail. He married again, but his lovely young wife could not help him. Hsi was embittered.

Confucianism had left him unsatisfied; Buddhism had brought him no help; but Taoism had given him worse than nothing. Undeceived, he came to realize what he ever afterwards maintained, that the whole system is a dark mystery of spiritualism and devil-worship. He found its priests to be mediums having extraordinary mesmeric power; and he firmly believed their hold upon the people to be due to their familiarity with evil spirits and the way in which they make use of Satanic agency.

He was about 37 years old, an empty man who began experimenting with opium. He sank into the habit. The Chinese Mandarin have a saying, “It is not the man that eats the opium, but the opium that eats the man.” The drug wrapped such a grip around Hsi that he seemed incurable. The forceful, energetic civic leader became a jaundiced, aging bystander.

Then the Shansi famine of 1877-1878 came. Marshal Broomhall said,

For three years there had been no crops, and the wheat of that year had already turned brown. The sandy soil was dried to powder; the cities and villages exhibited many marks of poverty; the fields were mostly barren, and the people in a starving condition.

In fact there were towns where 75% of the people starved. Survivors were sold off to slave traders from the south. Cases of cannibalism were prosecuted in the courts. It was late in 1877 when David Hill and another missionary came. They came not to victimize the people like the slavers from the south, but to bring famine relief. The two actively served during the famine and then stayed on as residents in Shansi.

This northern province is larger than Scotland and Ireland combined and became the theater of a great harvest of souls. Hsi was puzzled by these foreigners. Where did such love come from? Christians in Europe and North America were being told about the famine, and they sent relief. Hill employed Hsi as a teacher and began witnessing to him.

At the age of 49, Hsi became a believer in Christ while reading the Gospel of Matthew. David Hill baptized Hsi, and taught him to be a man of the Word.

Hsi’s own deliverance from opium opened the way to lead scores of opium addicts into freedom in Christ. Because drug abuse is often a channel into occult and demonic activity, Hsi was aware of the true nature of the struggle that drug addicts face. He often dealt with those who were demon possessed and he became known as “Conqueror of demons.”

Hsi’s progress was obvious to all. In 1886, at Hudson Taylor’s urging, Hsi took on wide responsibilities as a preacher and leader among the Chinese believers. It was about that time that he became known as Pastor Hsi.

One day in the spring of 1887, Hsi organized a baptism in which 216 Chinese went under the water. Such a “mass movement” was unknown in China, and several missionaries voiced criticism, but five years later D. E. Hoste reported that of the 216 baptized seven had transferred to other churches, four had died, fifty had backslidden and twenty were hard to trace. Of the backsliders, most returned to opium smoking, and less than twenty lapsed into idolatry; 135 remained faithful. The year Hsi was called home, his spiritual father, David Hill, succumbed to Typhus while caring for famine victims in the Wuchang area.

D. E. Hoste, successor to Hudson Taylor, labored with Pastor Hsi the last ten years of his life. He said,

The more one saw of him the more one felt that Christ had taken possession of his life–the real Christ, the living Christ. Nothing else, nothing less, could have accounted for the change that came over him from that hour. For he was a strong man, and such a typical Confucianist, full of the pride and prejudice of his race, and with a natural contempt for the whole form of our religion and the ‘foolishness’ of the cross. But the living, present, personal Christ, revealed by the power of the Holy Ghost, will break any man down. This was the root of the whole matter with Mr. Hsi: the great reality of all his afterlife.  No amount of argument or education could ever have brought about that change. It was just one vision of the living Christ–and down he went; melted in a moment; to become, oh, such a fusil Christian! Yes, melted to the very core, and recast in Christ’s own mould.

Materials taken from:

Demon Possession and Allied Themes: Being an Inductive Study of Phenomena of Our Own Times, John L. Nevius, Kregel Publ.
Paster Hsi, Confucian Scholar and Christian, Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor
Hudson Taylor, the Growth of a Work of God, Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor
Dixon E. Hoste: A Prince with God, Phyllis Thompson
The Jubilee Story of the China Inland Mission, Marshal Broomhall