In the gossipy colonial enclaves of Shanghai and Hong Kong, "going native" caused outrage and hilarity. When China Inland Mission workers first adopted Chinese dress, it seemed to other expatriates as if they were putting on the clothes of the enemy, "aping Chinese dress and manners." Western suits, the diplomats said, offered protection and prestige, the power of the flag.
It seems so simple to adopt "the costume of the country" as a courtesy to one's hosts. But this "simple" policy of Hudson Taylor had some surprising ramifications.
"Full Chinese dress" was one of Taylor's hardest and fastest rules, a symbol of his intention to create an indigenous Chinese church shorn of foreign trappings. "The foreign dress and carriage of missionaries, … the foreign appearance of chapels, and indeed the foreign air imparted to everything connected with their work has seriously hindered the rapid dissemination of the truth among the Chinese."
In a hierarchical society like China, however, where every button, every feather, every ripple of silk, denoted one's status, putting on Chinese clothes was no simple matter. How to choose the right costume? The missionaries did not want to be confused with Buddhist priests in saffron robes, nor with upper-class Confucian scholars.
The CIM chose to dress like poor school teachers, a humble costume that befitted their goal of converting China from the bottom up. Such dress, they claimed, offered a sort of spiritual passport into the hearts and minds of the people.
Indeed, this costume allowed cim pioneers to make some of the most prodigious, and dangerous, explorations of inland China. In 1875, for example, two men and a Chinese evangelist walked across China in safety a few months after a British official ...