Give, give; be always giving’: Children, Charity and China, 1890-1939


  • Shih-Wen Sue Chen Deakin University, Australia



charity, children's literature, China 1890-1939


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph is included here:

Before he reveals the answer to the riddle, nine-year-old Matty Bryan asks his father for a penny and his mother and grandmother for a halfpenny each. He then takes out his new missionary-box, explaining that the money is for ‘black people, to buy them Bibles, and to send them preachers to tell them about God, and how they’re to get to heaven; and Mr. Graham [his teacher] said that it was the same as giving them the Bread of life’ ( Elliott 1872, p. 17). This scene from Emily Elliott’s novella Matty’s Hungry Missionary-Box and the Message It Brought (1872) is an example of the creative ways children in nineteenth-century Britain were depicted as engaging in charity. Although not everyone agreed with the value of foreign missions, by the mid-nineteenth century, missionary societies such as the London Missionary Society (LMS, established 1795) and the Church Missionary Society (CMS, established 1799) had placed missionary boxes like Matty’s in many homes, and children were taught to donate regularly (Cox 2008, p. 97). According to historian Frank Prochaska ‘[n]owhere in the charitable world did the young play a more important part than in the evangelical missionary movement’ (1978, p. 103). While it is impossible to provide exact figures for the amount of money Victorian children raised for missionary societies, it was a significant amount . The funds raised supported missionary ships, paid for specific cots in hospitals, and sponsored ‘native teacher[s]’ (Prochaska 1978, p. 107; Thorne 1999, p. 126; Elleray 2011, pp. 229-230). In the early twentieth century, children were told that for one penny a week, they could help support the LMS’s eighty-three missionaries in China who were involved in the work of ‘leper asylums, training homes, orphanages and schools for both boys and girls’ (J.M.B. [c 1900], p. 15).  


Metrics Loading ...

Author Biography

  • Shih-Wen Sue Chen, Deakin University, Australia

    Shih-Wen Sue Chen is a lecturer in Writing and Literature at Deakin University. She received her PhD in Literature, Screen and Theatre Studies from The Australian National University. Sue is the author of Representations of China in British Children’s Fiction, 1851-1911 (2013). Her work has been published in edited books as well as in Children’s Literature in Education, Papers: Explorations into Children’s Literature, Barnboken: Journal of Children’s Literature Research, Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, and Australian Literary Studies. Her research interests include Victorian and Edwardian children’s literature, Chinese children’s literature, book history, histories of reading, and publishing history.


Bell, Katherine M (2013) ‘Raising Africa?: Celebrity and the Rhetoric of the White Saviour’, PORTAL: Journal of Multidisciplinary International Studies vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 1-24.

Bickers, Robert (1999) Britain in China: Community, Culture and Colonialism, 1900-49, Manchester University Press, Manchester and New York.

Brown, Richard (1991) Society and Economy in Modern Britain 1700–1850, Routledge, London.

Bryson, Mary Isabella (1900) Child Life in China, Religious Tract Society, London.

Brys on, Mary Isabella [ca.1902?] Some Chinese Waifs 2nd edn, London Missionary Society, London.

Budden, CW [ca.1900?] Missionary Cantata : Every-day Life in China, London Missionary Society, London.

Chen, Shih -Wen (2014) ‘Paradoxical Performances: Cruel Constraints and Christian Emancipation in 19–20th Century Missionary Representations of Chinese Women and Girls’, i n M. Jolly and H. Choi (eds.), Divine Domesticities: Christian Paradoxes in Asia and the Pacific, ANU Press, Canberra, pp. 347 -366.

Cox, Jeff rey (2008) The British Missionary E nterprise since 1700, Routledge, London and New York.

Cronin, Richard (2013) ‘Review of Andrew Rudd, Sympathy and India in British Literature, 1770 -1830’, Romanticism vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 103-104.

Debenham, Mary H. and Baugh, Hilda Campbell (1933) Chinese Stories for Little Children: Eight Lessons for Children aged 5-7 years, Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, Westminster.

Elleray, Michelle (2011) ‘Little Builders: Coral Insects, Missionary C ulture, and the Victorian Child’, Victorian Literature and Culture vol. 39, pp. 223 -238.

[E lliott, Emily Elizabeth Steele] (1872) Matty’ s Hungry Missionary -Box and the Message It Brought, T. Nelson and Sons, London.

Forman, Ross (2013) China and the Victorian Imagination: Empires Entwined, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Haggis, Jane and Allen, Margaret (2008) ‘Imperial Emotions: Affective Communities of Mission in British Protestant Women’s Missionary Publications c1880 – 1920’, Journal of Social History vol. 41, no. 3, pp. 691 -716.

Hillel, Margot (2011) ‘“Give Us All Missionary Eyes and Missionary Hearts”: Triumphalism and Missioning in Late -Victorian Children’s Literature’, Mousaion vol. 29, no. 3, pp. 179-192.

Himmelfarb, Gertrude (1990) ‘ Victorian Philanthropy: The Case of Toynbee Hall ’, The American Scholar vol. 59, no. 3, pp. 373 -384.

Hoatson, M. Maude, Hoatson, Florence and Bonner, Carey (1918) Christ and the Children of China: A Sacred Cantata for Young People, Sunday School Union, London.

Hunter, Jane (1984) The Gospel of Gentility: American Women Missionaries in Turn-of-the-century China, Yale University Press, New Haven.

Hutchings, Graham (2003) Modern China: A Guide to a Century of Change, Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

J.M.B. [ca.1900 ] He and She from O'er the Sea: Missionary Recitations and Hymns for Twelve Boys and Girls, London Missionary Society, London.

Johnston, Anna (2003) Missionary Writing and Empire, 1800 – 1860, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Ko, Dorothy (2005) Cinderella’s Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding, University of California Press, Berkeley.

London Missionary Society (1892) The Chronicle of the London Missionary Society for the Year 1892, London Missionary Society, London.

London Missionary Society (1900) A Missionary Alphabet: Second Series: For Recitation at Missionary Entertainments, London Missionary Society, London.

London Missionary Society (1902) Busy Bees: A Missionary Dialogue in Three Scenes, London Missionary Society, London.

London Missionary Society (1915) The One Hundred and Twentieth Report of the London Missionary Society, London Missionary Society, London.

London Missionary Society (1920) Twice Saved: The Story of Haw -san, London Missionary Society, London.

‘The Missionary Society’s Four Great Wants’ (1866) Juvenile Missionary Magazine vol. XXIII (Oct 1866), p. 95.

Morrison, Hugh (2010) ‘The “joy and heroism of doing good” : The New Zealand Missionary Record and Late -Nineteenth -Century Protestant Children’s Missionary Support’, Journal of New Zealand Literature vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 158 -182.

Morrison, Hugh (2013) ‘“ Impressions which will never be lost”: Missionary Periodicals for Protestant Children in Late-Nineteenth Century Canada and New Zealand ’, Church History vol. 82, no. 2, pp. 388 -393.

Morrison, Hugh (2015) ‘Settler Childhood, Protestant Christianity and Emotions in Colonial New Zealand, 1880s -1920s’, In S. Olsen (ed.), Childhood, Youth and Emotions in Modern History: National, Colonial and Global Perspectives, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, pp. 76 -94.

Morrison, Hugh (2015) ‘“I like we belong to one big family:” Protestant Childhoods, Missions and Emotions in British World Settings, 1870s-1930s’, In Claire McLinsky, Daniel Midena and Karen Vallgarda (eds.) Emotions and Christian Missions: Historical Perspectives, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, pp. 218 -239.

Parker, John (1902) The Boy With a Borrowed Name, London Missionary Society, London.

Pearson, Annie [1894] In the Streets of Peking, N.P.

Prochaska, Frank (1978) ‘Little Vessels: Children in the Nineteenth -Century English Missionary Movement’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 103-118.

Robert, Dana L (2005) American Women in Mission: A Social History of Their Thought and Practice, Mercer University Press, Macon.

Schoepflin, Rennie B (2005) ‘Making Doctors and Nurses for Jesus: Medical Missionary Stories and American Children’, Church History vol. 74, no. 3, pp. 557 -590.

Scripture Union (2016) ‘ The Scripture Union Story’

Siegel, Daniel (2012) Charity and Condescension: Victorian Literature and the Dilemmas of Philanthropy, Ohio Unive rsity Press, Athens, online.

Smith, Adam (1984) The Theory of Moral Sentiments, DD Raphael and AL Macfie (eds), Liberty Fund, Indianapolis.

Swain, Shurlee and Hillel, Margaret (2010) Child, Nation, Race and Empire: Child Rescue Discourse, England, Canada and Australia, 1850 -1915, Manchester University Press, Manchester.

Thorne, Susan (1999) Congregational Missions and the Making of an Imperial Culture in Nineteenth -Century England, Stanford University Press, Stanford.

Whimster, E. E. (1920) Working Girls of China: For Senior Girls, United Council for Missionary Education, London.

World Missionary Conference (1910) To Consider Missionary Problems in Relation to the Non-Christian World, vol. 6, Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier, Edinburgh.

Zhang, Chunjie (2008) ‘From Sinophilia to Sinophobia: China, History, and Recognition’, Colloquia Germanica vol. 41, no. 2, pp. 97 -110.







How to Cite

“Give, give; be always giving’: Children, Charity and China, 1890-1939” (2016) Papers: Explorations into Children’s Literature, 24(2), pp. 5–32. doi:10.21153/pecl2016vol24no2art1104.

Similar Articles

1-10 of 165

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.

Most read articles by the same author(s)