The 164th anniversary of Emory alumnus Young John Allen, sailing to China

纪念埃默里大学校友林乐知(Young John Allen)启航远渡中国164 

Guo-hua Wang

by Guo-hua Wang, Emory Libraries’ Chinese Studies librarian and Head of the International Area Studies Team

December 18, 1859 was the start of Young John Allen’s 209-day voyage to China from New York with his young wife and infant daughter. The family spent Christmas and New Year’s Day on the ship, enduring all the hardships of sea travel. Allen recorded their harrowing yet fascinating life at sea in his diary, which you can read transcribed online, and then research further using the Rose Library finding aid. Here, you can find detailed archives of this brave man’s journey. On July 13, 1860, they arrived in Shanghai, China. Immediately after arriving, Young John Allen immersed himself in his missionary work; he studied and mastered the Chinese language and adopted a Chinese name, Lin Lezhi = 林乐知. Allen passed away in Shanghai on May 30, 1907.

From left, Allen’s sea voyage diary with leather cover, and a page from Allen’s diary. (Young John Allen collection, Rose Library at Emory University.)


Allen, a Georgia native, graduated from our own Emory College with honors in 1858. He visited the States five times throughout his 47 years living in China. During his first visit in 1878, he was conferred a Doctorate of Law degree from Emory University.

Not long after Young John Allen started his mission in the Shanghai area, the American Civil War erupted. As a result, his home church did not send any financial support to his mission work for several years. In order to support his family, Allen had to find work outside the mission. He worked an array of jobs, including as: a rice and coal broker, cotton buyer, teacher at Shanghai Tong-wen guan (a government sponsored college), translator at Jiangnan Arsenal (a Shanghai translation bureau), and as an editor of Shanghai Xinbao (Shanghai News).

These experiences allowed Allen to gain a deep understanding of the Chinese people and Chinese society. Furthermore, this knowledge informed and refined how he spread Christianity. First, he introduced Western culture, history, philosophy, education, and more to the Chinese people. The goal of this was to fundamentally change the thought and outlook of the Chinese people and Chinese society, which was naturally followed by a path to Christianity. While carrying out his mission, Allen left a great mark on Chinese history in three major areas: publication, translation and education.


In 1868, Young John Allen started to publish Jiaohui Xinbao (Church News). To reach Chinese people of all walks of life, in 1875 he changed the magazine’s name to Wan Guo Gong Bao = 万国公报 = Global News, then the Review of Times. With this new title, the magazine went beyond the scope of church news, including other topics such as western culture, political concepts, democracy, and education.

Review of Times became very famous and attained national and international circulation. On Feb. 3, 1906, the North China Daily News wrote, “wherever the Chinese have gone, the Wan Guo Gong Bao followed them.” In 1907 Dr. Mateer said, “Dr. Allen deserves immense credit for what he has done through this newspaper.” His writings penetrated every quarter of China, and its influence in the direction of reform has been greater than perhaps any other single agency in China.

Through Wan Guo Gong Bao, Allen engaged the Chinese society and promoted new ideas and a democratic system. He published reform proposals and books which were widely read, even by the emperor and officials in the Palace. One such publication is the multi-volume “War between China and Japan,” which had great impact on Chinese history.

Young John Allen published more than 100 volumes, including books he wrote and translated.


To open the minds and eyes of the Chinese people, Allen translated many western books to Chinese to introduce democracy, humanity and government structure to the dynasty China. The Chinese people, especially those intellectuals and palace officials, read his translated materials and started to ponder the reform of this old empire. Some important reform figures in the Chinese history such as Kang Youwei credited their new and reform ideas from reading Allen’s translations and writings.

In addition, from the translation point of view, Allen helped define the meaning of translating some Western terms such as “constitution, parliament democratic nations . . . ” into Chinese. He made significant contributions to enrich the Chinese vocabulary through translation.


Another remarkable accomplishment Allen made in China was establishing schools to educate younger generations with modern ideologies such as democracy, equality, liberal arts and sciences.

In 1885 he established Anglo-Chinese College in Shanghai and served as the president for 10 years. He was also instrumental in the funding of Soochow University (now Suzhou University) in 1990. After witnessing women’s inferior status in China, Allen desired to open an all-girls school. In his view, the most important change for society is the status of and opportunities for women, and the best marker of a nation’s degree of advancement was the position that women assumed.

Allen strongly advocated for the abolition of footbinding and the provision of education to women. He not only spread the idea that all men are equal, but also that women are equal to men in China.

In 1892, he finally managed to obtain enough funds to establish the girls’ school, McTyeire School. In this school, girls learned modern knowledge, music and the freedom to speak out and independence.

Given all the significant contributions and impact that Allen, a graduate of Emory, made to Chinese history and Chinese society, there is no doubt that the 164th anniversary of his voyage to China must be celebrated. It was a joy to write this blog about his successful career in China as an extraordinary missionary.

—by Guo-hua Wang, Chinese Studies librarian and head of the International Area Studies Team