Arthur William (A.W.) Douthwaite experienced an unhappy childhood and a misspent youth in England, but after being converted to Christianity, he sensed God’s leading to become a missionary to China. His interest was first aroused after reading a booklet written by another missionary, James Joseph Meadows, who served with the China Inland Mission (CIM). Douthwaite, a young medical student at the time, suspended his schooling to attend Grattan Guinness’ training institute in London. He also performed a short stint at the London Hospital before heading to China as a medical missionary with the CIM in 1874. Though his main qualification for service as a doctor was only four years as an apothecary’s apprentice, Douthwaite soon distinguished himself by his gifts as a surgeon and physician.
Three weeks after he arrived in China, a blind man came to him for treatment. Though Douthwaite had not intended to begin medical work that soon, he knew that by a simple operation he could restore the man’s sight, so he did. Fully healed, the formerly blind man urged others to believe in Christ and seek Douthwaite’s medical services as well. Soon the courtyard was filled with patients, to whom the gospel was preached by Chinese converts.
Douthwaite immediately encountered difficulties in China. He later wrote, “My first year was filled with a succession of riots in which I lost most of my possessions and narrowly escaped losing my life also.” (Refiner’s Fire, 398) In February of 1875, Douthwaite married his fiancée from England, Elizabeth Doig. Later that year, he received an urgent request from a Chinese Christian to open a preaching-hall in the city of Kinhwafu, Zheijiang. He was not hopeful of success, as on two previous occasions, missionaries had been turned out of the city, but he set forth accompanied by two Chinese evangelists and Pastor Wang Lae-djun (Wang Laiquan). After a few days delay, he successfully rented a house in the city. The news of this foreigner’s arrival quickly spread, and among those who came to see him was Captain Yü, a zealous Buddhist. Captain Yü became an earnest student of the Bible, and after about a year’s study and inquiry, he, along with several others, were baptized.
Several months later, Captain Yü became ill and came to the town of Chüchowfu to spend a few weeks under Dr. Douthwaite’s care. Before he left, he asked to go forward as a preacher of the Gospel. Douthwaite wrote: “I well remember, how after we had been reading the Scriptures and praying together, he earnestly entreated me to let him go, saying, ‘I have led hundreds on the wrong road, and now I want to lead them to the Way of Truth. Let me go; I ask no wages, nor do I want any of your money; I only want to serve Jesus.’” (Marshall Broomhall, 137) Douthwaite gave him permission, and a group of Christians there commended him to God in prayer. Captain Yü then went to Jiangxi.
Three weeks later, Captain Yü returned with an old farmer, Yü Liang-shih Yu Liangshi, one of his former converts to Buddhism. Now a believer in Christ, Yu asked for baptism before returning home. Douthwaite was hesitant, but the farmer argued so earnestly, on account of his age, that Douthwaite finally accepted. Six weeks later this man returned with six other men. Dr. and Mrs. Douthwaite welcomed these inquirers, and a year later, Douthwaite baptized them in addition to nine others, including several women, who had been led to Christ through their testimony and changed manner of life.
Meanwhile, Captain Yü continued his work elsewhere, and one of his converts was a young farmer named Tung of Taiyang, near the city of Yüshan. When Douthwaite visited this village some months later, he was astonished to find the courtyard of Farmer Tung’s house filled with men and women waiting for him to address them. He was surprised to learn it was their regular custom to meet every evening to sing hymns and listen to the reading of the Scriptures. During the year which followed, Douthwaite baptized fifteen converts from that village and an equal number from other villages in the same district. In this obscure village on the eastern border of Jiangxi, the first Christian church in the Guangxin River district was organized. Then, a house was rented in Yüshan, which was made the center of missionary effort in that district, and preaching halls were soon opened in other places.
An eye clinic developed into a general hospital. Mrs Douthwaite opened a boarding school for girls. Later, Dr. Douthwaite began treating opium addicts; soon, he had an opium refuge. Former addicts would then tell their friends and families of their cure, which often included new life in Christ.
Failure of health compelled Douthwaite to relinquish the work at Chüchowfu, but by the time he left, a little church of more than ninety members had been formed. Douthwaite moved to Wenzhou, where he served for two years. In his first year there, he treated more than 4,000 patients. In Wenzhou, he ran short of money and was offered a paying position with the Chinese government. He was tempted to take the position, but it would have meant giving up his missionary work, so he turned it down. His wife played a large part in helping him resist this temptation, as she remained staunch and firm and true and determined not to give up. As Douthwaite said, “We went out to China knowing that we had only God to depend upon; and we were quite satisfied that that was enough for us, and we told our wants to Him.” (Marshall Broomhall, 306)
Douthwaite thought the next steamer from England would bring money around Christmas time, but it did not. Their resources were exhausted, and they turned to God in prayer. That evening, a Chinese man brought Dr. Douthwaite beef to thank him for his medicine. Another man brought four hams and some other small things. Still another brought a pheasant, some chickens, and a basket of eggs. A European connected with the consular service presented him with a huge turkey he had been feeding for 6 months, and custom house officers gave him money to thank him for caring for them in sickness. Thus, the Douthwaites had an abundance of food, even though the usual supply didn’t come. They knew that the Lord had provided for them.
The Douthwaites moved to the more bracing climate of Chefoo (now Yantai) in April of 1882, so that Douthwaite could recover from bronchitis. Quite popular as the local doctor, Douthwaite became a leader in the community and established a hospital there. When his wife died of typho-malarial fever, he also established a “fever (isolation) hospital” in her memory. Douthwaite won the confidence of tens of thousands of Chinese patients in Chefoo, who spread good reports of the kindness and help they received from the foreign doctor. Thus, Douthwaite did much to dissipate prejudices, promote friendly feelings, and smooth the way for other missionaries, opening the door for the gospel to be spread more widely.
Demonstrating a true heart for evangelism, when Korea became open to missionaries by the treaty of 1883, Douthwaite crossed over the border during the winter of 1883-1884 and labored there. Douthwaite journeyed into the interior and circulated a large number of copies of the Gospel. He was the first missionary to enter Korea at this time.
During his first furlough, 1885-1886, Douthwaite went to America and gained a full medical qualification. He completed his medical course at Vanderbilt University, Nebraska, cramming the work of three years into one year to qualify as a medical doctor in just nine short months. On his return to China, he was sent back to Chefoo, where he oversaw the development of a major mission station, which included one of the first medical schools for Chinese students. His medical work grew so extensively that his Chinese patients numbered more than 20,000 each year. In 1896, his outpatients numbered 23,700, his inpatients 216, and his surgical operations 856.
Fellow missionary Ed Tomalin wrote of him:
I have seen him operate on a man, and rescue him from the jaws of death, five hours after that same man had been turned away by another doctor, as too far gone to offer any chance of success. Yet with all his skill and all his success, no one more readily acknowledged the very limited powers of a medical man and the absolute need of the hand of God to heal the sick. He firmly believed in the power of prayer. (Tomalin, 171)
Douthwaite also served as a science lecturer at the Chefoo school.
During the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), Douthwaite worked with the Red Cross, insisting that his hospital was to receive all the wounded, whether Chinese or Japanese. Because he had a good relationship with the Chinese general, the general reluctantly agreed that the hospital could be neutral territory. Wounded Chinese soldiers flocked to Chefoo, and soon, every bed was filled. Douthwaite had to enlist untrained missionaries to assist him in his surgical operations. He treated hundreds of soldiers at his hospital, earning the gratitude of the Chinese army and government.
When the war ended, the general and his soldiers erected a large honorific tablet at Douthwaite’s hospital in a ceremony complete with a brass band. When the foundation of the new school in Chefoo was being laid, a company of soldiers brought eight hundred loads of quarried rock as a gift. The China Merchants’ Steam Navigation Company (a government controlled firm) also shipped five beams of special length to Chefoo upon hearing that they were needed for the new school, saying they were “In recognition of Dr. Douthwaite’s services to the wounded soldiers during the war.” (Tomalin, 171) And when the Douthwaite family left Chefoo in 1897 for a furlough in England, the general and a whole regiment paraded at the hospital. When Dr. Douthwaite came out, they dropped to their knees and thanked him for all he had done for them; they then escorted him to the harbor with a guard of honor. The emperor also awarded him the Imperial Order of the Double Dragon for his work during the war.
Dr. Douthwaite returned to Chefoo in 1898 to continue his work. He loved serving with the CIM and wrote, “There is as much liberty in the CIM as any man could reasonably desire. After he has given proof of ability to learn the language and has had five years of experience under his seniors, he may choose his own sphere of permanent work and carry on that work in his own way as the Lord may lead him.” (It is Not Death to Die, 164) Although Douthwaite’s heart lay with evangelism, he believed that being a doctor allowed him to follow his vocation of seeking to convert the people of China to Christianity better. Douthwaite said, “Had I a thousand lives instead of one, I would ask for no greater joy, no greater honour, than to be permitted to spend them all in the glorious work of winning China for Christ.” (Tomalin, 171) His premature death from dysentery on October 5, 1899, at the age of 51 prevented him from achieving even greater things.
Douthwaite published numerous articles on medicine, medical missionary work, and missionary life in general in a variety of journals and magazines during the course of his career. As with J. Hudson Taylor, Douthwaite’s writings on China, including Chinese medica materia, earned him the honor of being a Fellow of the Royal Graphic Society.
Douthwaite had given 25 years of service to China as a faithful and loving servant of the people.. His strong will and determination allowed him to carry on in the face of ill-health and suffering, when a weaker man would have rested. He was a brilliant surgeon, widely known and respected, and one of the most successful of the medical missionaries. Upon his death, Tomalin wrote of him, “No life can be spent which at the end will have so little cause for regret as a life like Dr. Douthwaite’s, spent for God and man.” (Tomalin, 171)