George Leslie Mackay is the founder of the churches in Northern Taiwan. His life had great impact on Tamsui through his missionary, medical and education work. He not only changed the cultural landscape of Tamsui, he himself became an inseparable part of Tamsui history. * Background and childhood Mackay was born in Zorra Village, Oxford, Ontario, Canada on March 21, 1844 to a Scottish emigrant family. His parents were typical Presbyterians, with immovable faith and devoted family values. The turning point of his life came early at the age of 10.
That year, renowned missionary William Chalmers Burns was on his way to return to England for holiday and to report the progress of his work. Burns passed Zorra and gave a speech in the local church on the situation of preaching in Hsiamen. Mackay was deeply moved by Burns’ words and had since decided to become a missionary in China. In order to search for the place for his missionary work he visited the churches in Kuangchou, Shantou and Hsiamen. Finally he was onboard the schooner brig “Chin Lin” to Taiwan. As he passed the Wu Shui Kou (now known as Taiwan Strait), Mackay began the most weird and difficult journey.
Landing in Tamsui To come across a sea to Taiwan was never Mackay’s plan. Yet all the things led to this result, as Mackay described on his log— It was as if there was an invisible rope leading me to the Formosa. March 9, 1872, the brig entered Tamsui River, Rev. Mackay wrote— as I looked to the north and to the south, then at the green mountain hills in the inland, my heart was filled with satisfaction, and my spirit calm and tranquil. I knew this land will be my home. A voice of peace and wisdom said to me: “This is the land”, that is where Rev. Mackay landed. * Living in a Humble Alley
April 6, 1872, Mackay began his missionary work alone in Tamsui. He rented a room at the place, now the back of the house at 24 Mackay St. The house was originally used as a stable for Ching Dynasty officers. This house was built on a bumpy slope, in between the hills and Tamsui River; the surroundings were very dirty. There was an alley beside the house that went all the way to the riverside. Although the location is not bad, it was not an ideal place to live. * Learning Taiwanese and Chinese Languages After arranging for housing, Mackay’s first job was to master local Taiwanese language in order to spread the Gospel to the people.
Once, Mackay saw a dozen of kids on a hill , when he approached them, these kids all screamed: “Foreigner Ghost, Foreigner Ghost! ” and ran away. The next day Mackay tried to get close to these kids again but they all ran away. It wasn’t until the third day when Mackay finally had the chance to say something. He tried hard to pronounce the word accurately. The kids were astonished: “He can speak our tongue! ” They were pleased that “Foreigner” could actually speak their language. Mackay took this opportunity and pulled out a pocket watch for them to look at.
They huddled up around him and touched his hand, button and clothes with curiosity; since then they and Mackay became friends. Mackay came every day, played and talked with them for 5, 6 hours a day. He jotted down all the new vocabulary he heard. His vocabulary improved so quickly that it amazed his own servant. Several of these kids became Christians, and one of them became a missionary. * A Hard-earned Achievement Mackay’s stay in Tamsui had raised a lot of eyebrows. Tamsui local townspeople were very cautious of him, especially his intention of staying in Tamsui, about which the locals came up with endless speculations.
These, added with local traditional beliefs misunderstanding of and unnecessary hostility toward Christianity, caused Mackay’s early work to have met with a lot of obstacles. By the time Mackay had his first home-return holiday in 1880, he had established a total of 20 churches in northern Taiwan, assigned 10 missionaries to station in these churches and had 300 adult disciples. Mackay’s establishment of churches in foreign soil in the first 9 years is considered a great success, and it was indeed a rare achievement in overseas missionaries. * Marrying a Taiwanese Wife
In his 6th year in Taiwan, Mackay, 34, married Chang Tsung-ming, a Tamsui local and had two daughters and one son. In fact, getting married was among the last things he planned to do. But due to circumstances, he was able to do them all. * First Report of Duty in Canada In 1880, his mother church required Mackay to return home for holiday, and report his activities to the churches he toured. The return of the first missionary with substantial achievement Mackay received a lot of money from enthusiastic donors. This money helped Mackay’s development of medical and educational institutions as he returned to Taiwan.
Mackay’s speech in St. Andrew’s Hall, London, Ontario greatly inspired a high-school teenager, who also made up his mind to become a missionary just like the 10-year-old Mackay once did. That teenager was William Gauld, the successor of Mackay. After the completion of Hu-wei Mackay Hospital and of the Oxford College in 1882, Mackay had effectively established the medical and educational system of the Presbyterian Church. New churches were quickly established based on this foundation. * The current Oxford College In autumn of 1884, the Sino-French War began. The French army attacked Tamsui with cannon fire and invaded Keelung.
There was an uprising in Taipei, people began to accuse church disciples of betraying the country by communicating with foreigners. Churches were torn down, disciples were killed and robbed. After the war the churches and compensated immediately. Mackay built seven churches in Mankah, Hsindian, Tataocheng, Songshan, Jilong, Heshangchou and Baliben. On the pinnacle of the first four churches there were paintings of a bush in fire, meaning “being burnt but not destroyed”, that has been the spiritual totem for the Presbyterian Church in its 100 years in Taiwan * From Far Formosa
In June 1894, at the General Assembly meeting in St. John, New Brunswick, Mackay was elected Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, the highest electoral position in the church. He spent the following year travelling across Canada, as well as writing “From Far Formosa”, a memoir of his missionary experiences (published 1895). The book “From Far Formosa” is considered an important early missionary ethnography of Taiwan and an important contribution to the anthropological understanding of the culture and customs of the people of Taiwan during that period.
Mackay himself was as fascinated by the cultures and habitat. He was an enthusiastic collector of cultural artifacts and specimens of local flora and fauna. Many items collected by him are today preserved at the ethnology department of the Royal Ontario Museum (Ontario, Canada) and the Aletheia University Museum (Tamsui, Taiwan). * Death After returning to Tamsui from his last inspection tour of the churches in Lan-Yang plain in May of 1900, Mackay died of throat cancer on June 2 in his home in Paotaipu, aged 58.
His family and church buried him according to his will in his private cemetery behind Tamkang Middle School instead of the foreign cemetery. In his 30 years in Taiwan, Mackay had established more than 60 churches, and baptized more than 3000 people. He identified with Taiwan all his life and called himself a Tamsui local. His heart, his love, his blood and his legacy are all in Taiwan. This one person’s love of the land marks a major contrast to the foreigner rulers who came and went without identifying with Taiwan in the past 400 years