- Bridgman, Elijah Coleman
- (1801-1861)first American missionary to ChinaE. C. Bridgman was born at Belchertown, Massachusetts, on April 22, 1801. He attended Amherst College and graduated from Andover Theological Seminary in 1829. Almost immediately, he responded to the call for help in China and accepted an appointment from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Sailing on the same ship that brought fellow American Board missionary David Abeel to China, early in 1830, he arrived in Canton, where he met Robert Morrison, began to learn Chinese, and purchased a press, where he began issuing the Chinese Repository in 1832.Bridgman attempted both to inform Westerners of the realities of Chinese life and to change overly negative opinions of the West among Chinese by teaching them about Western learning and culture. To accomplish the former goal, he wrote home voluminously; to advance the latter end, he founded the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge in 1834.The Chinese Repository anchored much of Bridgman's life while he mastered Chinese and engaged in other endeavors. in 1838, he founded the Medical Missionary society in China. For a period he edited the journal of the North China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. He spent two years working on a Chinese chrestomathy, a tool to help foreigners learn Chinese. He served as a translator during the negotiations that led to further opening of China to the Americans in the 1840s.In 1847, Bridgman moved to Shanghai, where his wife, Mary Jane Gillet, an Episcopalian missionary, opened a girl's school and ran it for the next 15 years. Bridgman spent the rest of his life working on a Bible translation, which was published posthumously. in 1858, he founded the Shanghai Literary and Scientific Society, modeled on the Royal Asiatic Society. Following Bridgman's death on November 2, 1861, his wife moved to Beijing, there founded the Bridgman Academy, and continued her work in female education.Like Morrison, Bridgman made few converts, but is honored for his work in opening the Chinese to the growing Christian missionary effort throughout China.Further reading:■ Elijah C. Bridgman, Chinese Chrestomathy in the Canton Dialect (Macau: S. Wells Williams, 1841)■ Eliza Jane Bridgman, The Life and Labors of Elijah Coleman Bridgman (New York: Anson D. F Randolph, 1864)■ Murray A. Rubenstein, The Origin of the Anglo-American Missionary Enterprise in China, 1807-1840 (London: Scarecrow Press, 1996).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.