George Leslie Mackay: Wikis


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A statue of Mackay in Tamsui.

George Leslie Mackay (馬偕 or 偕叡理; Pe̍h-oē-jī: Kai Jōe-lí or Má-kai; March 21, 1844 – June 2, 1901) was the first Presbyterian missionary to northern Formosa (Taiwan). He served with the Canadian Presbyterian Mission. Mackay is among the best known Westerners to have lived in Taiwan.


Early life

Mackay was born in Zorra Township, Oxford County, Canada West (now Ontario), Canada. He received his theological training at Knox College in Toronto, Princeton Seminary in the United States, and New College, Edinburgh in Scotland, all Presbyterian institutions.

Mission to Formosa

Original building of the Oxford University College founded by Mackay in Danshui (Tamsui), Taiwan. Now the Aletheia University, the school administers a museum devoted to Mackay artefacts.

In 1871 Mackay became the first foreign missionary to be commissioned by the Canada Presbyterian Church (predecessor of both the Presbyterian Church in Canada and the United Church of Canada), arriving in Taiwan on New Year's Eve, 31 December 1871.

After consulting with Dr. James Laidlaw Maxwell Sr., a medical doctor serving as a Presbyterian Church of England missionary to southern Formosa (1865), Mackay arrived at Tamsui, northern Formosa in 1872, which remained his home until his death in 1901. Starting with an itinerant dentistry practice amongst the lowland aborigines[1], he later established churches, schools and a hospital practicing Western biomedicine. He learned to speak the vernacular Taiwanese fluently, and married Tiuⁿ Chhang-miâ (張聰明; known as "Minnie" in the West), a Taiwanese woman.

He was described by a contemporary as

...a little man, firm and active, of few words, unflinching courage, and one whose sound common sense is equalled only by his earnest devotion to the Master. [...] During the first year of his stay at Tamsui, he began an educational and evangelistic training movement among the young men who came about him, and this has been greatly blessed throughout that northern part of the Island.[1]

The churches he planted later became the Northern Synod of the present Presbyterian Church in Taiwan. In 1896, after the establishment of Japanese colonial rule of Taiwan, Mackay met with the Japanese Governor-General of Formosa, Maresuke Nogi. Some families in Taiwan today, particularly of lowland-aboriginal Kavalan ancestry, trace their surname '偕' ('Kai' or 'Kay') to their family's conversion to Christianity by Mackay.

In Canada Mackay was honoured during his two furloughs home by the Canadian Church. In 1880, Queen's College in Kingston, Ontario awarded him an honorary Doctor of Divinity, presented by Principal George Monro Grant and Chancellor Sandford Fleming. Before departing in 1881, he returned to Oxford County, where monies were raised to start Oxford College in Taiwan; a number of young people in the county were inspired to follow Mackay example and entered into missionary service with a number of Christian denominations.

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 elected position in the church. He spent the following Moderatoral year travelling across Canada, as well as writing From Far Formosa: the island, its people and missions, a missionary ethnography and memoir of his missionary experiences (published 1895).


The Taiwan Church News (1885) was the first printed newspaper in Taiwan. The Taiwanese language was rendered phonetically using a Latin orthography developed by Mackay.
A sculpture at Aletheia University displays the text of Proverbs 9.10 in Chinese and Taiwanese.

Mackay's 1896 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 found as he was disapproving of native practices he viewed as idolatry. He spoke approvingly of the destruction of art and other artefacts previously regarded as sacred by his newly Christian converts. Of his rustic apartment in an aboriginal village, Mackay wrote: "To that place the cast-off machinery of idolatry was brought, and more than once I dried my clothes before fires made of idolatrous paper, idols, and ancestral tablets. Three men were employed to carry other paraphernalia of idol-worship to the museum in Tanshui" (Mackay, 1896:219). Mackay was otherwise an enthusiastic collector of cultural artefacts 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).

The Taiwanese language first entered written form in the nineteenth century when Mackay and his colleagues adapted the Latin alphabet to render it phonetically. The orthography, called pe̍h-oē-jī (POJ), meaning "vernacular writing", was used by the Presbyterian missionaries and became standard in the indigenous Presbyterian Church in Taiwan. The first printed newspaper on the island was a church bulletin in Taiwanese. The Presbyterians continued to use Taiwanese in their services and communications even in years when pressure from first Japanese and then Chinese authorities was intense in suppressing public use of the language.

Mackay monument in Taiwan at Danshui (Tamsui).
Mackay monument in Canada at Woodstock.

Although Mackay had suffered from meningitis and malaria, he eventually died of throat cancer on June 2, 1901. He was buried near Oxford College (牛津學堂; now Aletheia University) in Tamsui, Taiwan; more specifically, his grave is in a small cemetery in the eastern corner of the Tamkang Middle School campus. The major private Christian hospital in downtown Taipei is named Mackay Memorial Hospital, built in 1912 to replace the smaller Mackay Hospital he started in Tamsui in 1882. In recent years Mackay's life has been celebrated by advocates of a Taiwanese identity and historical understanding that stands distinct from the narratives brought to the island by Japan and China.

On June 30, 2004, a large bust statue of George Leslie Mackay was dedicated outside the Oxford County offices in Woodstock, Ontario. The delegation from Taiwan in attendance included representatives from the Aletheia University and the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan). The events was also attended by representatives of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, the United Church of Canada, local, regional, and national Canadian dignitaries, and a number of Mackay descendants from across North America.

In November 2006, a Canadian Television documentary was aired titled The Black Bearded Barbarian of Taiwan. It was broadcast in both Mandarin and English on OMNI 2 as part of their Signature Series.


Opera production in Taiwan

In 2008 Taiwan's government invested in the production of the world's first-ever Taiwanese/English-language opera based on Mackay's life. Over a hundred opera singers and production crew from Europe, Asia, and the USA were brought for on the project. Mackay: The Black Bearded Bible Man had its world premier on 27 November 2008, at Taiwan's National Theater and ran until 30 November.

Mackay: The Black Bearded Bible Man took more than five years to produce. Taiwanese composer Gordon S.W. Chin and librettist Joyce Chiou set out in 2002 to create an opera whose subject was drawn from Taiwanese lore and emlpyed local settings. The large cast featured Thomas Meglioranza (baritone) as George Mackay, Chen Mei-Lin (soprano) as Mackay's wife Tiuⁿ Chhang-miâ, and Choi Seung-Jin (tenor) as Giâm Chheng-hoâ, Mackay's first disciple and follower in Taiwan. Chien Wen-Pin, a native of Taipei, conducted the National Symphony Orchestra (Taiwan). Lukas Hemleb directed the stage production.

See also


  1. ^ a b William Campbell (1913). Sketches from Formosa. London: Marshall Brothers. p. 153. 

External links


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