Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Country information: China

Published: Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010

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Encompassing most of east Asia, the People's Republic of China has a population that speaks Mandarin Chinese, Yue, Wu Minbei, Minnan, and Xiang. The population includes atheists, and traditional Confucians, Buddhists, and Taoists.

Brigham Young discussed the possibility of sending missionaries to China as early as 1849, and by late 1852 three brethren, Hosea Stout, James Lewis, and Chapman Duncan, had accepted calls to serve there. They sailed from San Francisco on 9 March 1853 and arrived in Hong Kong on 28 April. A civil war, the Tai-ping Rebellion, was then underway in China's interior, making it unsafe for the elders to labor beyond Hong Kong. They also struggled to learn the language. The trio barely only had means to sustain themselves and could not afford language tutors. Negative articles in the press and a chilly reception from the small English-speaking population also impeded their efforts. The missionaries sailed from Hong Kong on 22 June 1853, less than two months after their arrival. The Church made no further efforts to do missionary work in China during the 19th Century.

In 1910, Alma O. Taylor, president of the Japan Mission, was assigned to visit China to investigate the prospect of again sending missionaries. He and Frederick A. Caine visited and observed conditions in Beijing, Shanghai, and other places. Taylor recommended against engaging in missionary activity at that time because of unstable political conditions, which culminated a short time later in the collapse of the Ching Dynasty.

David O. McKay and Hugh J. Cannon visited China in January 1921 as part of a world tour. In 1949, President McKay, then serving in the First Presidency, called Hilton A. Robertson to open the Chinese Mission. Hong Kong was chosen as mission headquarters because it was under British control and less likely to be affected by a civil war between nationalist and communist forces on the mainland. On 6 February 1951, missionaries were removed from Hong Kong because of the Korean War and the threat of a communist takeover in Hong Kong. (See Hong Kong for further details about the Church there.)

The Church had very little formal contact with the People's Republic of China until the late 1970s. On 29 September 1978, in a talk focused on spreading the gospel to all parts of the world, President Spencer W. Kimball said, "Nearly one billion of our Father's children live in China . . . Six hundred and sixty million of them speak Mandarin Chinese. How many of us speak Mandarin Chinese" He continued, "If we could only make a small beginning in every nation, soon the converts among each kindred and tongue could step forth as lights to their own people."

In 1979, under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, China made itself more accessible to foreigners. In July of that year a Brigham Young University performing group, the Young Ambassadors, toured the country. Their successful tour paved the way for visits by other BYU performing groups, including the Folk Dance Ensemble, Lamanite Generation, Ballroom Dance Company, Chamber Orchestra, and Wind Symphony. At least one group from the Polynesian Cultural Center also performed in China.

Beginning in the 1980s the Church hosted delegations of Chinese officials at Church facilities in Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah; Laie, Hawaii; and Washington D.C. Prominent Chinese visitors to the Polynesian Cultural Center have included Vice Premier Geng Biao (1980), Premier Zhao Ziyang (1984), President Li Xiannan (1985), and Vice Premier Li Lanqing (1994).

Several members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve have visited China. On 27 September 1985, Elder Russell M. Nelson was named as the first-ever honorary professor of Shandong Medical College in recognition of his work there in 1980 and 1984. President Gordon B. Hinckley became the first president of the Church to visit Mainland China when he was hosted at a cultural exchange in Shenzhen on 28 May 1996. His party toured the Chinese Folk Villages (patterned after the Polynesian Cultural Center) and other attractions.

A handful of BYU professors, their spouses, and others, began teaching English to students at Chinese universities and other educational institutions in the early 1980s. In 1988, the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies at Brigham Young University, under the direction of Ray C. Hillam, formed the China Teachers Program to facilitate placement of Latter-day Saint teachers throughout China. In 1989, the first group of 21 teachers arrived there. Since 1995, an average of over 60 teachers have participated in the program each year. Teachers were assigned in 2003 to universities in Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Qingdao, Jinan, Nanjing, and Xi'an.

In 1976, Lucille (Lu) Sargent moved to Beijing as a secretary with the U.S. representative office. In the ensuing years other Church members working in business, education, and government, moved to Beijing and other major cities. In addition, several hundred Chinese citizens joined the Church while pursuing business or educational opportunities in other countries. Small Church branches were organized in Beijing and Xi'an in 1986. There are also branches in Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Tianjin, with smaller groups in other places. People living in China on foreign passports are allowed to hold religious meetings but Chinese are not permitted to attend.

David Hsiao Hsin Chen, a professor at BYU-Hawaii, was set apart in 1990 as a traveling elder to visit China several times a year to look after the needs of Church members. He died in 1993. In 1997, Chia Chu-jen, a Canadian businessman working in Beijing, was called to serve as an Area Authority, the first resident of China to be called to that position.

Except for Hong Kong and Macau, the Church is not allowed to do missionary work in the People's Republic of China. On 12 March 1991 Elder Dallin H. Oaks, speaking at a BYU devotional, addressed the question of when China will be open for missionary work: "I state my belief that China is already 'open' – it is we who are closed. . . . We must understand their way of thinking, . . . observe their laws, and follow their example of patience. We must deserve to be their friends. . . . our Father in Heaven . . . will bring His purposes to pass in that great nation 'in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will'" (D&C 88:68).

Sources: China Mission, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; Donald Q. Cannon and Richard O. Cowan, Unto Every Nation: Gospel Light Reaches Every Land, 2003; "Polynesians Win Hearts in China," Ensign, January 1991; Malan R. Jackson, One Hundred Years on the Periphery: The Church in China, 1852-1955, 2001; The Church in China: Culture Text, 1980s; R. Lanier Britsch, From the East: The History of the Latter-day Saints in Asia, 1851-1996, 1998; Spencer W. Kimball, "'The Uttermost Parts of the Earth,'" Ensign, July 1979; Telephone conversation with David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies at Brigham Young University, 12 July 2004; "Elders Maxwell, Nelson Welcomed in China," Church News, 29 April 1995; "Elder Nelson is Named Honorary Professor by Chinese Medical College," Church News, 29 September 1985; Gerry Avant, "President Hinckley Visits China," Church News, 1 June 1996.

HONG KONG

Jan. 1, 2009: Est. population, 7,055,000; Members, 23,223; Stakes, 4; Wards, 23; Missions, 1; Districts, 1; Branches, 9; Temples, 1; percent LDS, .33, or one in 304; Asia Area.

At the mouth of the Canton River on the southern coast of mainland China, Hong Kong was a British Crown Colony, acquired in 1841. It reverted to China in 1997. Its people speak Cantonese and English and are mostly Buddhists and Taoists, although small groups of Christians, Hindus, and Jews also live in Hong Kong.

(See China for information about Church activity in Hong Kong before 1949.) In 1949, President David O. McKay of the First Presidency called Hilton A. Robertson to begin work in the Chinese Mission. On 14 July 1949 Hilton and Hazel Robertson, Henry and Sai Lang Aki, and Matthew and Elva Cowley, visited Victoria Peak, where Elder Cowley, of the Quorum of the Twelve, prayed that the way would be opened for the introduction of the gospel into Mainland China.

The first young full-time elders, H. Grant Heaton and William K. Paalani, arrived in Hong Kong on 25 February 1950. Elder James Kam Hoon Yuen, of Chinese ancestry, arrived on 3 May. Aided by private teachers, the missionaries spent most of their time studying the language. On 31 December 1950, three sisters, Nora, Beatrice, and Rose Koot, were baptized, the first Chinese to join the Church in Hong Kong.

On 6 February 1951, the Church withdrew its missionaries from Hong Kong because of the Korean War and the buildup of Chinese troops along the China/Hong Kong border. At that point nine missionaries had served and 14 converts had been baptized in the Chinese Mission. Mission headquarters were temporarily moved to Honolulu and then to San Francisco before the mission officially closed in February 1953.

In May 1955, H. Grant Heaton, age 26, was called to reopen the mission in Hong Kong. The Heatons, accompanied by several missionaries and President and Sister Joseph Fielding Smith, arrived in Hong Kong in August. The mission, renamed the Southern Far East Mission, opened with eight young missionaries. Two of them were assigned to learn Mandarin and the others were to learn Cantonese. Initially, the mission was also responsible for Taiwan, the Philippines, and Guam.

The North Point Branch was organized 23 October 1955 and on 17 November two additional branches were formed in Tsim Sha Tsui and Sham Shui Po. In December, President Heaton successfully negotiated the purchase of a home in Kowloon Tong, which was remodeled and served as the mission home beginning in June 1956.

Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Dickman were the first people baptized in the Southern Far East Mission, on 26 April 1956. Eleven Chinese were baptized on 31 May. On 17 February 1957, Lee Nai Ken, having joined the Church in Hong Kong in June 1956, became the first local member to serve there as a full-time missionary. On 26 May Sister Nora Koot, one of the first converts in Hong Kong, was also set apart as a full-time missionary.

President Heaton had difficulty finding suitable properties for meetinghouses. He decided to purchase the top floors of apartment buildings and have them remodeled to contain chapels, classrooms, and missionary apartments. The roofs of the buildings served as recreation areas. Following this plan, in 1957 the Church purchased building spaces in Tsim Sha Tsui, Sham Shui Po, and Happy Valley (Causeway Bay). In December they bought a complete four-story building in Tsuen Wan. A small chapel was built at Tiu King Ling between March and June 1959, the first Church-built chapel in Asia since the 1850s.

By the end of 1957, there were 400 members in Hong Kong and the work was accelerated. There were more people who wanted to hear the gospel than there were missionaries to teach. Interested people were actually placed on waiting lists. The missionaries baptized 904 people during 1958. Active missionary work was suspended during January and February 1959 so that more attention could be given to strengthening newly-baptized Church members. In September 1959, there were over 1600 members in 14 branches.

In March 1959, the mission began publishing a monthly magazine, Voice of the Saints, containing translated versions of General Authorities' talks and writings and items of local interest. In September 1957, a committee was organized to translate the Book of Mormon into Chinese. Varying translation styles and President Heaton's release as president in September 1959 hindered the completion of the work. The Chinese Book of Mormon was finally published in Taiwan in 1965. The Chinese Doctrine and Covenants was published in 1974.

In April 1960, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley of the Quorum of the Twelve was appointed to supervise the Asian missions and served in that role until 1968. In May 1960, he and mission president Robert S. Taylor inspected a mansion that was originally built in 1914, Kom Tong Hall, which the Church subsequently leased. The building was remodeled to include a chapel, classrooms and administrative offices, and was used for more than 40 years.

In 2004, in anticipation of a new Church facility to be built in Wan Chai, and as a goodwill gesture, the Church sold Kom Tong Hall at less-than-market value to the city of Hong Kong so that the city could convert it to a museum.

The Hong Kong District was organized in August 1964 with Loh Ying Hwa as president. One year later, in October 1965, the district was split and the Kowloon District was formed. In 1967, Hong Kong felt ripple effects of the cultural revolution in China in the form of riots, bomb threats and political instability. The Church reassigned 60 missionaries who had been serving there to other missions. A large number of Church members emigrated from Hong Kong in the late 1960s and the two member districts were consolidated into one.

The Southern Far East Mission was renamed the Hong Kong-Taiwan Mission in 1969. The mission was divided in 1971 and the Hong Kong Mission was born. In 1977, President David H. H. Chen became the first Chinese member to preside over the mission. When the British returned control of Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China in 1997, the mission was renamed the China Hong Kong Mission.

President Spencer W. Kimball presided over area conferences in Hong Kong in August 1975 and October 1980. The Hong Kong Stake was formed on 25 April 1976 with Sheldon Shiu-Tat Poon as president. When a second stake was formed in 1980 Church membership stood at over 9,000. In 1986, the Asia Area headquarters moved from Tokyo to Hong Kong. Elder Tai Kwok Yuen became the first Chinese to serve as a General Authority when he was called to the Second Quorum of the Seventy in June 1992.

In July 1992, President Gordon B. Hinckley visited Hong Kong to inspect potential temple sites. After one particularly long day he went to bed feeling tired and discouraged. He awoke in the middle of the night with a clear impression about where and how the temple should be built. He sketched a rough plan for a building that would serve multiple purposes, to be built on the site where the mission home and office had stood since 1956. Speaking at the temple dedication in May 1996 he said, "If ever in my life I felt the inspiration of the Lord, it was with this building."

Church membership passed the 20,000 milestone in 1999. In May 1998, the Asia Area Presidency created the Hong Kong International District to serve the needs of Church members who do not speak Cantonese. Branches hold services in either Mandarin or English, and one is comprised primarily of Filipino members. Beginning in 1996, the Church sponsored an annual three-on-three basketball tournament in Hong Kong. Two thousand players, 95 percent of whom were not LDS, participated in the event in 2002.

Asia Area president John K. Carmack noted at temple groundbreaking ceremonies on 22 January 1994 that he was repeatedly asked, "'What is going to happen after 1997 [when Hong Kong reverted to China]' ... part of the answer is that we are building a temple that will serve China for a long time and that is a statement of our faith and confidence in the future."

In April 1997, President James E. Faust, Elder Russell M. Nelson and other Church leaders met with the chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, who assured them that Hong Kong residents would continue to enjoy religious freedom after 1 July, when control of Hong Kong reverted from Great Britain to China. A Church member observed in 2000, "Our day-to-day freedoms and movements have not changed at all since the 1997 handover."

In 2003, there were 21,529 members.

President Hinckley dedicated a new Church Administration Building in the Wan Chai district on 2 August 2005, which included offices, chapels and classrooms. The new building replaces a building President Hinckley purchased for the Church in 1960, the famed Kom Tong Hall. It was sold to the government in 2004.

Sources: R. Lanier Britsch, From the East: The History of the Latter-day Saints in Asia, 1851- 1996, 1998; China Mission, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; Nora Siu Yuen Koot, Reminiscence, circa 1995, Church Archives; Donald Q. Cannon and Richard O. Cowan, Unto Every Nation: Gospel Light Reaches Every Land, 2003; Southern Far East Mission, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; Sarah Jane Weaver, "Hong Kong Hall Preserved by Church," Church News, 17 April 2004; W. Brent Hardy, A brief summary of significant events and accomplishments, Southern Far East Mission, 1968-1971, [2002], Church Archives; Hong Kong Mission, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; "Hong Kong Region Leader Greets LDS," Church News, 3 May 1997; Anita Louise Hummel, "Hong Kong and the LDS Community," The International Society Newsletter, 2000; "2,000 Participate in Basketball Tournament," Church News, 26 October 2002' "Hong Kong, Most significant experience," Church News, 6 August 2005.

Stakes — 5

(Listed alphabetically as of Oct. 1, 2009.)

No. / Name / Organized First / President

Asia Area

756 / *Hong Kong Island / 29 May 1980

Hong Kong / 25 Apr 1976 / Shiu-Tat Sheldon Poon

1977 / Hong Kong Kowloon West / 20 Mar 1994 / Poon Yin Sang Peter

1503 / Hong Kong / New Territories 11 Nov 1984 / Johnson Ma

1502 / *Hong Kong Tolo Harbour / 20 Mar 1994

*Hong Kong Kowloon North / 11 Nov 1984 / Fu Man Yau

Stakes discontinued

1141 / Hong Kong Kowloon East / 20 Mar 1994

*Hong Kong Kowloon / 11 Nov 1984

Kowloon Hong Kong / 29 May 1980 / Patrick Chung-hei Wong

Discontinued 20 Aug 2006

Mission — 1

(As of Oct. 1, 2009; shown with historical number.)

(44a) CHINA HONG KONG MISSION

2 Cornwall Street,

Kowloon Tong, Kowloon,

Hong Kong

MACAU

Jan. 1, 2009: Est. population, 560,000; Members, 1,260; Branches, 2, Percent LDS, .22, or one in 444.

In June 1950 Hilton A. Robertson and Henry Aki of the Chinese Mission, headquartered in Hong Kong, visited Macau to explore the prospects for initiating missionary work in the Portuguese colony. They found that the Catholic Church was the only Christian religion operating there and decided that it was not the right time to try to establish a Latter-day Saint presence.

President Jay A. Quealy of the Southern Far East Mission and Elder Gordon B. Hinckley of the Council of the Twelve made a similar visit in April 1964. A short time later, on 2 July, the first two missionaries, Darryl Thomander and Gilbert Montano, arrived. Steven Lau was the first person baptized in the colony on 21 August 1964. Three more people were baptized one week later, and the missionaries started holding Sunday School and priesthood meetings.

Church meetings were suspended in December 1964 because the Church lacked a license from the Portuguese government to conduct religious activities. Legal recognition had still not been granted in September 1965, at which time the missionaries were banned from proselyting. It is not clear whether or not a branch was formally organized in Macau during the 1960s, but historical reports refer to full-time missionaries serving as branch presidents during 1965 and 1966. No branch historical records are extant for the remainder of the decade.

Four full-time missionaries returned to Macau on 6 September 1976 after a constitutional amendment had been passed allowing religions to hold meetings, teach, and preach. One year later the Hong Kong Mission reported that the work in Macau was developing quickly, with 300-400 percent attendance at Church meetings. The Macau Branch was organized on 1 January 1977. In early 1984, Hung Wo Loi became the first Macau resident to serve as branch president. In 1993 there were 640 Church members in Macau.

The Macau Branch was divided in May 1998. Cantonese-speaking members attended the 1st Branch and English speakers attended the 2nd Branch. The Macau 3rd Branch was organized in March 2001 to serve the needs of Mandarin speakers. Macau reverted from Portuguese to Chinese control on 20 December 1999 but continued to enjoy religious freedom, much the same as Hong Kong.

In 2004, there were 1,067 members. In 2005, membership was 1,125. In 2006, membership reached 1,158.

Sources: "Macau: Historical Setting," workmall.com/wfb2001/macau/macau_history, cited 19 July 2004; Chinese Mission, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; Southern Far East Mission, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; Macau Branch, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; Hong Kong Mission, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; "Elders Now Preach in Macau, a Portuguese Colony in China," Church News, 4 December 1976; "Hung Wo Loi: Finding Truth on the China-Macau Border," Ensign, June 1987; "Church Progress in Asia," Ensign, September 1993.