The Taiwanese 台灣人 Tâi-Oân Lâng

Welcome to the Taiwanese Site! This is a collection of the stories of the past Taiwanese who had contributed to Taiwan in various aspects. We encourage readers' comments. Contact point, email contact at or ** Last Update April 26, 2012 **

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Dr. James Laidlaw Maxwell 馬雅各 醫師

Dr. James L Maxwell, 1836-1921

(from left)
Dr. John Maxwell, Dr. James Maxwell, Mrs. Maxwell and
Dr. James Maxwell, Jr.

A Pioneer Medical Missionary

Christianity was first brought to Taiwan by Dutch Protestants (1624 in south) and Spanish Roman Catholics (1626 in north.) More than 200 years later, Christianity reemerged with the Dominicans' return to southern Taiwan in 1859. In Kaohsiung, Rev. Fernando Sainz established Taiwan's first Catholic Church, the Holy Rosary Cathedral (Minor Basilica). Christianity started to take root in Taiwan and gradually expanded toward the north.

However, the major impact of the Christianity in Taiwan was found after Dr. James Laidlaw Maxwell (Má Ngá-kok 馬雅各醫師) arrived in 1865. Maxwell and his co-workers had been much closer with the locals than the previous missionaries, and that made a significant difference. Maxwell’s introduction of the modern western medical practice had then created a path for Taiwanese toward modernization in many aspects.

A graduate of the University of Edinburgh medical school, Maxwell further studied in Paris and Berlin. While being a respected elder of the church, he decided to be a missionary for the Presbyterian Church of England. He began by spending about a year learning Ho-Lo dialect (Taiwanese) at Amoy in early 1864. He then accompanied by his 3 assistants, Chen, Huang and Wu (陳子路,黃嘉智,吳水文) arriving Taiwan on May 28, 1865. With the city of Tainan (台南/府城) as their base, the Christian mission thus began on June 16, 1865 when Dr. Maxwell’s clinic opened.

While providing a free medical practice with free medicine, Maxwell soon suffered the rumors that “this foreigner must be stealing the organs from his patients – even from the dead bodies – to come up with the free medicine.” He and his clinic stoned, vandalized and nearly destroyed. Due to the increasing objections of some citizens, Dr. Maxwell could only use his clinic at Kan-Si Street (看西街), just outside the Tainan city limit, under the British officials’ protection. Still, Maxwell failed to convince his patients and believers during his first month attempt. He then retreated to Ki-Au (旗後) near Kaohsiung harbor on July 12, 1865. As time went by, the locals began to view Maxwell with a different perspective. There was no organ stolen from anybody. His clinic had increased patients and so did the worshippers in his Sunday services. Thus Ki-Au Church virtually shared with Tai-Peng-Keng Church (太平境教會) also known as Maxwell Memorial Church, as the very first established Protestant church in Taiwan.

In 1867 Pi-Thau church (埤頭/鳳山教會) was founded and soon Rev. Hugh Ritchie (李庥牧師) became the very first full time pastor. Both Maxwell and Ritchie continued to train the locals to become a team in ministry between Tainan, Pi-Thau and Kaohsiung, at the same time Maxwell worked on the Romanized Taiwanese Bible (羅馬字/白話字) mostly during his vacation at home.

Maxwell was strongly convinced that the spread of the Christianity needed an easy-learned local language in Taiwan where only a few could read and write the rather complicated Chinese language then. He spent years working with Biblical scholars and linguists to complete the New Testament (Lán ê Kiù-chú Iâ-so· Ki-tok ê Sin-iok) in 1873 and then the Old Testament in 1884. For a medical doctor and a missionary, these were remarkable achievements. Rev. Dr. Thomas Barclay, Maxwell’s fellow missionary, completed the revision of the Taiwanese Bible in 1933. This revised version of the Taiwanese Bible has been used by the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan ever since.

Maxwell’s clinic was expanded in 1868 with new location and more local staff. It is now a beautiful hospital with 500+ patient beds, still called Sin-Lau Hospital (新樓醫院) - the very first Western clinic in Taiwan. Dr. Maxwell married Mary Anne Goodall of Handsworth on 7 April 1868 in Hong Kong.

Even in his early days Maxwell seemed to have kept his sense of faith and humor. After receiving a bucket of human wastes one day, he spoke to that person in Taiwanese, “If you pour this onto the field, it would help the vegetables or fruits to grow. Too bad that there’s nothing ever grew on my body.”

Well, before the end of his life time, something significant did grow through Dr. Maxwell, his fellow missionaries and the locals:

  • The first Taiwanese Bible: the original 1884
  • More than 120 churches in southern Taiwan alone
  • Two middle schools and a theological college
  • The first Taiwanese weekly newspaper (Rev. Dr. Thomas Barclay, 1885)
  • Two Hospitals: SinLau and ChangHua (Dr. David Landsborough, 1896)

Dr. Maxwell passed away in March 1921, three years after Mrs. Maxwell's death. His memorial service was officiated by Rev. Dr. Thomas Barclay in England.

Maxwell was a man of deeds. His integrity displayed in his medical and religious fields as well as in his family. He had two sons, John Maxwell and James Maxwell Jr. They turned out to be physicians and missionaries as well. Instead of enjoying their lives worldly, they followed their father's steps.

Sent by Foreign Mission Board, after working as a medical missionary, Dr. John Preston Maxwell, an OB/GYN, went on to teach at Peking Union Medical College/Hospitals (北京協和醫學院/醫院,) while Dr. James Maxwell Jr. came back to continue working at Sin-Lau Hospital in 1901. People welcomed him like a warm home coming party, shouting "Young Dr. Maxwell! Young Dr. Maxwell!" Twenty three years later, the junior moved on to work in Shanghai, then served as the general director of China Red Cross in 1937. Dr. Maxwell Jr. returned to his homeland in 1940. In 1949 he went to work at the Hang-Chou Leprosy Hospital (杭州痲瘋醫院.). Two years later, Dr. James Maxwell Jr. died in Hang-Chou. In 1961, John passed away in England, 21 years after his retirement.

Dr. and Mrs. Maxwell would have been very proud of them both. Maxwell, a family totally dedicated to Taiwan and China.

A side story: In 1866, Maxwell introduced another fellow countryman Dr. Patrick Manson to help him in Kaohsiung area. Dr. Manson moved on to Amoy six years later, and then to Hong Kong to assist the founding of the Hong Kong Medical College (香港西醫書院) where Dr. Sun Yet-Sen (the founder of the Republic of China) was among the first year graduates. In October 1896 Dr. Sun was ‘kidnapped’ during the so called London Incident. Dr. Manson and his colleague Dr. James Contile (康德黎醫師) worked with the British government for the release of Dr. Sun - the history was really in the making.

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