1662 - 1839
Friends in this part of the world go back to the 17th century – the 1600s. The first Friends set out for China in 1662 as evangelists in search for Prester John, reputed to be a Christian King of the Mongols, a myth founded on historical reality as there were Christian Mongol tribes, but not to be confused with the other Prester John legend in which John is ruler of an African kingdom, also based on historical fact on the Christian kingdoms of Ethiopia and its neighbours. In the second half of the 18th Century, Friends began a continuous presence that continues today. Early Friends came to China as merchants trading with China from Britain and the then American colonies, or in the employ of the East India Company. 

Friends played a significant role in the development of the China trade and earned the respect of China’s government by vigorous opposition to the Opium Trade. As a result Quaker merchants were permitted to trade with China at times when all other merchants were barred from doing so, which goes to show that ethics and business can make for good business. Friends also played an important role in promoting East-West relations in Britain and the American colonies and later the USA.

In the lead upto the so called First Opium War between China and Britain in 1839-1841, Friends were the only foreign merchants permitted to trade with China because of our opposition to the opium trade.

1841 - present
Individual Friends played an important role in the founding and development of Hong Kong, in both government and commerce, a tradition that continues to this day.

The Japanese interned Friends, such as the Sewell family, at Stanley Prisoner of War Camp on the South Side of Hong Kong Island for the duration of hostilities.

During and immediately after the Second World War, the Friends Ambulance Unit provided a unique and much needed humanitarian support and transport network across China. This work was reflected in the 1947 Nobel Prize awarded to Friends for our then 300 years work for peace.

Following the war Friends played an active role in the reconstruction and re-establishment of Hong Kong, often working closely with the redoubtable Anglican Bishop Hall of whom it is said “under every good thing in Hong Kong you will find Bishop Hall’s name.” The close connection between Friends and Anglicans – and other faiths – goes back generations. One noted Anglican Bishop of Hong Kong, Bishop Hoare, was from a Friends family and his family reverted to Friends after his untimely drowning in a typhoon in 1903.

Starting in the late 1940s Friends founded “rooftop schools” (not always on rooftops) for children of migrants from mainland China and later also provided relief services for refugees from Vietnam. In 1979 Hong Kong Friends Meeting founded Oxfam Hong Kong to gather relief for Cambodia. Oxfam Hong Kong is now independent of Friends and has grown into one of the biggest Oxfams in the world. 

Our numbers have never been large but we have also rarely hid our light under a bushel.

More Information

Friends in Britain have put together an exhibition on Friends in China.  The following are links to information on the UK Quaker website:

Friends in China - The Opium Trade - The Mission to China - The Story of Adam Davidson of Hillsborough - The Mission to China (continued) - Publications - The Mission to China in Pictures (1) - The Mission to China in Pictures (2) - Friends Ambulance Unit: The China Convoy (1941-6) - Scenes at Baoshan (1941-2) - Further Reading