Looking Back at Adventist Connections with the Political Elite in China

You wrote your master's thesis last year about the political connections of the Adventist missionaries in China during the early to mid 1900s, including their relationships with Chinese nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek and his family members. What inspired you to write about this subject?

I spent a year working in China as an English teacher during the mid-1990s and when I returned to Australia I began reading the biographies of Seventh-day Adventist missionaries to China that I found in my local church library. The Adventist missionaries’ portrayals of Chiang Kai-shek and his regime were at odds with the history I had studied and I became interested in the topic. Further research revealed that no one had really investigated these relationships, so I decided it would make a good research topic.

You noted in your paper that there were more Adventist employees of the China Division before World War II (1937) than any other division of the church, except the North America Division. China was a major focus of the Adventist church, with many missionaries sent, and various schools and hospitals opened. Why was it so important? Why were the connections with the political elite so important?

China was the most important mission field for most of the Protestant churches during the mid-to-late 18th and early 19th century. Part of this had to do with ease of access, China was more hospitable (climate-wise) to early missionaries than Africa was, for example. The Seventh-day Adventists were very late entrants to China, not arriving until 1902, but the work there grew very rapidly particularly after the building of the Shanghai Publishing House and the Shanghai Sanitarium and Hospital.

The connections to the political elite were important because they brought both monetary donations and prestige. The Guomindang (Nationalist) government cultivated connections with missionaries from all denominations, using them as public relation tools for the American people, particularly after the invasion of China by Japan in the 1930s. However, my research showed that Seventh-day Adventists were receiving much larger donations from Chiang Kai-shek, his wife Soong Meiling and Zhang Xueliang, for example, than other missionary groups.

Within the church, missionaries who reported contacts with the political elite were much more likely to be featured in denominational biographies than those who were not.

Harry Miller, the "China Doctor" was well known to generations of Adventists, and served as president of the China Division for a while. But you mention a sex scandal that resulted in his recall from China, and his credentials being revoked. What happened there? Why don't we seem to know anything about that?

In early 1939 Harry W. Miller was placed on permanent return and had his ministerial and missionary credentials removed by the General Conference. There were multiple and credible complaints about Miller’s behavior with the nurses that he worked with. The trigger for his dismissal was a letter from a young nursing student who wrote to her fiancé to break off their engagement as she was “not a pure, clean girl any longer.” She was very clear in her letter that she attempted to avoid Miller by hiding in patients’ rooms, but one night while she was on night duty “he did something bad to me…” Her fiancé agitated for Miller’s dismissal.

Miller, when confronted with her letter by Elder William Henry Branson [who was president of the China Division at the time], admitted that “he could not deny any thing that was contained in the letter.”

Her fiancé told the church administrators in China that he had a signed complaint from another nurse who was also willing to come forward. Additionally Branson, in his letter to the General Conference about the matter noted that a few months previously another letter had come to the Division office “written by a nurse in Hankow which also charged the Doctor with the same offense.”

In 1942 Branson (who was then vice president of the General Conference) turned down a request from the Ohio Conference (Miller had relocated to Ohio) to reinstate Miller’s ministerial credentials. However, by around 1950 attitudes towards Miller seem to have mellowed. According to his biographer, Raymond S. Moore, Miller was on a buisness trip to Hong Kong when he was asked to go to China to investigate the situation. This appears to have been an unofficial request and appears to have been a result of Miller’s connections on both sides of the political divide. (I have received funding from the McAdams Research Grant to return to the USA later this year in order to do further research into the process of Miller’s rehabilitaion.) Miller is said to have treated both the Guomindang (Nationalist) and Communist elite during his time in China. At this stage the church was concerned for the safety of their missionaries, the future of the work in China and retaining control of their institutions.

In 1953 Miller was called to Taiwan to help establish a hospital there. The Adventist church had followed the Guomindang regime into exile on Taiwan. Milller was quickly able to re-establish his political connections and cut through the red tape in order to get the hospital up and running. I argue that Miller was rehabilitated specifically to do this. Of concern is that Miller was called to this position by Ezra Longway who had been a missionary in China at the time of Miller’s dismissal. There is no way that Longway could not have been aware of the reasons behind the dismissal and yet Miller was placed in a very similar role that he was in when the “incidents” occurred.

We don’t know about this because Miller was an excellent manager of his legacy.

Also traditionally Seventh-day Adventists have not discussed unpleasant aspects of our history. Moore’s work China Doctor: The Life Story of Harry Willis Miller was very influential in establishing Miller as an SDA hero. Also Miller did a lot of volunteer work around the world following his time in Taiwan.

This photo is significant because it is evidence of the close relationship SDA missionaries (in particular Harry W. Miller) had with Zhang Xueliang (The Young Marshall). In 1936 C.C. Crisler died in a remote area in China. Zhang Xueliang's plane was borrowed to take Crisler's wife, daughter and other members of the funeral party to the funeral. This photo is documentary proof of Miller's claims that he had regular use of the plane.

From your research, would you say that the official church reporting about the China missionaries has been fair? Or more of an exercise in public relations?

I think it has been fair for the most part. There are some missionaries who I really admire such as Elizabeth Redelstein and Paul Quimby. It has been claimed that Seventh-day Adventist missionaries had closer connections with the political elite than missionaries from other denominations. This is not entirely accurate; certainly the church was highly valued for its hospitals and educational institutions, and the church did receive substantial donations for that aspect of its work. But I am yet to find records of SDA missionaries being invited to minister to the Guomindang political elite, unlike Methodist and Presbyterian missionaries who regularly gave sermons at the church services and daily worships held by Chiang Kai-shek and his wife (Chiang Kai-shek was a baptized Methodist and his wife was from a prominent Christian family).

Interestingly, as new documents have come to light in the last few years there has been a sympathetic re-evaluation of the Chiangs and several historians now paint a picture of Chiang Kai-shek that is closer to Adventist representations than has been the case in the past.

Surely the missionaries' connections with the political elite was a huge help to them as they labored to convert Chinese people and baptize them into the Adventist church? Would you be critical of those connections? Did the missionaries cultivate relationships with the Communist government as well?

I think the church needs to be careful of aligning itself too closely with one political regime and not be over-awed that those in power value what we do. I think this has relevance in today’s political climate as well.

There are reports that Miller did treat Communist leaders -- especially Zhou En-lai -- during the 1920s and 1930s but this claim is much harder to substantiate. All foreign missionaries from all denominations were expelled from China by 1952, so it was not possible for the church to cultivate relationships with the Communist government after 1949.

What is apparent is that the Seventh-day Adventist church was seen by the Communists as being an American church and as being closely aligned with the Guomindang regime. This did make life more difficult for the average member after the regime change in China. Joseph Tse-Hei Lee at Pace University has done some interesting work on the Adventist experience following the success of the Communist Revolution.

How would you characterize the state of the Adventist church currently in China? Have you visited? How has it been impacted by the missionary work carried out before Communism?

I am an historian and my area of expertise is the past. I have not visited mainland China since 1994 though I hope to visit again one day. I have had limited contact with SDA church members in China and am not really qualified to talk about the state of the church today.

I believe the church is all decentralized in China. What does that mean in practice? Why are the pastors women?

[Please note that my understanding of this is very broad and it is outside of my area.]

Protestant churches in China operate under the umbrella of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). The congregations are self-governing within the structure of the TSPM. The principles of the TSPM are self-governance, self-support and self-propagation. Under Chinese law a denomination cannot have ties financial or otherwise with an organisation outside of the country or receive foreign missionaries. This means that while the members call themselves SDA, the General Conference has no administrative or financial control or connection to these churches.

Under Communism in China women have done many jobs traditionally held by men. Women are pastors in China because they feel the call to minister. There are actually more male than female pastors; however, the fact that the Chinese church is ordaining women has caused a focus on female pastors in China.

Has there been much other scholarly research on Adventist missionaries anywhere?

Traditionally Adventist writing about missionaries has taken the form of memoirs, biographies and autobiographies. However, this is changing. Ron Lawson has done some interesting work on SDA missionary practice elsewhere. There are also a number of scholars who are researching the SDA church in China and a group of us presented as a panel at the 2016 Winter Meeting of the American Society of Church history in Atlanta, Georgia.

You are part of a research network called Adventism in China. What is that group all about?

The network brings together scholars who are researching Adventism in China. It’s a place to share ideas and get feedback and promote the study of Adventism in China. There is a website here.

You are a lecturer at Pacific Adventist University in Papua New Guinea. What is it like there? What classes do you teach? Who are your students?

It’s hot year round. I miss having a winter. It’s interesting and challenging and also humbling. The PAU campus is beautiful; my friends from town who live in compounds are very envious of the green space that we have at PAU. The campus is a bird sanctuary and we receive lots of bird-watching tourists. Port Moresby is a rapidly growing city, since our arrival in 2012 we’ve seen the growth of shopping malls and new supermarkets. Of course this rapid growth brings problems of rural-urban migration and social dislocation.

I teach history classes for the School of Arts and Humanities and also for the School of Theology. My students are Arts students, Education students (studying to be high school teachers) and Theology students. Most of the students come from Papua New Guinea but we also have students from around the Pacific. Last semester I taught students from Nauru, Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Tonga.

It’s an exciting place to work. Pacific Adventist University currently has approximately 1100 students. Some of my students are the first in their family or village to attend university and it is an honor to help provide an education to them.

Do you have other big topics you are interested in?

I’m planning on beginning my PhD next year. My proposed thesis topic is “Seventh-day Adventist use of Indigenous Australian and Pacific Island missionaries in Papua New Guinea during the first half of the 20th century.”

You and your husband Jeff are originally from Australia. You were at Helderberg in South Africa for a while, and now in PNG. Where do you think your future plans will take you?

I have no idea where we will go next, I’ve learned to be open to change. We have a little while left on my husband’s contract here. However, we do need to start considering our daughter’s education. Right now she’s in an excellent international school, but we will need to be in a country with good secondary schools soon as she is starting to get closer to high school age. I’d like to be somewhere that has four seasons. We are open to offers.

Ruth Crocombe teaches history at Pacific Adventist University. She earned her master's degree from the University of Queensland.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7580

A. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Harry Miller when I was at Madison. The Madison Foods and the Madison Bakery, which supplied baked goods locally were in the same building. At 8 am we would all stop for about 30 minutes and have a morning worship together then go back to work. Harry Miller came by Madison Foods for about 2 weeks. He and the head of Madison Foods worked on some new recipes for food products. During this 2 weeks Dr. Miller led out in our worships. During the 6 months I worked at the bakery I was off on Fridays [unless that was the week to do a thorough cleaning of the baking pans, etc.] I was asked if I would do dishes on Friday afternoons at the Hospital kitchen. They had come out with a new product called – Com-Pro. At the kitchen they had fixed up this double stuffed tomato with Com-Pro and took pictures for the label. After finishing the photo shoot I got to eat one of the stuffed tomatoes. Was very good. Dr Miller and his friend who was head of Madison Foods would come into the bakery and use our “small” mixer to mix up batches of experimental gluten entrees. It was interesting to see two Food Chemists at work. The College Chemistry Dept worked out all the nutritional data. A friend was taking chemistry at the time and was involved with that side of it. Dr. Miller helped to bring soy milk to the Chinese and SE Asia.

B. Yes, I believe ALL Missionaries in China were connected with the Government in one way or another. They actually kept the main government aware of what was happening in the far outlying areas. As some may know, Communism began in the far west of China and then moved east. This is probably why foreign missionaries were not liked, were run out of the country, and still not that welcome. The story of Gladys Alyard is on U-Tube. The English servant girl who paid her way to China, then led all those children over the mountain to safety. A great documentary. She was also the one person who caused the Unbinding of the feet of the women and girls in China. Fordyce Detamore, Evangelist, was there in China when the capitol was collapsing in 1949. He had a movie camera and took a lot of film before they all had to be evacuated. He said that during that collapse a lot of people attempted to give their fortunes to the church, but by then it was too late. During his Evangelistic campaigns he would show some of his movies and talk about the collapse of China to the communists. His granddaughter was a student at Laurelbrook in the early 70’s. He would usually come for a couple of week-ends each year while she was there as guest speaker.

Here in Macon, GA we have an old hotel in town [9 stories]. It is told that when Madam Chiang Kai-Check came to America, one of her stops was in Macon, Ga and that she stayed in this hotel.
Several years ago it was converted into apartments. Once can still feel the grandness of the building, and imagine what it might have been like back then.
I believe that she arrived by Train. The train Terminal is about 3 blocks away. It is also quite a majestic building. Reminds one a little of the old Grand Central Station in New York one sees in old movies. It was on a major line from Cincinnati to Florida.


Gluten is worse than pork. In fact deadly to some All the nutrition of wheat is washed away and the remainder is called health food.


But gluten is what we used to eat – gluten “steaks”!! – thinking this was a good source of protein!
And it never hurt us physically or otherwise.

But back to Dr. Harry Miller. I loved this interview. When I was a young girl growing up in Takoma Park while my parents were doctors on the staff of Washington Sanitarium, we knew Elisabeth Redelstein and Paul Quimby personally. My parents thought highly of them. Miss Redelstain was a nursing supervisor at the “San,” and I think Paul Quimby was an x-ray teachnician. I can see their faces in my mind’s eye, even now. Their stories of the relationship with Chiang Kai-Chek meant more to my parents than to me, but I definitely recall a friendly relationship between our church leaders and the Commissar himself.

Thank you for having such a talented historian bring out the stories of our pioneers and their work in China.

Once again evidence that sexual abuse/predation hasn’t been taken seriously by Christian leaders who should be the examples in doing so.

(Edit) One hopes that the response to these cases would have changed completely in the decades since Miller. The handling of recent cases indicate that perhaps it’s the fear of legal repercussions that is most changed. We at least have that, but not everywhere. In any case, legal concerns are no substitute for moral understanding. I’ve read so many appalling rationalizations about Pipim, for example.

Perhaps you’ve missed the three documented “specific” victims described here, who indeed “stated plainly what was done.” Your remarks accuse the church of not investigating the matter before doing something as serious as removing a valuable leader’s credentials. Miller himself admitted to the account by the nurse, a virgin who tried to escape his pursuit by hiding in patient rooms, whose case elicited the disciplinary action. That all this evidence leaves you wondering whether this was consensual sex is a dynamic that perpetuates this kind of abuse.

It must be used in preventing and dealing with sexual abuse in the church. It cannot help us in going forward if we minimize it in any way. I am proud of the church officers who understood the matter in all its significance and removed Miller, which must have been a most difficult decision given his many positive contributions to the mission of the church.


Thank you for mentioning Dr. Paul Quimby who I had the privilege of knowing while growing up in the PUC/Angwin community and attending PUC. He made a great contribution to Adventist work in China. And later he served wonderfully at PUC. I’ll always remember his wonderful sense of humor and storytelling skills.

Other missionary families who served in China could also be mentioned. The Lees, the Warrens and the Hilliards are some I had the privilege of knowing after they had returned to North America.

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Dr. Miller was my great-great grandfather, so I found this article very fascinating, and disturbing to say the least. I showed my dad this article, and this last Sabbath he called his mom (my grandmother, and Dr. Millers granddaughter) to discuss it with her. She said she remembers there being things that were pushed under the rug in the family regarding him that his children were aware of and didn’t approve of.

But here’s the interesting story she shared with my dad last Sabbath: When she was going through a heart-breaking divorce with her husband, she remembered talking to her grandpa Miller to get some advice. She said he initially sat there for a minute silently, as if in deep thought. He then solemnly said, “You know, sometimes we make mistakes, and we have to pay the price for them. We’re not perfect, but praise the Lord we have a God that forgives us for our past and gives us a second chance.” My grandma said she could sense that he was reflecting on his past life as he replied.

I think the story of my great-great grandfather is the story of humanity, with its highs and lows. Think about David, a king who was respected above all others, but who abused his power and fell into the snares of satan, and indulged in his natural, sinful tendencies. Was he used by God? Yes! Did he fall into sin? Yes! Did God forgive him? You bet He did! So although my great-great grandfather made mistakes, he was not all bad.

I believe there are many more prominent church leaders of the past and present who would cringe to have their past exposed to the world, but thankfully we have a God who saves, as I believe he did with Dr. Miller, an imperfect vessel that was used to do a mighty work.


There is a great, great difference between having sexual relations with fellow adults and “sexual predation.” My first question would be how we know whether either accusation is true? It seems we’re accepting the rumor of Dr. Miller’s alleged conduct, in either or both cases, as fact. I have absolutely no problem believing the allegations may be credible; I just think it’s wrong to presume anyone guilty of something without a specific lover or victim coming forward and stating plainly what was done. People love a scandal, and as to the more serious charge of sexual predation, unfortunately we women sometimes overstate an affair in order to place blame on the man. If in fact Dr. Miller is guilty of something worse than having affairs, however, I’d be the first to accept it and help make it known in order to better understand our history and learn from it. But if we’re going to leave a stain on a family, cause pain to our precious fellow human beings, I’d hope we do it only after having solid proof, and that we would make a very careful distinction between men and women having sex, vs. men preying on women.

Yes, Dr. Miller has always been a revered name in the church, and it is sad to learn that he was just as human as the rest of us. It must have been a difficult thing for the student nurses to see past at the time, though.

We were missionaries in Singapore for 15 years, and knew long-time China missionaries, Doyle and Pauline Barnett, very closely. They always spoke well of the Longways, but don’t remember hearing about Dr. Miller from them.

At our church picnic yesterday I sat beside Roger Lin, son of David Lin, and asked him if he had known Dr. Miller, but he was born just after the missionaries left China.

I think it’s important to know these things, but also to understand them in a forgiving light.

Jeannie, I also grew up in Takoma Park and my parents were hospital workers (nurse and lab tech). We left in 1953. When were you there? I was at TA with Jerry Quimby.

Spencer Freed, Thank you very much for your comment and sharing your perspective about your great great grandfather.


Far Eastern Division Outlook, VOLUME TWENTY-EIGHT APRIL, 1939 NUMBER FOUR
pp 5-9, 11, 12

The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, VOL. 117, NO. 40 TAKOMA PARK, WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A. OCTOBER 3, 1940, p 9
The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald,Vol. 116 TAKOMA PARK, WASHINGTON, D.C., JUNE 15, 1939 No. 24, p 21

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I am a bit shocked about the responses here. Had Dr. Miller simply been a “womanizer”, we would not have had any right to judge him - we are all sinners. And sure we should be forgiving. Please correct me if I did not get it right, but as far as I understand he raped young girls. That is a crime! And he was “found out” when he was nearly 60 years of age, not a foolish, hormone-driven young man anymore.
I can’t help but think of the victims - young ladies who would have liked to discover their sexuality with their future husbands, who trusted the missionary hospital environment. Dr. Miller, “China doctor” or not, should have been taken to court.


Magdalena, it’s hard to know just what “something bad” might have meant to the student nurse. Perhaps simply inappropriate touching, which she might have seen as making her impure? I think having his missionary and ministerial credentials revoked were, in those days, a pretty severe punishment. And I doubt if the courts saw things then as we do today. I also thought his great-grandson’s story seemed to indicate that he felt remorse for his actions. I didn’t see where it said he was 60?

That he was “reinstated” did nothing to aid the nurses. Was his “remorse” ever known by the nurses? At least one felt that she could not marry, so her future was drastically changed. Not to mention their spiritual condition with the church.

The church has a way of quietly “forgetting” such events after a sufficient amount of time. This is an on-going problem, and it seems to make a great deal of difference if the perpetrator is very prominent in the church. “Reinstatement” is not always widely disseminated: recall the recent one where the victims were also in another country and the story has already been “buried” and he is an active preacher again.


I look forward to the researcher/author’s discoveries as she studies that part of the story. I would certainly hope that he made some effort to “rehabilitate” those he hurt. The church does need to recognize the spiritual damage inflicted by such actions, but, otoh. if a person repents and tries to make right a sexual sin, it seems to me they should be forgiven.

Carrol, I just calculated. Dr. Miller was born in 1879, and sent home after the scandal in 1939, so he was close to 60 when the last known case of molestation occurred. For me it’s hard to believe a 60-year-old man who has been married twice is content with just touching girls, and a young girl wants to give up her future with her fiancee just because she has been touched in an inappropiate way.

The summing up of the story as “sex scandal” is totally wrong, no matter how the courts then would have seen the matter. If all the parties involved consent to what is done, you can call it sex scandal. If one party imposes itself on the other one, although the other party makes it known it is not willing to consent, it is called rape. But maybe Dr. Miller just thought she wanted to play hide and seek with him when the nurse tried to hide from him (excuse my sarcasm, but the way people come up with excuses for this absolutely inappropiate behavior just makes me sick).


Forgiven does not mean mean restitution. Many criminals have been forgiven by the family of victims, but the crime is still punished. Were the girls ever asked by him for forgiveness?

Okay, okay! I wasn’t trying to defend him. I just hope the researcher can find answers to some of these questions.

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Interesting topic… my family is connected to so many aspects of this story that I don’t know where to begin. My maternal grandpa Tsao is the man in the Chinese robe sitting in the front row on the far left of the group photo of the pastoral training institute. His conversion story has been an inspiration to all his descendants who are mostly in North America & are Christians. He was one of the first ordained SDA pastors in China and his job before that was the Administrative Secretary of Canton/GuangZhou during the Republic/Kuomintang Period.
When I was a child in Hong Kong in the early 1970’s, I was taught by Harry Miller’s 3rd wife?.. Mary Miller. Dr. Miller was a gentle old man in his 90’s then but still very active. I believe he helped with the setting up of 2 hospitals in Hong Kong & these institutions are doing very well financially & respected by locals presently. (I think he was instrumental in some ways, in aiding the establishment of the Sir Run Run Shaw Hospital in China and it has facilitated greater freedom for SDA congregations/churches in China since then). Mary Miller was my 1st teacher & she adored me. When she went back to California after her husband died, she’d send extravagant presents back. Many years later, after my parents moved us to Canada, and I went to Dental School in Loma Linda University, I tried a couple of times to visit Mrs.Mary Miller in Riverside. Unfortunately I was not successful in gaining entry.