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Letter and portrait relating to William Chalmers Burns

Identifier: MS BURN

Scope and Contents

This collection contains two different items: a letter (and its envelope) sent from Rong Lin to Sir William Chalmers Burns, and a photograph portraying a Chinese carpenter and Christian convert named Chu Ting Yü.

1. The photograph is a portrait of Chu Ting Yü, carpenter and convert to Christianity. He knew Rev. William Chalmers Burns and allegedly made his coffin when Burns died in 1868. Photograph 13 x 9 cm. mounted on card 17 x 11 cm, and dated 18 September 1889.

2. Letter from Rong Lin sends a greeting since he last saw Burns in July (approximately 1864). Rong Lin heard in October that Burns had settled in the new city and found a place to live but still no space for preaching. Rong Lin expresses his gratefulness as a Christian that Burns is introducing Christianity to 盛京三省 Shengjing Sansheng (Northeast China / Manchuria). He humbly seeks more instructions from Burns on religious matters. There is no direct indication of date from the letter; according to Burns’ biography this letter could be from between 1864 and 1868.

Transcription of Rong Lin's letter, written in traditional Chinese (the original Chinese text reads from right to left vertically):

先生平安 並問同住教友平安

English translation:

Greetings from a Christian Rong Lin
I hope all is well with you1. Since we parted at Mr Ding's place in July, I regret not seeing you off in person. It makes me worry. The only thing I could do was to pray to the heavenly Father and beg our lord to grant you safety. On 2 September, I was at Mr Ai's place for the monthly meeting. There I heard you wrote a letter saying your journey has been safe and that the staff on the boat treat you well. I cannot be happier to hear that. However, you said you still have not found a long-term place to live, and I am very concerned about that. I could only pray silently for you. Our lord has his way, and there will be some outcome for you. On 1 October, during the worship, Mr Bai read your letter to us. At that time, I learned that you have found a home to settle in and are still looking for a place to preach. I finally feel relieved. I think Shengjing Sansheng (Manchuria region) has had no idol worship or religious temples since ancient times. From when it joined the middle kingdom, people drifted further from the true way and abandoned their opportunity to serve the heavenly Father. Now that you are here, reveal the true path to people and inform them about the Gospel. This tells us that the heavenly Father's kindness is given to all regardless of their region. We shall be grateful to our lord together, bringing light to my home region. Every Wednesday morning and evening, I pray for you; I beg for blessings from our lord. I hope you are safe and sound and successful with the mission here. And I hope all regions in the three provinces would be reformed by the Holy Spirit and acknowledge the way to gain forgiveness for their sin. I indeed hope for this to happen. In Peking, what I could do was preach as much as I could. However, there are few willing to convert. Indeed there are not many people I can persuade. Perhaps I am not pure enough to touch their heart; I don't know. I could only ask you to pray for me or to instruct me if you see me not doing things properly when you are in Peking. In this way, I could be improved and saved. I always hope for more achievement of our lord, the revival of the church. Mr Bai Fu and Miss Bi Fu are both well. And those in the courtyard (here, the author is referring to an institution or architecture, it is unclear what he means precisely) are all well. Please feel assured. I hope you and the brother who lives with you are safe and well.

1 (referred to as Mr Bin, Burns' Chinese name is Bin Huilian)


  • Creation: 18 September 1889
  • Creation: c [1864-1868]


Language of Materials

English and traditional Chinese.

Physical Description

The letter and its envelope are in fragile condition.

Conditions Governing Access

Open. Please contact the repository in advance.

The letter, and in particular its envelope, is in fragile condition and should be handled with care.

Biographical / Historical

William Chalmers Burns 賓惠廉 (1815-1868) was a Scottish missionary who entered China via Hong Kong in 1847. He first practised in south China, including Amoy (Xiamen) and Hong Kong. He reached Beijing in 1864 and continued up north, trying to establish a mission in Manchuria in 1867. He passed away at Newchwang (Yingkou) in 1868.

Rong Lin 榮霖 is the sender of the letter, a Chinese Christian convert. His address on the letter is 燈市口 Dengshikou in Peking (Beijing).

Chu Ting Yü was a Chinese carpenter and a convert to Christianity. He knew Rev. William Chalmers Burns and allegedly made his coffin when he died in 1868.


1 letter

1 envelope

1 photograph

Physical Description

The letter and its envelope are in fragile condition.

Letter and portrait relating to William Chalmers Burns
Xueqing Xi, and Aline Brodin
Description rules
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Mainly in English, with a transcription of the Chinese letter.

Repository Details

Part of the New College Library Special Collections Repository

New College
Mound Place
Edinburgh EH1 2LU. Scotland
+44(0)131 650 8379