Karl Gützlaff

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Karl Friedrich August Gützlaff

Missionary to East Asia
Born July 8, 1803
Pyritz, Pomerania
Died August 9, 1851
Hong Kong, China

Karl Friedrich August Gützlaff, anglicized as Charles Gutzlaff, (8 July 1803–9 August 1851) was a German missionary to the Far East, notable as one of the first Protestant missionaries in Bangkok, Thailand and for his books about China. He was one of the first Protestant missionaries in China to dress like a Chinese. His Chinese name was ??? (pinyin: Gu? Shílà) or ??? (pinyin: Gu? Shìlì) - Gutzlaff Street in Hong Kong was named after him.



Karl Gutzlaff, in Fujian costume.
Karl Gutzlaff, in Fujian costume.

Born at Pyritz, Pomerania, he was apprenticed to a saddler in Stettin, but was able to secure admission to Padagogium in Halle, and associated himself with the Janike Institute in Berlin.

The Netherlands Missionary Society sent him to Java in 1826, where he learned Chinese. Gutzlaff left the society in 1828, and went first to Singapore, then to Bangkok with Jacob Tomlin of the London Missionary Society, where he worked on a translation of the Bible into Thai. He made a brief trip to Singapore in December 1829, where he married a single English missionary Maria Newell. The two returned to Bangkok in February 1830 where they worked on a dictionary of Cambodian and Lao, but she and their baby daughter died in August (or February?) 1831, before it was completed.

Soon after Gutzlaff went to Macao, and then to Hong Kong, where he worked on a Chinese translation of the Bible, published a Chinese-language magazine, Eastern Western Monthly Magazine, and wrote Chinese-language books on practical subjects. In 1834 he published Journal of Three Voyages along the Coast of China in 1831, 1832 and 1833. Along the way he handed out tracts which had been prepared by another pioneer missionary to China, Robert Morrison.

In 1840, a group of four people (Walter Henry Medhurst, Charles Gutzlaff, Elijah Coleman Bridgman, and John Robert Morrison) cooperated to translate the Bible into Chinese. The translation of the Hebrew part was done mostly by Gutzlaff , with the exception that the Pentateuch and the book of Joshua were done by the group collectively. This translation, completed in 1847, is very famous due to its adoption by the revolutionary peasant leader Hong Xiuquan of the Taipingtianguo movement (Taiping Rebellion) as some of the reputed early doctrines of the organization. This Bible translation was a version (in High Wen-li, Traditional Chinese: ???) marvellously correct and faithful to the original.

Gutzlaff assisted in negotiations during the Opium War of 1840-42. In response to the Chinese government's unwillingness to allow foreigners into the interior, he founded a school for "native missionaries" in 1844 and trained nearly fifty Chinese during its first four years. Unfortunately, Gutzlaff's ideas outran his administrative ability. He wound up being victimized by his own native missionaries. They reported back to him glowing accounts of conversions and New Testaments sold. While some of Gutzlaff's native missionaries were genuine converts, others were opium addicts who never traveled to the places they claimed. Eager for easy money, they simply made up conversion reports and took the New Testaments which Gutzlaff provided and sold them back to the printer who resold them to Gutzlaff.

The grave of Mr. Karl Friedrich August Gützlaff at Hong Kong Cemetery.
The grave of Mr. Karl Friedrich August Gützlaff at Hong Kong Cemetery.

Shattered by the exposure of this fraud, Gutzlaff died in Hong Kong in 1851. However, the Chinese Evangelization Society which he formed lived on to send out Hudson Taylor who founded the successful China Inland Mission. Taylor called Gutzlaff the grandfather of the China Inland Mission.



  • Journal of Three Voyages along the Coast of China in 1831, 1832 and 1833, with notices of Siam, Corea, and the Loo-Choo Islands (Desert Island Books, Westcliff-on-Sea, 2002)
  • A Sketch of Chinese History, Ancient and Modern (London, 1834, German version in 1847)
  • China Opened (1838)
  • Life of Tao Kwang (1851)



  • Herman Schlyter, Der China-Missionar Karl Gützlaff und seine Heimatbasis: Studien über das Interesse des Abendlandes an der Mission des China-Pioniers Karl Gützlaff und über seinen Einsatz als Missionserwecker (Lund: LiberLäromedel/Gleerup, 1976) ISBN 9140043738
  • Winfried Scharlau (ed.), "Gützlaffs Bericht über drei Reisen in den Seeprovinzen Chinas 1831-1833" (Hamburg: Abera Verlag, 1997) ISBN 3934376134
  • Thoralf Klein/Reinhard Zöllner (eds.), "Karl Gützlaff (1803-1851) und das Christentum in Ostasien: Ein Missionar zwischen den Kulturen" (Nettetal: Institut Monumenta Serica, Sankt Augustin/Steyler Verlag, 2005) ISBN 3805005202
  • Waley, Arthur, The Opium War Through Chinese Eyes (1958)


External links

Faith (for Content):