Elijah Coleman Bridgman (April 22, 1801 – November 2, 1861) was the first American Protestant Christian missionary appointed to China. He served with the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. One of the first few Protestant missionaries to arrive in China prior to the First Opium War, Bridgman was a pioneering scholar and cultural intermediary, and laid the foundations for American sinology. His work shaped the development of early Sino-American relations. He contributed immensely to America's knowledge and understanding of Chinese civilization through his extensive writings on the country's history and culture in publications such as The Chinese Repository — the world's first major journal of sinology, which he began and edited. Bridgman became America's first "China expert." Among his other works was the first Chinese language history of the United States: "Short Account of the United States of America" (or "Meilike Heshengguo Zhilüe") and "The East-West Monthly Examiner" (or "Dong Hsi Yang Kao Meiyue Tongji Zhuan"). As a translator he contributed greatly to the formulation of America’s first treaty with the Chinese government under the Qing Dynasty.
Bridgman was born in Belchertown, Massachusetts to a Lieutenant Theodore Bridgman and his wife Lucretia (Warner) who owned a farm at Pond hill which had belonged to his father, grandfather, and great grandfather, Ebenezer. Elijah was his second son, converted to Christianity when only eleven years old during a revival in Hampshire county. Elijah graduated from Amherst College (1826) and Andover Theological Seminary (1829).
Missionary career in China
In response to the urging of Robert Morrison of the London Missionary Society and the Christian American merchant David Olyphant, who offered free sailing passage, Bridgman was ordained and was appointed for service in China by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions on October 6, 1829 as their first appointee. In 1829 he sailed to China with David Abeel aboard the Olyphant & Co. owned ship Roman. They arrived in Canton on February 19, 1830, where they were welcomed by Morrison. Bridgman and Abeel studied Chinese and Elijah soon began the literary labors to which he devoted much of his life. In 1832 Bridgman started a mission press and began publication of "The Chinese Repository", which he edited until 1847.
Bridgman preached in a church among the Factories on Whampoa (Huangpu), near Canton, his "simple, pious and judicious character" impressing William John, 9th Lord Napier of Merchiston, the First Chief Superintendent of the British Trade there, and, in September 1834, upon the latter's return to Macau, he particularly called upon Bridgman to attend upon him every evening in his last days before succumbing to typhoid.
In the same year, Bridgman became the first joint secretary of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge; he was a founder of the Morrison Education Society and its president for many years, and active in organizing the Medical Missionary Society of China (1838). Later he edited the journal of the North China branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. From 1839 to 1841 he worked at Macau, preparing a Chinese chrestomathy to aid in language learning. During negotiations to secure American access to China, Bridgman assisted as translator and adviser from 1842 to 1844.
In 1840, Bridgman was part of a group of four people including Walter Henry Medhurst, Charles Gutzlaff, and John Robert Morrison who cooperated to translate the Bible into Chinese. The translation of the Hebrew part was done mostly by Gutzlaff from the Netherlands Missionary Society, 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.
From 1845-1852 he continued to work as a translator. On June 28, 1845 Bridgman married Eliza Jane Gillett, an American Episcopalian missionary. They worked together at Guangzhou and adopted two little Chinese girls. Eliza later, in 1850, founded and managed for 15 years the first girls' school in Shanghai. Elijah Coleman Bridgeman died on November 2, 1861 in Shanghai China after 32 years of missionary work. After her husband's death Eliza moved to Peking, secured substantial property and started Bridgman Academy, noted for educating a large number of Chinese women leaders.
Shortly after baptizing his first convert Bridgman moved to Shanghai in 1847, where he was primarily occupied in working on Bible translation, his version appearing shortly after his death. Bridgman published a translation of the Hebrew Bible, characterized by the accuracy of the translation and its loyalty to the original Hebrew texts.
Bridgman and his wife were both buried in Shanghai.
- Elijah Coleman Bridgman; Samuel Wells Williams (1842). The Chinese repository, Volume 11. Printed for the proprietors. Retrieved 2011-07-06.
- Elijah Coleman Bridgman (1841). A Chinese chrestomathy in the Canton dialect. S.W. Williams. p. 693. Retrieved 2011-07-06.
- Elijah Coleman Bridgman, ed. Eliza Jane Gillett Bridgman (1864). The Pioneer of American Missions in China: the Life and Labors of Elijah Coleman Bridgman.