Cadbury Chinese Poster Collection

William Warder Cadbury in China

William Warder Cadbury (1877-1959) in China
by Madeline Guth (Haverford College '19)

The collector of these posters, William Warder Cadbury, lived in China during one of the country's most turbulent periods. As a Quaker medical missionary, he struck a balance between medicine and religion both of which were threatened by changing political conditions in China at the time. Foreign medicine and Quakerism were viewed as threatening by some Chinese authorities because they represented Western imperialism and control. Cadbury was witness to many of these major political changes and the letters he sent and journals he kept (along with the political posters he collected) give us a valuable window into the political atmosphere of the time.

Born in 1877 in Philadelphia as a birthright member of the Philadelphia Monthly Meeting for the Western District, Cadbury graduated with a B.A. and an M.A. from Haverford College in 1898 and 1899, with an M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1902. After studying abroad for a year in Vienna in 1905, he taught pathology and pharmacology at the University of Pennsylvania until 1909. That year, he was recruited by the University of Pennsylvania YUMCA to join a unity of medical missionaries in China. Cadbury was sent to Guangzhou (Canton), the capital of Guangdong province in the South of China. As a city positioned at the meeting of rivers and seas, Canton had "served as a doorway for foreign influence since the 3rd century CE." [1] The implication of these natural surroundings was a relatively prosperous environment tolerant to the development of foreign relief efforts. The Canton System under the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) established Canton as the only Chinese city open to foreign trade, and the Qing emperor established numerous regulations on foreign traders in this port. British frustration over these restrictions and its trade imbalance with China prompted the influx of Indian opium into China and resulting in the Opium War (1839-1841). This first Opium War ended with British victory and the Treaty of Nanjing (1842), which (among other stipulations) required China to open Canton, Xiamen, Fuzhou, Ningbo, and Shanghai to British trade; further treaties opened up even more cities. Canton was also an area of political importance: for Chinese Nationalist leader Sun Yat-sen, it was a center of political activity (he was born near Canton in 1866 and enrolled in the Canton Hospital Medical School in 1866). Upon the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1912, Sun Yat-sen headed the new Republic of China. Pressured to resign by changing alliances that supported Yuan Shikai's (1859-1916) ascendancy, Sun ceded power to Yuan who was the former military commander of the Qing and was declared provisional president. Yuan Shikai quickly began to act as dictator, and after his death in 1916, his lieutenants took control and acted as warlords financially supported by imperial powers. Meanwhile, Sun Yat-sen continued to lead the Kuomintang (Guomindang, KMT) with its capital in Canton. Canton thus remained politically relevant throughout Cadbury's time there.

Cadbury worked as a professor and college physician at Canton Christian College (later known as Lingnan University), which was founded by the American Presbyterian Church in 1888 and permanently established in Canton in 1904. Cadbury joined the medical staff of Canton Hospital (which was opened by medical missionaries in 1835) in 1914 and became the hospital’s superintendent in 1930. He held important positions in numerous other medical associations, including as the Canton chairman of the International Red Cross from 1938-1941. Cadbury was particularly interested in public health and hygiene, and his research took a Western focus “characterized by an optimism in the power of scientific medicine to cure ills compared with a belief that traditional Chinese medicine was largely useless." [2]

His role was truly that of a medical missionary, combining the practice and instruction of medicine with his Quaker faith and spirituality. Before leaving, Cadbury described the purpose of his trip to “institute in Canton instruction in medical science according to the practice of modern civilization, and incidentally the promotion of Christianity, as way may open." [3] The importance of religion to his role as a medical missionary increased as he worked in China, and his Quakerism eventually directed his philanthropic and medicinal work. He did, however, “stress[ ] service over doctrine” and resisted efforts to force a religious creed on Lingnan University. [4] Some scholars have argued that Cadbury’s mission had fewer religious overtones than those of many other medical missionaries. [5] He cared deeply about his work as a doctor, frequently making medical calls on horseback to surrounding villages.

American Quakers, interested in Cadbury’s work as a missionary, built The William Penn Lodge as a house for Cadbury on the Lingnan University campus. It was here that he married his second wife, Catharine Balderston Jones, in 1917, and the two of them hosted numerous Quaker meetings and discussion groups in the space. Cadbury’s interests lay not only in medicine and religion— as a skilled and passionate botanist, he cultivated a garden around the lodge with trees and flowers both native to the region and from around the world.

As previously mentioned, Cadbury’s forty years of medical missionary work were some of the most politically tumultuous and complex decades in recent Chinese history. For example, after the birth of the Republic of China in 1912, students at Lingnan University supported Yuan Shikai and even raised money for his Beijing government, but switched their support to Sun Yat-sen (Lingnan graduate and former Canton Hospital intern) when Yuan began to act as a dictator. Under Yuan’s autocracy, Sun set up a rival government based in Canton, leading the KMT from this Southern position. Cadbury, having met Sun in 1911 at a speech given at Lingnan, supported Sun’s leadership and appreciated the freedom it gave to Christian institutions for their philanthropy. The religious aspect of his mission flourished in these years, as he performed a great deal of relief activity in surrounding villages and supported many Chinese converts to Christianity. It was also in these years that Cadbury met KMT General Lei Fuk Lam (1874-1952), and joined forces with him to open a new hospital and dispensary at Lingnan. Their relationship was one of both mutual benefits and friendship, and Lei even presented Cadbury with one of his own sons to Cadbury’s family to raise as their own.

After Sun Yat-sen’s death in 1925, internal conflict broke out among the KMT. This struggle for power over Southern China resulted in a lack of central leadership and governance in Canton. Although Chiang Kai-Shek took control of Canton by 1926, he moved his seat of government to Nanking (Nanjing), staying largely out of Cantonese affairs. In these years, Cadbury’s and other missionary movements had greater freedoms and autonomy over their affairs than missionaries in other areas of China.

This decade, however, was also a difficult one for missionaries like Cadbury. While the 1925 May Thirtieth Incident—during which British militants fired on protesting workers and students, killing eleven—took place in Shanghai, it caused a host of related strikes and violence in Guangzhou. Most deadly was the Shamian (Shakee) Massacre: on the 23rd of June,1925, British troops fired on protestors in Canton—many of whom were college students—killing 52 Chinese people and wounding over 100. General Lei eventually put down many strikes at Lingnan University, which remained active, but out of concern for the safety of foreign workers and about growing discontent among the Chinese, the Board of Directors chose to close the Canton Hospital. After the Shamian Massacre and the Nanking incident two years later, Cadbury left China for several years as his missionary furlough. He spent 1927 and 1928 travelling throughout the United States and Europe, and often served as a spokesperson in support of the community in Canton.  

With tensions in China on the rise and the increasing threat of Japan, many missionaries chose to permanently leave the region at this point. Cadbury, however, chose to return after the immediate crisis was over. It was not long, though, until another crisis began and the Japanese war led to the fall of Nanking in 1937. Canton suffered heavy bombing, and by October 1938, the Japanese officially occupied the area.  Nevertheless, Cadbury continued to follow his religious duties and participated in many relief activities. His efforts were halted after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and American declaration of war, and he and Catharine were arrested and interned in Japan for eight months in 1943. After his release to the United States, Cadbury chose yet again to return to China. He aided in rebuilding and relief efforts and helped to reopen the Medical School and Hospital which provided care for both Chinese citizens and Japanese prisoners.

Cadbury faced a great deal of difficult choices in these years as to who had his political support. Worrying about the Communist party message that religion was an “opiate of the masses” and fearing that Communist rule could doom the missionary enterprise, he continued to support KMT leader Chiang Kai-shek; however, after Chiang declared an offensive war and KMT violence and corruption was revealed, Cadbury came to think that perhaps a Communist regime was the lesser of two evils. The year Cadbury finally retired and returned to America, 1949, was also the year that Mao Zedong led the Communists to victory and declared the People’s Republic of China.

Cadbury spent the rest of his retired life in New Zealand and eventually in Moorestown, New Jersey. He studied botany, served on the Japan Committee of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and directed the interdenominational Chinese Church and Center in Philadelphia. He died on October 15th, 1959— just as “Canton had passed from the works of the missions into the theory and practice of Communism.” All the Quakers in China were gone, their mission work having served its purpose. [6]

[1] Ping-chia Kuo and Gong-fu Zhong, "Guangzhou Zhong Gong-Fu Ping-Chia Kuo," Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed February 13, 2018,
[2] Thomas Patrick Gardner, “A Pacifist’s Point: William Warder Cadbury, His Mission in Canton, and Public Health Initiatives 1909–1937” (University of Sydney, 2017).
[3] “Bodies Bearing the Name of Friends.,” The Friend: A Religious and Literary Journal 82 (1909): 239,
[4] Gary M. Restaino, “Quaker in Canton: Dr. William Warder Cadbury’s Mission, 1909-1949,” Quaker History 83, no. 1 (April 1, 1994): 1–17.
[5] Gardner, “A Pacifist’s Point.”
[6] Restaino, "Quaker in Canton," 15. 

Barwick, John. 2008. “Faith, Identity, and Nationalism: The Impact of the May Thirtieth Incident on China’s Christian Colleges.” Past Imperfect 10 (0).

“Bodies Bearing the Name of Friends.” 1909. The Friend: A Religious and Literary Journal 82: 239.

“William W. Cadbury and Catherine J. Cadbury papers HC.Coll.1192.” 2012. Haverford College Quaker & Special Collections. Accessed February 14, 2018.

Fung, Chi Ming. 2005. Reluctant Heroes: Rickshaw Pullers in Hong Kong and Canton, 1874-1954. Hong Kong University Press.

Gardner, Thomas Patrick. 2017. “A Pacifist’s Point: William Warder Cadbury, His Mission in Canton, and Public Health Initiatives 1909-1937.” University of Sydney.

Kuo, Ping-chia, and Gong-fu Zhong. n.d. “Guangzhou Zhong Gong-Fu Ping-Chia Kuo.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed February 13, 2018.

Restaino, Gary M. 1994. “Quaker in Canton: Dr. William Warder Cadbury’s Mission, 1909-1949.” Quaker History 83 (1): 1–17.

Schirokauer, Conrad and Miranda D. Brown. 2006. A Brief History of Chinese Civilization. Thompson Wadsworth.

Spence, Jonathan D. 1999. The Search for Modern China. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

“William Warder Cadbury, Physician and Naturalist.” 1960. Friends Journal: A Quaker Weekly 6 (1): 6–7.

Xu, Guangqiu. 2012. American Doctors in Canton: Modernization in China, 1835-1935. Transaction Publishers.

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