Eric Pilquist 畢勝道(1857 - 1925)

by Bruce W. Lo, 2013

Basic Biographical Data

Born May 30, 1857 at Stangafallet, Kafalla in Nora Parish, Orebro County, Sweden ; died in November, 1925 in Henan, China.

Parents: Karl Jacobson Pilquist and Anna Kristina Andersdotter

Figure 1: Pastor Eric and Mrs. Ida Pilquist in Chinese custume


Little was known about Eric Pilquist (a.k.a. Erik Karlsson Pilquist), a swede, and his wife, Ida, before they came into contact with Seventh-day Adventist. Yet they played a pivotal role in the beginning of the Adventist message in Central China during the early 1900's. It was through the labor of the Pilquists that the first Chinese Adventist congregation was established at Xinyang 信陽, Henan 河南 province1,4 in 1903. After 1910, nearly no reference can be found about the Pilquists among Adventist literature.

According to the General Congregational Association of Iowa2, Eric Pilquist was listed as the minister of the Ottumwa (Iowa) Congregation in the Des Moines River Chapter in 1889. However, his name was enclosed in a bracket signifying that he might be on appointment elsewhere at that time. This implication may be drawn from the records of the Scandinavian China Alliance Mission in 1891 which listed Eric Pilquist as an "Associate" of the China Inland Mission5.

By the time he came into contact with Seventh-day Adventists, he and his wife Ida had been in China for about ten years, and was working with the British and Foreign Bible Society. He could use Mandarin Chinese language (Putunghua) to communicate with the locals freely. Thus he and his wife were a great asset to the Adventist mission in China, which was still in its infancy. According to the Directory of Protestant Missionaries in China, Japan, and Corea published by The Daily Press, Hong Kong & London, Eric Pilquist and wife were listed as missionaries of the Seventh-day Church in Hunan6 in 1904.

Figure 2: The four SDA Mission Stations in Henan province, Central China, in 1906

Figure 3: The 1907 Shanghai Workers Meeting. Mrs Ida and Elder Eric Pilquist are the third and fourth sitting from the right.

Conversion to Adventism

In 1901, Eric Pilquist and his wife, Ida, took leave from the British and Foreign Bible Society to furlough in the United States. They went to Battle Creek Sanitarium to recover their health and got acquainted with Adventist beliefs. They decided to embrace the Adventist faith and expressed the desire to work for the Church. It was there that he met up with J.N. Anderson, and had encouraged Anderson to go to China.

In 1902, Eric and Ida Pilquist returned to China and continued to work in the province of Honan (Pinyin Henan 河南), Central China, for the British and Foreign Bible Society. In the mean time, they waited patiently for the arrival of a man from England to take his place in the Society, so that he could obtain his release to work for the Seventh-day Adventist church.

Adventist Mission Began in Central China

On January 1, 1903, Eric and Ida Pilquist were released from the British and Foreign Bible Society and connected with the Seventh-day Adventist mission. He was a real asset to the SDA mission because of his language skills and his knowledge of China. At that time J.N. and Emma Anderson were still struggling to learn the Chinese language. Furthermore because the Anderson's were based in Southern China, they were learning the Cantonese dialect and not Mandarin (Putunghua) which was (and still is) the main language spoken in China.

J.N. Anderson was requested to go to Henan to meet up with the Pilquists so that they can plan for a new mission station in the very heart of China. Emma Anderson went with her husband on that occasion, and gave a detail account of the trip in her book, With Our Missionaries in China1. From Hong Kong, the Anderson's travled 800 miles by steamers to Shanghai. There they traveled another 600 miles up the Yangtze River by river steamer to Hankow 漢口 (Pinyin Hankou), Hubei. From Hankou they traveled 100 miles inland by rail to Sin Iang Cheo 信陽橋 (Today known as Xinyang 信陽), where their baggage was transferred by wheelbarrows to Sin Li Tien 三里店, while they walked there by foot.

The Anderson's stayed with the Pilquist's from February 4 to 22, in the "Mission Station" in Xinyang. We put "Mission Station" in inverted commas, because at that time, Eric Pilquist had not been formally credentialed as an SDA missionary yet. But the Pilquists had already secured a large Chinese house with ample living space for themselves and for the native gospel workers, plus additional rooms for a school and a chapel. The seeds of the Gospel had taken roots in the heart of several native Chinese, with whom Eric and Ida Pilquist had daily Bible studies. On Sabbath, February 14, 1903, J.N. Anderson baptized six men in a little stream which flowed just outside the city walls. They were the first fruits of the works of Pilquist. Among the six, was Eric Pilquist's native gospel worker, who was anxious to be an evangelist to his own native people. This was recognized as the first baptism of native Chinese people in mainland China. Prior to that date, the baptism that J.N. Anderson conducted in Hong Kong was for British sailors.

On the next day, Sunday, February 15, 1903, these six, along with the Pilquists were organized by J.N. Anderson into a church in Xinyang - the first Seventh-day Adventist congregation in China proper.

Gospel Beyond Xinyang

There were two other men who were not present at the time of the baptism, but had wanted to be fully identified with the Adventist church. One of them, lived about forty miles from Xinyang. He had made several trips to Xinyang by foot, spending a few days each time to receive instruction from Anderson and Pilquist. This person together with four other men in his village, had contact with an English Church and accepted the Christian religion, but being isolated, they had not joined any specific church yet. After further Bible studies, these five also accepted the Adventist message.

Wanting to share the new found faith with his own villagers, this men asked Eric Pilquist, J.N. Anderson, and the newly baptized Chinese evangelist to come with him to visit his own city. The trio arrived there at about 4 pm, but by 7 o'clock, a meeting place had been prepared, and about 200 men had gathered to hear the Words of God, among them were some of the city officials. In the morning, the Adventists were invited to visit the Chief Mandarin, who received them with true oriental hospitality. Later on, a mission chapel was opened by Eric Pilquist in this native village as an outstationof the mission at Xinyang4.

The second man (who was not present at the baptism), who was much older, had attended the Bible studies for several weeks and decided to renounced his idol and turned to God. This was uncommon in those days, because older Chinese tended to clink onto tradition rather then forsook the religion of their forefathers. This man was so thrilled with the new found message that, he and his youngest son rented a piece of land near the mission station to till for their support, even before the Pilquists were aware that he was really interested. He declared his desire to join with the Adventists and to have his son attend the mission school.

There were also stories of disappointment too. Among those who attended Piquist's Bible studies, was a well educated man who never missed a class. But he had been an opium addict. It was thought best to ask him to wait awhile. Madam Ho, the wife of one of the six men baptized, also desired to publicly acknowledge her faith in Christ. But like many Chinese women of her time, she had not been taught to read, which proved to be a great hindrance to her acquiring an intelligent faith.

In addition to preaching, teaching, and the distribution of gospel literature, a boy's school was opened at the property at Xinyang that Eric Pilquist had prepared. The initial enrollment was fourteen boys. But it was hope that the attendance would increased as they became known. One of the six men baptized was a qualified teacher. So he taught at that school. Most of the students were rather poor. A piece of land was needed so that the students may grow vegetable to help raise money for their school fees. With the mission expanding in many directions, it was obvious to Eric Pilquist that more missionaries were needed to assist in opening the works in central China.

Arrival of Medical Missionaries

Upon his return to Guangzhou after visiting the Pilquists, J.N. Anderson was totally overwhelmed by the challenge facing the Adventist mission in this vast land of China, with a population of about 400, 000,000 at the time. He wrote a letter of appeal to the SDA Mission Board pointing out the needs for medical missionaries. The letter was read out by Elder W.A. Spicer at the 1903 General Conference session. Six young persons responded to the call - four doctors and two nurses. They are:

Drs, Harry and Maude Miller of Ohio Conference

Drs. Arthur and Bertha Selmon of Iowa Conference

Nurse Carrie Erickson, a Swedish-american, and

Nurse Charlotte Simpson, an English girl from Great Britain

The six new missionaries arrived at Shanghai on October 24, 1903 and was met by J.N. Anderson, who helped orientate them to the new environment and did some shopping in Shanghai for needed supplies that could not be found in inland China. The seven of them then proceeded to travel up Young Tze River to Hankow 漢口(Pinyin Hankou), following the same route that Anderson did earlier in February 1903. Eric Pilquist met the new arrivals at Hankow and served as their guide from there on. He quoted a Chinese proverb, "When you enter a city inquire its customs", and suggesting to the new missionaries that, many Americans and Europeans had found it expedient to adopt Chinese costumes when living in remote parts of China unfrequented by foreigners. A consultation was held and it was decided to follow his suggestions.

With Eric Piquist as the local guide, they went out to shopping for ready-made Chinese garments in Hankow. The four women could not bring themselves to put on trousers, such as the Chinese women were wearing, so they compromised by purchasing a strange assortment of black skits and blue kimono-like, knee-length gown suitable for elderly women. Arthur Selmon and Harry Miller purchased long-sleeved gowns in a variety of colors, mistakenly included dark blue, which was for servants only. They also shaved their heads and put on pigtails wigs, matching the color of their own hair as closely as possible, which proved to be quite a challenge.

The group then traveled north from Hankow further inland into Henan 河南 and arrived on November 16, 1903 at Sin-tsai Hsien (now called Xincai 新蔡), where Eric Piquist had secured a place for them to be their new mission quarter. The location was on the main street, running north-south, in a vary favorable place to attract the attention of the passerby. Through Eric Pilquist's contact, the town Mandarin issued a proclamation which was hung on the wall of their chapel, stating that if the passerby wanted to hear the doctrine, he may step in but must behave himself, if not, he should pass on and not to molest the missionaries.

After arriving at Xincai, J.N. Anderson, together with Dr. Harry Miler, formally ordained Eric Pilquist to the ministry. This was the first ordination service conducted on Chinese soil by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Shortly there after, J.N. Anderson left the new missionaries in Xincai to make their way among the Chinese but with Eric Pilquist as their guide.

The next year, 1904, Eric and Ida Pilquist moved to Lo Shan (羅山) and opened up a new mission quarter there. They also established a Boy's school at Lo Shan, and were able to secure the help of a native Chinese teacher and a Chinese gospel worker. The Pilquists remained in Lo Shan for the next five years, while Millers, Selmons, and the two nurses continued their mission work in Xincai. From 1904 to 1908, the SDA Year Books listed Eric Pilquest as a minister, and Mrs. Ida Pilquist as a Missionary Licentiate of the China Mission of Seventh-day Adventist.

Workers' Meeting of 1906

It was now a little more than three years since the work in Henan province was opened up by the Pilquists. Within those three years, about fifty additional converts had been baptized. How some of them had fallen by the wayside. Of these Chinese converts, twenty-four had been organized into a company at Lo Shan, under the leadership of Elder Eric Pilquist.

By January 1906, there were four missionary station with nine adult missionaries in the province of Henan. There were three day-schools for girls, with an attendance of about forty, and one school for boys, with fourteen enrolled. Health services and medical dispensary work had been carried on at three of the stations. Naturally, direct evangelistic work, such as preaching, Bible studies, prayer meetings, and personal ministries were carried on at all four stations.

In addition, a small hand press, which was donated to the mission field by folks at home, had been set up and made operational by Dr. Harry Miller in 1905. The monthly paper, Fuh-In-Hsuen-Pao ( 福 宣報 Gospel Herald) was being printed and sent to different SDA missions in China. Eric Pilquist also translated a number of gospel tracts. A new missionary family, Elder John J. Westrup had also joined the Pilquist in Lo Shan since 1905.

The missionaries in the Henan province, agreed to meet at Sin Tsai Hsien (Xincai) for a week of consel and Bible study during the first part of the Chinese New Year (Ko-Nien) from January 25-31, 1906. As the China Mission superintendent, J.N. Anderson left Canton to travel to Henan by way of Shanghai and Hankow to attend the meeting at Xincai. While in Hankow, Anderson paid a visit to the American consul, Mr. Martin, who discussed with him a dispute between Eric Pilquist and another missionary called Born, a member of the Norwegian Lutheran Missionary Society. Born wanted both Lo Shan and Shi Hsien as his mission field and felt that Piquist should move out of Lo Shan. Anderson did not feel that Pilquist should move since there were quite a number of Chinese interested in the Adventist message in Lo Shan. Martin advised Anderson not to see Born and simply let the matter drop since no good would come of further discussions with Born. So he simply let the matter resolve itself.

When Anderson arrived at Lo Shan, he found that the Westrup family was very enthusiastic while the Pilquist family seemed a little depressed, as the Pilquist's girls were having some health issues. On Sabbath, January 20, 1906, Anderson spoke to the Chinese people, translated by Elder Pilquist.

On Sunday morning, January 21, 1906, the three started for Sin Tsai Hsien which was expected to be a 2-day's journey. Eric Pilquist rode in a sedan chair, while Elders Anderson and Westrup were to sit on a clumsy cart drawn by a mule and a phony. They left early because they wished to arrive before the Chinese New Year (Ko Nien). But that turned out to be the roughest journey of their lives, because there was a severe snow storm, and Eric Pilquist and the other two were separated due to numerous mishaps. It was not till Thursday afternoon at 4.30 pm that Anderson and Westrup arrived at Sin Tsai Hsien, and met up with Drs. Selmon and Miller, and Mrs. Selmon, who had arrived a few days earlier. Eric Pilquist arrived 26 hours afterward on Friday evening. They held a prayer and praise meeting that evening.

As mentioned earlier, few reference to Eric and Ida Pilquist may be found after 1910. The only other incident was recorded by Florence Negal-Longway3, stating that in 1910, Eric Pilquist ran a city-wide evangelistic meeting with Elder F. A. Allum in the city of Nanking (Nanjing), Kangsu province.

Influence Beyond The Adventist Church

Although not a great details were known about the Pilquists after about 1910, but their great contribution to the beginning of the Adventist Mission in Central China should never be overlooked.

However there are clear evidence that, even as late as 1925, he was active in sharing with others the Sabbath truth and the important doctrine of righteousness by faith-two of the major pillars of Adventist beliefs.

For those who are familiar with modern Chinese history of Christianity, would know the three "shinning starts" of Chinese Christian Evangelists who were born within a few years of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. The first among them was Wang Ming Tao (王明道) who was born in 1900 [The other two were John Sung in 1901, and Watchman Nee in 1903]. Wang was a dynamic preacher, sometimes referred to as the Billy Graham of China, and established the famed "non-denominational" Christian Tabernacle Church in Shanghai converting thousands of Chinese to the Christian faith. He came to fame because he staunchly opposed to the Three Self Patriotic Movement and was put to jailed for 23 years. In 1988, when Billy Graham visited China, he had an audience with Wang.

In his youth, Wang first joined a Charismatic church under the influence of a Pentecostal preacher. He then came into contact with the seventh-day Sabbath truth (though he later abandoned it) and gradually drifted away from Pentecostalism through the influence of whom he called, "an elderly Swede", Eric Pilquist7,9. In Wang's autobiography of his spiritual journey, My Fifty Years8, he described how Eric Pilquist helped him to fully understand the doctrine of justification by faith in 1923 by pointing out the many Scriptural texts including the one in Habakkuk 2:4. Pilquist continued to share a number of booklets on this subject with Wang. Unfortunate in November of 1925, Eric Pilquist became severely ill and passed away.


1. Anderson, Emma (1920b), With Our Missionaries in China. Pacific Press Pub. Association: Mountain View, CA. Available online: http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc2.ark%3A%2F13960%2Ft1vd6wn10;size=50;view=image;page=root;seq=1.

2. General Congregational Association of Iowa (1889) Minutes of the general association of congregational churches and ministers, Des Moines River Association, Pastoral staff, Ottumwa Swede, Eric Pilquist. retrieved 7/21/2013 from http://books.google.com/books?id=gYUTAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA111&dq=Pilquist,+Eric&hl=en&sa=X&ei=F6PsUe7JNZKA8gT7iIDYDQ&ved=0CEYQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=Pilquist%2C%20Eric&f=false

3. Negal-Longway, Florence (2002), Biography of Eric Pilquist, in Chinese SDA History, Samuel Young, (Editor), China Union Mission: Hong Kong.

4. Onsager, Lawrence (2012), Notes on Centennial Celebration, based on the "Anderson Diary", Private communication.

5. Taylor, Howard Mrs. (1984), The Story of The China Inland Mission, p.473, retrieved 7/21/2013 from http://books.google.com/books?id=aI5CAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA473&lpg=PA473&dq=Pilquist,+Eric+and+Ida&source=bl&ots=Ih_acgn44R&sig=DFqKmSE_Z6b6ppPnI5bh2DQStuM&hl=en&sa=X&ei=YRvsUb2bHZPQ8wT2i4HICg&ved=0CDgQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=Pilquist%2C%20Eric%20and%20Ida&f=false. Erik Pilquist was listed as “Associates of the China Inland Mission”, under Scandinavian China Alliance Mission, 1891.

6. The Daily Press (1904) Directory of Protestant Missionaries in China, Japan and Corea, Daily Press: Hong Kong & London. Available online: http://images.library.yale.edu/divinitycontent/china/DirectoryofProtestantMissionaries1904.pdf.

7. Tow, Timothy (1989) Wang Ming Tao & Charismatism, Christian Life Publishers: Singapore. This contains a translation of Wang’s book, This Fifty Years, giving an account of Wang Ming Tao was enlightened by Eric Pilquist in 1923-24, about righteousness by faith. Retrieved 8/8/2013 from http://www.febc.edu.sg/assets/pdfs/febc_press/Wang%20Ming%20Tao%20&%20Charismatism.pdf..

8. Wang Mingdao王明道 (1982), Wushi Nian La (This Fifty Years)五十年來, pp. 64, 66, 68-72. Hong Kong: Bellman. Wang drifted away from Pentecostalism under the influence of missionary, a “Swedish old man”, named Eric Pilquist.

9. Wikipedia (2013) entry on “Wang Mingdao”: Stone Made Smooth, 71-73, 81-82. Wang also credited the teaching of an elderly Swede missionary, Eric Pilquist with pointing him away from salvation through obedience to the law to justification by faith as in Habbaka. Retrieved 7/21/2013 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wang_Ming-Dao. See also http://www.360doc.com/content/12/0305/13/1073769_191831139.shtml