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George Leslie Mackay: Canadian Missionary Iconoclast and his Contributions to Taiwan with Rev. Michael Stainton Ep 173

By Felicia Lin

A note from Talking Taiwan host Felicia Lin:

On March 9th Taiwan Post will be issuing a stamp commemorating the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Canadian missionary George Leslie Mackay in Northern Taiwan. Mackay was unlike most 19th century missionaries. He has been referred to as the “son-in-law of Taiwan,” and was a forward thinker. He was one of the first to oppose the Head Tax imposed on Chinese in Canada.

To help understand who George Leslie Mackay was and the significance of his contributions, I’ll be speaking with Reverend Michael Stainton, the founder of the Canadian Mackay Committee. Reverend Stainton has worked for the last 25 years to promote the recognition of Mackay in Canada and on several campaigns for Canada Post to issue a stamp to commemorate George Leslie Mackay.


Those interested in contacting the Canadian Mackay Committee can email


**A quick note to listeners about the audio quality of this episode. Unfortunately, there was a bad connection at the time of the recording that couldn’t be improved through sound editing. So, we’d like to advise you to keep your volume at a moderate level while listening to this episode.**


This episode of Talking Taiwan has been sponsored by the Taiwan Elite Alliance 優社 and the Taiwanese United Fund.


The Taiwan Elite Alliance 優社 was established in 2000 to promote Taiwanese and Taiwanese American arts and literature, and to protect and enhance the human rights, freedom and democracy of the people in Taiwan.





The Taiwanese United Fund is an arts and culture foundation that celebrates the cultural heritages of Taiwanese Americans. Established in 1986, the foundation’s mission is to facilitate cultural exchange between the Taiwanese American community and other American cultural communities, hoping to enrich and expand our cultural experiences. To learn more about TUF visit their website 


Here’s a little preview of what we talked about in this podcast episode:

  • How and when Reverent Stainton first learned about Dr. George Leslie Mackay
  • How Reverend Stainton was a student radical at York University and was involved in the anti-Vietnam War movement and interested in China
  • How Reverend Stainton became disillusioned with the friendship work with China that he was doing
  • How Reverend Stainton was initially reluctant to go to Taiwan to work with the Presbyterian Church in 1979
  • How the Kuomintang had cancelled elections in response to U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s switch in recognition from the Republic of China to the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China (in 1978)
  • The Tangwai movement in 1979
  • How Reverend Kao Chun-ming, who was the guarantor on Reverend Stainton’s visa to Taiwan (in 1979) had gotten arrested for helping to hide Shih Ming-teh
  • How things in Taiwan were in chaos when Reverend Stainton arrived there in 1980
  • Upon arriving in Taiwan Reverend Stainton was assigned to the Aboriginal Student Center
  • At the time the Kuomintang believed the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan was a cat’s paw of the Chinese Communist Party
  • Reverend Stainton was warned that he would be watched and under surveillance with his phone calls tapped and letters opened
  • How Reverend Stainton was asked to play the part of Dr. George Leslie Mackay in a play was put on for the 100th anniversary of the Mackay Memorial Hospital in 1981
  • In 1992 after Reverent Stainton had returned to Canada, he saw the importance of promoting the recognition of Dr. George Leslie Mackay in Canada
  • How Dr. George Leslie Mackay breaks the stereotypes of 19th century missionaries
  • How Joseph Steere a professor of Zoology at the University of Michigan who met Mackay in Taiwan in 1873 wrote that he observed that Mackay treated the Chinese as equals rather than an inferior race
  • How Mackay learned Taiwanese culture and language from his students
  • How Mackay accepted his students’ suggestion and arrangement for him to marry a Taiwanese woman, Tiuⁿ Chhang-miâ (aka Minnie)
  • How Mackay was criticized about his marriage and why he got married at the British Consulate
  • How Mackay told the Foreign Mission Board of his marriage only after he had already gotten married
  • Why Mackay is so beloved in Taiwan and is called the “son-in-law of Taiwan”
  • How Mackay’s upbringing influenced his values
  • Mackay was the youngest son of a Scottish Evangelical Presbyterian family
  • Mackay and his family had gone to Canada as refugees from the Sutherland Highland Clearances in northern Scotland because aristocratic landlords had pushed peasants off their land due to the English Industrial Revolution
  • Mackay along with other refugees had been sent to Oxford county which is present-day South Central Ontario in Canada
  • How highlanders (people from northern Scotland) were also looked down upon in Canada because they weren’t civilized Scots from the south
  • How the early injustice Mackay and his family experienced shaped him
  • How he learned frontier medicine and developed strong resilience from growing up in the frontier
  • The Zorra pioneers and how Zorra refers to part of the province of Ontario
  • How Mackay became known for pulling teeth and was able to gain the trust of local people in Taiwan but he was not a dentist or doctor
  • Mackay was given an honorary doctorate degree in 1881
  • Misconceptions about Mackay
  • How Mackay discouraged foreign women missionaries from coming to teach (sewing and English) in favor of having local Taiwanese women converts teach in his school
  • The great numbers of the Kavalan indigenous people who converted and joined Mackay’s mission
  • The ethnic revitalization among the Kavalan
  • How the Kavalan used a patronymic name system, rather than surnames, but under Chinese rule they were assigned Chinese names and surnames, so some Kavalan adopted Mackay’s Taiwanese surname “Kai” (偕) as their own
  • What has changed in terms of what is known about Mackay
  • Up until the 1990s much of what had been written about Mackay was hagiography
  • The first international academic conference on Dr. George Leslie Mackay that Reverend Stainton organized in 1997 and how it boosted the study of Mackay
  • How Mackay ended up in Taiwan and settling near Tamsui
  • How the Taiwanese called foreigners like Mackay and indigenous people “barbarians,” and this created camaraderie between Mackay and the Kavalan people
  • Reverend Stainton’s efforts to try to get Canada Post to issue a stamp commemorating George Leslie Mackay which have included two previous campaigns in 2001 and 2022
  • Comparisons between getting a stamp approved by Canada Post vs. Taiwan Post
  • In 2001 a stamp commemorating Mackay was issued in Taiwan
  • Why Canada Post didn’t approve a stamp commemorating the 150th anniversary of George Leslie Mackay’s arrival in Taiwan
  • The issues that Reverend Stainton has with the stamp that Taiwan Post is issuing on March 9
  • Why Mackay’s wife was given the English name Minnie
  • Mackay’s lasting contributions in Taiwan
  • Mackay’s title of doctor was due to an honorary doctor of divinity
  • Mackay’s opposition of the Head Tax
  • Mackay’s lasting contributions in/to Canada
  • Woodstock, Ontario’s sister city relationship with Tamsui, Taiwan
  • Mackay’s intellectual curiosity and love of nature, astronomy, and botany
  • Mackay’s use of traditional Chinese medicine in his medical work
  • The complete Kavalan people’s bridal outfit on display at the Royal Ontario Museum, which was among the 16 crates of artifacts that Mackay brought back from Taiwan to Canada in 1893
  • Many of the items that Mackay collected are among the oldest collection of indigenous artifacts from Taiwan in the world


Related Links:


George Leslie Mackay Facebook group:



Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of Rev. George Leslie Mackay Arriving in Tamsui, Northern Taiwan:


A video dedicated to celebrating the friendship between Taiwan and Canada, and paying tribute to Rev. George Leslie Mackay:


The Legacy of George Leslie Mackay:


George Leslie Mackay:

A monument commemorating George Leslie Mackay in Tamsui, Taiwan


York University:


Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book:


Tamsui (aka Damsui):


Aletheia University (formerly Oxford College):


Canadian Council of Churches:


Tangwai movement:


Reverend Kao Chun-ming:


Shih Ming-teh:


From Far Formosa by George Leslie Mackay:


Chunghwa Post website:


Mackay Memorial Hospital:


Presbyterian Church in Taiwan:


Chinese head tax and Chinese Exclusion Act:


The Royal Ontario Museum:


Atayal indigenous people of Taiwan:


Kavalan indigenous people of Taiwan:


Tony Coolidge: Finding his Indigenous Roots in Taiwan (Episode 112):


Tony Coolidge Talks About his Work with Indigenous Bridges (Episode 113):

About the Host

Felicia Lin is the Host and Producer of Talking Taiwan, a podcast which seeks to introduce you to interesting stories connected to Taiwan and the diverse individuals who make up Taiwan’s global community.

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