Paul Leaton Corbin, son of Lucius Brace and Annie Elizabeth (Leaton) Corbin, was born in Carlinville, Illinois on September 28, 1875. During the year 1895-96, he was enrolled in Oberlin Academy, the Preparatory Department of Oberlin College. In 1898, Corbin graduated with the A.B. degree from Blackburn College in Carlinville, having combined his studies with parish work. He received the D.D. degree from Blackburn in 1921. After one term at the Chicago Theological Seminary, Corbin was ordained to the Congregational ministry on October 12, 1899. In 1900, Corbin entered the Oberlin Theological Seminary, receiving the B.D. degree in 1903 and the honorary D.D. in 1921. He spent the year 1903-04 as a traveling Secretary for the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions. On June 9, 1904, he married Miriam Hannah Locke (1878-1928), a student in Oberlin's Literary Course and in the Conservatory from 1899 to 1903.
In August of 1904, at the request of Oberlin College President Henry Churchill King (1858-1934), Paul and Miriam Corbin departed for China as the representatives of Oberlin College to the Shansi Mission of the American Board. The Corbins were the first missionaries to resettle the stations at Taigu and Fenzhou, which had been razed in the 1900 Boxer Rebellion. In the task of rebuilding, the Corbins were assisted by four other Oberlin graduates: Miss Flora K. Heebner (1874-1947; A.B. 1903), Dr. Willoughby A. Hemingway (d. 1932; A.B. 1898), Mrs. Mary Williams Hemingway (b. 1875; A.B. 1899), and Dr. Irenaeus J. Atwood (1850-1913; B.D. 1881).
The Corbins arrived in Taigu in June 1905, after spending the winter of 1904 in Tongzhou, near Peking. Corbin focused his efforts upon transforming the shattered Christian communities into self-sustaining churches. He later wrote about the revitalized congregations in the article, "Seven Churches That are in Asia," (n.d.). Corbin continued to publish numerous articles describing his work in Shansi and Shensi provinces. In Oberlin, he became well-known through his column, "Minute Talklets," which appeared weekly in The News-Tribune.
In 1907, Paul Corbin began his association with Dr. H. H. Kung (1881-1967; A.B. Oberlin 1906), who had returned to Taigu to become principal of the boys' school, Ming Xian. Corbin became Kung's chief counselor, communicating frequently with the school's financial supporter, the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association. During this period, Oberlin sent its first student representatives to Ming Xian as English teachers and athletic coaches. The presence of young students who were teachers rather than missionaries contributed to the growing secularization of the Oberlin undertaking in Shansi.
In addition to his work for Ming Xian, Corbin served tirelessly in the Shansi field, sitting on various educational committees for the Shansi District. In 1918, he helped to gather epidemiological data during a plague epidemic, and in 1925, he worked for famine relief in North Shensi Province. In 1927, Miriam Corbin, in failing health, returned to her home in Henry, Illinois, accompanied by her two small children. Paul Corbin joined her in February 1928; she died one month later. Corbin remained in the United States until 1931, when he returned to Taigu, retiring the following year. He died in Taigu of a brain hemorrhage on January 9, 1936. Under the terms of his will, Corbin donated to Oberlin College his vast English-language library on China, then one of the finest sinological collections ever assembled.
Paul and Miriam Corbin had five children: Annie (b. 1905; B.A. Oberlin 1926); Clara (b. 1908; B.A. Oberlin 1928); Latha, who died in infancy, and twins Helen and Allen Monroe (b. 1917; B.A. Carleton College 1938).