The History behind China’s Oasis
David walked up the path to the orphanage for that first time with a sense of expectation, yet not quite sensing that he was walking to his destiny. It was a walk that many Christian hands and feet had taken before him. Many have left their bodies in the red clay soil of China.
Marco Polo rediscovered China for the West around the year 1300 when he popularised it in his travelogues. The stories of the East were so fantastic that when close to death he was asked if it was fiction. Polo replied, “I did not tell half of what I saw because no one would have believed me”.
China was a revelation. Education was highly prized - with philosophy, religion, and politics all taught under the auspices of the Great Khan, the Mongol Emperor. Engineering was leading edge and paper money was an accepted currency in many parts of the empire. Riches such as jade, porcelain, silk, ivory, and gold lacing was found together with black stones (coal) being used for fuel.
Polo went to China because his family were traders and they followed the well-worn trading path known as the Silk Road. Polo’s father, Maffeo, had been forced by local disturbances progressively east, finally meeting Kublai Khan. This Great Khan controlled today’s Mongolia and China, remnants of the huge empire of his grandfather Genghis Khan. Genghis touched the Black Sea in the west, much of non-polar Asiatic Russia, Korea in the east and Pakistan and Iran in the south. Genghis’ forces even reached the walls of Constantinople (Istanbul) – a remarkable effort in one lifetime for men who could travel no faster than a galloping horse.
Kublai Khan was interested in people from the West (the Latin’s as they were known) and passed a request to the Pope to send missionaries to convert areas of China to Christianity; a request that was largely ignored. Nevertheless, the link between trade, military forces and religion was firmly established.
Astonishingly, at the same time, a Nestorian monk called Rabban Bar Sauma was travelling the other way to Europe on a mission to develop Franco-Mongolian relations. Sauma was born in Beijing and as a Nestorian was an offshoot of the Eastern Orthodox Church, known as The Church of the East, which was founded by Syriac monk known in Chinese as Alopen. Alopen was the first recorded missionary to China arriving in the Chinese capital Chang'an (Xian today) in 635. The first church was erected in Chang’an in 638. The tolerance of successive Tang Dynasty Emperors enabled Christianity to survive in China for a further 200 years.
However by the Millennium (1000 AD), it was reported by travellers that, “Christianity was just extinct in China; the native Christians had perished in one way or another; the church which they had used had been destroyed; and there was only one Christian left in the land”. The Church of the East had an evangelical revival under the Mongol Khans who allowed Christianity to return in the 13th century. So it was not surprising that Marco Polo reported the existence of a Christian community in Fujian, represented officially by a Christian bishop.
The Yuan Dynasty, as the Mongol Dynasty is called, was overthrown in 1368 and the victorious Chinese House of Ming took power. Kublai’s focus on China had led him to use and refine the Chinese system of administration. The Ming and Qing Dynasties perpetuated this and in so doing slipped China into a Dark Age for economic and technological development for the next 600 years. The civil service became the dominant influence in the country with education in the Confucian tradition being paramount. Nepotism and learning for its own sake, combined with the rigid feudal peasant farming system, ossified China. Even the great global discoveries of the fleet sent out by the Yongle Emperor under Admiral Zheng He to discover the world in the early 15thCentury were all destroyed as the Emperors locked their grip on the country by looking inwards rather than outwards.
The Church of the East had suffered and disappeared in the mid-14th century because of xenophobic Ming religious intolerance and was not to return for another 200 years. In contrast, those years in Europe saw unparalleled development with the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution founding a base for modern art, science, engineering and technology. The Reformation liberated Christianity from catholic doctrine and replaced it with a discipline of personal salvation through faith, which inspired an evangelical zeal and work ethic that underpinned Europe’s revival.
Macau was settled by Portuguese mariners in the early 1500’s as a trading base and formally rented from the Chinese in 1557. With the merchants came Catholic churchmen in the form of the Jesuits, a strongly evangelical missionary order of Catholic monks. Indeed, the founder of the Jesuits, St. Francis Xavier, was not the first and certainly not the last Christian missionary to show his ultimate dedication to the county by dying in China; on an island off Macau. They brought Western culture, education, science and technology to China, in Chinese, and even returned some lost Chinese inventions back to the country of their discovery.
Jesuits such as Mateo Ricci and Michele Ruggieri initially based themselves in Macau to learn Chinese in order to spread the gospel. They were very successful in ingratiating themselves with Chinese Scholars by integrating to look like equivalent Western scholars but in a Confucian style. This included ‘shunning Europeanism’ such as wearing Chinese dress, a mantra to be later copied by many. It led to the conversion of Chinese people of all classes, with a handful even making the pilgrimage back to Rome, something the dedicated followers of Ricci were often unable to do because of the distances involved.
Inevitably a change of regime to the Manchu Qing Dynasty around 1644 disturbed the steady progress of the Jesuits who endured renewed and harsh persecution from some of the Emperors but not enough to put them off. Indeed, the Jesuits were able to build three Cathedrals in a European style in Beijing between 1603 and 1730; that remain today.
Trading routes were not only being established by the Portuguese along the highways of the Seas, but also by the British. From the mid-1700’s, the Protestants followed the trading lines of the British East India Company (EIC). This trading company evolved into the British Empire in India.
This was dominant power led by the Royal Navy whose job it was to keep order and preserve trade for British merchants. The Protestant East India Company was tolerated like a bad smell in Catholic Macau but it had a small trading base there and more so in Canton as trade increased. The Company lost its monopoly in 1834 and other trading houses or Hongs succeeded the trade such as Jardine Matheson – a major global company still in existence today.
The Portuguese brought the Jesuits but the Royal Navy brought the revival Protestants. Together with trade and security, came the missionaries to save souls.
Robert Morrison was the first of these missionaries. In the poetic way that history repeats itself, he was born in Morpeth in Northern England - which over 200 years later housed ICC’s first administrative centre. He arrived in China in 1807 under the auspices of the London Missionary Society (LMS) at the tender age of 25.
His early years in China were extremely difficultas to print and publish Christian books in Chinese were crimes punishable by death. Hostile Qing spies and Catholic missionaries were his adversaries; not to mention weather, disease and culture. He persisted with learning both Mandarin and Cantonese and was rewarded in his efforts when he became translator to the EIC, which provided him with both protection and time to be a missionary.
Morrison was the first translator of the Bible into Chinese and produced a Chinese dictionary for Westerners. He also printed a Pocket New Testament – useful for converts to secret about their person. Robert was then lucky enough to fall in love with Mary, the daughter of some British residents of Macau and they married within months.
It is the wives who are the real Heros of this piece as they supported their menfolk in the missionary field. Male Protestant missionaries often had several wives, because if the woman did not die in childbirth, it was by disease or murder at an unreasonably young age – Mary herself succumbed to cholera in 1821 aged just 29.
Mary’s death had historical consequences. As a Protestant, and therefore a heathen, she could not be buried in Catholic Macau so the EIC opened up a corner of their garden for her repose and she lies today next to Robert who died in 1834 in Canton (Guangzhou) aged 52.
These missionaries struggled for their faith – they left everything behind. In their early twenties they were told never to see their families again. They brought dedication, courage, proficiency and expertise to China, working hard against determined opposition; often devoid of fellow travellers who could balance their judgement of people or their actions. Husbands and families parted for long periods while they put themselves in harm’s way. They were in real danger – most were robbed at some time of all of their possessions, especially in the early days, and the danger of murder was ever present. in 1949 - 1951, those that came back or were released after the Japanese occupation were almost all ejected from China. Tragically Chinese Christians could also be martyred in large numbers alongside them.
Trade between China and the West dealt in a wide range of products especially spices and minerals but it was tea that took off particularly well and spawned technologically leading-edge tea clippers, fast sailing ships that could get the product to market in the shortest possible time. Tea took off so well in the West that China became a major exporter, developing (like today) a huge current account surplus causing a great deal of silver being paid to China for the tea. Ships were loaded to go westwards with all the tea from China and came back empty.
Traders soon found a product that they could load in India to go the other way. Opium was outlawed in China – though not in England, where it could be imported freely. Opium, smoked in pipes, caught on in China and like smoking became both fashionable and addictive. It was a wonderful counter to the tea trade; even exceeding it. Soon all the silver was going the other way and the Emperor began to get worried. Not only were his subjects’ rapidly becoming dopeheads but also it was starting to cost financially.
The spark in the tinderbox was the overreaction by a zealous official forcing the merchants out of Canton and provoking the far more powerful Western military forces to oversee the ‘fair conduct of trade’ to protect their commercial interests. The upshot of the First Opium War in 1842 was the first of the ‘Unequal Treaties’ that imposed upon China the continuity of trade with the West and miserly ceded to London the island of Hong Kong – ‘a barren rock with nary a house up on it. It will never be a mart for trade’ said Lord Palmeston. Some rock, some houses today ……..
Macau and Hong Kong may have been tiny colonies of the Portuguese and the British but were massive beachheads for foreign traders. Huge sums of money were made on both sides but that led to creeping foreign influence and with that a loss of ‘Chinese Face’.
Jardine Matheson had employed one Karl Gutzlaff the first Lutheran Minister to China in the early thirties as a translator. He established the Chinese Evangelisation Mission, which recruited a young doctor in 1852 called Hudson Taylor. The close China Coast community soon resulted in his marriage to Maria Dyer, Chinese-speaking daughter of Samuel Dyer who worked with Robert Morrison.
Maria was one of several such daughters who became teachers working for the first female Christian missionary to serve in China. Mary Ann Aldersley was the mould for single women missionaries to China, establishing a school for girls in Ningbo in 1843. She did not approve of Mary’s choice. Maria actually turned down Robert Hart to marry Taylor. Hart later became Inspector of Taxes for the Chinese Government and one of the richest men in the East. (There is no evidence that he would have gained Miss Aldersley’s approval either). Maria herself died in childbirth in 1870.
Taylor established the most significant of the Missionary Societies in China, the China Inland Mission (CIM) in 1865. They were to be ‘missiologially distinctive’ as follows:
1. Priority is given to unreached inland provinces in seeking to evangelise the whole of China.
2. No solicitation of finance, or indebtedness; looking to God alone; pooling of support in faith
3. Identification with Chinese by wearing Chinese dress and queue (pigtail), worshipping in Chinese houses
4. Indigenisation through training of Chinese co-workers in te principles of self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating
5. Recruitment of missionaries is not based on education or ecclesiastical ordination, but on spiritual qualification; including deployment of single women in the interior and Christian professionals
6. Interdenominational International Membership
7. Headquarters on the field, director rule; leaders and workers serving shoulder to shoulder
CIM missionaries were spread throughout the country, in tiny groups. They were described as having an excellent spirit, – self-denying, single minded and devoted; with a spirit of faith, of love, of humility. They were not always well educated, but might be from humble backgrounds, converted by the revivals in Britain, with the zeal and ability to preach for the salvation of souls.
This may have made them more able to bring themselves into close contact with the people, “becoming all things unto all men, that they may save some.” The hope was that they would not fritter away their time in reading dusty old Chinese tomes, and in making books and tracts that nobody will read. They were to work among the people and live the Christian life by example. They were a tough lot.
Hudson Taylor spent his latter years touring and preaching in China and the UK recruiting missionaries for CIM. He died in 1905 in Changsha – a city that is at the heart of the ICC story. The CIM is now called Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF), and still boasts over 1,000 staff from 25 countries.
The Reverend James Legge was a London Missionary Society man who arrived in Hong Kong in 1842 just as it became British. He came as headmaster of Ying Wah College (English language College), which was founded by Robert Morrison and is still a leading school today. The Rev. Legge was the First Minister of Union Church, the first church in the new Colony, which gave him great position in the new community. He was a thorn in the side of the authorities as an ardent opponent of the use of opium. Legge translated many classical Chinese works and when he returned to the UK in 1867 he became Professor of Chinese at Oxford. He apparently did not have many students but he retained a prodigious energy for translation, which he continued throughout his life.
Turbulent internal warfare replaced the external enemy as the Taiping Rebellion began in Guangxi in the south in 1850 as a revolt against the weak Qing Dynasty. Oddly the rebels had Christian overtones with their leader claiming to be the brother of Jesus. They spurned foreign influence and repeatedly defeated the Imperial government forces using a huge army of foot soldiers.
By 1859 they controlled Shanxi, Zhejiang and part of Hubei and Anhui Provinces with a capital at Nanjing, administering their own quirky set of rules for government and social behaviour. It took until 1864 for them to be defeated by a Chinese army led by mercenary European officers, including the famous General ‘Chinese’ Gordon. The rebellion with its reprisals caused a huge loss of life reputed to be in the millions.
The Second Opium War began in 1856 after missionaries and traders had been murdered as foreign invaders. By this time many more nations such as the US and France had trading interests with China and the medieval Qing troops were no match for a Western Alliance of forces. This War saw the first widespread use of foreign troops in the heart of China. The Summer Palaces to the northwest of Beijing were barbarically destroyed by foreign troops, with the Forbidden City narrowly escaping the same fate due to a local commander ignoring orders.
1860 saw the second Unequal Treaty being signed providing for, amongst other things, ten new treaty ports opened to trade and foreign diplomats (and foreign influence) to be allowed in Peking. The opium trade was to be regulated by the Chinese authoritiesalthough it was already on the decline and had largely ceased by the late 1800’s. Kowloon, the mainland part of Hong Kong was surrendered to the British. Permission was granted for foreigners to travel freely throughout the country, which was especially significant for Protestant and Catholic missionaries.
The Chinese surrendered areas within major cities for International Legations within which there were Concessions for the British, French, Germans and Americans and others. In Tsingtao there was a German concession and beer from a German recipe is still brewed today. Within these Concessions, the national law of the concessionaire prevailed as sovereign territory of the foreign power. Trade increased significantly and was very profitable for both sides – though it was still galling for the Chinese to have Western influence so intimate.
Robert Hart, Maria Dyer’s refusal, had been a British administrator who was granted permission to become the Head of the Imperial Maritime Customs Service – a Chinese position in 1863. All sides trusted him because his diplomatic, administrative and Chinese skills were excellent. His negotiation skills were so good as to defer conflict and to make him the go-to man in arranging the terms of peace on several occasions.
He established the Chinese postal service, devised collections for internal taxes, organised foreign embassies through his royal friend Prince Gong, and encouraged education – founding Peking University. His privileged position made him extremely rich, and an English Baronet, and returned to the UK not long before he died in 1911. He was not a missionary as such, but a disciplined Methodist - who stabilised the environment so that fair trade could reign supreme; the traders and missionaries could work and the armies were employed slightly less frequently.
The 1880’s saw a flood of missionaries coming to China, especially under the auspices of the CIM. This included ‘The Hundred’ recruited in 1886-7 and over half of the recruits were single women. CIM recruited globally including in the U.S, Australia, New Zealand, as well as from the U.K.
The feudal dominance of China by a weakening Imperial family combined with military dominance by foreigners created an atmosphere of seething rebellion against both the civil authorities and the foreigners. Quite wrongly, Christianity was seen as a 'foreign religion' and this impression hindered the spread of the gospel in this turbulent time.
The violent anti-foreign and anti-Christian Boxer Rebellion from 1899 to 1901 led to full-scale conflict between Chinese and Alliance Forces of eight foreign nations. The Boxer Rebellion had its flash point in peasant privations during a long drought and the ineffectiveness of the Chinese authorities in handling it. It became a revolt against feudalism and foreigners. The Boxers massacred many Christians, including 47 Catholic priests and nuns, and 136 adults and 53 children from the Protestant missionaries. The International Legation in Beijing was besieged and almost overrun. Well over thirty thousand Chinese Christians were massacred across Eastern China most of them Catholics.
The Imperial forces eventually, reluctantly, sided with the Boxers turning it into a multi-national conflict. The Alliance forces were far too strong against Chinese forces divided between fighting a domestic rebellion and seeking to give the foreigners a bloody nose. This time the conquering nations were not so conciliatory and required large reparations from the Chinese Treasury. Both Qing and Alliance alike engaged in brutal large-scale reprisals against those suspected to be Boxers.
Although the Rebellion was unsuccessful, it deeply weakened the Imperial Administration. Yet the foreigners had to continue to support the Qing Dynasty. It was said,"The people are afraid of officials, the officials are afraid of foreign devils, and the foreigners are afraid of the people" (老百姓怕官，官怕洋鬼子，洋鬼子怕老百姓). There was no other way to preserve interests in such a large and tempestuous country.
The reparations had interesting consequences. The American money was used to educate Chinese students in the US who themselves returned and established Tsinghua University. Hudson Taylor refused to accept any payment for loss of property or life, even though the CIM had suffered the most loss. He felt that in denying payment it would demonstrate the meekness of Christ to the Chinese.
The Emperor was seen to be powerless; a vassal, and the death of the dominant Emperor Dowager Queen Mother Cixi in 1908 merely ripened conditions for revolution in 1911, and the accession of the first President of the Republic of China, Sun Yat Sen.
Sun was the Father of modern China; an intelligent, modest man who resigned just a year later. He was baptised a Christian in Hong Kong and this seemed to influence his political life. He had learned English in Hawaii where his brother lived and went to the Diocesan Boys School and Queen’s College in Hong Kong before studying medicine in Hong Kong University. He was therefore well exposed to revolutionary ideas and indeed claimed to the students of HKU in 1923 that it was the lack of corruption and the peace, order and good government of Hong Kong that had turned him thus.
He had four wives/concubines, three of them concurrent, yet he was always positive about Christianity. In a letter written to a friend on his accession as the Founding President of the Chinese Republic he said, “I thank you for your earnest prayers offered in my behalf. I am glad to tell you that we are going to have religious tolerance in China, and I’m sure that Christianity will flourish under the new regime”.
The tens and twenties in China were more peaceful if only because successors to Sun were jockeying for position. It did mean that for a while missionaries were largely unmolested. During this time, the CIM alone had 1,000 missionaries in China and this peaked at 1,368 in 1934. Such was the demand that between 1927 to 1932, the CIM accepted only 200 missionaries out of 1,200 applicants.
James Fraser was one of the most successful of the CIM missionaries of this time. In 1910, in line with CIM policy he was sent to the very edge of China – to Yunnan in the far southwest. His methods of encouraging teaching and evangelism by the people themselves meant that tens of thousands of people were converted by the time that he fell to malaria in 1938 aged just 52. To this day there is still a strong group of Christians in Western Yunnan. The Chinese Government has accepted the Fraser alphabet as the official script of the Lisu language in which the local Bibles and hymnbooks are printed.
There are too numerous to mention untold stories of Chinese Christians at this time who took the faith from the behaviour of missionaries who carried the message to the people they served. One local Chinese person who was very instrumental in converting Chinese people was Watchman Nee. He was born in 1903, baptised a Methodist by his parents, and educated in the Church Missionary Society’s school in his hometown Fuzhou.
In Fuzhou, he was mentored by a British missionary called Margaret Barber. Nee would visit Barber on a weekly basis for teaching and Bible study. When she died in 1930, Barber left all of her meagre belongings (just her Bible and notes) to Nee. He started church work in 1922 with his aims to focus on literary work, starting and building up local churches and youth training. In the early days of his ministry, he is said to have devoted one-third of his income to personal needs, one-third to assist others, and the remaining third on Christian books.
He fell in love with a girl called Charity but gave up on the relationship when she would not become a Christian. Ten years later she became a believer in Shanghai and they married in 1934. Nee went on to become a significant speaker, thinker and a writer; publishing many books expounding the Bible – which are still well known today. The diaspora have taken his preaching to Chinese churches all around the world. Few young Christians in 1970’s Asia had not come across, ‘The Normal Christian Life’.
He was imprisoned in 1956 and died in prison in 1972 at the age of 68. He was cremated before his relatives could see him but the officer of the labour camp showed the family a message left under his pillow, written shakily in big characters, “Christ is the Son of God who died for the redemption of sinners and resurrected after three days. This is the greatest truth in the universe. I die because of my belief in Christ. Watchman Nee”.
It was in the mid-twenties that Eric Liddell followed his parents in the LMS to a career as a teacher, medical orderly and missionary in China. Liddell’s story is known worldwide from the blockbuster film ‘Chariots of Fire’. He won the Olympic Gold in the 400m at Paris in 1922, even though it was not his event. His event was the 100m, which was to be run on a Sunday. That was the Sabbath; and Eric’s conscience would not let him run on that day.
Liddell’s China story was not the only one to be made into a bestselling film. Gladys Aylward arrived in China in 1932 after spending her life savings on a passage to the middle of China in Shanxi Province. The passage was itself dangerous and complicated for a single woman in a strange land. At one point she was forced to leave her train in the middle of Siberia to get to Shanxi.
She came unsupported by any missionary society. The CIM had rejected her as being too old at 30 to learn Chinese. Independent missionaries were often criticized as being loose cannons; more likely to cause trouble than to achieve progress in the goal of making China a Christian country. Indeed it was a mantra of the age that if an independent missionary was to settle down in an area that they always place themselves subject to the authority of a local church, a group of elders, or a Board. This is something that David Gotts took to heart when he first came to China and which undoubtedly assisted his success.
In Yangcheng, Shanxi, she met Jeannie Lawson, and founded the orphanage, “The Inn of the Eighth Happiness”, taking in orphans and adopting several, intervening in a prison riot and advocating prison reform. In 1936, she took Chinese citizenship and two years later, Gladys Aylward led over 100 orphans to safety over mountains, pursued by Japanese forces and being wounded in the process.
This was stuff of books (Alan Burgess, ‘The Small Woman’) and spawned the well-known film, “The Inn of Sixth Happiness” – the Hollywood title missing out the connotation of the Chinese lucky number 8 in the original. Ingrid Bergman’s doe-eyed portrayal of Gladys is great cinema but mortified her as her devotion was purely to God and the children - and not to run off with an Army Officer. She was married to her work. She returned to Britain after World War II but in 1958, denied re-entry into China by the new government, instead settled in Taiwan and founded the Gladys Aylward Orphanage, where she worked until her death in 1970.
This period saw China governed by the Nationalists, whose warlord Presidents jockeyed for power. The Kuo Ming Tang government under Chiang Kai-shek finally prevailed in battle throughout China from 1928 and the next decade saw a limited and uneasy peace. Already the Communist Forces under Mao Tse Tung had split from the KMT alliance but were small in number and, although motivated by peasant power, did not yet have broad support.
The Warlord period brought widespread lawlessness to China and it could be dangerous and even deadly for foreigners, with missionaries being martyred if they were unlucky in time and place. John and Betty Stam were beheaded by itinerant militia in December 1934. Their baby Helen was hidden under some hay like Moses and was found later by a Chinese evangelist named Lo who carried her 100 miles to a mission hospital from where she was adopted by Betty’s sister. Local Christians buried the bodies at Miaoshu, Anhui Province and their gravestones read:
"Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life." Revelation 2:10
John Cornelius Stam, January 18, 1907 : "That Christ may be glorified whether by life or by death." Philippians 1:20
Elisabeth Scott Stam, February 22, 1906: "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain." Philippians 1:21
The story of their martyrdom was widely publicised by the China missions and inspired many others to become missionaries despite the gathering clouds of war.
Relative peace albeit with a simmering civil war ended with an attack from another source when Japanese forces invaded the northeast of the country in 1937. By the time the Japanese started to invade slowly from the north through Eastern China the country was wracked by Civil War and severely weakened. Chiang was seeking to destroy the Communists once and for all, driving them to the west in the Long March. However that made their military supply routes from the Soviet Union all the easier.
The Japanese invaded in a particularly bloody manner, wreaking terrible atrocities on the Chinese people as they did so. Mass destruction from the air and massacres on the ground brought warfare to everyone. By 1941 the resistance lines held by both the KMT and the Communists checked the advance in the West but they had broken through to Southern China and from there into Indochina.
For a while, the Japanese treated foreigners as non-combatant neutrals with increasing restrictions until December 1942 when Japan suddenly attacked the US and the UK through attacks on Pearl Harbour and Hong Kong. At the same time, the Japanese attacked Chinese forces in the Battle of Changsha to prevent China from reinforcing or relieving Hong Kong. For the first time, the Japanese took a beating as Chinese forces ambushed them from the mountainous terrain. It halted the Japanese advance in that part of China but did not stop the invasion of Hong Kong.
Missionaries were then herded into concentration camps. One such camp, the Weixian Internment Camp, was at Weifang in Shandong Province to the east of Beijing. It was next to CIM’s Chefoo School established by Hudson Taylor himself and run by the mission at the seaport of Yantai. Taylor’s eldest son Herbert, now 80 years old, joined the children and teachers as they marched into camp singing hymns.
Barbed wire and high walls with electrified wires surrounded the camp. Guard towers shadowed the perimeters. The internees woke up to starvation, guard dogs, prisoner badges and numbers, daily roll calls, bayonet drills, bed bugs, disease-ridden sanitation, and flies. There were a small number of repatriations of prisoners in the early days. Eric Liddell had the opportunity to be repatriated but gave up his place for a pregnant woman.
Changsha finally fell in June 1944, but 100 km to the south, the Battle of Hengyang was fought against a modern invasion force using only limited ammunition and weaponry. The city kept the enemy at bay for 48 days. The Japanese suffered huge losses before surrender but the effort broke them militarily and Japanese influence waned rapidly towards the eventual surrender. Both Changsha and Heng Yang were to become major centres in the ICC story.
It took eight long years, millions of military and civilian deaths, and the only use of nuclear weapons in history before the Allies finally defeated the Japanese and China regained its full sovereignty.
The Weixian internment camp was liberated on 17th August 1945, two days after the Japanese surrender, by six US soldiers dropped from a B24. Eric Liddell had already died of an untreated brain tumour in the February. It is said that he was much loved in the camp. A fellow inmate wrote, "The entire camp, especially its youth, was stunned for days, so great was the vacuum that Eric's death had left." One boy remembered that after his shoes fell apart, Liddell gave him his own - an old pair tightly repaired by tape. Imagine wearing a pair of the Olympian’s running shoes in a prison camp!
Liddell died with the words, “it is complete surrender” on his lips. Fitting last words for a lifetime of dedicated service to God. Also fitting are the words from Isaiah 40:31 on his memorial headstone: "They shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary." The city of Weifang commemorates Liddell to this day by laying a wreath on his grave.
War, murder, terror and feudalism for the Chinese people did not end in 1945. The battle between the determination of the Communists against the inefficiency of the Nationalists saw the latter pushed into the sea to Taiwan and the foreigners out. Mao Tse Tung stood victorious on the balcony above the Gate of Heavenly Peace overlooking Tian An Men Square in Beijing on 1stOctober 1949. Rumours say that he declared the founding of the People’s Republic of China saying, “the Chinese people have stood up” (中国人从站起来了);even if rumoured, the meaning was clear.
The Communists nationalistic utopia gelled over next decade as the country was at last unified under one ruler. Private property was banned. A system of informants was extremely effective in enforcing discipline to the Party. Religious freedom could not survive in this environment and out of all of the foreigners who had given decades of their lives and often their lives to China, only the most fervent supports of the CCP remained. The light continued to burn in the hearts of Chinese Christians.
Among the last were the CIM missionaries who left China in 1953. Many moved the short distance to the British Colony of Hong Kong where the laissez faire policy of the colonial administration allowed them almost infinite freedom of action. It was of course only intended to be for a short time until they were allowed back into China. The missionaries busied themselves while they were there but most ended their careers, indeed lives, in the Colony. That generation built education and other social welfare activities for an exploding immigrant population, supporting the Hong Kong Government in its development of services.
The superhuman industriousness of the migrants combined with a British administration that concerned itself only with making sure the Colony ran highly efficiently was an ideal foundation for the do-gooders. Many Christian organisations, notably the Catholic Church, and indeed other religious organisations, run such activities in Hong Kong. Hong Kong was full of refugees who had fled China with nothing, senior businessmen and peasants alike, and in the shanty towns that crawled up the hills of Hong Kong there was much need.
Up to the 1990’s, many of the old missionaries were nearing an uncertain retirement whereupon they often returned to the UK or the US after half a century working selflessly for the people of a foreign land.
Their legacy can be seen in the schools, hospitals, old people’s homes and welfare centres of Hong Kong. Steward’s Company was set up to run a school and now administers half a dozen major schools, welfare centres, a halfway house and the Peace Clinic, a medical and dental centre for low-income families in North Kowloon. Not to mention the High Rock Christian Centre, which touches this story at several points. High Rock was built as the Shatin Police Station, used as a Japanese military post, and has been rented since 1950 from Government by missionaries for social uses. Many of Stewards’ activities were individual mission works consolidated as the missionary founders retired.
The Home of Loving Faithfulness was established for the care of severely disabled children working alongside the Hong Kong Government Social Welfare Department. In that sense it was a forerunner of ICC some 35 years earlier. Mildred Dibden, a missionary who survived the Japanese invasion and incarceration, had established the Fanling Babies Home in the 1930’s for abandoned girl children – which post-war moved to High Rock as the Shatin Babies Home. A second generation of missionaries, Valerie Conibear and Wendy Blackmuir, themselves arrived in 1960 to work with the babies and when that work disbanded they moved to establish the Home – a work that continues today.
Apart from traders who continued to travel to China to the Canton trade fair, China was a closed shop for a generation from 1950 up to the death of Mao Tse Tung in 1976. Hong Kong glittered brightly as its prosperity soared; it was said in Guangdong Province that its streets were paved with gold. The sky over China at night contrasted an inky black. Refugees would fill nets with table tennis balls to float over to the light-filled Hong Kong hills; some ravaged by sharks, some by the propellers of patrol boats, some to reach the lights and ‘touch base’ to get their identity cards. Hong Kong was built on the backs of hungry people and the missionaries sought to touch them all.
Out of this fertile ground came one other young missionary to touch our story. She was searching for God’s life’s work for her by paying her own way on a ship until her money ran out. That eventually happened at the top of a gangplank in 1966 in Hong Kong. Jackie Pullinger has worked with drug addicts, prostitutes, refugees, migrants; some of the most unfortunate of Hong Kong’s immigrant society. She brushed against Hong Kong’s triad members (organised crime) who allowed her to continue her work, as a white woman in their world, even while she was converting their gang members. Jackie showed the tough guys that Christians care, they behave differently, and they are determined. Only God could touch those tough hearts and soften them.
These missionaries have left possessions, careers of high potential, and loved ones in the prime of their lives - perhaps never to see them again. They have often sold everything to raise cash because of a burning desire to serve God in a foreign land – a land called China. Generations of ordinary people have been called to this magnificent, powerful and yet awkward country – giving their whole lives and even their lives on a calling from God.
The process continues. New missionaries are constantly called. Not now with a Bible in one hand and a gun in the other; but maybe in T-shirt and jeans and holding a smartphone. Perhaps now the majority are young women. In their hearts there is a burning passion to see the love of God shared and His people cared for no matter how insignificant they may seem.
They are an asset to the county of their calling and prove that China is really a lucky nation.
It seems strange to call China a lucky nation. Its people have undergone three centuries of war and turbulence and a lack of industrial development up to 1990. Those people untouched by war have suffered disease, plague, suffering and instability on a daily basis. The feudal system kept peasants on the fields with no rights – the law was the Emperor’s gift. China in 1990 must be seen on the terms of a nation only just striking out from that feudalism into modernity – into a world perhaps 100 years ahead. But China has been lucky in that so many foreigners have fallen in love with it and have given their lives, sometimes literally, for the people of that country.
Deng Xiao Ping, the de facto leader of China went to Shenzhen in 1984 and launched the new Chinese Industrial Revolution by saying, “Poverty is not socialism, to get rich is glorious (致富光榮). That set off the madcap economic development that continues today. The next 20 years would be different but no less turbulent in China.
It was in the footsteps of this great heritage of missionaries that David had walked up that path towards the orphanage. As he walked away, he was already carrying the burden that they had passed onto him –that in due course he will pass on to others.