A Christian odyssey through three centuries of Chinese history.
Family stories have a way of unfolding gradually, in bits and pieces, and former longtime Philadelphia Inquirer correspondent Lin’s is no exception. The author grew up hearing occasional stories from her Shanghainese father, a preoccupied neurosurgeon, about his father, a minister, along with another relative, an uncle “with the curious name of Watchman Nee” who was China’s version of Billy Graham. Only after the post–Cultural Revolution détente were she and her family permitted to visit, and only then did the official repression of Chinese Christians begin to lift somewhat. Lin recounts the origins of the faith there with the arrival of European missionaries, their proselytizing coming at about the time that true opium, and not just that of the masses, was being imported in quantity—and often leading to a view among Chinese that there should be “no distinction between missionary and merchant.” In later years, writes the author, the communist state attempted to co-opt Christian churches with state-appointed clerics, when it wasn’t outright persecuting Christians to begin with. Lin traces the story of her family’s increasing involvement with organized Christianity over the years, finally leading to Watchman Nee, who early on in the communist era was accused of espionage and being an “economic criminal” because of his family’s bourgeois pharmaceutical business. By Lin’s account, he did what he could to work within the boundaries of the state’s evolving religious policy, sometimes, Lin reports, “coyly.” The author’s portraits of family members and other Shanghainese and their many difficulties during the worst years of the repression are affecting. As for the state of Christianity in China now, she expresses guarded optimism; though Watchman Nee’s works are still banned, she writes that one pastor told her the old repression would be “impossible” because “there are too many believers.”
An useful, interesting book for students of modern Chinese history and of missionary Christianity.