Liao Yiwu is not a Christian. Having grown up in the 60s, he writes, “My generation was told that religion was the tool employed by the imperialists to enslave people...” (14) Yet, he was interested in Christianity and interviewed many Christians to understand its place in China.
He interviewed Sister Zhang Yinzian, over a hundred years old. Her account of surviving the Communist takeover is heartbraking.
Liao went to Dali and spoke with Wu, an elder in the church there. Born in 1924, Wu told of his conversion, how open religious activities were banned during the Cultural Revolution, and church assets seized. Wu and his wife were accused of being spies for the “imperialists” who had left. They were tortured. In 1980 they were notified they could again hold the Sunday services that had been banned for over two decades.
Liao attended a church service in Dali, the only unbeliever there. He writes, “People took turns urging me to remove my worries and submit myself to God.” (78)
He visited Yunnan province and interviewed Dr. Sun. He had been a Communist official when he became a Christian. He resigned his position at the hospital and traveled around treating the poor for free. In 2009 his work was banned, the government accusing him of “ulterior motives.” He received an invitation from a Chinese church in the U.S. He came to the U.S. in 2009 and has not been allowed to return to China.
Liao tells the story of Wang Zhiming (through an interview with his son), who ministered in China's Yunnan province, was arrested and executed in 1973. Wang's son was himself arrested in 1976 but then released in 1980 and cleared of all charges.
Liao spoke with the most venerated Christian elder in Zehei County, Zhang Yingrong. Zhang was taken from seminary imprisoned during the Land Reform Movement. Zhang said, “Before 1982 nobody dared worship publicly. If we were caught, we would have to go through the same public denunciation meetings. Gradually, Christianity spread secretly among villages. In the past couple of years, the policy loosened up and there has been a revival. People flocked to God in droves, village after village. In the old days, people were fervent supporters of Communism. Nobody believes in that now. Even some Communist Party members have come to worship God and confess their sins. Some even donated money to help repair our church.” (125)
Liao interviewed Yuan Fusheng. His father had been imprisoned in 1958. He was granted parole in 1979. For the following ten years he was not to leave his residence in Beijing and had to regularly report his activities and thinking to the local public security bureau. His father soon resumed his religious activities. When asked about the government reaction today, Yuan said they get harassed regularly. It usually coincides with the political situation in Beijing. “They make it hard for fellow Christians to gather and hear my father's sermons.” (178) When the police come, Yuan said, his father stands up to them. “We are all Christians and, despite the challenges,” Yuan said, “I think the future looks bright here in China.” (179) (Note: Yuan's father passed away in 2005 but Yuan carries on his work.)
Liao interviewed Liu Shengshi who, though indoctrinated in Communism, became a Catholic in 1989. “By 1980, as China opened to the West, the government had somewhat relaxed its control over religion...” (192) Yet Liu has been imprisoned several times. She stays home and locks her door and prays. (196)
This is by no means a definitive record of Christianity in China. Liao has provided vignettes of individual Christians and their experiences. These stories are encouraging, even if Liao himself has never come to believe in Jesus. Liao's book shows once again that light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it! (John 1:5)
HarperOne, 231 pages.