As I look back on those who, through their writings and character, have had a strong impact on my life, principal among them is Wang [Wong] Ming-Dao. I first came across his book “A Stone Made Smooth”, in the early 80’s and subsequent translations of a very small number of his meditational writings made a powerful impact on me and formed much of my thinking. Opening one of his books last night after many years I was at once struck by how, even now, the effect of his writings linger on in the way I see the world and the church.
By most of today’s standards of “success” Wang’s life was marked by much failure and ineffectiveness. Born in to a dysfunctional family and extreme poverty in Beijing in 1900 Wang’s early life was marked by ill health. His father had committed suicide shortly before Wang’s birth.
Converted to Christianity at the age of 14 Wang went on the become a teacher in a Presbyterian School in Booding. However when, in 1920, he was baptised by immersion he was dismissed. It was also in 1920 that Wang officially changed his personal name from “Yong-shung” to “Mingdao” which means approximately “Testify to the Way.” He believed that God had called him to revolutionise the church. At this point in his life some of his family believed him to be mentally ill.
In 1925 Wang started meetings in his own home. These gatherings subsequently grew and by the 1940’s had become one of largest evangelical church in China at that time. It was known at the Christian Tabernacle.
Wang was married to Liu Jingwen in 1928. Liu and Wang were of a very different temperament which led inevitably to conflict – a fact which neither were afraid of addressing both publicly and as well as privately!
I think it was this that marked Wang out – he was fearlessly honest in everything and it was this honestly and integrity that ultimately brought him to the attention of the Chinese Communist Party. He was arrested in 1955 and along with his wife and 18 members of his church was imprisoned. Mentally broken at the hands of his captors Wang subsequently made a confession and plea for mercy and was released. However after recovering from his mental breakdown he recanted his confession and was rearrested. In 1963 he was sentenced to life in prison. Liu was sentenced to 15 years. Both were tortured repeatedly during their time in prison and labour camps. At one point Wang was handcuffed for a four month period and subjected to daily beatings and humiliation.
Following international pressure the Chinese authorities tried to release Wang in 1979 – but he refused unless his name was cleared. He was subsequently released in 1980 later stating that he had been “forced out by deception”!
Wang and Liu spent the final years of their life in a small apartment in Shanghai. One morning in April 1988 Wang heard a knock at his door. On answering he was somewhat surprised to discover Billy and Ruth Graham and four of their co-workers standing outside. Inviting the group in to their cramped apartment they shared together as brothers and sisters of their common Father.
In July 1991, Wang was diagnosed with blood clots on the brain. He died later that year. Liu died in 1992.
How can we account for the extraordinary influence of a man who spent 20 years of his life in prison – much of it in solitary confinement? We can’t – apart from God!
I heard news of Wang’s death in 1991 through a Christian Magazine. I later cut out the picture of him and his wife as it appeared in the article and have used above. Part of the obituary to him read as follows –
“The strength of Wang’s Christ-like witness was evidenced in much he wrote; such as the wise observation, “For no matter how zealously a Christian prays, no matter how regularly he attends meetings, no matter how much he goes about preaching, if he does not live out the life of Christ be will bring to God not glory be dishonour.” Like many Chinese believers today he certainly lived out his words.”
So today I want to honour Wang and Liu – and the thousands of Chinese Christians like them who stood and stand for truth and righteousness and who have often paid the ultimate price. Thank you.