Salt and Light: Lives of Faith That Shaped Modern China, edited by Carol Lee Hamrin with Stacey Bieler. Three volumes; 240, 239, 261 pages respectively. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2009-2011. Approximately $28 each at Amazon.com.
Reviewed by Daniel H. Bays
This is a unique set of publications. The three volumes consist of a total of 27 biographical sketches of Chinese Christians of the modern era, most of them living in the first half of the twentieth century, i.e. the Republican Period. Only two are Catholics, the rest are Protestants. The volumes’ purpose is to draw some connections between earlier generations of Chinese Christians and today’s rapidly growing Christian communities in China. That is, the editors and others associated with the project thought that today’s generation of Christians, both in China and the Diaspora, were basically ignorant of their own history and their forebearsthat they just did not know very much about those Chinese Christians who lived and died several decades ago. Thus, there was a normative or hortatory aim to the project. This also meant that a premium was put on the task of translating the three volumes into Chinese in a timely manner since Chinese Christians, most of them lay people, were the main target.
Another purpose, however, was to provide reliable biographical information to anyone interested in the historical origins and early paths of development of recent Christian growth in China, whether themselves Christian or not. With the rise of interest among scholars in Chinese Christianity in recent years, it could be predicted that many would be interested in these volumes. This meant that the chapters had to be not only didactic but academically acceptable and well documented. This was not an easy aim to achieve, but I am glad to report that Carol Hamrin and Stacey Bieler accomplished quite well that delicate task. There is definitely a whiff of hagiography in these essays, but it is faint, and does not detract from the viability of them as works of scholarship. The documentation is clear, used objectively, and is actually quite rich; the end notes were more copious than I had anticipated and included many items of which I previously knew nothing.
A profile of the essays indicates that they include relatively few politicians or highly connected church people; nevertheless, there are a few of theseRong Hong, Yu Richang (David Z. T. Yui) of the YMCA, the writer Lin Yutang, and theologian Timothy Tingfang Lew (Liu Tingfang). The 27 subjects on the list are scattered among many professions and walks of life; they include seven women. Many were in educational circles and several were in the YMCA or the YWCA. Among the authors, Stacey Bieler wrote six of the chapters, John Barwick wrote three, and Fuk-tsang Ying and Carol Hamrin each wrote two. Hamrin also wrote the majority of the introductions to each of the three volumes, which are a useful addition.
An interesting feature of all three volumes is the several quotations from distinguished scholars on the back cover and (in volumes 2 and 3) on two pages of the front matter. Thus, such giants as Mark Noll, Philip Jenkins, and Lamin Sanneh offer words of praise. My own positive reaction to Volume 1 is also among these. I think that the most meaningful such inscription, however, is in Volume 3. He Guanghu, Professor of Religious and Christian studies, People’s Renmin University, Beijing, and one of China’s truly outstanding Christian intellectuals, gives his full endorsement to these three volumes as showing the power of faith and the fruits of faith-based hard work. I attended a couple of meetings early on, when Professor Hamrin and a few other people were starting to work on this project. She and Stacey Bieler had a vision and persevered, with the help of others, including, of course, the other authors. As we can see today, the result has been excellent.
Image credit: Bamboo by Michael, on Flickr