Stacey Bieler together with Carol Hamrin edited three volumes of Salt and Light: Lives of Faith that Shaped Modern China. Here she talks about how Salt and Light came to be and the impact it has had on her own life.
1. What is the Salt and Light series?
Salt and Light is a three-volume series of short biographies of Chinese Christians who lived between 1850-1990. Each volume focuses on 8-10 different people. The second volume has two chapters with second-generation stories: a man named Yan and his son, and the Xu family—parents and children.
Although we could have focused a volume on just educators, we chose not to because Chinese Christians were active in so many aspects of Chinese society. The biographies include a writer, a filmmaker, a businessman, a diplomat, YMCA and YWCA directors, a philosopher, cultural commentators, a judge, social activists, doctors, literacy and rural workers, an artist, and a general.
In writing the articles, we asked each author to not just tell the story of what the person was known for, but to include information about their families and how their Christian faith motivated their actions. Many were active in their professions, but also invested in helping to address societal problems, such as promoting literacy, protecting children, and fighting leprosy. These individuals were also active in local church life, some helping to establish local churches.
2. How did you decide which stories to include?
We initially thought about dividing the books into different professions, but quickly saw how presenting a variety of professions in one book would be more encouraging and rich. We looked for writers who had recently finished their PhDs. They had already done the research and we could squeeze the best they found into a short chapter. One author had just finished research on her grandfather, Huang Naishang, the revolutionist. Other writers included professors, graduate students, and independent historians from the United States, China, Hong Kong, and Australia.
3. You've said—in reference to Salt and Light—that you have many Chinese heroes. Who are some of these, and why are they heroes?
The 1910s-1940s were unstable, dangerous times in China. Chinese students returned from being educated in the United States or Europe with dreams, but it was not easy to fulfill those dreams. Each person needed strength and hope to persevere, and a willingness to serve under difficult and uncertain circumstances.
For example, Mei Yiqi became president of Tsinghua University in 1931. With a war looming, he needed to keep the students studying and plan for evacuation of the best library in China. Once Tsinghua University, Beijing University, and Nankai University moved to the south in Kunming, Mei kept all the students and faculty safe and fed under horrible circumstances, including afternoon bombings, lack of books, and high inflation. That is servant-leadership.
Shi Meiyu, a daughter of a Christian family who studied medicine at the University of Michigan, returned to China in 1896 and chose to set up a hospital in inland China (Jiujiang, Jiangxi Province). There she treated thousands of patients each year and trained hundreds of “nurse-evangelists” who traveled to poor rural areas. This was going beyond what was expected but she served those who needed her. Later she and Jennie Hughes set up the Bethel Band that sent evangelists across China, including Song Shangjie (John Sung).
A third example is Yan Yangchu, who began the first urban literacy movement across China. He then turned to the countryside, setting up a model for reviving rural life in Dingxian village near Beijing, through literacy, agriculture, health, economic, self-government, and citizenship. He shared his dream with other returned students who joined him in the countryside. Through many troubles he kept going because he was convinced that this was not his work, but God’s.
His wife was one of six Xu sisters who served China. The Xu family (Huie Kin) regularly holds family reunions. Getting to know members of these families through letters and meeting them has been a special treat.
These men and women and many others described in Salt and Light are my heroes because of their love and commitment to God and China. They served long, hard years and found joy.
The three volumes in English are available on Amazon and on the Wipf and Stock website; two volumes in Chinese are available at www.ChineseResourceMinistry.org in the US and at www.baojiayin.com (www.goodnewsinchina.com).
Brent Fulton is the president of ChinaSource and the editor of the ChinaSource Quarterly. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of... View Full Bio