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My Heart Looks in Faith

From the series Church Music of China

According to the preface in the bilingual edition of The New Hymnal, 102 of the 400 hymns included “either have lyrics or melodies composed by Chinese Christians or are adaptations of Chinese tunes.” (p. 2)

One such hymn that we sang quite often at the church I attended in Beijing was 我有主耶稣歌, which literally translated means “I Have Jesus.” The official English title used in the bilingual hymnal, however, is My Heart Looks in Faith (Song of the Yang-ze Boatman). It was always one of my favorites.

The melody, as indicated in the hymnal, is that of a traditional folk song sung by boatmen of the Yangtze River. In the past, goods and passengers travelling up and down the Yangtze River did so on boats that were rowed by men. To assist with regulating the pace of the rowing, the men would sing rhythmic songs.  This video clip from The Worksongs Project shows boatman working the rivers, probably in the 1920s or 1930s.

Today, they mostly haul tourists up and down tributary streams of the mighty river.

In 1931, Tzu-chen Chao wrote Christian lyrics for one of the common boatman songs. At the time he was a theology professor at Yenching University. The song was arranged in 1934 by Bliss Wiant, head of the music department of Yenching University from 1923 to 1951 and translated into English in 1953 by Frank W. Price, an American professor at Nanking Theological Seminary.

These are the English lyrics as found in The New Chinese Hymnal, #101:

My heart looks in faith to the Lamb Divine
His precious blood flows down for these sins of mine.

My heart looks in hope to the Son of God;
He sees me, He leads me on the road he trod.

My heart looks in love to Jesus my friend;
He does my soul strengthen and my life defend.

Faith and hope and love, all to Christ I give;
His soldier I will be so long as I live.

Here is the song with Chinese musical notations:

Given his declaration in the fourth stanza, I was saddened to read at BDCConline that, following Chao’s denunciation and demotion at Yanjing University in 1956, “he descended into obscurity and apparently lost his faith long before his death.”  

May that not be said of us.

Image credit: by Marshall Segal, via Flicker.
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Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio

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