Chinese Church Voices

The Faith of One Who Grew up at Peking University

From the series Stories of Faith from Chinese University Alumni

Chinese Church Voices is an occasional column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.

This is the fifth in our series of testimonies from alumni of Tsinghua University and Peking University. These testimonies are translations of selected chapters from books published by ReFrame MinistriesThe Reason for You II: Tsinghua Testimonies and three volumes of Peking University Testimonies. In each case we post an excerpt from a testimony and include a link to the full testimony in downloadable form. Watch for more in the coming months.

For more information about these testimonies, see “Capturing Chinese Stories.”

Soul-Deep Feelings for Peking University and Christ’s Salvation

Yanke Zheng (BS in Chemistry,1992)

My relationship with Peking University began with my parents.

Both my parents were born in a small town in Fujian province. They both came from peasant families. In 1959 my father was admitted to Peking University; he majored in chemistry. He stayed at Peking University and joined the faculty after graduation. Later my mom transferred to a teaching position at the affiliated high school of Peking University. I was born at the university’s school hospital and grew up attending the university’s affiliated preschool, elementary school, and high school. Then in 1992, I received a recommendation to attend Peking University and later became a student of chemistry at the school.

Peking University is imprinted in my bones. It is even part of my name.1 All my neighbors and my parents’ friends were instructors, professors, or researchers at Peking University and Tsinghua University, but I never knew if any of them were Christians.

Searching for the Meaning of Life

Like most people born in China during the 70s, I was brought up with an atheistic education. However, I was never really a strong believer in atheism; I always felt that there are things that we can’t see or touch, but they truly exist. When I was about 10 years old, I thought about the difficult question of death.

I still remember that at that time my family bought a 12-inch, black-and-white TV and we watched a TV show called “Forget Me Not.”In that show, the character, played by Shu Fang, was a highly educated person who was sent to work in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. When he received a telegram that his father was dying, he immediately hurried home. But when he arrived, his father had already passed away. He was only able to see the smoke rising from the crematorium. When I saw that scene, I was shocked and scared. I could almost feel the complete darkness and silence brought by death. To me, death meant eternal separation from sunshine, warmth, laughter, and loved ones.

I felt strongly that this could not possibly be what the end of life would look like. Life is too beautiful to end that way!

But the pressures of life did not give me more time to think about this. Primary school, middle school, and high school—every step I took, I tried my best to get the highest scores. I worked very hard until I was accepted into Peking University. When that was done, I had finally fulfilled the first important goal of my life. At that time, I was filled with passion and was determined to be the Madame Curie of China. But for the first time, I clearly saw my limits. I suddenly realized that my intelligence, physical power, energy, and abilities were not that extraordinary. My dream of being a great scientist was shattered. I wondered about the meaning of life.

At that time, I started to examine my life. What I found was selfishness, laziness, pride, and comfort-seeking. By this time, it was the 90s and the economy was soaring because of the reform and opening up policy. However, what came with it was a polluted environment, corrupted morality, the worship of money, and diminished dignity. I knew deeply that I was a sinner and everyone else was a sinner as well. My heart was thirsty for holiness even though I did not know where this yearning came from. The harder I tried, however, the tighter the bondage of sin became. I felt I was struggling in vain. When I wanted to help and care for others, selfishness stopped me; when I wanted to congratulate my friend for succeeding, jealousy pierced me. This continued for several years, until I started having dull headaches.

Grabbed by a Strange Touch

In the eyes of others, my life was plain sailing. I graduated from college, went abroad, and then got married—all of which went very smoothly. I was even given the opportunity to work at the same company where my husband worked when I was still in graduate school. But in my heart, I knew how puzzled I was and the struggles I had deep within me. In the end, I realized what I yearned for was salvation. I looked forward to a hand coming down from heaven to lift me out of my sins, cleanse me, and take me to a bright and holy place. But where would this kind of salvation come from? I didn’t know the answer, but I knew I had to get it, or I would never have true peace and happiness.

When I was pursuing my graduate degree in Evanston, Illinois, two Korean PhD students who worked in the same lab with me told me about Jesus and shared the gospel with me. A young woman from Macao, Amanda, who worked for another boss, was also there and told me she was a Christian, too. At that time, I thought people who went to church were strange. We finally had come out of a blind worship in China, how could we dive into another form of blind worship again?

I told Amanda the questions in my heart, she smiled and told me, “It is wrong to worship man, but God is worthy of our worship.”

“But I’ve heard that God killed a lot of people in the Old Testament?” I said. In fact, I had not really read the Bible myself; what I knew was mostly what I had heard from others. I tried to read the Bible once when I was in high school, but when I came to passages like “so and so gave birth to so and so, and he lived for a few hundred years and died,” I felt extremely bored. I put down the Bible after only a few pages.

Amanda frowned, “God has his right to do what he decides to do, because our lives are given by him.”

Each time my Korean friends told me about Jesus, the final judgement, and heaven and hell, I was fascinated. On my way back from work I thought to myself, “I will just believe in Jesus.” After I got home, I called my husband who was working in another city. I suggested that maybe we should believe in Jesus. My husband answered with a very firm “No,” so I decided I would not think about this anymore. I focused on my work, my lab experiments, my work visa application, and my reunion with my husband. But at the same time, I still had confusion and struggles in my heart.

Since my work visa wouldn’t start until October 1, 1999, I decided to use the Labor Day holiday in September to hang out with my college friends XinSheng Wang and Jingyue Yang. Wang studied in Missouri and Yang in Kansas. At that time, Wang was already a believer and she arranged for us to attend a Chinese Christian retreat at the Lake of the Ozarks. I only went to visit my friends and wasn’t planning on listening to the gospel. I even debated with my friends on why we shouldn’t believe in Jesus.

But when the pastor gave an altar call, I was touched and could not find a good reason to reject Jesus, so I stood up. A sister immediately came over to lead me in prayer. When I told her I was not ready, she looked embarrassed and didn’t know what to do.

After the trip, I returned to Chicago in a happy mood. That Friday, when I got off from work, Amanda came over and asked how the retreat was. I told her about standing up when the pastor gave the altar call and that I was willing to be a Christian, but not ready yet. Amanda told me in a serious way, “It is God who decides when you become a Christian, not you.” I felt that was God talking to me through her.

The next day, September 11, 1999, was a Saturday. It was early fall, and the weather was sunny and hot. That afternoon, a schoolmate drove me to a grocery store to do some shopping. On the way I was very unsettled, and I felt a strong impulse urging me to not step back, but to become a Christian. Even though I heard no special voice nor saw a vision, the feeling was real and true. When I got back from the grocery store, I wanted to make one last attempt to say no to God, so I called my husband. But when the line connected, we could only hear loud noises. There was no way we could talk.

I hung up the phone. I knew there was no way to back down now but wondered what the gospel is. What does it mean to believe in Jesus? I dug out the tape Amanda had given me previously. It was a recording of some sermons. I laid in my narrow bunk bed and listened to it. Tears rolled down my face, but my heart was lightened and relieved. I finally found what I had been looking for. I had wandered too long, and now I was finally home!

This is an excerpt from an English translation of the original Chinese testimony which is available for download. The original Chinese testimony is found on pages 111–119 of《从未名湖到生命泉(一):百名北大学子的信仰之旅》(Peking University Testimonies 1) available from ReFrame Ministries.

Read the full testimony to learn about Yanke Zheng’s life after trusting in Christ including during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More about the Author

Yanke Zheng was born in Beijing. She was a student of chemistry at Peking University from 1992 to 1997 (including a year of military training). She currently lives in Colorado, USA. She came to the Lord in Evanston, Illinois on September 11, 1999, and was baptized at Midland, Michigan on June 17, 2000. Now she serves as a lay leader at a Chinese church in Colorado.

Her favorite Bible verse is “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31).


  1. Translator’s note: In Chinese, Peking University is also referred to as “Yan Yuan.” The first character “yan” is part of the author’s name.
Share to Social Media
Image credit: Markus Leo on Unsplash.
ChinaSource Team

ChinaSource Team

Written, translated, or edited by members of the ChinaSource staff.          View Full Bio

Are you enjoying a cup of good coffee or fragrant tea while reading the latest ChinaSource post? Consider donating the cost of that “cuppa” to support our content so we can continue to serve you with the latest on Christianity in China.