The Dali Episcopal Church was founded by two professors from Huazhong University, Wuhan, who moved to Dali in 1937. With funding from the Episcopal Diocese of Shanghai, they bought buildings on one and a half acres of land. The buildings were converted into “a chapel, an orphanage, and an elementary school” (Liao, 51, quoting Wu Yungsheng, History of Christianity in Dali).
Hou, who was young priest at the time, moved to Dali in 1948 as the new rector of the congregation.
During the civil war, Hou focused his energies on caring for thousands of Christians who had fled the fighting. He tried to remain neutral in the struggle between the Nationalists and Communists. After the Communist victory, when those who had been connected to foreign missionaries were denounced, he refused to renounce his faith.
When one official asked, “Are you trying to challenge the power of the revolutionary masses?” Hou did not answer, for which he received the nickname, “The Silent Lamb” (Liao 52). When local officials ordered him to turn over the school to the government, he refused. He couldn’t pay the utility bills, so classes were conducted by daylight only.
One night while he was prayed, officials came and arrested him, charging him with “sabotaging school facilities and engaging in counterrevolutionary actions” (Liao 53). Later, he was charged with financial corruption and then with raping young female orphans. After a year in detention, he was released because of lack of evidence for the charges.
When he refused to join the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), he was deprived of his religious title and barred from participating in any religious services. In 1957 he was labeled as a Rightist. The next year, the church property was taken over and turned into a chemical plant. He was given a room in the workers’ quarters, but his wife and daughter returned to Chengdu and lived with her parents.
Hou was often brought before public denunciation meetings, where he was pinched and bitten by his fellow townsmen. In 1964, during one of Mao’s political campaigns, he faced intense and unremitting interrogation. Finally, during one such event, “he simply stopped talking and” – after fingering his cross – “dropped to the ground, dead” (Liao 54).
His body was cremated a few hours after his death; there was no autopsy.
In 1980, after Deng Xiaoping’s modernization campaign began, the government officially exonerated Hou of all the charges against him. His wife and daughter were never reimbursed for the losses that they had suffered. “Church assets were sold off by the government to private developers” (Liao 55). A hospital now stands on the property.
Adapted from Liao, Yiwu, God Is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China. New York: HarperCollins, 2011.