Born in the provincial capital of Kunming. When he had completed elementary school, an uncle who was a carpenter urged him to quit school and join him in Dali as an apprentice. After the Japanese invaded Chinese, conditions were so chaotic that schooling seemed to have little value. He went to Dali with his uncle.
This uncle was a Christian and knew many foreign missionaries, who often asked him to do work for them. He treated Wu like a son and took him to Sunday worship services. Wu soon became familiar with some hymns and the Bible. In 1940, an American Christian couple named Taylor moved to Dali and hired Wu and his uncle to renovate the house in which they lived. For several months, Wu and his uncle lived with these foreigners, who treated them well and would ask them to pray or read the Bible before starting work each day.
In 1941, when Wu was seventeen, sensing God’s moving in his life, he was baptized by the Reverend Harold Taylor in a stream outside the city. Almost immediately, because the Taylors had to leave the city to escape from the advancing Japanese, he placed the small church in the hands of the young convert. The Taylors had lived in Dali only two years, but Wu was highly impacted by stories of other missionaries who had resided in Dali a long time and had manifested God’s love to the people.
During the war with Japan, not all missionaries left Dali. Some came there from other parts of the China. The China inland Mission moved its hospital from Henan to Dali in 1942. People wounded from indiscriminate Japanese bombing were treated at the hospital. Wu first worked there as a carpenter. Then he took classes in medicine, finally becoming a doctor at the hospital, where he remained until 1988. When interviewed by Liao, he remembered the names of missionaries who had “devoted their lives to serving the people there.” All missionaries were forced to leave after the Communists took over in 1951.
In 1953, Wu married Zhang Fengxiang, a nurse who also worked at the mission hospital. Like Wu, she had been taught from youth by missionaries; she was baptized in a local church at the age of fifteen.
Over the next few decades, like so many others, Wu was interrogated by the Communists and forced to write “hundreds of confessions.” The Christians continued meeting for worship until their church was closed down. Some gave up their faith, but Wu persevered. “In the end, I simply prayed at home,” he recalls. On the relationship between his faith and his work, he said, “I would do whatever the authorities wanted me to do at work. However, secular politics couldn’t replace spiritual pursuits.”
His church was already operating on the principles of self-support, self-government, and self-propagation when the Three-Self Patriotic Movement was formed, but then all churches had to merge into one, until finally it too was closed.
In the early years of Communist rule, Wu did not openly criticize the government or reveal his faith in public, but during the Cultural Revolution, Christians, especially church leaders, were denounced. Some were killed for their faith. During that time, “only in silence could people pray and read Scriptures. It was a treat just to move our lips and shape the name of God.” His home was ransacked by the Red Guards, who burned all their religious books. He and his wife, along with other Christians, were interrogated, and paraded through the streets with dunce caps on their heads. At a public denunciation meeting, they were forced to bend down at a ninety-degree angle near towards the fire in which the books and papers from the church were burned.
The entire church building came under attack. Windows were broken, along with bookshelves and all furniture, as well as the pipe organ, which had been brought by the missionaries. Convinced that the Wus were spies planted by the missionaries before they left, the Red Guards dug a hole in the floor of the church building to try to find buried weapons or a telegraph machine. The Wus were “detained and tortured.” After each session, they would return to the hospital and serve as before. One day, some peasants put up a poster saying, “Thank you,” outside the hospital.
Of this time, Wu’s wife said, “We tried to make the best of a bad situation. We accepted the humiliation without resistance.” The memories were still too traumatic for Wu to relate to Liao more than four decades later.
In 1980, they were told by the United Front Department that they could resume Sunday services, which they did. Most of the church’s assets were not returned, however.
When he was being interviewed, Wu gave Liao Yiwu a copy of the Psalms, saying, “You should use it as a mirror to confess your sins and reform.” He urged the Buddhist monk accompanying Liao “to abdicate his pursuit of enlightenment through Buddha and look to Jesus for salvation.”
- Adapted from Liao Yiwu, God is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2011.