Yin Renxian was born on January 19, 1887 in Hunan province. His father had served at one time as a high official in neighboring Jiangxi province. Yin studied classical Confucius teaching at home under a private teacher and English with another tutor to for several years.
Yin’s parents made their choice for his bride, whom he married in December 1906, not quite twenty years old. Sadly, his wife’s physical condition was very weak and she died shortly after the birth of her fourth child. Yin was devastated by her death and decided to entrust his four small children to close relatives, after which he left Hunan.
Having concluded that developing a modern economy was the only way to save China, Yin decided to go overseas to study economics. In 1913, Yin enrolled at the Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. After improving his English at Western Reserve, he entered Harvard University as a junior. Yin graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in economics in 1917. He worked at the First National Bank of Boston until the summer of 1919, when he enrolled in the Harvard School of Business Administration to work on a Master’s degree. In the fall of 1919, he received a letter from a cousin asking him to provide help in establishing the national textile industry, so Yin went back to China.
Though early in life Yin had negative attitudes toward Christianity, his mind started to change after he returned to China. His cousin (and boss) in Shanghai was a Christian. Over time, Yin came to think that the sacrificial services of many Christian missionaries had made great contributions to the education of the Chinese people, and made a profession of faith in Christ. Though he was baptized in a local church, he did not really experience personal salvation or spiritual regeneration.
In 1924, Yin married Faith Suyun Ding, who had graduated from Mount Holyoke and Columbia University. Upon her return to China, she worked with the YWCA in Shanghai. She was the daughter of Ding Limei, one of the best-known Chinese Christian leaders of the early 20th century. Although she was brought up in a strong Christian family, the effect of her American education upon her faith was quite negative.
In 1931, through the recommendation of Song Ziwen (T.V. Soong), now the Minister of the national Treasury Department, Yin Renxian was appointed Director of the Bureau of Tax on Wines, Spirits, and Tobacco of Shandong Province. The Yins took up residence in the city of Jinan, the provincial capital, where they plunged into a whirlwind of high-society dinner parties, theater, mah jong gambling parties, and dances.
As the four children by Yin’s previous marriage were beginning to grow up and attend high school and college, another son, David, was born to them. One afternoon, his parents found him drowned in the deep ditch that surrounded the house. That evening, Dr. Thornton Stearns, a local family friend who was a medical missionary, came and shared his own similar experience some years ago. He told how God used his son’s death to wake him up spiritually. After Dr. Stearns left, Yin went to his room upstairs and knelt down to pray, asking for God’s saving grace, whereupon he felt comfort deep in his heart.
On the very same day, Suyan was consoled by another friend, who used a touching illustration of a shepherd who cares for little lambs. After her father, Pastor Ding, read to her from the Bible, her doubts were gone and she again believed the truth of the Bible. Yin and Suyan began to study the Bible every day and she started to attend courses at a Bible school where her father served as president.
In February of 1932, Yin became the general director of the tax bureau in Henan province. On the third morning after taking the office, a Scripture teaching came to his mind, “If a man cleanses himself … he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.” (2 Timothy 2:21) This verse became his life-long motto.
Through Yin’s example, many people wanted to learn more about the Bible. After much prayer, the Yins decided to invite his colleagues to their home to study the Scriptures together. On February 5, 1933, thirty people came for the gathering at their home; the meetings continued for four years, until the Yins moved to Hunan.
The Yins provided care to the four grown children from his previous marriage and encouraged them to attend church, praying for them every day. By the end of 1933, all four of them had accepted Christ as their personal Savior and began to be actively involved in local church work. As the Japanese army was beginning to seize control of northern China, two of their children, Arthur and Grace, were on the train to a conference in Beidaihe on July 1, 1934. Suddenly, a bomb placed by a Japanese agent on the train exploded almost directly under their seat, fatally wounding both of them. At the funeral service, Yin spoke to the many guests about the saving power of Christ.
Together, Yin and Suyun carried out ministries to people in prison or living on the street. On October 9, 1935, more than twenty prison inmates were baptized. The Yins were also involved in various kinds of charitable work and ministry to students and to those working in harsh labor conditions.
When his boss began to put pressure on him to compromise ethical standards, Yin considered resigning, because he didn’t want to become a corrupt official himself. A few months later, Yin was called to Nanjing, praised for his record of honor and leadership, and appointed to replace his corrupt boss. Major newspapers cited Yin on the front page for the honesty and efficiency of his administration. He received a special award by the central government; the president of China, Chiang Kai-shek, invited him to a personal meeting.
As they had done before, twice a week Yin and Suyun hosted a Bible study group in their home with other members of China’s elite. Eventually, the governor of Henan province, General Shang Zhen, was converted.
In 1937 Yin was transferred to the province of Hunan to be the commissioner of finance. In November of 1938, as the Japanese army closed in on Changsha, the capital city of Hunan, a fire broke out before dawn on November 13 that destroyed almost the entire city of over half a million people. More than three thousand people were killed; many thousands lost their homes. When the person who was responsible did not want to lead the aid effort, Governor Zhang Zhizhong, asked Yin to take on the challenge. Working day and night, Yin sought to pull together all available resources to help solve the crisis. When the governor told Yin that he could not imagine how he had accomplished this work in such a short time, Yin answered, “By relying on God the Almighty every thing has been done,” and told the governor about the saving grace of Jesus Christ. The governor was so moved that he knelt down immediately to pray.
Yin soon was appointed to a new position in the national wartime capital of Chongqing under Finance Minister Kong Xiangxi (H. H. Kong), brother-in-law of both Song Ziwen and Chiang Kai-shek.
In 1933, Yin first heard about Chefoo School in Yantai, Shandong Province, founded by the China Inland Mission (CIM) for missionaries’ children. That prompted him to think that China needed a Christian school like Chefoo for Chinese students. More than ten years later, he and another friend established a school for refugee children in Chongqing, the temporary capital during World War II. In February 1943, the school officially opened its door to the 120 students who enrolled for the first semester. Yin served as the headmaster of Holy Light School and provided leadership for the school, including spiritual direction, academic affairs and financial resources. All of the teachers were strong Christian believers who shared a heart for true Christian education. Within a few years, the school was recognized by the national education ministry as one of the model schools for the entire country.
When the war ended in August 1945, Yin left his government job and devoted all his time to Holy Light School, which he relocated to Suzhou in eastern China. Though Yin hoped that the school could become a Christian university, the entire situation changed due to the civil war. After the Chinese Communist Party came into power nation-wide, Christian meetings were halted and Yin was forced to resign. Within a few months, the school was ordered to merge with a secular middle school.
Yin Renxian was now 64 years old. He and his wife did not have much savings or assets and Suyun was in poor health, but their home remained open for friends to gather to study the Bible and worship together. On July 6, 1955, Suyun passed away. When visiting her grave one time, Yin decided to start writing about how he and Suyun had experienced God’s grace in their life.
During the Great Leap Forward, China experienced a famine, in which many millions died of malnutrition. The severe malnutrition caused Yin’s hands to tremble and his body to swell up. In the spring of 1964, Yin finally finished writing about his spiritual journey; a few months later, on August 30, 1964, he passed away at the age of 78. Yin Renxian’s testimony of thirty years in God’s grace was published in Hong Kong.
During eight short years of operation from 1943 until 1951, only about one hundred students completed their high school education and graduated from Holy Light School. Distinguished alumni from the Holy Light School included ambassadors, judges, professors, a film producer and a pastor. Their achievements are inseparable from the legacy of Yin Renxian.
- Wenzong Wang, “Yin Renxian: A Light in the Darkness” in Salt and Light: More Lives of Faith that Shaped Modern China, edited by Carol Lee Hamrin with Stacey Bieler (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2010), 123-142.