Lin Pu-chi was the first son of Lin Dao’an and his wife Zhan Aimei, both of whom were missionary-educated Christians. Lin Dao’an’s father identified himself as a Christian and had worked for the missionaries, so Lin Pu-chi was born into a family with two generations of Christian experience. His father had been trained as a doctor by the missionaries, and wanted the best education for his son, so he enrolled him in a new school being opened by an Irish Anglican clergyman and Church Missionary Society missionary, Wiliam S. Pakenham-Walsh in 1907.
St. Mark’s Anglo-Chinese School was the first in the CMS system to use English as the medium of instruction. It was p[art of the new wave of Western education that missionaries took advantage of after the abolition in 1905 of the imperial exam system, which had concentrated solely upon mastery of the Confucian Classics. Lin Pu-chi learned English from Gertrude Pakenham-Walsh, along with other subjects common to the British school curriculum, including physical education.
With a frail constitution, Lin Pu-chi did not do well in the Western sports so highly valued by missionaries, but he excelled in English. To improve his language skills, he read the Encyclopedia Britannica and memorized whole pages of the massive, multi-volume Oxford English Dictionary. His winning speech in a debate competition stressed the need for China to have railroads - a hotly debated topic at the time - and to build them herself. Both aspects of this speech foreshadowed major emphases in Lin’s later outlook - China’s need for modernization and for independence from foreign control. By, 1912, when St. Mark’s merged with otherCMS schools and moved to a new campus with the name Trinity College, he and his classmates were wearing Western clothes.
At the same time, Lin loved the Chinese Classics, and Pakenham-Walsh encouraged him. He had students read the Analects alongside an open Bible, urging them to compare the two and see how they agreed with each other. To the end of his life, Lin remained a heavily “Confucianist” Christian. In his senior year, Lin announced his decision to enter the Anglican ministry.
To that end, he matriculated at prestigious St. John’s College, run in Shanghai by the Anglicans and American Episcopalians. Like Trinity College, St. Johns conducted classes and extra-curricular activities in English. Here he studied English literature, German, political science, European history, metaphysics, and Christians religious instruction. He continued his reading of the Chinese classics, however, though few did so and the school, though requiring courses in of Chinese literature and philosophy, placed no importance upon them. The American president, Dr. Francis Lister Hawks Pott, who had married a Chinese girl, tried his best to inculcate a love of sports in his students. Once again Lin, though moderately good at tennis, poured his energies into the Literary and Debating Society. In a speech he called for the Chinese masses to rise up and support the new republican government. “When he spoke, his sentences were complex and layered, requiring the concentration of his listener. His voice was loud and strong, but his delivery somewhat stilted.’ (Lin, 61)
Soon, he was elected president of the debating society and editor of the school newspaper, the Echo. When commencement came, he gave the keynote speech, in which he urged his classmates to study classical Chinese literature, saying “we owe it to posterity to preserve our literature… . It is part of our patriotism, a part of our spirit of nationality.” (Lin 65) He received two gold medals, for fiction and for the best English essay; with two others he was given a silver cup for winning an interclass debate.
To gain theological training, he travelled to the United States in 1918 to enrol at the Episcopal Divinity School in Philadelphia. Concurrently, he took classes in Philosophy at Pennsylvania State University. The Social Gospel movement was in full stride at the time, so Lin would have been taught theology from a “modernist,” or liberal point of view, with an emphasis upon the human side of Christ and the duty of Christians to participate in society. With a strong confidence in the natural powers of humans, modernists played down the necessity of personal conversion to Christ and a life of holiness, and trumpeted the reforming potential of governments, leaning towards socialist politics.
While in the United States, he joined the Chinese Students’ Alliance and was elected as Secretary. As a fierce patriot, he joined the enraged students in writing a letter to the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee protesting the betrayal of China by the Allies when they “gave” Shandong Province to the Japanese after World War I.
Receiving a virtual summons from his parents to return home to marry a woman whom they had chosen for him so that his younger brother would be free to get married, Lin set aside his personal plans for further academic study and fulfilled his Confucian duty to sacrifice himself and obey his elders for the sake of the family. Settling for a Bachelor in Sacred Theology from the seminary and am M.Phil. degree from Penn State, he Returning to China in 1920. The Young Anglican Clergyman
In 1921, he married Ni Guizhen, the sister of Watchman Nee, who had severed connections with Western missionaries and started his own indigenous movement, called by outsiders the Little Flock. On the one hand, Lin agreed with Nee’s protests against the missionaries who insisted upon retaining control of the churches they had founded, and who sometimes treated their Chinese colleagues in a condescending fashion. He stated his dissatisfaction with the Western domination of the Chinese church openly in articles for the Chinese Recorder, a magazine read by Protestant missionaries and their Chinese colleagues. China needed missionaries of the right kind, he said, those that would live among the people and advance the Kingdom of God in China. He also sided with those who held annual demonstrations to protest the “Day of Humiliation” of China by Japan May 9th, 1915, declaring, “The Christian Church should take an active part in the keeping of the Ninth of May, ‘Lest we forget.’” (Lin 94).
On the other hand, he valued the heritage of the universal church that he found in Anglicanism, with its legacy of scholarship and liturgy, and joined in the general Anglican condemnation of the independent preachers and their followers.
Lin received ordination as a deacon in 1921 and as a priest in 1922. He became dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Fuzhou in 1924.
Starting in 1925, anti-foreign and anti-Christian protests began to flare up all over China, blossoming into the Anti-Christian Movement in 1926 that led to the evacuation of hundreds of missionaries from their stations in the interior. One day in 1927, anti-foreign protesters accosted Lin as he walked home wearing his clerical collar and a Western-style suit. The grabbed him, shouted curses of him as a “running dog of the foreigners,” tied him up and dragged him t a platform built for protests near the entrance to Trinity College.
When they demanded that he renounce his faith, he said, “Never. Kill me if you want.” A friend offered to send for help from the US consulate, but he refused, saying, “This is a Chinese affair. I’ll handle it.”
When they badgered him about Christianity being a Western religion, he responded, “Do you know Confucius? Do you know Mencius? Christianity is not a foreign faith. It’s what the great sages told us to look forward to. And that is why I will never deny my Lord and Master.” (Lin 106)
In addition to his duties as dean of the cathedral, Lin taught theology at Union Theological College of Fuzhou Christian University and ran a chapel connected to the the cathedral. After little more than a year, however, he was asked to become President of Trinity College. Anti-foreign protests were forcing foreigners to hand over control of their institutions to Chinese, and Lin was the most qualified candidate to succeed a missionary.
In the highly-charged atmosphere of the times, however, Lin encountered one difficulty after another. In 1928 class divisions led to deep schisms in the schools. Protesters charged Lin with being a minion of the foreign imperialists. He was stubborn and wouldn’t back down. The Middle School was closed down. No students wanted to be baptized; the school was ineffective in providing either converts or workers for the church, its two original purposes. He was frustrated that he was not living among Chinese and reaching his countrymen for Christ. He tendered his resignation in 1930.
Lin Pu-chi went to Kaifeng for a while to serve as headmaster of St. Andrews, a small Anglican school, where his stern Confucianism made him both confident of himself and critical of the work of those under him.
In 1932 he accepted the position of an assistant priest under Yu Ensi, dean of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Shanghai. St. Peter’s was independent of missionaries, fully run by Chinese. Some members were Communists. Lin received no salary from St. Peter’s. He earned money as assistant headmaster for a public school for Chinese boys operated by the Shanghai government. He rented an apartment for his growing family on Won On Terrace, in “Little Tokyo.” On Oct. 9, 1932, gave a nationalistic sermon at the cathedral.
At this time, he and Ni Guizhen had one daughter, Martha, and three sons, Paul, Jim, and Tim. At home, Lin was a very strict disciplinarian, and even more at school. As assistant headmaster of the school they attended, he gave his son a “B” just because he was his son, and offered little encouragement even when his boys did well.
Lin helped open St. Peter’s new branch on the western edge of Shanghai. He led worship, with Ni Guizhen playing the piano.
In 1935, they moved to a house off Jiaozhou Road that was closer to both St. Peter’s and the western chapel. Watchman Nee and his family lived across the street. His wife Charity and Ni Guiahen had been friends for years, and now they grew even closer. After a while, Ni Guizhen stopped playing the piano for her husband’s worship services, and eventually ceased attending altogether, switching to Watchman Nee’s congregation. She accused Lin of preaching dry, lifeless sermons, in contrast to the deeply spiritual teaching of Nee. “You have knowledge, but no passion,” she charged.
Angry with his wife for leaving his church, Lin moved out of their bedroom. He felt a similar resentment towards the new crop of independent preachers like Watchman Nee, Wang Mingdao and John Song, and joined with other Anglican clergy to criticize these men for stealing sheep from established churches.
By then, he was editor of the Chinese Churchman, a Chinese-language Anglican magazine read by among clergy and church members throughout China. His wife’s actions had caused him to lose face.
When the Japanese attacked Shanghai in 1937, Lin Sent his family to Hong Kong for a while until he thought it was safe for them to return. Later that year, he and they welcomed thirty relatives fleeing Japanese attacks on Fuzhou.
Even under Japanese occupation, Lin’s sons went to the middle school affiliated with St. John’s. Martha enrolled in its medical school.
In 1943, all foreigners were interned, and Lin had to take over as principal of the school, reporting to the Japanese. Serving under the hated invaders was more than his patriotism could handle, so he resigned from the school and went to work for Watchman Nee’s chemical company, China Biological and Chemical Laboratories (CBC). His salary came in the form of food. He earned cash teaching English at St. Mary’s Hall, the girls’ school affiliated with St. John’s. His sons also worked at CBC.
After the war, he became assistant to his friend and mentor, Y.Y. Tsu, now Bishop, at the national office for the Anglican and Episcopal Church in China, the Sheng Kung Hui (Sheng Gong Hui).He also resumed work as editor of the Chinese Churchman. Even though he believed that Chinse Christians should support their own churches, he also asked for donations from foreign missions to help starving clergy in the countryside during the rampant inflation.
Martha graduated from St. John’s with a medical degree in 1946. Paul was also in medical school, but wanted to go to the US. As the Communists advanced in 1949, Lin did all he could to get two of his sons, Paul and Jim, out of China and to the United States. Through several tense days, he used relationships with both family and friends to obtain passports, visas, and plane tickets for them.
Under Communist Rule
Lin Pu-chi did not support the Chinese Communist Party, but when the government insisted that foreigners relinquish control of all their institutions, he was glad that Chinese Christians could finally be free from the control of foreigners. Believing that Christians would be tolerated under the new regime, he persuaded his bishop, Y.Y. Tsu to return to China from Hong Kong, where he had fled. As the campaigns against America gathered force, however, Tsu left in 1950 to rejoin his wife in America, where she had become a citizen.
Along with eighteen other Protestant clergy, Lin signed a statement to foreign mission boards, declaring that the missionary era was over. The church would have to be purged of unnecessary Western elements. As a worker in the national office of the Anglican church, oversaw the details of adjustments to the new regime, including the transfer of mission schools and hospitals to the state.
Before he had to step down as editor of the Chinese Churchman, in 1951, he wrote editorials encouraging readers to join the TSPM; his tone was already self-critical. He and others had relied on British and American “institutions and traditions.” Their sermons had been “perfunctory, bloodless, uninspiring, all intellect and no emotion.” (172)
He was elected as one of fine Anglican clergy to “carry on the work of promoting the ‘Movement to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea’ as well as the ‘Three-Self Reform Movement.’” Under intense pressure to join in the attacks on all who had associations with the Americans, Lin denounced Bishop Tsu as “a lackey and accomplice of American imperialism and degenerate and sinner in our church.” (173) Criticized Y.Y. Tsu, his former friend, mentor, and bishop, for having family in America, even though his own sons were there!
Despite this attempt to placate the new authorities, after Korean War, Lin had no church position and no salary. He worked part-time in churches, but without pay. He was kept out of the inner circle by younger clergy who were more politically in step with the new regime. His wife’s relationship to Watchman Nee, who was increasingly coming under attack, coupled with the American residence of his sons, caused his loyalty to the government to be questioned.
He loved the Chinese classics, including The Dream of the Red Chamber, and the stories of the Buddhist and Daoist Immortals. An essay on them was published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1918 when he was in university. He was still a Christian, however, and would sing the Anglican hymns in English when alone.
The constant pressure and uncertainty of when they would again be visited by Red Guards aggravated his heart trouble and high blood pressure. Lin was Bed-ridden in 1966. After he recovered, he had to care for his wife, now also bedridden and losing her mind.
In their later years, he and his wife didn’t go to church outside. They stayed home to avoid trouble. Like a good Chinese grandfather, he made his grandchildren learn one Chinese character a day. He also oversaw Julia’s piano studies and encouraged her to develop as a musician, even though he had forbidden his daughter Martha to follow her dream to be a pianist. He would lie in bed and talk to Terri about his favorite books and novels. Possessing a big, powerful voice, he could discourse at length on Western or Chinese history and philosophy. As he grew older, he became quite soft and warm to his grandchildren. Sometimes, all four would gather around him close, and he would let the youngest of them plait his beard! Julia remembers that he could still quote pages from the English dictionary from memory.
He never mentioned Christianity, however, aware that such topics were dangerous to discuss even within the privacy of one’s home.
During one period, he was taken to the ”Study Group for Christian Leaders” for more than two months. The authorities decided he was a spy because he wrote to America and received money from his sons through their aunt in Hong Kong. To avoid further suspicion, he stopped writing them in 1971.
In the same year, his wife, whom he called, “Bessie,” died, worn out from all the years of abuse and torment. They had celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary not long before.
After Nixon visited China in 1972, Lin applied for visa to the USA, longing not only to see his sons and grandchildren, but to return to the place that he always thought lived up to its name, “Beautiful Country.” His application was denied.
Taking advantage of the diplomatic thaw after Nixon’s visit, Lin called sons in the spring of 1973. He died on May 9 of that year and, unlike his wife, received a proper funeral.
As the long bibliography at the end of Jennifer Lin’s biography proves, Lin was a genuine scholar and prolific author, in Chinese as well as English.
Lin Pu-chi was a child of his age and his education. Like others, he burned with patriot a fervor that resented foreign control of China and its churches, and pushed for reforms in society based on modern education. Having received his entire education from theologically liberal Anglicans, he sought to combine Confucian ideals with the Christian message. In other words, he seems to have focused more on the ethical teachings of the Bible and of Confucian classics than on the core message of the gospel - forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ, reconciliation with God, transformation by the indwelling Holy Spirit, etc.
Nevertheless, both in his youth and after 1950 when under relentless pressure from Communists to deny his faith, he stood fast. He would not renounce his Lord and Savior. Nor did he desert his wife, despite the troubles that her close association with Watchman Nee brought upon the entire family. He remained faithful to his wife and to his God.
- Jennifer Lin, Shanghai Faithful: Betrayal and Forgiveness in a Chinese Christian Family. New York: Roman and Littlefield, 2017.