Anecdotes of Hu Shih, Chinese Christian Intellectual

Hu Shih
Hu Shih
By CCD contributor: Wang ZhengminSeptember 6th, 2018

The year 1891 is a special year for China and the Chinese Church. During this year, missionaries started to carry out their work of evangelizing the country. The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUS) and United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA) established their branches in China. Tengchow College, for instance, was founded by UPCUSA in Shandong Province and started to recruit students. Evangelist Timothy Richard also arrived in China during this time, while Christian Fundamentalism in Niagara published the five core beliefs which influenced the Chinese society through missionaries.

It was in this year that scholar Hu Shih was born. At the age of 11, Hu Shih studied hard the Chinese traditional knowledge. During this period, the Boxer Rebellion the Yihetuan Movement took place. The rebellion brought in a wave of anti-foreign sentiment and an increase in nationalism, sweeping out the political and economic influences of foreigners in China. Foreign missionaries were the first to be affected.

Hu Shih kept observing the course of the event. This was the first time he saw the clash of two different cultures, and he was on the side of the missionaries. Eight years later, Hu Shih got the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship to the US, where Hu learned knowledge that would have a remarkable influence in China.

During the days he was in the US, Hu Shih met a beautiful woman named Edith Clifford Williams, who was the daughter of the landlord of the house in which Hu used to live.

How wonderful, Hu Shih thought as he got to know Williams through regular conversations. They talked about history, human geography, and current affairs. For Hu Shih, the girl was very active in reading and her thinking was very smooth and straightforward, especially in talking and handling things. She was so perfect in his eyes as if she is similar to a fictional character.

Years later, Hu Shih went back to China and joined in La Jeunesse, a magazine published by those dedicated to the New Culture Movement and Vernacular Movement. His advocacy for the use of written vernacular Chinese originated from his talk with Miss Williams. He thought their relationship was enhanced by the communication in daily English, and that classical Chinese was very difficult to understand and stopped people from loving and being loved freely.

Hu Shih was broad-minded and generous, but he did not believe in Christianity or any kind of theism. However, when in the US, he became a Christian. Like students abroad nowadays, he was unable to fit into the new life he had quite well when he arrived in the US. The churches afforded great help, as well as clothes and food to poor Chinese boys and assisted them to adapt to American society and way of life.

There were many Bible classes every week. Hu Shih did not miss any of the classes, for not only he was informed that the power and modern civilization of America is based on Christianity, but also he thought knowledge of Christianity would make it easier to communicate with Miss Williams, who was the dream woman far beyond this young man's reach.

However, Hu did not approve of Christianity. He thought Christian doctrines were not better than the Chinese classical literature that he had studied hard. One night, Mr. Mercer, a priest, spoke of his personal testimony with his magnetic voice. He used to commit all manners of crimes and waste his time. It was not until the day that he knew that Jesus Christ saved him, he started to turn over a new leaf. He studied the Bible to seek the truth and tried his every effort to be kind, and be good to the world and to the religion.

Mr. Mercer described his blessed life with words that were simple but touching. Hu Shih, moved by Mr. Mercer's story, stood up and said that he was willing to be a Christian.

During that time, many of Hu's friends were wounded or dead because of the revolution against the Qing Dynasty back in China. Hu Shih felt tortured because he was powerless to support his friends. This was one of the reasons Hu was converted to Christianity.

Chen Shaotang, Hu's classmate, who was an evangelical conservative, sincerely believed in Christianity. He became friends with Hu Shih through the help of Christianity. Hu Shih admitted that he was not very convinced with Christianity, but he still considered that he was a Christian according to the evangelical standards. After that, Hu Shih said that he converted to Christianity because he was misled and left it afterward.

Hu Shih recalled that he was misled into Christianity when joining a summer camp for converting Chinese students to Christianity. In the camp, organizers played tricks on their emotion, like persuading students opening their heart and converting them when they were not defensive. Hu Shih hated that so much. Those who were persuaded to believe in Christianity might feel that they were insulted and tricked after they reflected the process they had been through.

Churches in China nowadays do this same tactic. They stress too much on personal relationships. A church may send a team leader to follow up every member's circumstances and maintain their attachment to fellowship. If someone does not come to join the gathering, the team leader has to report to the church and call for everyone to pray for him/her and send someone to make a visit. They then try every effort to pull this one back to the church with the emotional bond with members in the church, rather than with belief. However, Hu Shih's experience suggests that the strategy of enhancing emotional bond should not be overused. A church should understand that if they come to the church only for emotional sustenance, the foundation of belief would not be firm. People also tend to leave the church when there is any personnel change.

Hu Shih then married a very ordinary woman under an arranged marriage. He called for freedom of marriage, but he never thought of getting a divorce with his illiterate wife, who could not communicate with him. He could divorce his wife and give her a good sum of money large enough to enjoy a well-off life then marry Miss Williams, but he didn't, because Hu Shih agreed with monogamy which originated from the Bible.

After Hu passed away, Miss Williams established the Hu Shih Foundation in memory of him. Deep in her heart, Miss Williams wished Hu Shih could have been a devout Christian.

- Translated by Lin Changfeng

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