Liu Jingwen and Her Quiet Strength

Liu Jingwen and Her Quiet Strength 

 

The saying is well-known: “Behind a great man there is a great woman.” In the case of Chinese pastor and theologian Wang Mingdao, someone suggested that eighty percent of Wang’s achievement was due to his wife. Was it an exaggeration?

 

A Mature Young Lady

Liu Jingwen born in Dinghai, Zhejiang on March 29, 1909 into a pastor’s family. She met Wang Mingdao when he visited their home in Hangzhou in 1925. But initially Wang paid no attention to her. She was just a child, he thought. Besides, he had no intention to marry. He thought he could do more for the Lord by remaining single. But when a friend convinced him of the contrary, he started to look around and pray for a proper companion.

            It was at a convention where he had been invited to speak that Liu Jingwen first caught his eye. She had been asked to play the organ instead of the ordinary pianist, who was busy on that day. As he watched her playing, he realized that she was quite mature for her 17 years. He later learned she was working as a school teacher.

            He began to think she would make a lovely wife. As it was common in China, he asked an elderly woman to speak to her family on his behalf. Liu Jingwen and her parents took some time to think and pray. Finally, they agreed to his proposal. The couple became engaged in 1926 and married two years later. Jingwen was 19 and Mingdao 28.

            Until then, Liu Jingwen had led a quiet life. She had been studying, working, and attending church with her family. In fact, Mingdao had been impressed from the start by the loving and peaceful atmosphere in her home. Growing up without a father and with a mother who struggled to manage the bickering, rude, and unruly tenants she was forced to keep, Mingdao had never seen an example of a joyful family life.

Once, when he spoke of the many trials that had shaped his life, Jingwen’s mother asked him if trials were always necessary for spiritual growth. If so, what would happen to Jingwen, who had never experienced any? Mingdao didn’t know how to reply. Soon, however, trials came her way.

 

A Painful Environment

            The newlyweds moved together to Mingdao's home in Beijing where he had been living with his mother and sister. Initially, his mother had given her approval to his marriage. But when the couple moved in with her, both she and her daughter began to show resentment, attacking her with false accusations.

According to Mingdao, his mother felt no longer needed. This feeling of jealousy, combined with her daughter's irrational suspicions, made the atmosphere unbearable.

            Brought up to believe that every situation in life is determined by God, Jingwen refused to complain. Initially, she “shed many tears,” but eventually realized that God “had lessons he wanted to teach her.”[1]

         ”She met all these trials with a tranquil temperament,” Mingdao wrote, “and in this way she took the edge off my own suffering.”[2]

            What’s more, she understood that when people are truly convinced of something, denying it doesn’t always help. In the case of Mingdao's sister, the couple came to believe that her irrational accusations were a result of mental delusions  

     ”We must not blame elder sister,” Jingwen told Mingdao. “It is not that she clearly knows I have no fault and that she purposely causes me grief. In her eyes I am really bad, so it is not surprising that she is dissatisfied with me. If I were in her place, I also would be capable of losing my temper. There are few people in the world who would oppress others without any cause whatever.”[3]

Later, Mingdao explained how they both adopted the same attitude: “We did not blame my sister in the slightest; nor did we blame her. We considered that this was a kind of illness – an illness making people suspicious. It is right to overlook the actions of people who are ill, no matter how they give offence.”[4]

On the other hand, he issued a warning: “If anyone who reads this is inclined to be suspicious of people, I urge you to turn from it and to take it, as a serious illness that can do you much harm, into the presence of the Lord, and ask him to heal you. Otherwise you suffer yourself and you cause others to suffer.”[5]

Jingwen gave birth to their son and only child, Tianzhe, in 1930, in the middle of this contention. In his memoir, Mingdao thanked God that Tianzhe never mentioned any expressions of animosity he might have heard. 

Mingdao’s mother and sister softened her position when Jingwen's genuine pain at the death of her father convinced them of her sincerity.

In 1937, when Mingdao was able to build a church building (the Christian Tabernacle) for his growing congregation, he and his family moved into a home near the church.

 

Complementing Each Other

Given their geographical distance and the formality of Chinese customs, Mingdao and Jingwen were not able to know each other during their engagement. At first, their blatant dissimilarities added to their difficult situation. Mingdao was obsessive about cleanliness to the point of fretting over an untidy room, while Jingwen was happy to let the housework wait until she was ready to do it. She was also “very forgetful,” uninterested in reading, and “only concerned about the general effect” of her correspondence, thus crushing any hope Mingdao had nourished of leaning on her for secretarial work.

On the other hand, Mingdao was naturally impulsive and emotional in both actions and judgments, often lacking sympathy or sensitivity, while Jingwen was patient, compassionate, self-sacrificial, and able to resize his feelings and place them in a larger context. “Far too many wives are well practiced in throwing oil on the flames of their husband’s anger, with the result that both get burnt,”[6] Mingdao said.

Realizing her strengths, he appreciated her correction, except when she did it in front of others. She thought that if he had sinned against someone, she should point it out in front of that person. He disagreed, since the Bible instruct us to first approach the offending party in private (Mat. 18:15-17). His reasoning is interesting: “That is because we are all creatures of flesh and blood and there are times when we must allow for ‘face.’ To correct someone overhastily can easily inflame his shame and vexation into anger, and when you do this you are no longer in a position to help him; on the contrary you may harm him.”

“I gradually came to realize that I truly needed someone to correct my faults in that way,” he admitted. “And in order to avoid that kind of embarrassment I had to be more careful in what I said.”[7]

But he warned other wives that not every husband will be willing to accept the same manner of correction, and that a specific situation cannot be taken as a general example. “If you rashly imitate my wife, you may be attempting more than you have the ability to achieve (you may attempt to make the picture of a tiger and only achieve the likeness of a dog) and give rise to other untoward incidents. When you imitate other people, don’t look only at the toward circumstances, give thought also to inner factors.”[8]

Another area where Jingwen helped Mingdao was in trusting God. “I am a person given to anxiety and grief,” he said. “Every day my heart is occupied by sadness and anxiety and trouble and fear. My wife on the other hand is able to leave things with the Lord no matter how serious they are.”[9]

This ability also helped her when Mingdao, in his impulsiveness, lost his temper. Once, when she forgot to empty a large vat before the winter, Mingdao grabbed an axe, saying that since the vat was going to break, he might as well do it himself. Jingwen prayed silently, “Heavenly Father, if you think it doesn't matter if this vat gets broken, let him break it. That way it will not bother me.” Right then, she heard the axe fall to the ground.

Later, she explained that if she had tried to pull her husband away, “he would have become even angrier and the vat would have certainly got broken. … It's much better to depend on God.”[10]

In the end, Mingdao recognized that the Lord had made a perfect match. “My original ideal for a wife was of a woman excelling in literary matters,” Mingdao wrote after 22 years of marriage. “In that way, she could be my secretary. However, my wife is not that kind of a person. … But she is a fine proofreader both in my work and in my life. She is not what I originally conceived of as the ideal wife but she is the perfect partner. I now understand that my original ideal was imperfect and my original understanding was faulty.”[11]

 

Persecution

After Japan invaded China in 1939, Christians were pressured to support the government. When all newspapers were asked to publish Japanese slogans in every issue, Mingdao was torn between disobeying the orders and closing down a Christian paper he had been running for 12 years. It was not an easy decision. He called Jingwen and a couple of trusted men to seek their advice. 

“Are you prepared to be arrested, to be examined, and to be jailed by them?” Jingwen asked him. “If you are not fully prepared for these things, I fear that when the time comes you won’t be able to endure it. But if you are prepared for these things, you may screw up your courage and go.”[12] Mingdao went on to publish the paper as usual, and no one said anything.

But the greater persecution was yet to come. After the Communist Party took over China in 1949, Mingdao was pressured to join the Three Self Patriotic Church – a government-sponsored church union which prioritized patriotism over theology and discouraged strict adherence to Scriptures. He refused to comply, and he and Jingwen were arrested on August 7, 1955. 

Weakened by lack of sleep, hunger, and beatings, Mingdao eventually gave in and signed a statement confessing twelve crimes he had never committed. He was released after promising to join the Three Self Movement. Knowing that Jingwen might change his mind, they kept her in prison until after he read his confession publicly. 

Feeling unable to resume preaching, Mingdao left the Christian Tabernacle and moved with Jingwen back to his mother’s house. He even thought of changing his name and moving to the country. But the government was not done with him. Seeing that he had not kept his promise to preach for the Three Self Movement, they re-arrested the couple in 1957. 

For over five years, they continued to put pressure on both. Finally, in 1963, seeing the couple would not change their minds, the court condemned Mingdao to life in prison, and Jingwen to 15 years. 

Mingdao gave way to anger and discouragement, until he a Bible passage he had committed to memory convinced him that he deserved prison and more for all the lies he had told. He then wrote a long letter, recanting all his false confessions.

Jingwen was moved around from prison to prison. She lost her sight in one eye when the prison wouldn’t allow her to use her medicine for glaucoma. She was also mistreated by other inmates, who had fun pulling her hair and kicking her legs. And yet, her patience made an impression on other prisoners, and she was able to tell them about Christ. 

Her sentence ended in 1973. But when her son went to take her home, they learned that all released prisoners had to spend three more years in a labor camp. She was allowed to visit her family occasionally. In 1975, she visited Mingdao for the first time in 17 years.

 

Last Years

After her release, Jingwen moved to Shanghai to live with her son’s family in a one-room apartment. Mingdao joined her three years later. In 1983, Tinzhe was able to move them to a two-bedroom apartment where they started to have Sunday meetings. Mingdao was very weak, and nearly blind and deaf. 

After visiting them with her husband, Ruth Graham was able to find a good surgeon who restored Jingwen’s eyesight. Mingdao had tried similar surgeries before, with little success. 

Only a few months after Jingwen’s operation, however, Mingdao started to lose his ability to speak clearly. A medical test revealed a blood clot, which didn’t resolve. Jingwen stayed by his side and sang songs of praise into his ears whenever he was conscious. He died on July 28, 1991. Jingwen predicted she would join him soon.

In fact, less than nine months later, she felt so  sick that she had to go to the hospital. A scan showed a stomach tumor the size of an egg. On top of that, she had developed pneumonia. She died thirteen hours later, on April 18, 1992, after oy two days if intense pain. At her memorial, people remembered her for her faith and her sincere, self-sacrificial care for those around her.

Her ashes were buried next to her husband's, with an inscription reminding viewers this was only their bodies' “temporary resting place.”



[1] Wong Ming-Dao, A Stone Made Smooth, Southampton, Hants., Mayflower Christian Books, 1981, 184

[2] Ibid. 182

[3] Ibid. 183

[4] Ibid. 188

[5] Ibid. 188

[6] Ibid. 196

[7] Ibid. 194

[8] Ibid. 194-195

[9] Ibid. 198

[10] Stephen Wang, The Long Road to Freedom, The Story of Wang Mingdao, Kent, England: Sovereign World Ltd., 2002, 17-18

[11] Ming-Dao, A Stone Made Smooth, 201

[12] Ibid. 213 (sic)

 

Simonetta Carr

MORE FROM THE ALLIANCE

On YouTube

The Story of Scripture

Reformed Resources

New audio from James Boice

Find Out More

Register for the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology