Learning from a Faithful Witness to Christ: Reflections on the Life of Ni Guizhen

Learning from a Faithful Witness to Christ: Reflections on the Life of Ni Guizhen, as told by Jennifer Lin in Shanghai Faithful. See also the article about her in the Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity (www.bdcconline.net)

Jennifer Lin’s Shanghai Faithful is not just another book about the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, which Mao unleashed on China in 1966 and which affected millions of people. Though her narrative begins in the nineteenth century and brings the story down to the present, enough of it describes those terrible years when a whole nation went mad to make a profound impression on the reader. Longer accounts by Nien Chang (Life and Death in Shanghai) and Jung Chang (Wild Swans) go into much greater detail.

What, then, do we learn from Ni Guizhen?

As the older sister of Watchman Nee, she attracted the hostile attention of the Communists when they began to crack down on the Little Flock, of which she was also a member. When Nee was convicted of various crimes, the most serious being that of “counter-revolutionary,” he became an enemy of the state. The principle of guilt by association put Ni into the same category.

She had done nothing against the new regime, but that didn’t matter. Her relationship with Nee sufficed to draw the ferocious attacks of the Red Guards, who also assailed her son and son-in-law, though they left her husband, Lin Pu-chi, largely unscathed.

From her ordeal, we see the viciousness, cruelty, and utter inhumanity of her tormentors. Like millions of others, they had come under the sway of Mao Zedong’s rhetoric of hate.

We also witness the frailty of otherwise decent people, who buckled under pressure and deserted their old friend Ni or even turned on her to protect themselves.

What greater evidence for the biblical doctrine of the sinfulness of all mankind can be found than in the dreadful ways in which Chinese treated each other for almost ten years?

We see more, however.

Ni Guizhen never denounced her brother and his wife Charity, nor did she deny her Lord. God enabled her to remain loyal to himself and to his people, despite horrific suffering.

Her daughter Martha, whose husband endured terrible trials, remained a believer, and  Martha’s daughter Julia now plays the piano for a Christian church in Chicago. God can use the courageous twines of one generation to inspire younger people to follow Christ, regardless of the cost.

All across China, the testimony of brave Christians during and after the Cultural Revolution has sparked stunning church growth.

Nothing can thwart God’s purposes! Even now, Jesus Christ sits enthroned at God’s right hand, “far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He [the Father] put all things under His [Christ’s] feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church.” (Ephesians 1:21-22).

Ni Guizhen’s generation have almost all died off by now, but their children and grandchildren must grapple with the awful legacy of the Cultural Revolution. Though few talk about it now, below the surface there must lurk dark memories, questions, resentment, and much more. Christians can pray for God to use these scars and shadows to prepare hearts for the gospel.

Ever since Deng Xiaoping’s “Opening and Reform Movement” in the late 1970s, Chinese have assumed that nothing like the Cultural Revolution could ever happen again, either in China or elsewhere. We may boldly ask, however, ‘Has human nature changed? Are Christians and others ever really safe from the irrational hatred of unbelievers?”

There is only one question I have: Should she have left her husband’s church to attend the meetings led by her brother? She was helping Lin Pu-chi by playing the piano for Anglican worship services in a new outreach. When she quit, she not only deprived him and the church of that form of ministry, but also caused him to lose face in the eyes of his people. Would it have been better, and more godly, for her to have stayed by his side, praying for God to revive his heart and setting an example of humility and service? 

She was clearly not being fed spiritually by her husband’s sermons, and she wanted her children to have access to more biblical teaching, but could she not have attended a weekday service with the Little Flock congregation? If she had stayed by her husband, would that have spared her some of the suffering that later came her way? We don’t know, of course.

It seems to me, however, that may have made a mistake by entirely disassociating herself from her husband. 

Still, I believe that Ni Guizhen’s later courageous but costly ordeal when she refused to renounce her faith or her brother contains lessons for believers today.