Days 15 & 16 – Last Days in Beijing

Monday, December 4, 2017 – Again, our group set off in different directions.  Catherine, Patty, Bill and Johann aimed for the Lama Temple, the Silk Market, and a tour of a Hutong neighbourhood:

Ray and I to meet with Zhuo Xinping, Director of the World Religion Research Centre of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and a scholar of Christian thought in China. He is a long-time friend and associate of Ray, and someone whom the United Church delegation met with in 2015. At that time, Dr. Zhuo told a story of visiting the Great Wall with Ray’s daughters on a day when it was raining “cats and dogs”. He was delighted and greatly amused when Ray presented him with an umbrella covered with cats and dogs! Zhuo Xinping spoke candidly of his accomplishments and frustrations as a scholar of Christianity in China, and the continuing exclusion from the Communist Party of anyone professing religious belief.

After lunch as guests of Xinping, Ray and I walked in the direction of the Silk Market, where we bargained our way through a few purchases until Ray’s phone rang. I had emailed his cell number to Professor Qi Guoqin, who was calling to invite us to meet her at the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology, not far from the Beijing Zoo. Professor Qi (though she said she was only “an old lady”), now 80 years old, had been a lab assistant who had worked at Zhoukoudian, the excavation site where the fossils of Peking Man were discovered by a team that included my grandfather, Dr. Davidson Black. We set off by taxi and she received us both warmly, speaking in basic English, supplemented by Ray’s Mandarin. She had compiled photographs from a 2008 visit by my late cousin, Davidson Black IV, and explained that my grandfather’s grave at the “Seven Trees Cemetery” had been destroyed by the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution. This I didn’t know so it was an interesting discovery.

Ray and I braved the Beijing subway system and returned without a hitch to the Novotel Hotel, in time for drinks and story telling with the rest of the group, and a meal of Peking Duck to mark the end of a remarkable trip.

Continue reading “Days 15 & 16 – Last Days in Beijing”


Days 13 & 14: Beijing and the Great Wall

Saturday, December 2, 2017 – Our group boarded an early morning flight from Chengdu to Beijing, and took our leave of Patti Talbot before heading downtown to the Novotel Xin Qiao Hotel, accompanied by Leo, our Tour East guide.

The six who remained, Ray, Patty, Catherine, Bill, Johann and myself, made a group expedition to the Temple of Heaven amid the Saturday crowds, a half-hour walk from the hotel. I was amazed at how much the streetscape had changed in the two short years since I last made that walk. The little fruit stalls, fast food store fronts, hardware shops and sidewalk barbers had given way to uniform dwellings behind neat brick walls with bas-relief scenes of the rapidly disappearing urban life of not-so-old Beijing.

The covered walkway leading to the temple was lined with women and men smoking cigarettes, talking loudly, placing bets and playing Chinese cards, chess and Mah-Jong. This earthly activity took place in stark contrast with the heavenly architecture of the temple buildings themselves, painted and enamelled in ethereal shades of blue, jade green, earth red and gold. We were blessed by clear skies and the golden light of a setting sun – very different from the high smog alert I experienced in Beijing two years ago.

We shopped but not quite until we dropped at the Pearl Market, opposite, a huge emporium on several floors selling a combination of cheap knock offs, tee shirts, scarves and shawls, trinkets, souvenirs, toys, and increasingly expensive looking jewellery on the higher floors. Nothing was priced and everything depended on the offer you were willing to make. We had been told by a Chinese guide to aim for 10% of the starting price, but very few of us had the intestinal fortitude to get that low!

We had supper on the way back to the hotel at a Chinese restaurant with an Hillel designation, and promised to meet for supper the following day after we returned from our separate ways. (Photographs taken by Bill Fallis to follow). Continue reading “Days 13 & 14: Beijing and the Great Wall”

Day 12 – Missionaries across the Vast Oceans

December 1, 2017 – Friday was the last day of our tour, Yangtze Journey: In the Footsteps of Katharine Hockin. Lao Zhang met us after breakfast and accompanied us on the two-hour drive to Xinchang, the ancient “New Town”, which houses a building with a permanent display of historical photographs of the work of the Canadian West China Mission, “Events – Empathy – Captured Moments: A Love for China Spanning the Ocean”. It gave a helpful overview and summary of the theme of our visit, rich with detail and vision.

The front entrance showed on either side photographs of the first Canadian Methodist Missionaries to arrive in West China in 1892, and the last to leave in 1952, when “almost 100 missionaries came to Sichuan from Canada, giving of their prime, their knowledge and skill, and left their collective memories here.”

We asked ourselves what would have brought foreign missionaries (referred to by the Chinese as “volunteers”) to this obscure and hard to reach place? Perhaps the density of the population in Sichuan, its isolation from the rest of China, the extreme need of the people. Perhaps the heroic initiative of the China Inland Mission, the sense of new frontiers to conquer.

Lily Hockin once famously said to Katharine, “I went to China with a Bible under my arm and a love of the Chinese people, “ to which Katharine replied, “You were the best you could have been.” “I didn’t know about the Unequal Treaties,” Lily added. “You do, so you have to be different.” (She was referring to the humiliation experienced by the Chinese people when European powers imposed land grabs and privileges following the Opium Wars, 1839-1860).

The exhibit featured the individual stories of those who came, their work in founding schools and hospitals, their dedication to the well-being of the people of West China, albeit through the lens of Western values. We learned more about Dr. Omar Kilborn, who founded the Chinese Red Cross Society during the 1911 Revolution, the western hospital in Chengdu, the West China Union University and its faculty of medicine; Dr. Retta Kilborn, who gave up her status as an independent missionary of the Women’s Missionary Society when she married, but continued to work with a reduced salary, and started the Anti-Footbinding Society; Dr. Ashley Woodward Lindsay and Dr. John E. Thompson who co-founded the Dentistry College of WCUU and began modern dentistry in China.

We learned of those “volunteers” from Canada who were considered special friends of China during the Anti-Japanese War and the struggle for Liberation: Jim G. Endicott, Ambassador of World Peace, Earl and Katharine Willmott, who created a safe space for students opposing the tactics of Chiang Kai-Shek, Homer Brown who served as Dean of Education at WCUU, and his daughter Isabel who married David Crook, became a supporter of the Chinese Communist Party, and made “huge contributions to China’s foreign language education.”

The blurb about Katharine Hockin identified her “as one of seven sympathetic observers of the Chinese revolution”.  Lao Zhang suggested the others were  Jim G. Endicott and Mary Endicott, Earl and Catherine Willmott, Bill Small, and Chester Ronning.

There seems a chapter yet to be written. The stories and photographs of these courageous women and men were fascinating and deeply inspiring, but there were very few Chinese faces to be found, except as patients and recipients of service. With a few notable exceptions, it was hard to get a sense of the kind of relationships the missionaries shared with the Chinese people, whether friendly or conflictual, informal or professional. Mention is made of a Chinese dental student that Dr. John Thompson mentored, and of the historic day in 1924 when eight Chinese women enrolled as regular students at the WCUU, making it the first co-ed school in West China. We know that Lily and Katharine Hockin had close and egalitarian friendships with their students and mentees, but it is hard to tell whether this was the norm.


The caption to this picture reads: “Ms. K.B. Hockin was the daughter of Canadian missionaries in West China… Her mother continued to work in Leshan as a WMS missionary.  A farewell picture of K.B. Hockin and her mother.”  We noted that Lily Hockin was not mentioned by name!

What Katharine Hockin contributed, I think, to the people of China and the church in Canada, was to give voice to the call for reciprocity, for the transformation of our shared humanity that comes about from mutual listening and learning:

For surely one must listen, and listen, and listen with loving intent to understand, to see our own failures, rather than to engage in the polemics of justification of self and condemnation of others. (Servants of God in People’s China, p. 8)

Continue reading “Day 12 – Missionaries across the Vast Oceans”

Day 11 – A Century of Great Love

November 30, 2017 – Two moments stand out from our second full day in Chengdu: (1) the sculpture in front of the Chengdu Second People’s Hospital, commemorating “More than One Hundred Years of Great Love”; (2) our treasure hunt for photos of Katharine Hockin in the halls of the Canadian School for Missionary Children.

Dr. Ma welcomed us at the entrance to the Second People’s Hospital where we viewed a stunning, larger-than-life sculpture depicting the founding figures of the Chengdu hospital: Dr. Omar Kilborn, Dr. Retta Kilborn, Dr. A.W. Lindsay, and Dr. Chan (I believe), a Chinese doctor who studied in Germany.


There was a striking vitality to this sculpture in bronze, a sense of urgency and determination. The details were as interesting as the main figures: the pigtails of Chinese still under the rule of the Qing dynasty; the tubular stethoscope of Dr. Retta Kilborn, the wounded soldier being treated, the opium pipe that we assume was used as an anaesthetic by dental patients, the quote from the Hippocratic oath on the back of the sculpture prohibiting sexual misconduct.

We learned that Dr. Ma was himself the designer and sculptor of this extraordinary work. He told us it was two years in the making, and is the largest civic statue on a medical theme in China.

1-DSC_4801The mural and wall frieze in the entrance to the outpatient building were equally engrossing. The multi-story mural dominating the atrium portrayed the arrival of Western medicine, symbolized by a man bearing the staff with the intertwined snake of Asclepius, the demigod of medicine in Greek mythology, restorer of health to the sick and life to the dying (David Fallis told us that was not the same as the winged version called the caduceus!). The figure stood at the base of an immense image of missionary junks navigating the Yangtze and the towering gorges en route to West China. It reminded me slightly of scenes from the film Mission.

 Around the top of the entrance area were images of the arrival of Canadian missionaries, starting out in Vancouver, crossing the Pacific, landing in Shanghai, traversing the Yangtze. There were names and dates as well, but the pictures were what caught the imagination.

This honouring of the past contradicted assumptions I was carrying that the Cultural Revolution had erased any form of Western influence from collective memory. Clearly successive generations were more open to the positive legacy of the missionary movement, while also showing great pride in the subsequent accomplishments of the Chinese people.


We said goodbye to Dr. Ma, and headed to the nearby En Guang (Light of Grace) Church, part of a compound that had included the hospital, church, seminary, and printing press of the West China Mission. The church was originally designed and built by Walter Small in 1920, and was now lovingly restored in anticipation of its 120th Anniversary. We walked through the halls of the Sichuan Theological Seminary next door, and observed students in class, but it seems we were not expected and were not able to meet the students or faculty directly.



Continue reading “Day 11 – A Century of Great Love”

Day 10 – Leshan: A Day to Remember

November 29, 2017 – An entourage of well-wishers greeted us in the hotel lobby. Our main host was Xu Xhan (Ms. Susan Xu), a staff person from the Leshan Cultural Affairs Department, very interested in religions, especially Tibetan Buddhism and Protestant Christianity. “Susan” had greeted Ray warmly at the station the night before, wearing smart red boots and a beautiful red tunic. Today she was wearing multi-coloured boots, a black coat exquisitely embroidered with flowers, and underneath another embroidered dress. She was accompanied by her husband, and by two young women in navy uniforms, recent nursing graduates, who attended to our every need throughout the day.

We drove a short distance and got out to view the rather elegant house that belonged to Rev. A.P. Quentin of the China Inland Mission who had started the mission in Leshan and served it from 1908 to 1948. The house and surrounding residential high rises had previously been used for nursing students, but they were in the midst of relocating to a larger facility.

A short walk took us up the hill to the entrance of the Endicott house, certainly a highlight of the tour. The house had been occupied by James Endicott who started the Jiading Grace Hospital in 1911, and was the birthplace of Jim G. Endicott. Pots of red azalea had been placed along the front porch, a shiny new plaque had been mounted at the entrance, and one of the rooms had been restored and hung with historic photographs. The President of what is now the Leshan People’s Hospital showed us drawings and plans to renovate the building and make it an historic site. A short distance away we viewed on old structure with Chinese architectural features that was thought to have been used as a library. We also viewed what had once been the church, now used to store hospital supplies!

We are still working out the names and positions of the dignitaries who accompanied us, which included Dr. Yi Qun, the hospital president, Zeung Qin, the hospital administrator, Ma Zhiqin, the director of nursing, Yi Fei-Fei, a young oncologist who had taken the day off to be with us, as well as the ubiquitous nursing attendants and various photographers. (For those unfamiliar with Chinese names, all of those mentioned were women!)

They led us into a meeting room with a red and white banner, “Welcome Canadian Friends of the People’s Hospital of Leshan”, and conference tables with place names for each one of us. Dr. Yi, the hospital president, gave an impressive overview of the history of the hospital, the role of James Endicott, and its current functions as a centre for medical care, teaching, research and emergency services.


A lively exchange followed. Our West China host and companion, Mr. Zhang gave an impassioned description in Mandarin of the role of Katharine Hockin and her mother Lily, corroborated by David Fallis who introduced members of her family. Ray Whitehead gave our collective thanks for the warm welcome, expressing gratitude not only for the interest in the Canadian contributions to the hospital prior to 1949, but also commending the remarkable growth and care for the health and healing of the Chinese people that has become so evident since.

Continue reading “Day 10 – Leshan: A Day to Remember”

Day 9 – The Giant Pandas of Chengdu

November 28, 2017 – Our days in Chongqing revealed the long-term legacy of the work of missionaries at the turn of the 20th Century: full congregations, 500 churches, the ministry of hospitals and hospitality, and a thriving Bible school. Our next stop, Chengdu, would open doors to more about the life and work of Katharine Hockin and her contemporaries and successors, but for one day, our group welcomed the opportunity for sightseeing and relaxation.  We were fortunate to be accompanied throughout our stay in West China by  “Lao Zhang”, Mr. Zhang Yingming, who dedicated his time and expertise to explain, translate, accompany, and shepherd us through the Chengdu metro and train stations.

On the bus into town the night before, Tour East guide Rosa conveyed some basic information about Chengdu. For 3000 years the city has kept the same name, and now has a population of 15 million. It is the heart of the province of Sichuan, literally meaning “four rivers”. At least one third of the region is mountainous; on a clear day snow-topped peaks can be seen on some mountains only five kilometres away. Clear days are rare, however, because of Chengdu’s location at the bottom of a basin. There is a myth of a dog barking at the sun, keeping it at bay for all but three hours a day.

But Rosa’s face really lit up when she told stories and showed photos of the Giant pandas. I was amazed that she had taken the trouble to download a picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hugging two pandas, and that she knew the name, face, and personality of each newborn cub. She admitted to being a bit “panda crazy”!

Our Tuesday morning visit to the Giant Panda Park stretched from two to three hours as we oohed and aahed at the antics of these cuddly creatures and their endearing faces. They can actually be quite large and fat, and their white fur is really more of a browny-caramel colour, but as infants and cubs, they are adorable!

The park is in a beautiful setting with clearly marked paths and many pavilions featuring newborns, yearlings, and adults, which can be viewed behind glass and outdoors. Quotations about the relationship between human beings and creation are interspersed along each path. We were surprised to see a billboard quoting a Christian hymn, All Things Bright and Beautiful.


There are some interesting facts about pandas:

  • They are called giant pandas to set them apart from the red pandas, an altogether different species related to the raccoon family;
  • Giant pandas feed primarily on fresh bamboo (90% of their diet);
  • Given the low energy of bamboo, pandas need to spend nearly half of each day eating (16 hours a day for wild pandas, 10 to 12 hours for pandas in captivity);
  • Captive giant pandas will eat 20 to 40 kilos of bamboo shoots ever day;
  • When they are not eating, they spend most of the rest of their day sleeping!

In this case, pictures are worth more than words, so enjoy this small collection taken by our photographer, Bill Fallis:


In the afternoon, the Fallis clan explored the local Buddhist monastery, while Patty and Patti had a foot massage. We returned to pack an overnight bag and catch an evening train to Leshan, accompanied by the intrepid Lao Zhang, where upon arrival, we enjoyed a light supper of Sechuan noodles before retiring for the night.


Day 8 – A Pastor, a School, and a Train Trip

November 27, 2017 – We were grateful for a more leisurely morning after the pace of Sunday, and enjoyed watching school exercises across the street while we ate breakfast. Yudy and Glory walked us to the Agape Church, already buzzing with activity on a Monday morning, including a woman’s group and a choir practice!   We met with Pastor Xu Lunsheng of the Chongqing Christian Council, a member of the pastoral team of Agape Church, and married to the music pastor Xian whom he had met at Nanjing Union Theological Seminary.

1-DSC_3438While Yudy cut up and distributed segments of pomelo, Xian showed us a 2002 school photograph with Ray and Rhea Whitehead sitting in the front row from their teaching days at Nanjing Union Theological Seminary. Their friendship with and joint influence on the Church in China is still felt wherever we go.

Pastor Xu told us Agape Church serves 3,000 “believers”, with many activities during the week: rehearsals for five choirs, women’s groups, seniors’ groups, singles and young couples, and Bible classes. The Chongqing Christian Council encompasses 500,000 Christians attending 500 churches, and gathering informally at many “meeting points” in the countryside with overlapping associations among the churches.

The concept of “social service” is still relatively new to the Church in China, and consists in collecting and distributing clothing for people of low income, providing scholarships to cover school fees for students in the countryside, and offering hospitality for community events. The Spring Festival is a time of gathering for seniors from all faith traditions, and the mid-Autumn Lunar Festival is a time when more than 400 people assemble for prayer, fellowship, song and dance to celebrate people in their 70s, 80s, and 90s.

The biggest challenge the Christian Church faces? To bring in younger people. The strongest attraction they can offer is opportunity for community and fellowship through choirs, Bible classes, especially ones offered in English, activities and outings for singles and couples. We were told that Agape Church celebrates many, many weddings: one almost every Saturday.

After a full Sichuan-style lunch, we said our thanks and goodbyes, and headed through heavy traffic toward the Bible School where Glory teaches and his wife Nature is a student. When we arrived, the 26 students lined up on either side of the entrance stairs and applauded. It was a grand welcome!1-DSC_3504There was much about the Bible School that reminded me of the Centre for Christian Studies and made me feel at home. The number of students is similar (26 to our 35 or so), as is the number of teaching staff (four to our three). They have a modest library, and photographs of their students line the hallways. Their program is three years long (ours is four), and includes Scripture, Theology, and Pastoral Care. Students attend from across the province and live in dormitories.

Ray Whitehead introduced our little delegation and addressed the class (who would normally have been studying singing). He reflected on Luke 4: 18, saying it is good to remember how Jesus understood his own ministry – preaching good news to the poor and the poor in spirit, bringing hope to those in captivity both actually and metaphorically, and restoring sight to the blind, opening their eyes to truth, to good news, to God’s goodness in their midst.

He invited questions and we took turns answering them: how is China different from previous times you have visited? What are the main differences between the Church in China and the Church in Canada? When did you first believe in Jesus Christ and how has your faith changed? How would you teach others in your congregation to share in pastoral care? How did you experience a call to ministry? Would I be able to study theology in Canada? And a question addressed to David Fallis: what advice do you have for learning to sing?

The students said thank you by standing to sing Amazing Grace in Mandarin. They sang three verses with passion and purity, and our group responded with a final verse in English. Our hearts were full with shared stories and a shared faith in the goodness of God.

1-DSC_3530Our van made a final stop at the hospital to pick up more copies of their history book, and set off for the train station for a two-hour journey and a light supper on board of snacks and fruit. By nine o’clock we reached the Chengdu rail station and were met by Mr. Zhang Yingming and Tour East guides Rosa and Roger, who escorted us to the Buddhist Zen Hotel – an exquisite mix of Buddhist tranquility and traditional comfort. But that is another day and another adventure!