It is the 25th of July 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1900.
It was the last year of the 19th century but also the first year of the 1900s. The world was filled with industrial revolutions and wars for the remaining territories, not yet under the control of the world’s great powers.
U.S. Secretary of State John Hay put forth the “Open Door” policy regarding Chinese trade. The idea was that the old “spheres of influence” model whereby China was carved into regions by western powers was inefficient. The new trading practices and influence of the West in China would lead to the Boxer Rebellion. We will come back to China in just a few.
William McKinley was re-elected in 1900, beating the punching bag William Jennings Bryan for the second time. The Republican National Convention chose a young Theodore Roosevelt as his running mate. Some were afraid that the young and sometimes irascible TR was just a heart-beat away from the presidency. Their fears were realized the next year when Leon Czołgosz shot the president. The bullet wound led to an infection that would kill McKinley eight days later.
The second modern Olympic games took place in 1900 in Paris, France, and it was kind of a disaster. It coincided with the World Exhibition also being held in Paris at the same time. The games had no opening or closing ceremonies. And during the five months of the poorly promoted games, it is said many athletes did not know they were even part of the Olympic games. The ersatz nature of these games can be seen in the swimming events all being held in the Seine. The fast currents may have helped some of the swimmer’s unrealistically good times. Amongst the “games” played were auto racing, ballooning, and croquet. It is also the only year when target shooting was done with live pigeons.
For the year 1900, we focus back on China. They were under siege from both western merchants and Japanese military incursions. While many missionaries spent time in China in the 19th century, the place of the Christian church was still in limbo. Many Chinese people who were looking for national identity saw the church as an overly Western institution. It is into this context that on this, the 25th of July, in the year 1900, Wang Ming Dao was born in Beijing. His parents moved there on account of the protection that the city afforded them during the Boxer Rebellion.
Wang was educated by the London Missionary Society in Beijing and was baptized at the age of 14. By the age of 23, Wang was preaching at various evangelistic services and meetings. And by 1937, he had built his Christian Tabernacle. However, the Japanese in 1939 had taken over many of the large Chinese cities, and they required all publications to include pro Japanese propaganda. Wang’s “Spiritual Food Quarterly” refused to print the Japanese slogans. While the publication was not shut down, it would be more carefully watched.
In 1942, the Japanese set up an organization for Chinese Christians. Against his better judgment, Wang and his church joined. However, soon the Chinese Communist Party took control of China and sought to punish some who joined Japanese organizations during the occupation. All churches were required to support a program of Chinese nationalism. When Wang refused, he and his wife were thrown in jail. For fear of his own life and that of his wife, Wang admitted to crimes that he did not commit in order to be freed.
However, he and his wife would be re-arrested when Wang recanted two years later. From 1957 to 1979, Wang was held in jail, only being let out despite refusing to leave until his name was cleared. While his theology was rather rigid, a kind of fundamentalism kept him from working with other Christians. His behavior and faith in the face of persecution sparked an interest in Christianity such that today he is recognized as the “dean” of the house church movement, China’s most vibrant expression of Christianity today.
Wang died in 1991, three days before his 91st birthday. Born on this day in 1900, Wang Ming Dao was 90 years old.
The reading for today is a poem from China in the 17th century. It comes from the Emperor Kangxi. The reforming Emperor was remarkably open to the Christian faith. While he composed poems about different religions, this poetic reflection on the death of Christ is remarkable. This is Emperor Kangxi’s “Poem of the Cross.”
When the work of the cross is done, blood flowed like a river,
Grace from the west flowed a thousand yards deep,
On the midnight road he was subjected to four trials,
Before the rooster crowed twice, three times betrayed by a disciple.
Five hundred lashes tore every inch of skin,
Two thieves hung on either side, six feet high,
Sadness greater than any had ever known,
Seven words, one completed task, ten thousand spirits weep.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 25th of July 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man for whom it is live pigeons or NOTHING… Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.