“Shanghai Faithful” by Jennifer Lin is a memoir that takes us through three generations of the author’s Chinese family. Their fate is heavily intertwined with the spread of Christianity in China.
The author is an investigative journalist who reported for The Philadelphia Inquirer for 30 years. As a journalist myself, I appreciate the writing style and story structure as well as the details Lin pulled together from interviews with her relatives.
The book follows the Lin family, specifically Lin Pu-chi, the author’s grandfather. Even before Lin Pu-chi is born, readers learn how Western missionaries travelled to China on opium ships to spread the word of God.
These Christian missionaries set off a whole chain of events in China by bringing both a new religion and Western Culture.
As someone who knew little to nothing about Chinese history, I found “Shanghai Faithful” to be extremely comprehensible with beautiful imagery. The author creates a family timeline that connects perfectly with the historical background.
As a young, diligent student, Lin Pu-chi saw one of the first missionary schools begin, grow and expand. He later decides to join the ministry, throwing himself into the middle of the religious revolution.
The memoir effortlessly transitions from explaining large concepts like the lack of instruction on Chinese heritage in Americanized Shanghai schools to small, detail-oriented stories about Lin Pu-chi’s constant studying of another student who is smarter than him.
The reader quickly learns how the wars, protests and rebellions that occurred in China throughout the 1900’s severely affected families like the Lin family.
The author paints a horrific scene when her grandfather, the dean of a local Anglican cathedral at the time, is attacked by a mob of over 100 anti-Christians who try to force him to renounce his faith.
Lin Pu-chi’s brother-in-law Watchman Nee also plays a significant part in the book as the founder of the Little Flock movement. He struggles to form a group that distinguishes Chinese Christianity from the denominational Christianity taught to them by missionaries. This creates religious disagreement between Nee and his Anglican brother-in-law.
Throughout the book, family members may leave, but they always return to Shanghai. It also becomes a safe haven for refugees from around the world — including Russians fleeing Bolsheviks and Jews fleeing fascists — which clarifies the meaning of the book title, “Shanghai Faithful.”
The Japanese eventually take Shanghai in the second Sino-Japanese war, and Lin Pu-chi does everything he can to get his two sons — one of them the author’s father — on a ship to America.
Meanwhile, the Lin family in China continues to suffer at the hands of the government. Watchman Nee’s legacy as a religious pioneer turns into a scandal. The Lin home is raided twice in the same night by government officials and by rebel groups, “leaving only the bed frames.”
“Shanghai Faithful” is both an educational and invigorating read. If nothing else, it’s an impressive compilation of one family’s stories, which represent the struggles faced by thousands of Christian families in China.
"Shanghai Faithful" by Jennifer Lin is published by Rowman & Littlefield.
Katie DeFiore is an intern with WPSU-FM.