Thursday, January 6, 2011

George Hogg (1915 – 1945)

An Oxford \Economics graduate, George Hogg traveled to China in 1937, initially working as a journalist.  Moved by the atrocities of the Japanese Imperial army against the Chinese, he stayed helping Rewi Alley, a New Zealander Communist who had started a series of vocational schools inspired by an American idealist named Joseph Bailie.  In 1942, Hogg became the headmaster of the Bailie school in Shaanxi.  All of his students were boys, and most of them were orphans.  For the next two years, Hogg was father, teacher, and friend to these boys whom no one else wanted.  Unlike anyone else these Chinese boys encountered, he never punished them.

As the war against the Japanese escalated, the Kuomingtang (Nationalist) Party of China attempted to conscript Hogg's students in 1944.  To protect them, Hogg, with Alley, decided to move his 60 boys 700 miles away to Shandan.  They traversed dangerous terrain against incredible odds for 450 miles for a month on foot, and hired trucks to travel the rest of the way.

Just a few months later, Hogg contracted tetanus and died at age 30.  Alley took over as the new headmaster of the Shandan Bailie School.  But to this day, his students remember him fondly as the man who saved their lives.

A movie called Children of Huang Shi tells the story, with Jonathan Rhys Meyer as George Hogg.

More information:

The Independent:  Long March Across China
The Sunday Times:  The Heroic Englishman China Will Never Forget

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Gladys Aylward

Gladys Aylward (1902 – 1970) was my childhood hero, ever since I read the book, "The Small Woman." There was a Hollywood movie made based on the book (The Inn of the Sixth Happiness with Ingrid Bergman), but as usual, it did not do justice to the real story.  In fact, Aylward was quite embarrassed and upset by the film's inaccuracies.

A parlormaid in Britain, Aylward had a burning desire to be a missionary to China, but did not pass the exams to join the formal missionary society to China.  Undaunted, she saved up enough money for a passage to China and went on her own to help an aging missionary in Yangchen in 1930.  During the next eight years, she established a wide reputation for kindness and fairness, as well as a soft spot for taking in orphans into the inn that she owned and operated.  One orphan became five, then became 20, as the years went on.  She became a Chinese citizen in 1936.

In 1938, when the Japanese attacked her town, Aylward had about 100 orphans at her inn.  With a Japanese price on her head (dead or alive), she narrowly escaped with her orphans from Yangchen.   She decided to take them to a Chinese government orphanage in Xian 100 miles away.  Walking.  With almost no food.   Across mountains off the regular paths (to avoid capture).  Across the Yellow River.  For 27 days.   She carried toddlers on her back at all times, subsisting on rice water.  When she arrived in Xian, she was deliriously ill with typhus, pneumonia, and malnutrition.

Though she reestablished her ministry in Xian, she was eventually forced to leave in 1947 when the Communists took over China.  After spending 10 years back in Britain, she moved to Taiwan where she started another orphanage and lived the remainder of her years.

This anecdote illustrates her modest, matter-of-fact attitude for which she earned so much respect in China.
Gladys returned from China to England in the late 1940's an unknown missionary. Alan Burgess, who was producing a series on war heroes for the BBC radio, visited her in the hope a missionary could tell him about heroes she had heard about in China. Well, no, she said in her rusty English. She didn't actually know any heroes.
     "What about yourself?" he asked the little woman half-heartedly. "Did you have a scrape or two?" 
     "I doubt people who listen to BBC would think I've done anything interesting." 
     "Didn't you even come into contact with the Japanese invaders?" he pressed. 
     "Yes," she answered cryptically. It wouldn't be very forgiving if she told Alan Burgess the Japanese had shot her down in a field outside Tsechow.  Bombed her too.  In Yangcheng.  Strafed her near Lingchuang too.  Smashed her on the noggin once with a rifle butt too.  Finally put a price on her head: dead or alive. "Some Japanese are very nice, you know," she volunteered. 
     "Apparently your life in China was rather sheltered," he grunted dryly. 
     Gladys had to offer the poor man something. "I did take some children to an orphanage near Sian." 
     "You don't say?" he grumbled, not hiding disappointment. "Kids? To an orphanage?" 
     "Yes, we had to cross some mountains." 
     Burgess perked up.  "Real mountains?" 
     "Yes, I believe you would call them real mountains. The journey was made more difficult because we couldn't walk on the main trails. Oh, and then we had to get across the Yellow River too." 
     "Isn't that the notorious river that drowns so many it's called 'China's Sorrow'?" 
     Burgess was more and more aghast as Gladys detailed her trek. His voice choked. "You ran out of food? You had no money? Just you and 100 kids - many of whom were toddlers - trekked for one month across mountains, across the Yellow River, ducking Japanese patrols and dive bombers? And at Sian you were diagnosed with typhus and pneumonia and malnutrition? Yes, Miss Aylward, I think people who listen to BBC would think you've done something interesting…"

[Source: The Small Woman by Alan Burgess, 1957, revised addition, 1969]
For more information:
Sermons by Gladys Aylward

The Children Nobody Wants

Orphans have a hard time finding new families.  But children orphaned by war have an even tougher time.  For one, there are so many of them, all at once.  Secondly, the trauma they have undergone supercede the already unspeakable grief of losing both parents.  Their needs are overwhelming but for the staunchest of us.

This week, we will look at extraordinary people who stepped up to the plate and dedicated astonishing loyalty to these children no one else wants: war orphans.