The Arena of Eric Liddellís Life


Eric Liddellís four short decades (1902 Ė 1942) encompassed some of the most turbulent years of modern Chinese and British history. This was the arena in which his life was run. Eighteen years of education and sports competition in Scotland (Ericís native home), England and France were sandwiched between five carefree years of childhood in Chinathen 17 years of sacrificial service for the Chinese people.


††††††††††† Two years before Ericís birth, the death knell of Chinaís last dynasty began to toll and the Empress Dowager fanned flames of anti-foreign feeling into fire. Nineteen hundred saw fanatical Boxer bands sweep across the land slaughtering Chinese Christians and their western colleagues. One hundred and eighty-eight protestant missionaries, including 53 children, and thousands of Chinese Christians fell by the sword. Two years later Eric was born in the relative safety of Tianjinís British Concession.


††††††††††† For over a century, East and West clashed with cycles of provocation and retaliation. Britain fought and won two wars to maintain its shameful opium trade with China. The resulting unequal treaties were an ignominious reminder of the Chinaís fading glory. Even as the 20th century dawned, Russia and Japan fought for control of Chinaís three mineral-rich northeastern provinces Ė a short 125 miles from Tianjin at their closest point.


††††††††††† Inside China, enormous social changes were also taking place. In 1905, the age-old Examination System based on the Confucian classics was replaced by a western model. The May 4th Movement 14 years later saw science and democracy virtually worshiped.Writing in classical Chinese gave way to writing in colloquial language. New values, concepts and ideologies from abroad formed a volatile mix in the market of menís minds.


††††††††††† The missionary movement, of which Ericís parents were a part, played an important role in this change. The year Eric left China to begin school in Scotland was the centennial anniversary of Robert Morrisonís arrival in China and the start of Protestant missions. The 100,000 Chinese believers did not begin to reflect the total†† impact missions had in Chinaís modernization, literacy and education (that now included girls), medical and social services, publishing and the press. Eric and his brother would later make their own respective contributions in education and medicine.†††


Sun Yat-senís tireless efforts to rally forces overseas and within China to overthrow the Manchu dynasty and establish a new republic finally came to fruition in 1911.†† But the republic was short-lived as warlords tore the nation apart in fighting to protect their turf. This civil chaos, followed by World War I, was the prelude to Japanese aggression and the 8-year War of Resistance that included World War II.


††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† James H. Taylor III ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† .†† Hong Kong, SAR, China