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CHEFOO AND WEIHSIEN REVISITED
Chefoo
and
Weihsien
revisited

 

June 9, 1991, David Michell addressing the audience
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CHEFOO AND WEIHSIEN (WEIFANG) REVISITED

Dr. David Michell

June 28, 1991

 

         Norman Cliff and I were two members of the group organized by the Eric Liddell Foundation which visited China from June 6 to 11, 1991. The primary purpose of the visit was to unveil a memorial stone to Eric Liddell at the No. 2 Middle School in Weifang, the site of the Weihsien Prison Camp, where the Chefoo Schools were interned during World War II.

         Norman and I found that the day before the dedication ceremony of the memorial stone we had free time. We had a choice of Qindao or attempting to get to Chefoo. We chose Chefoo but heard it would be a five-hour taxi ride each way. In spite of this we felt it would be worthwhile trying to get back to Chefoo (Yantai), even though time there would be brief. We also realized we had no guarantee of getting into the old school compound because of its now being a naval base.

         Arrangements came together through the helpfulness of the Foreign Affairs representative and the hotel. Five of us -- Charles Walker, the head of the Eric Liddell Foundation, Dr. Peggy Judge of Edinburgh and niece of Eric Liddell, Nick Rankin, Senior Producer of BBC World Service, Norman and I set off for Yantai at 7:30 a.m. in the hotel mini-van.

         We were blessed (I think) in having a "Jehu" for a driver, and made the distance in 3 1/2 hours. Over half of the road is now a divided highway and this certainly helped. The other sections of the road had us on the edge of our seats much of the time, as we frequently had two or three trucks dodging swarms of bicycles converging towards us at break-neck speed. Norman wondered out loud more than once whether we would survive.

         On reaching Chefoo, we were given a warm welcome by Mr. Yang, Chairman of the Yantai Municipal Committee of the China Democratic National Construction Association, and before we knew it we were in the midst of a 14-course banquet.

         A friend of Norman 's who was a lecturer at the Yantai University came to join us.

         Knowing our time was limited, we contrived to retreat from the banquet, failing to do justice to the final course of "jowdzas." At 2:30 p.m. , under the escort of two secretaries at the naval base, through the kind auspices of Mr. Yang, we were able to get into the old school compound. We noticed a new wall along the front of the compound, a little lower than the one I remember sitting on as I dangled my legs, watching the boys come in about to drop at the end of the long run. We passed the open field on the right where the Boys School had stood. Some of the navy recruits were kicking a soccer ball in the far distance.

         Next thing I knew, Norman Cliff was excitedly calling me as he reached the point where he could see the Prep School right in front of him. "David," he shouted, "here it is -- the Prep School -- and the steps that you stood on!" I quickened my pace and there it was before us. What memories! On our left was the Co-Ed Building and we had a photo in front of it. The wording on the foundation stone had been obliterated, probably during the Cultural Revolution. Alongside we saw the Memorial Hall. We paused there as we looked first at it and then over to the left-hand side of the Prep School building as it stretched back to where the old playing field was behind.

         Then we all assembled on the steps of the Prep School building and were able to take a photo, but unfortunately that was the last picture we were permitted to take. I thought back, and I'm sure Norman did also, to the moment of parting that those steps symbolized at least for me 51 years before!

         We were not allowed to go into the buildings but we were impressed at the reasonably good shape they were in, at least from the outside. We then made our way round to the back of the Prep School building, where we looked down on the quad and over to the playing field to the right. The size of everything seemed to be on a much diminished scale to the images of my childhood memories. I leaned over the wall and peered down on the old soccer field. I reflected on the three-legged race where one of the more husky boys had dragged his unwilling girl partner along in the dust behind him. I realized that right about where I was standing had been a huge old tree out of which one of our classmates had fallen and broken his arm.

         We wanted to linger longer but it was necessary to keep moving. We saw in the distance the Welches' house and other homes. As we walked back slowly we saw to our left the Girls School building. Soon we were out of the main gate and on the road by the beach. We also got a good view of some of the compound when we walked along Er Ma Lu at the back of the compound. This is now an attractive paved road with sidewalks and trees.

         The trip back must have been record time for Chefoo to Weifang. The five of us breathed sighs of relief as we alighted from the van. Norman and I then spent time reflecting on the day and getting notes into our diaries. The noon banquet was taking its toll but medication fortified us. We didn't want to risk anything coming in the way of the big event of the following morning.

         Sunday morning, June 9, dawned with heavy clouds over Weifang city and then rain began to fall. However, by the time our group of forty assembled to take the coach to the school, the rain had stopped. One of the Chinese later remarked to Norman as the sun came out shining brightly, "God in heaven is shining on you."

         Mr. Lu of the Foreign Affairs Department stepped down from the bus and shook hands with Mr. Wang, the principal of the Second Middle School . To the skirl of the bagpipes and the shrill and beat of the Chinese band, with crowds of gaily dressed Chinese students and onlookers pressing round, we marched into the school. What had been the Japanese headquarters at the back of Weihsien Camp in wartime was now the front of the school. Three of the original American Presbyterian missionary homes were still there and in use as staff buildings.

         We first entered the Lab building, which is the largest of the school buildings. It stands in the place where Block 23 of our Prison Camp used to be.

         In that building we, the youngest Prep School children lived during Camp and Eric Liddell, Norman Cliff and others had all lived in the cramped room above us.

         After speeches and an introduction of the three Weifang athletes who will be coming down to Hong Kong in September through the Eric Liddell Foundation, we set off for the nearby garden for the dedication ceremony.

         By 9:30 a.m. the band and bagpipes were quiet and civic leaders, teachers and students stood quietly with our group of overseas visitors and reporters. In a gentle garden setting, through a moon-gate, stood the silk-draped 7-foot-high red granite rock from the Island of Mull , a gift of the University of Edinburgh . It was engraved on both sides in English and Chinese.

         Eric Liddell's niece, Dr. Peggy Judge of Edinburgh , and the Vice-Mayor of Weifang unveiled the stone. Then Norman Cliff and I, who had both been fellow POWs in camp with Eric Liddell, spoke of our boyhood memories of our missionary hero, who died of a brain tumor six months before the war ended.

         Speaking of our hero as Uncle Eric, we recalled our moments of "Olympic glory" as he ran to the cheers of fellow prisoners and captors alike in the shadow of the towering prison camp walls forty-five years before. Cliff, who was a pall-bearer, spoke of him as a true sportsman and ended his remarks with a prayer reminiscent of Eric Liddell's life -- the prayer of St. Francis, "Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace."

         I spoke of Eric Liddell's love for sport, for children, for all people, including the Japanese soldiers, and for God. He lived at peace with God day by day. His serenity of spirit brought cheer and inspiration to all he worked with and who met him in their daily toil. Early each morning by the light of a peanut oil lamp, he and one of his roommates met for prayer and Bible reading. This was the source of his strength. To serve God and his fellowmen was his constant goal.

         I concluded with the words, "Throughout these nearly fifty years we have remembered Eric Liddell. We continue to remember him today for his sporting prowess, his life as a humanitarian and as a Christian gentleman, and also for his eager interest in young people and for his love for China ." In hushed silence we bowed our heads as the lone piper played the lament, "On the Shores of Loch Katrina."

 

         The following day our Eric Liddell Foundation party visited the former Anglo-Chinese College in Tianjin , where Eric Liddell taught. I presented on behalf of Eric Liddell's three daughters in Ontario the last gold medal he won for a major race. It had taken place in Tianjin in 1929, when he defeated Dr. Otto Peltzer, the 500- and 1500-meter world record holder. Also presented at both Weifang and Tianjin were Chinese translations of Disciplines of the Christian Life, devotional material written and assembled by Eric Liddell.

 

         We thought about the fact that the message of "Chariots of Fire" had rung true throughout the world as it depicted muscular Christianity at its best. We also reflected that today in China , in a beautifully manicured " Garden of Inspiration ," in silent vigil a stone speaks of the spirit of Eric Liddell and bears testimony:

 

         They shall mount up with wings as eagles; They shall run and not be weary.

 

         At both Weifang and Tianjin our contact with the schools and the local authorities had been very cordial. We all came away very impressed with the friendliness of the Chinese people to us.

 

         The Eric Liddell Foundation was incorporated as an education foundation in Hong Kong earlier this year. Its address is as follows: The Eric Liddell Foundation, Hong Kong International Bank Trustee Ltd., 2/F China Building, 29 Queen's Road Central, Hong Kong .

 

         Charles Walker, a Scottish engineer with a heart for history, wrote a book a few years ago about some famous Scots. Eric Liddell was one of the people he researched and in the course of his information gathering; he got in touch with me. I sent him a copy of my book, A Boy's War. The map of Weihsien Prison Camp and the picture of Eric Liddell's grave had some part in sparking the idea that a fitting headstone should be placed at Eric Liddell's grave. Walker calculated where the long forgotten grave would have been. He made a journey to Weifang and, like a number of us, discovered that with the passing of forty-six years, the lonely mound of earth and little simple cross with Eric Liddell's name scratched on it in shoe blacking, had long since disappeared. He found that the sprawling city of Weifang (a merger of Weihsien and Fangtze) with its 4 1/2 million population, had all but swallowed up the old Weihsien Prison Camp.

         From the first vision of a headstone came the idea of a memorial stone and the launching of a foundation which would sponsor scholarships for promising athletes from China , the United Kingdom and Hong Kong . Walker eventually reached an Accord with the Second Middle School of Weifang. This was followed by a visit to Hong Kong by David Puttnam, producer of "Chariots of Fire," and the foundation was off to a good start. One of Charles Walker's hopes is that the foundation will grow and the scholarship program will expand to include athletes of many other nations. He speaks of the program as a living memorial to Eric Liddell's years in China . The first education and training program will take place at the very fine facility of the Hong Kong Sports Centre from September 16 to 25, 1991, under the guidance of Tom McNab, former U. K. national coach and adviser for "Chariots of Fire."

 

Dr. David J. Michell

1058 Avenue Road

Toronto , ON M5N 2C6

June 28, 1991

 

 

 

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