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1. Dreams of My Youth

Chapter 1

Dreams of My Youth

Some of you have asked me about my experience in the Lord, so I’ll take this opportunity to share with you my testimony. This is somewhat unusual because at the pulpit I would usually expound the word of God. Today I will talk about two aspects of my Christian life: how I became a Christian and how I have come to serve God. As I will explain shortly, these two aspects of my Christian life are inseparable.

My family background

I begin with my family. My grandfather on my father’s side lived in Fujian. Though he came from a poor family, he managed to put himself through university (which was a great achieve­ment in China in those days). He could have lived in prosperity, but he forsook every­thing to preach the gospel and became the minister of a Presbyterian church. Because minis­ters were paid meagerly in those days, his three sons and one daughter grew up in relative poverty.

His three sons were all brilliant academically, but the most out­stand­ing was my father, Chang Tien-Tze, the eldest son. Although my father was brought up in a Christian home, he grew up as a non-Christian with no obvious interest in spiritual things. He got tired of living in poverty and decided to pursue a better life. He was admitted to Peking University without examination because his average mark was around 97%. When he graduated from Peking University, he broke the university record for the highest average. Then he was sent to Harvard University in the United States to do his Master’s degree, which he com­pleted in nine months. He felt that Harvard was not as good as some of the European schools, so he went to Europe to do his doctorate.

He had a phenomenal memory and an amazing gift in lang­uages. He learned languages for the sheer fun of it. He studied French for only three months but spoke French so fluently that many thought he had studied at a university in France (he did, but only for a short time, at the Sorbonne in Paris). He decided to learn German as well, so he studied at Heidelberg University for three months. At the end of the three months, he spoke good German. He became increasingly proud and confident of his abilities. Wherever he studied, whether at Harvard or in Europe, he received one scholarship after another. In fact he had received so much scholarship money that he could even sup­port his two young­er brothers through university and still have enough money to travel first-class to America. He acquired a taste for the good and comforta­ble life.

That was my family background. My father’s intellectual brilliance fostered an intellectual atmosphere for me, his only child, to grow up in. He was a man who loved an intellectual challenge, but he was also a man who loved his country very much. His dream was to pull China out of the Middle Ages and make it a glorious, modern nation—a new China! He studied economics because he felt that the reconstruct­ion of China must first start with the economy and only afterwards with the military. He believed that a strong economic infrastructure was needed for building a powerful and scientifically advanced nation.

My father made me patriotic as well. He would often talk to me about China’s glorious past. He was the one who sowed the seeds of anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism in my heart. He was incensed that foreign nations had taken advantage of China’s weakness to plun­der her, to trample on her, and to humiliate her with unequal treaties. So I grew up feeling very hostile towards Westerners. My anti-Western sen­timents were intensified by the fact that I grew up in Shanghai, a city partitioned into various foreign settlements: the French concess­ion, the British concession, the Japanese concession, and so on. You have probably seen a photograph of a sign that says, “No dogs or Chinese allowed” at the entrance to a park. There were foreign soldiers every­where. I once saw a British soldier kicking and punching a Chinese tailor. I said in my heart, “You guys just wait. I’ll teach you a lesson one of these days!”

My ambition

I shared my father’s love for the country but my ambition was differ­ent from his. He emphasized building a strong economy but I empha­sized building a strong military. I spent all my pocket money on books on military science. I studied a lot and was fascinated with Zhu Geliang in The Tales of The Three Kingdoms.

I learned martial arts because I felt that it was important to build a strong body. I became very muscular through intensive training in judo and boxing. I took up all kinds of sports to train my body. To acquire leadership skills, I single-handedly organized and trained up a baseball (softball) team. Knowing little about base­ball, I got hold of a book on baseball and taught myself the techniques of the sport. Then I trained up some guys who also knew nothing about baseball. Within two years we were playing in the “A” division and challenging the best teams in Shanghai. What was our secret? Dedication and team spirit.

I trained myself not only physically and mentally, but also in spiritual things. I noticed that Zhu Geliang and other ancient Chinese heroes were well versed in astronomy and astrology. They could study the stars and come up with amazing predictions. So I decided to study the stars. I once picked up a book on astrology which predicted that the United States will be involved in a major war at the end of 1941. Then I looked at the year of publication—1935! I was so impressed with its accuracy that I studied the book and learned a lot about astrology to the extent that I could look at a person’s face and tell him in which month he was born. People were quite amazed at my ability to tell things about people and events. I know first-hand that astrology works to some extent. Certainly there are char­latans who de­fraud peo­ple with their phon­y skills in astrology, but there are others who really know something about it. Of course I dropped the whole business when I became a Christian because the Bible warns us not to dabble with spiritism and related things.

I felt I was sleeping too much, so I cut down on my sleep in order to spend more time on military science. You can see what kind of per­son I was: determined and disciplined. With my intellectual training, physi­cal training, and knowledge of astrology, I was preparing myself to fulfill my ambition.

My anti-Christian sentiments

I was becoming more and more anti-Christian partly because of what my father had told me about foreigners residing in China. He told me that many of the missionaries in China were in fact spies dispatched to var­ious parts of China under the guise of missionary work in order to feed information back to their home countries about China’s military and economic situation.

I harbored anti-Christian feelings even in my primary school days. My parents put me in a Catholic primary school not because they were religious but because the Catholic schools in Shanghai had a high aca­demic standard. Sadly, in school I was totally put off by the Cath­olics. Most of the priests behaved repulsively. I saw noth­ing Christian about them. They were cold, unloving, and not the least interested in the welfare of the students. Life in the Catholic board­ing school was like staying in a prison. It had high walls and there were thick bars across every window. Twice I escaped from the school. Everything was under authoritarian control. We had to line up and march together all the time, whether it was to class, the dining hall, or our sleeping quarters. My anti-Christian feelings made it hard for me to believe in God. I became more and more anti-Christian, and it went on like this until the Communists came.

The war years



During the war, my father was a high-ranking government official with many administrative duties in Nanjing. His administrative center in Nanjing was a kingdom in its own right. It was guarded by its own soldiers, and had city walls and power generators. My father had sever­al armies under him, with two generals in command of the armies. (One of them, the famous Sun Li Ren, later became the chief-of-staff in Taiwan.) I was brought up in a setting in which I enjoyed almost unlimited power under the Nationalists. I was just a teenager, yet the guards would salute me whenever I walked by, and government offi­cials would greet me. If I wanted to travel from Shanghai to Nanjing, high-ranking officials would come to our home in Shanghai and take me to the train station in the official limousine. Upon my arrival at Nanjing, another group of officials would escort me to my father’s office. The privilege and power that I enjoyed became a bad influence on a young person like me.

The war intensified. The Nationalists were losing one battle after another to the Communists who were advancing south. My father had to decide whether to fight or to withdraw. Meanwhile he had become very disgusted with the widespread corruption among the Nationalists. Many Nationalist armies were semi-independent and not subject to the control of the central government. This opened the way to great abuses. My father was fed up with the corruption that was rampant in China; his stand against corruption got him into disputes with many of his fellow government officials. When his mentor Wang Yun Wu, then the acting Prime Minister, resigned, my father took the chance to resign en bloc with several other officials. He retired from government just shortly before the Communists reached Shanghai.

The Nationalists fled Shanghai when the Communists came, but my father refused to leave. His friends were warning him that even minor officials such as mayors of small cities were being executed, but my father said, “My record is blameless. I have done nothing against my country. I have nothing to be ashamed of. I have fought the Japan­ese. I have served my country. Let the Communists shoot me if they want to, but they will have to tell me what is their charge against me.” Sure enough, when the Communists came into Shanghai, they never bot­hered us. People were being exe­cuted every day but we were left in peace because the Communist headquarters had received a good report of my father from their spies. They found his record clean; he had done nothing that could be construed as hostile to his own country or even to the Communists.

They later tried to get my father to serve in the Communist government, but he refused to work with them, saying, “Loyalty is our Chinese principle. After serving one government I cannot serve anoth­er.” He said this partly as an excuse. Later they invited him to teach at Peking University but again he declined. He decided, how­ever, to stay in China in order to see with his own eyes how the Communists will build this new China. So the whole family remained in China. In 1952, my mother left China due to serious health pro­blems (tuber­culosis). When my father had finally decided to leave China, they did not allow him to do so. In 1953, he made use of an opportunity to leave China. So I was left in China by myself with no money or possessions. What had happened to my dream of building a new and powerful China?

Facing dialectical materialism

I had to decide what I was going to do. The communists had gained control of China. What was I going to do with the rest of my life? One possibili­ty was to side with the communists and go all out with them. I could join the army and rise through the communist ranks (which would not be too difficult because, as a senior middle school student, I could start as an officer in the army straightaway). That would allow me to accomplish something through the communist army.

But I refused to pretend. Without true belief in commun­ism, one cannot be a true communist. I felt, however, that I should at least give communism a chance to convince me. So I started to read commun­ist books on dialectical materialism as well as books on the history of the Communist Party. Having had some knowledge of military science, I found the history of the Communist Party very fascinating because it describes some of Chairman Mao’s brilliant military stratagems.

But reading communist literature did not make me a commun­ist. On the contrary, I came to the conclusion that dialectical material­ism is an illogical doctrine. Instead of making me more pro-communist, dialect­ical materialism made me more anti-communist. (Looking back, I would say that dialectical materialism had pro­ba­bly helped me to become a Christian later on.)

I could tell from the class­room debates that even some of the Communist Youth League mem­bers did not agree with it. Somebody once asked a party mem­ber about the origin of life, and the reply was, “Oh, that’s easy, life comes from non-life!” Even the pro-communist students felt uncomfortable with that answer because the chances of that happening are so remote. It actually takes more faith to believe that life came from non-life than to believe that life was created. But I wasn’t too concerned with these issues. I was only concerned with what to do next.

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church