In At the Grave of Eric Liddell I blogged about Liddell in the context of my visit to the Camp (Weihsien) where he died. This is a brief photo-note about another Liddell inspired visit, to his house in the important northern Chinese city of Tianjin.
He was born here (1902) – so he’s been called the first ever Chinese-born Olympic gold medal winner (Chariots of Fire left out the fact that he won a 200 metres bronze as well). His parents were Christian missionaries, who had sent their son home to be educated in a school for the children of missionaries in Scotland, and it was here (Eltham College) that it became clear he was a possible sprinting world champion. He also played rugby for Scotland.
In 1925, the year after his triumph, he returned to China as a missionary himself. He came back to Tianjin to begin his career, teaching science (he was an Edinburgh University graduate) to children who, it was hoped, would go on to provide an educated class of leaders for the republican China that was struggling to establish itself. He continued to take part in sports events, obviously remaining a world class competitor. In 1941, when the British were advised by their government to leave China because of the danger from the Japanese, Liddell left Tianjin for a missionary station which served the rural poor.
After a morning spent visiting some of Tianjin’s Lonely Planet attractions, we took a taxi to Liddell’s old house, 38, Chongqing Lu:
The plaque that marks this as Liddell’s house calls it an example of ‘modernism’ in architecture:
We wondered through the surrounding streets. This was obviously a European area, but the plaques told us that a number of wealthy Chinese had also lived there. It was pleasant enough, but I didn’t find most of the architecture particularly distinguished. Here are a few examples:
Fans of Jet Li’s martial arts film Fearless might be interested in this photo of a photograph in a Tianjin exhibition centre. It shows the city at the turn of the century, roughly the time of the film’s action:
I think that Fearless gives a caricatured but not necessarily wrong picture of the foreign influence on China. I’ve read that there’s a film (perhaps two films) in the offing about Liddell’s Chinese years. These will no doubt deal with the missionary thrust into China. I believe that, on the whole, the Christian missionaries represented the best of the imperialist incursion, but it’ll be interesting to see how fairly the film(s) handle (s) the historical context of Liddell’s activities.
Five years later a Liddell film is still in the offing:
If this article is correct and it fails to bring out the importance of Liddell’s Christianity it will be historically almost worthless. Won’t stop me going to see it though.