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James Taylor III
writes about Eric Liddell ...

The Arena of Eric Liddell’s Life
James H. Taylor III
Hong Kong,

Eric Liddell’s four short decades (1902 – 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 (Eric’s native home), England and France were sandwiched between five carefree years of childhood in China then 17 years of sacrificial service for the Chinese people.

Two years before Eric’s birth, the death knell of China’s 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 Tianjin’s 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 China’s fading glory. Even as the 20th century dawned, Russia and Japan fought for control of China’s three mineral-rich northeastern provinces – 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 men’s minds.

The missionary movement, of which Eric’s 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 Morrison’s 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 China’s 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-sen’s 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.

Beyond Success
James H. Taylor III
Hong Kong,

What was Eric Liddell’s secret in moving from success to significance?

Speaking at a luncheon for honor graduates just after his Olympic triumph, Eric shared his secret in these words: Athletics is part of educating the whole person…. As we realize that we not only have to store our minds with knowledge, but to educate our bodies for the strenuous life we must go through, and also remember that we are spirit as well, then we will send out graduates who are really worthy of taking their place in any part of life.

Yes, he had extraordinary natural endowments. Through discipline and determination, Eric set his course for athletic and academic success. Yet, at the end of the day, his secret was not there. It was his spirit that set him apart.

Eric’s heart for others always shone through - whether for a competitor on the starting line, a wounded Chinese farmer who had narrowly escaped decapitation, or a student separated from his parents in a Japanese concentration camp.

Spirit mattered. But who could believe that Eric Liddell’s spirit was as important as his best-in-the world success? That drew people to him. At a banquet in Eric’s honor in Edinburgh, the MC aptly observed that that they were not there because Eric Liddell ran the fastest. It is because this young man put his whole career as a runner in the balance, and deemed it as small dust, compared to remaining true to his principles. This was not a one-time choice. His whole life demonstrated this priority. His biographer puts it in this way: At the peak of his athletic career with the world at his feet, 23-year-old Eric Liddell turned away from it all and set his face toward China.

There, in a Japanese concentration camp, after nearly two decades of service to the Chinese people, Eric ran his final dash. Two internees put his life into perspective. Describing the concentration camp experience, one shared Eric’s secret of moving from success to significance: Weihsien – The Test: Whether a man’s happiness depends on what he has, or what he is; on outer circumstances, or inner heart; on life’s experiences – good and bad – or on what he makes out of the materials those experiences provide.”

The other, writing to Eric Liddell’s bereaved wife in Canada, said, Rather than send you sympathy for your great loss, I would send you congratulations for loving and helping a man to show so many how to live.

Beyond the Chariots grips you with Eric Liddell’s story of success to significance.