Looking back on Weihsien

March – April 1946

'GOD meant it unto good,' as He means all things to work together for good for His servants. Hard times are not something for us to dodge, not something to get through as soon as possible; they are a rough field to be tilled for a harvest: they are something which GOD can train us to welcome. But GOD's purpose of good is for us to attain, and afterwards we must not let it slip away.

What good has come from Weihsien ?

It was good that missionaries and business people should live together. Both sorts live in China absorbed in their own lives there is usually little intercourse and too much feeling of difference. In internment camps, missionary and business man were neighbours, knowing each other's ways and temper; sharing camp duties, sweeping, carrying garbage; standing in the same queues, silent queues, impatient and resentful queues, talkative, cheerful queues; seeing each other take hardship or responsibility. Many of us are very grateful for the chance of knowing fine men and women from the business world, whom we should never have met but for internment.

Then what a chance to meet our missionary partners ! The whole missionary body of North-East China was in Weihsien, except for German or neutral missionaries. We were of different denominations and diverse in outlook; but we had a Weihsien Christian Fellowship, a Fellowship in spirit as well as in organisation. In this matter we owed very much to Harold Cook, of the Methodist Missionary Society, and to Bishop Scott (S.P.G.). We all had a chance of enrichment, and we shall have friends everywhere, as a result of internment.

These new contacts made possible new duties. We from Chefoo were no longer living in a small largely feminine community. We had to work with men and commend our Gospel by being active and efficient. Some of us were Wardens looking after the needs of people in our blocks ; others were cobblers, bakers, butchers. Gordon Welch became manager of the camp bakery - a vital function! - and for a long time he served on the most difficult of the camp committees, the Discipline Committee. Managing the games for the camp, running a Boys' Club in the winter, running Scout and Guide activities, and many other tasks gave us new chances of being useful. Cleaning vegetables, issuing stores, managing the sewing room, mending clothes were less interesting tasks : but all meant new contacts; and new contacts and necessary tasks were for our profit.

As I think about the Chefoo boys and girls in the camp, what was their gain? We know that their book learning was curtailed, that they went through considerable discomfort, and that they were tested severely in character. Some minds have been contaminated, early training has been shaken, standards have become uncertain or lowered. Close contact with men and women of every sort has opened the eyes of our boys and girls: they have seen dishonest and vicious people ; they realize how widely diverse are the standards of conduct and amusement, even among people of upright life; they have seen many varieties of Christian life and worship. To assimilate so much experience was not easy without some upsets. But in these matters they are the better fitted by these experiences to enter the adult world of their home countries. And tests are God-given: we do not know the end of these testings. To counter-balance those boys and girls whom we think of as defeated, we look at others who not only survived the tests, but triumphed; who were shaken, but ended with their convictions settled on the Rock. I believe that most of our boys and girls will be stronger for life because of Weihsien.

In self-reliance, in manifold abilities they have gained greatly: cooking, stove-building and tending, household duties are familiar to them. To choose their own occupations, their own reading, friends, way of spending much of Sunday, the fashion of their private devotions - these choices have been forced upon them by circumstances. For choosing adult careers, they are better equipped both by what they have done and by the contacts they have had, than by the ordinary training of school and college.

Will our internment mean any gain for the Chinese ?

I think the Chinese will feel themselves nearer to us for two reasons. First, the missionary lost his national superiority . For so long, we Westerners had been neutrals, looking on while the Japanese armies invaded China ; now we have been with the Chinese, equally the objects of Japanese control and spoliation. Then, the missionary lost his superior economic position : no longer was the missionary rich (compared with the average Chinese) and living in comfort (compared with most Chinese houses). The missionary was now housed in Chinese houses : he was in need of every scrap of fuel now, and went gathering cinders from rubbish-heaps, like any Chinese beggar; the missionary lived on the simplest foods and relished the simplest Chinese extras, peanuts, soy-bean sauce, jujube-dates, to flavour the dull fare. So we have 'eaten bitterness', as the Chinese say, sharing the dish of deprivation from which most Chinese eat constantly. This should be a real bond between Chinese and missionary.

Looking back on Weihsien, I feel we have learnt for life (though I know how easy it is to forget GOD's lessons) that externals don't touch internals. What is outside can't affect what is inside: in two ways. Covetousness does not come from outside, but inside. It was easy when supplies ran short, to excuse oneself for covetousness on the score that it was natural to make sure you (and your family) had enough, but when airborne supplies came beyond our needs, still the covetous heart urged people to grab, even with abundance around. But even more, contentment, and resting in GOD, are not caused by external circumstances, nor are they at the mercy of adversity. So 'I congratulate myself on the pressure of adversity; for adversity fashions endurance, and endurance produces tested character, and character breeds hope; and that sort of hope never lets us down, because GOD loves us and GOD has revealed His love in our experience.'

Gordon Martin
March – April 1946

Google images -- sistine chapel -- Michelangelo
view of Weihsien

... click on the picture to view a few magnificent aerial photographs of Weihsien and the neighbourhood taken from a
B-29 U.S.Airforce bomber.
© courtesy: David Beard (New Zealand)


To learn further about Chinese art, history and language, during World War II, William A. Smith "consented to be recruited" for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and was sent to China for the duration of the war. There he traveled clandestinely throughout the country and drew a wide variety of subjects along the way. He also made lasting friendships with the country's greatest artists. He traveled through Asia and Africa on his return from the war, laying the groundwork for his globe trotting travels the rest of his life. Among other journeys, Smith lectured at the Academy of Fine Arts in Athens in 1954; Manila, 1955; Warsaw, 1958. He was one of the first artists sent to Russia under the Cultural Exchange Agreement in 1958.


... click on the drawing (above) to view a slide show with William A. Smith's photos and sketches of Weihsien.