Legendary Life of Zhang Ziyi, a Christian Patriot

Zhang Ziyi
Zhang Ziyi (photo: Xi'an Evening News )
By Grace ZhiAugust 31st, 2018

The grave of Zhang Ziyi, a great philanthropist honored as the foregoer of modern charity in China, was placed on the list of the 7th batch of provincial cultural heritage site published by the provincial government of Shaanxi a few days ago.

Zhang Ziyi, from Xingping, Shaanxi Province, was born on May 24, 1881. Growing up in a poor family, he dropped out of school and took a job in town after his father died when he was 15. He worked during the day and studied at night. In 1904, he met an English missionary in a church in Xingping and became a Christian.

In 1907, he joined Tung Meng Hui, a political party, to start his revolutionary career. Meanwhile, he established a primary school where children could be educated for free. Then, he was invited to Xi'an to assist Zhang Yuan to preside over Xi'an Secondary Industrial School, the predecessor of Northwest University. In 1912, Zhang Ziyi and Zhang Yuan founded the Xi'an Dyeing and Textile Company. The following year, Zhang Ziyi and others established the Xi'an Chinese Christian Independent Church and its church school.

In 1916, he was put into prison for opposing Yuan Shih-kai's restoration and the Bible was what he could rely on during the days in prison. He prayed to God in pain, "May God save my soul if I should be sentenced to death. I will serve God with all my life, if not." Soon after, he was the only one that was set free out of all the arrested thirty persons charged with the same crime.

This episode had a tremendous effect on his decision to devote his life to charity.

In 1922, he founded Xi'an Orphan School. In the beginning, there were only 20 orphans enrolled, but a document revealed that the number raised to 708 by October 1934. The school set up vocation classes for students who graduated from its primary courses in 1947. It takes three years to finish the vocation courses, which include ordinary middle school courses, as well as various working skills.

Under Zhang's principle of treating everyone equally without any discrimination, Xi'an Orphan School saved and educated most children in poverty among the orphanages nationwide during the period of the Republic of China. According to incomplete statistics from 1948, Xi'an Orphan School saved more than 14,000 children, and the number of students peaked at over 1000.

The school achieved great success. At least 306 orphans stayed to work there successively, and 462 went on for further study, and at least 3,633 got their jobs elsewhere.

Zhang was greatly affected by Soong Mei-ling, or Madame Chiang Kai-shek, on the conception and achievement of schooling, and was praised by Yu Youren as the First Philanthropist of Shaanxi. Since he ran his orphanage for 29 years, he drained all of his possessions but also saved thousands of starving children in the process. In the next 26 years after 1949 when the People's Republic of China was founded, Zhang Ziyi was still the president of the orphan school and was thus honored as the founder of Shaanxi's modern charity, and the foregoer of modern charity in China.

Besides charity, Zhang was actively engaged in building churches. In 1913, Rev. Zhang Ziyi, several pastors, the president and secretary-general of YMCA of Xi'an, as well as tens of local Christians, founded the Xi'an Chinese Christian Independent Church.

In 1918, Zhang bought a piece of land, which is now the committee of Xincheng District in Xi'an, and built on it the Xi Xinjie Church under the Xi'an Chinese Christian Independent Church and its affiliated houses. This church was extended by Feng Yu-hsiang, a Christian general.

In 1919, he built Nan Xinjie Church in Jixian Lane, Nan Xinjie, Xi'an, which could accommodate 500 people. This church's design is a combination of Eastern and Western elements, and it is the biggest church of Xi'an built by Chinese during the period of the Republic of China. After the Chinese economic reform in 1978, the church was used as the location for the Shaanxi and Xi'an Committees of Three-Self Patriotic Movement of Protestant Church, Shaanxi, and Xi'an Christian Councils, playing an important part in the development of Christianity in Xi'an, even in Shaanxi. The church was also enlisted in the cultural relic protection units of Xi'an.

After the founding of the People's Republic of China, Zhang was appointed as the first to the third vice chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference of Xincheng District of Xi'an. On Dec 13, 1964, Zhang died a natural death at the age of 84 and was buried in a cemetery for government cadres in south Xi'an by the government two days later. In March 1977, Zhang's family removed his remains from the cemetery so he could be buried in his hometown. On May 2013, the grave of Rev. Zhang Ziyi was enlisted in the cultural relic protection units by Pingxing government. 

- Translated by Lin Changfeng

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