Lecture: Watchman Nee and 'Self-Support' of Chinese Christianity

A historical picture of Watchman Nee
A historical picture of Watchman Nee
By Li ShiguangNovember 21st, 2022

A professor highlighted Chinese church leader Watchman Nee's contributions to the medical industry in China other than his devotion to the church. 

Professor Guo Ronggang, who is from the Center for the Study of Christianity of Fujian Normal University, delivered the topic “Watchman Nee and Financial Self-Support of Chinese Christianity” in the “Symposium Series of Passing on the Torch of Learning-Watchman Nee Memorial Conference” sponsored by the Journal of Research for Christianity in China online.

This academic seminar was also co-organized by the Center for the Study of Christianity and China in Los Angeles, USA, and the Institute of Christianity and Chinese Culture at GETS Theological Seminary (Global Enrichment Theological Seminary) on November 5.

Professor Guo stated that the academic circles at home and abroad have conducted much research on Watchman Nee as a local theologian in China, while unintentionally or intentionally, they ignored his involvement in the pharmaceutical company.

The pharmaceutical company was formerly a manufacturing and distributing pharmaceutical factory founded in 1931, and had gone through closing and reopening three times. In 1937, China’s Resistance War Against Japanese Aggression broke out in an all-round way. In the December 8th Incident and the Battle of Shanghai, Xinsheng Pharmaceutical Factory, the predecessor of the pharmaceutical company, presented vulnerary medicine to the Chinese army.

Nee made it a target for the company to make the best medicine in China, and many excellent universities such as Fu Jen Catholic University in Beijing, Saint John’s University in Shanghai, and the University of Nanking in Nanjing cooperated with the company to conduct research.

At that time in modern China, where science and technology were backward, Chinese people often looked down on domestic manufacturing but had eyes only on foreign goods. However, Nee advised Chinese people not to blindly admire the foreign moon.

After efforts, the pharmaceutical company not only took the lead in introducing well-known new medicine in China, such as vitamin K5, DDT, and tiredness-relieving pills but also produced medicine to treat hyperacidity, indigestion, cough, and gynecological diseases. In addition, local anesthetics and sleeping pills were presented. The company was the most complete pharmaceutical factory producing sulfonamides in China during the period of the Republic of China.

Sulfonamides, playing a very important role in diminishing inflammation and treating injuries, were of great value and contributed much to the Chinese army struggling to fight against Japanese Aggression at that time.

Back then, an English daily newspaper founded by an American in Shanghai had a good reputation, but for some reason, flies had long plagued its editorial office. After using DDT produced by the pharmaceutical company, it completely solved the fly disaster. In the newspaper’s editorial, the reporter expressed the distress they had experienced as well as the magic of DDT’s effectiveness in a humourous way, offering free advertising for the pharmaceutical company. “Now we can use both hands on the typewriter. Unlike before, one has to use the other hand to kill flies.”

Nee wrote in an announcement published by the pharmaceutical company on March 29, 1943, saying, “We set up the company in the spirit of academic research, having spent much manpower, financial resources, and material resources on research and manufacture, which is not only to seek business development but also to contribute to society. We study vitamin K5, and by that spirit, we also make our own vitamin K5. We hope that in the near future, most raw materials can be made by ourselves, without relying on foreign countries. We are confident that this is not a dream, because there is no end to learning. ”

Nee put forward his own “Creeds of the Pharmaceutical Company” in 1942. First, do not be a sordid merchant. Second, do not manufacture secret medicine. Third, do not do meaningless publicity. Fourth, remanufacture instead of modification. Fifth, seek good quality rather than a low price.

The outbreak of the Pacific War led to the Japanese blockade of China’s coastal areas so raw materials and finished drugs were difficult to obtain, due to which the Chinese pharmaceutical industry which had been used to importing before, had to conduct its own medical research. Nee analyzed the situation of the domestic pharmaceutical industry at that time and thought it was a good opportunity for the industry’s development.

During the operation of the pharmaceutical company, new drugs were constantly introduced. Nee issued the “Notice of Medicine Every Week” in September 1946, saying that he would contribute his research efforts to society and hope that one or more new drugs would come out every week after that.

The advertisement of the pharmaceutical company could also reflect Nee’s scholarly attitude. His third creed of the company was: “Do not do meaningless publicity”. Its advertisement was very special among the ones of all domestic manufacturers at that time. Nee even tried to make sure that its advertisements conformed to academic standards. As a result, its advertisements were often accompanied by quotations.

- Translated by Stephen Huang

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