My friend Paul Lin, a retired Chinese-American neurosurgeon, has lived a long and remarkable life. Now 90, he is feeble but deeply content. He knows he has much for which to be grateful.
I visited him a few days ago accompanied by his daughter Jennifer, a longtime Philadelphia Inquirer reporter, who has dedicated her just-published book to him: “Shanghai Faithful: Betrayal and Forgiveness in a Chinese Christian Family.” It is a compelling narrative covering five generations of the Lin family in China.
Jennifer’s father called the book project her “obsession,” and he was right. It started when she wrote two stories about China as a summer intern for the Bucks County Courier Times in 1979 and continued when she had a residency for the Inquirer in China in the 1990s.
The central figure in this book is Jennifer’s grandfather, Paul’s father, Lin Pu-chi, an Anglican priest, who had studied in the United States and was resourceful enough to get his youngest son Paul at age 22 and Paul’s older brother Tim out of China just as the Cultural Revolution was beginning.
The Lin family is exemplary for “keeping the faith” and remaining ever grateful. And Jennifer is to be admired for using her talent to preserve special, sometimes painful, memories of a remarkable Chinese Christian family.
Paul Lin finished medical school in China before coming to America. He did his medical internship at Atlantic City Memorial Hospital and then took up a surgical residency in Hartford, Connecticut, followed by a residency in neurosurgery at Temple University Medical Center in Philadelphia.
At Temple, Paul met Sylvia Spina, a nurse of Italian lineage who worked at Temple and lived in Camden, New Jersey. Paul and Sylvia married in 1953. Their family of five daughters and one son lived comfortably in a Philadelphia suburb, conscious of their Chinese origins as they exchanged English-language letters monthly with their relatives in Shanghai.
Over the years, Jenifer made a point of learning a lot about the Chinese language, history and culture.
Now her book is in the hands of all family members. The cover photo is a picture of the Lin family in China in 1931; Paul, the youngest child, is seated in front between his parents, holding his mother’s hand. Their story is worth telling because it provides insights on faith and family loyalty from a Christian perspective during the turbulent years of the Cultural Revolution in Maoist China.
Readers will find an informative narrative of what it was like to be a Christian under communist rule in China. The Lin family kept the faith but not without significant pain and suffering. Paul Lin’s children — Jennifer and her siblings and their children here in the United States — are fortunate to have a thoroughly researched record of their Chinese origins.
Their grandparents suffered for their Christian faith but never lost hope. It is difficult to imagine a richer legacy for anyone to receive. Hence the depth of gratitude that the Lin family owes to Jennifer for years of committed research and writing that is now available to anyone who buys this book.
Jesuit Father William J. Byron is professor of business and society at St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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