Suffering in the Chinese Cultural Revolution
By Lujia Xu
My mother was born in the countryside in Jiangxi province, China. At that time, boys were treasured while girls were not. Baby girls were often discarded, especially in rural areas. In 1902, after my mother’s birth, she was left at the front door of an evangelical church and was adopted by a missionary, a lady from England named Bo Zhicao. The missionary taught her not only the Bible, but also piano, sewing, weaving, embroidery, and more. My mother had a very nice voice and would memorize many songs and the Bible that she read, and because of this, she was nicknamed “the living Bible.” She eventually married my father, who was a pastor. Sometimes when he was preparing to preach, he asked my mom which Bible scripture was in which chapter and which verse. My mom could precisely say where the verse was without turning through the Bible. She also knew English, and I know it now because of her.
The Second Life
When I was three, one day I accidentally fell into a lake. A northern wind came and blew me to its center. My mom immediately plunged into the lake. My mother prayed, “God, this child was given by You. Please save him and give him a second life.” Very strangely, a wind from the south then came after she prayed and blew me into her arms. She took me to shore and knelt down, praying, “God, You gave him a second life; we will dedicate him to You.” From this incident and from the Bible stories my parents taught me, I knew that my God was the true God, a strong and faithful God; He made the universe, made the dead live again, turned water into wine, and made a path through the Red Sea so God’s people could walk on dry land. And I knew that my God could make an open road where there was no place for one.
Piano Miraculously Learned
My parents wanted me to become a pastor when I grew up, but I just didn’t want to. It was because pastors were so poor, and because of their poverty, their lives seemed bitter to me. My father was busy day in and day out helping others. The pastor’s life just didn’t appeal to me. But music did.
I prayed to God that He would allow me to learn music. But my family was poor. When I was in middle school, one of my classmates was from a very rich family, and his father had him study piano, but he didn’t like it. The teacher scolded him and called him stupid every time. He asked me to accompany him so that the teacher would be too shy to scold him anymore. I listened to the teacher attentively. But my friend would neither listen nor practice. At one lesson, the teacher scolded him about why he still couldn’t play. He said, “I can’t, but he can,” pointing at me. I played for the teacher, and he was very happy. He then said to me, “From now on, you take lessons, and he will listen.” So in this way, my friend’s family paid for the lessons for over two years while I was taught. Finally his father found out the truth after asking his son to perform, and he no longer paid for the lessons. But the teacher loved me very much and continued to offer me free lessons for another two years. God miraculously arranged for four years of piano lessons for me, which gave me a solid base in music. Also, in high school, I learned piano from the wife of a missionary from America who worked in a hospital in Nanchang, Jiangxi province.
Falling Twice for Fame and Wealth
After the revolution in 1949, I wanted to take a test to go to college. My parents wanted me to learn theology to become a pastor, but I loved music. My friend told me that the famous Luxun Literature and Art College had already been moved to Shenyang in Liaoning province, and there were many Russian professors there. I went to Shenyang just to take the test for that college. It was not an easy one to be admitted into, and the applicant’s family’s political background was also taken into account before one was admitted. The form, which was required for applicants to fill out, had a blank for family background. I didn’t know how to fill it out, and I saw that one of my classmates whose father was a lawyer had filled in “freelance work.” This seemed fitting to me, so I also filled in the blank as “freelance work.” After they found out that my father was a pastor, they said, “A pastor is a lackey of America.” They wanted me to fill in “traitor” instead. I knew that my father was not a traitor, but I really wanted to be admitted, and if I didn’t fill in “traitor,” I would not be allowed to take the test. So I filled in the blank with “traitor.” This was the first time that I fell for fame and wealth.
I was admitted into Luxun Music and Art College in 1951. Every meal there began only after a military officer whistled and shouted, “Begin!” I couldn’t eat the first meal in the college because I had never eaten a meal without praying first. But at the moment, I didn’t dare to pray because the others might find out that I was a Christian. I didn’t eat. I was starving! Before the second meal, I randomly prayed silently and as fast as I could with my eyes open. The truth was that I was ashamed to be a Christian and scared of what would happen if someone found out I was a Christian.
Between 1953 and 1954, the first young generation artist delegation was selected for going abroad to East Europe to perform. They selected a pianist, a vocalist and a variety of artists nationwide in Shenyang. They chose me to play a piano solo. I was extremely proud of myself and wrote a letter to everyone I knew.
Unexpectedly, just one week before going abroad, the top leader of the delegation told me that since my father was a traitor, I was not allowed to go abroad, unless I publicly broke away from my father, and also criticized Christianity as a “spiritual opium.” My father was a loving father, not a bad person, and especially not a spy. How could I break the relationship with my father? But I, in my selfishness, thought, “I’ve already told everybody that I would be going abroad. How ashamed I will be! It’s better to write a letter to my father to break the relationship!” So I wrote a letter to my father right away, saying, “Father, you are my wonderful father forever. I love you forever. I want to go abroad, but because of you, I would not be allowed. Let us temporarily break our relationship and recover it again after I come back.” So I wrote a letter to the leaders, telling them that I had broken away from my father, and I also copied and turned in some material from official government documents which criticized Christianity. This was the second time I fell for fame and wealth.
To my shame, the next day my letter was posted for all to see at the college. The leaders had printed my letter in large print on a poster and put at the top: “Please Look, the Son of a Pastor Criticizes Christianity.” But even after this denial of my family and faith, I was not allowed to be a delegate because they said I had health problems. After this I felt extremely guilty, the worst of sinners. I knelt down in front of my bed and prayed, “God, I beg you to pardon me, a sinner. One day Judas sold You for money, and now Lujia Xu sold You for fame and wealth. The Bible says, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ God! Now the burden I hold is too heavy; I beg you to forgive me.” After I prayed, I felt like a new man. From then on, I always first closed my eyes to pray before every meal; I was no longer ashamed of my God.
By God’s grace, in 1956 I graduated from Luxun Literature and Art College with a master’s degree and was invited to remain at the college to teach piano. Later, the music department separated from the college and became the Northeastern Music Training College, which is now the Shenyang Music College. I taught there for almost forty years.
During the Cultural Revolution, over 90 percent of the well-educated people were criticized and denounced publicly, some of them sent to a “cow-shed,” the slang term for a jail cell. There is a Chinese proverb: The taller a tree is, the stronger wind it will have. Men and women considered to be scholars were now thought of as people who poisoned the young generations, telling them that Communist philosophy would never work.
My teaching often antagonized the government officials. When I taught Bach’s music, I told my students the story of his life and that Bach had served in church. I also took students to church to listen to the church music. When I taught how to play Beethoven’s sonata, I felt there was a large piece of it that seemed to praise God’s work of creation, so I read the first few chapters of Genesis to my students. This violated the prohibition, and I was accused of being against the Communist Party. My wife, also a teacher, and I were often worried and afraid. We bought a semi conduct radio and hid every night under the quilts to listen to the Christian program “Voice of Friendship.” When we heard the words, “When you are captured, do not be afraid, and do not be afraid of anything, because God will teach you what to say in your heart. Those who can kill the body cannot kill your spirit,” we knew that God was with us, and we were not afraid anymore.
My Christian beliefs got me in trouble too. When I was accused of being a criminal, I said, “I’m a sinner, but Jesus Christ came just to save sinners.” For this I was beaten. When I refused to bow to a portrait of Mao Zedong, I was punished by having a nail hammered into my nostril which came out my mouth. My persecutors said they wanted me to taste the feeling of being crucified like Jesus. As a result of this treatment, two of my teeth had to be pulled to release the pain. Two bare-foot doctors who were actually cleaning ladies bound me on a chair, and without anesthesia, pulled my teeth with a pair of pliers. Later, when I was allow to go see a real dentist, I was told the two teeth were pulled out as clean as could be. This was truly another one of God’s miracles in my life.
The Cross on My Mouth
Because of my teachings, I was put in a “cow shed” and beaten often. If any day I hadn’t yet been beaten, I wouldn’t dare go to sleep, because they might take me unawares and give me an even fiercer beating. It was only when I’d been beaten for the day that I could go to sleep peacefully. While I was in jail, I worshipped God in the mornings; this gave me peace for the whole day. One day, when the guards heard me worshipping the Lord, they plastered a rubbery fabric in the shape of a cross over my mouth. They could seal my mouth, but they couldn’t seal my God-loving heart!
Every day we were offered two meals of “wo-wo-tou,” a type of bread which was very hard. I had no incisors, due to previously having a nail hammered through the roof of my mouth, so I couldn’t eat it very easily. I broke the bread into pieces, put one into my mouth, waited for it to dissolve slowly, and then swallowed it. Before every meal, the guards would tear the fabric off my mouth forcefully, at times even tearing off my skin. I was unaware of the cross on my mouth until one day I saw its reflection on a glass window. I was extremely happy and shouted, “Jesus! You have allowed me to bear Your cross on my mouth!” I worshipped the Lord and thanked Him for counting me worthy of suffering for Him.
Cruel Torture to My Hands
Throughout the months in jail, I was subject to many beatings. The cruelest torture, though, was to my hands. They put chopsticks underneath my fingernails and hit my hands together fiercely. My fingers swelled instantly. I couldn’t imagine what sort of things I could do if my fingers were broken, and I didn’t know what other kinds of torture they would have for me. I heard that they wanted to break my fingers. At that time I became dejected in mind and spirit, and I wanted to cut my wrists to commit suicide. But I heard God’s words to me: “Your body is the temple of God, you cannot destroy it!” Finally, I knelt down to pray, confessing to God that I had sinned against Him. I continued praying, “God, I beg You to send that angel who protected Daniel from being eaten by the lions to protect my hands from being broken.” Then they saw that my two hands were already damaged and they told me to go home. God had answered my prayer!
Painfully Practicing Piano
After the fingernails and flesh on my hands had regrown, my hands were seriously disabled, and I had difficulty holding things or doing mundane chores. Still my wife encouraged me to start practicing the piano. At first, just touching the keys and playing a few notes would make my whole body numb so that I couldn’t continue. My wife continued to encouraged me, “God kept your bones unbroken. Why?” So I began playing again like a primary student. I clenched my teeth to bear the pain until I could practice for five minutes. Gradually after about half a year, my condition got better.
The Endless Grace of God
A few years later, God did what seemed impossible. By His grace, my wife Cheng Hao, a professor in opera, was invited by the president of the China Music College in Beijing to serve as a vocal music professor. Unexpectedly, I was also extended an invitation to teach piano at the same college. Then in 1989, after the Tiannenmen Square Event, I was invited to be guest professor at both Trinity College and UST Catholic University in the Philippines. As I prepared to leave, the necessary going-abroad permit had not been granted. But relying on prayer, I arrived at the airport and was met by a certain person who told the airline assistant, “This is the teacher of my child; please do take care of him.” Two hours later I arrived in the Philippines. The following year my wife was able to join me in the Philippines. Unfortunately, a year later my wife was diagnosed with large intestine cancer, and her doctor concluded that she only had three months left. We kept praying, and God gave her twenty more months to live. She died peacefully on August 24, 1993.
I left the Philippines in 1996 and now reside in Canada. In recent years I have continued to teach piano and to tell the stories of my life in churches throughout Canada and the U.S. My parents’ wishes for me have come true. When I was a little child, my mother dedicated me to God as a pastor. But I have been hiding most of my life. Now as a 74-year-old piano professor, God is using me to speak in many churches. I thank God for using me in this way and for giving me the opportunity to tell of His faithfulness.