My Father in China

FED on war books as we are, the full flavor and meaning of this biography of Old Burke and his fifty-five years of village life in China dawn on us rather slowly. And yet this is very far indeed from being a slow book.
The pietistic Methodists of Georgia had gathered the pennies to send him out and then to keep him at his job of convert ing the heathen. It is to their credit (and very much to his) that it mattered not a bit to them when his methods were the reverse of pietistic, though always pious, and that some of his Chinese fellow servants of God would have been regarded with justifiable suspicion on the streets of Macon, Georgia. There came a day, however, when those undesirables joined with the Governor, the Magistrate, and local gentry and peasants of the countryside to set up a pavilion in his honor. It stands on a hill above Big Horse Road where all can see. It is six-sided, approached by stone steps, and is set on a stone platform with a bronze phoenix on top, stone lions on either side, and a longchiseled inscription setting forth the virtues of Burke the citizen of Sungkiang.
In the early days he had been despised and ignored. After years the townsfolk came to know by slow degrees that he was indeed their first citizen. The orphanage funds were trusted only to him, and only he could seem to beg from the opium millionaires the pitiful small change for its upkeep. To his mission all the women and children of a village eight miles away trooped in their hundreds for safety from rioting soldiery; and defaulting magistrates, at dead of night, hammered on his gate with the hungry mob at their heels.
Fiction about China and the true tales of correspondents just returned from the Orient have been familiar best-sellers in the past live years. And yet to comprehend them, and catch their full value, we American readers should perhaps add to their testimony this son’s biography of Old Burke of Sungkiang.
The grime, the ignoble politics of a rotten empire, opium suicides, murder and loot seem, when the last page is turned, merely passing incidents compared to the tall, bearded figure of the Southern Baptist missionary alone in a hostile village and his more than half-century of unwearied service. He went there in 1887 when it was Old China. Stoned in the streets, threatened by greedy magistrates, laboring up and on, first to build, then to rebuild, his blitzed hospitals and churches and his orphanage, he, an old man, unwearied, came finally back from retirement in America to face down the Japanese troops who were squatting like vultures among the rubble heaps of his dear town.
Later chapters of the book find Old Burke at home in Georgia, somewhat restless, and not quite understanding why a man should ever leave his work and his people. News of the Japanese invasion and the bombing of his house and mission and hospital and the beloved orphanage came fiver the radio and was published in the paper. Old Burke stirred uneasily and, with the connivance of the Bishop, was off again. But in Shanghai it was not so simple. Still, after literally months of battering against evasive Japanese officialdom, he boarded a train with his permit for residence in Sungkiang. That was in 1938. The man was seventy-six. A blasted town and mission with the Japanese army holding them, residence permits revoked and ignored, officialdom suspicious and openly antagonistic, it meant beginning from the foundation at seventy-six.
If this were a novel instead of a rather literal transcript of actual happenings, the last pages of the book would have recorded a noble and pathetic death at his post. But, superseding all drama, better than any fiction, more up to date than today’s newspaper comes a letter smuggled out from Shanghai last April: —
Old Boo Sien-sang (Burke, the Master) is still in his home in Sungkiang. He is getting the best of treatment. He looks thin and old.
L. W.