God Is Red by Liao Yiwu

If you feel sorry for yourself, read this book. If you think American politics are bad, read this book. If you need some inspiration for your faith, read this book.

What book? you ask.  God Is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China


When journalist Liao Yiwu first stumbled upon a vibrant Christian community in the officially secular China, he knew little about Christianity. In fact, he’d been taught that religion was evil, and that those who believed in it were deluded, cultists, or imperialist spies. But as a writer whose work has been banned in China and has even landed him in jail, Liao felt a kinship with Chinese Christians in their unwavering commitment to the freedom of expression and to finding meaning in a tumultuous society.

Unwilling to let his nation lose memory of its past or deny its present, Liao set out to document the untold stories of brave believers whose totalitarian government could not break their faith in God, including:

  • The over-100-year-old nun who persevered in spite of beatings, famine, and decades of physical labor, and still fights for the rightful return of church land seized by the government
  • The surgeon who gave up a lucrative Communist hospital administrator position to treat villagers for free in the remote, mountainous regions of southwestern China
  • The Protestant minister, now memorialized in London’s Westminster Abbey, who was executed during the Cultural Revolution as “an incorrigible counterrevolutionary”

This ultimately triumphant tale of a vibrant church thriving against all odds serves as both a powerful conversation about politics and spirituality and a moving tribute to China’s valiant shepherds of faith, who prove that a totalitarian government cannot control what is in people’s hearts.

Liao Yiwu mostly lets the people he interviews speak for themselves (but offering some rather poetic introductions and descriptions along the way) in this fascinating look at the people who gave everything they had to help grow the Christian church in China.  As a result, he book reads more like a journal or series of vignettes than a stand alone book – it really is a collection of interviews – but because the underlying stories are so powerful this style and structure is easily overcome.  And it’s simplicity and straightforward witness adds to its power. Yiwu focuses mostly on rural areas and the villages that embraced the Christian faith in the early part of the Twentieth Century only to have the horrors of communism and the Cultural Revolution bring suffering and persecution in ways that are almost impossible for Westerners to imagine.
These amazing people held on to their faith despite decades of hardship and persecution. The state took everything they had – their homes, their churches, their freedom, their health – and yet they persevered to see the faith grow and flourish. The tragic irony is that they were punished as foreign spies and imperialist lackeys even as they sought to provide care and meaning to the poorest of poor in the rural areas.

Imagine being forced to kneel on tile and broken pottery in the freezing rain for days without food; dragged to public condemnations and beaten whenever you pray or refuse to renounce your faith; thrown in prison for thirty years for nothing more than preaching the gospel and bringing aid to the poor and helpless; having everything you have worked for taken away by capricious bureaucrats and your own neighbors.

And then as the political winds change you are forced to choose between state run churches with at least the appearance of peace and the ability to worship freely or continuing to fight for true freedom of religion and the ability to worship as you choose.

What a challenge to people of faith today!

Of course, even if you are just interested in the history of Christianity or human rights or China you will find this book (written by a non-Christian) fascinating – a glimpse of history from the participants.

Christianity Today sums it up well

If you want to read one book that sums up the glory of the Christian witness under persecution and the tragic 20th-century story of China’s Christians, read God Is Red. Brilliant and immensely moving, it will, if anything can, inject new backbone into your own Christian life.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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