Eric Liddell, Running the Last Race

One of my all-time favorite movies is Chariots Of Fire, which told the story of Eric Liddell, a Scot who ran in the 1924 Olympic Games, and who later went on to be a missionary in China (where he had been born). Here’s the official trailer for that 1981 film:

(email readers, go here to see the clip)

Now, 35 years later, a sequel to that movie has been made, and it’s been made in China. Starring Joseph Fiennes, and directed by Stephen Chin, a Chinese Christian filmmaker,  The Last Race tells the story of Liddell’s life after the Olympics.

He returned to Tianjin, the city where he had been born, but when the Japanese invaded he, along with the foreign community of North China was sent to a Japanese prison camp in Shandong Province. While in the camp, he taught science to the children and took on a mentoring role for the young people. He died of a brain tumor in the camp before the end of the war.

Doing a movie about a foreign missionary in China wasn’t without it’s challenges. According to The Beijinger, Chin had this to say about those challenges:

“Christianity is a very sensitive subject in China,” Shin told China Film Insider on the sidelines of the Beijing International Film Festival. “Everyone knows that it is not easy to bring that message here. But now, luckily, the censorship is quite reasonable. We are not pushing other people to accept Christianity or promoting any religious message.”

Director Shin said he first heard of Liddell’s story when he was working in Shanghai in 2008 on business related to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, by which time The Last Race script had been written and revised for almost eight years.

”Luckily, two years ago, it got through censorship and we see ‘Okay, it’s good.’ It’s okay to make this movie [starting] last year,” Shin said. ”We want people to come to China to make movies. It is not so strict as we might think. If you can handle the topic in the right way, it should be okay.”

Here’s the trailer for the film:

(email readers, please go here to see the clip)

I don’t know about you, but I’m anxious to see this movie when it is released in June.

Related Posts: 

Going to Tianjin? Do This!

A Catholic Bell in Tianjin

Tianjin Churches

Breakfast in Tianjin

A City the Size of Kansas

Here’s a question — is there a limit to how large a city can be and still be considered a city (as opposed to a province/state or region)? That question popped into my mind when I read an article in The New York Times recently about China’s plans to create a super-city by combining Beijing with some of its surrounding cities and provinces.

For decades, China’s government has tried to limit the size of Beijing, the capital, through draconian residency permits. Now, the government has embarked on an ambitious plan to make Beijing the center of a new supercity of 130 million people.

The planned megalopolis, a metropolitan area that would be about six times the size of New York’s, is meant to revamp northern China’s economy and become a laboratory for modern urban growth.

“The supercity is the vanguard of economic reform,” said Liu Gang, a professor at Nankai University in Tianjin who advises local governments on regional development. “It reflects the senior leadership’s views on the need for integration, innovation and environmental protection.”

The new region will link the research facilities and creative culture of Beijing with the economic muscle of the port city of Tianjin and the hinterlands of Hebei Province, forcing areas that have never cooperated to work together.

To accompany the article, Jonah Kessel produced this excellent video to give you a glimpse of what this new “city” will be like.

And note this:

But the new supercity is intended to be different in scope and conception. It would be spread over 82,000 square miles, about the size of Kansas, and hold a population larger than a third of the United States.

So, to my original question — is a city the size of Kansas really a city?

Going to Tianjin? Do This!

I zipped down to Tianjin this afternoon on the bullet train to take part in walking tour of the old city, conducted by Doug Red, of Asia Walking Tours.

We started out near the Kiessling, an historic German bakery, then spent the next two hours wandering around the old British and French Concessions. Doug’s knowledge of of the city’s history is vast and his love for it is deep, both of which were on display all afternoon.

He’s a great story-teller as well, so we all came away with a better understanding of the lives of some of Tianjin’s more famous residents: Herbert Hoover, Charles Gordon, Zhang Xue-liang, and Eric Lidell, to name just a few.

If you’re looking for something interesting to do in Tianjin sometime, I highly recommend contacting Doug at Asia Walking Tours.

Here are a few photos from the afternoon:

Herbert Hoover used to work in this building.

The Astor Hotel — the place to see and be seen back in the day.

No British colonial city would be complete without a Victoria Park, now called The Municipal Committee Park (yawn)

China’s first Post Office

A Catholic Bell in Tianjin

“Why are you so interested in bells?” asked Father Z, the priest at Xikai Catholic Church in Tianjin.  “There’s nothing especially interesting about bells.”

Until that point I had let my Chinese friend do all the talking, explaining to him that this foreigner from Beijing was doing research on old church bells. This, however, was a question I wanted to answer myself.

I told him about finding the old bell in Yibin and how I believed that each surviving bell in China has a story and that embedded in that story is the story of God’s love for the church in China.

His countenance immediately changed and I moved from being simply a foreigner who was a pest to a foreigner to be helped, and perhaps even liked.

As we kept talking he started rummaging through a notebook on his desk, looking for something.

He told us that there were old bells in the bell tower, one bronze, one steel, that dated back to the early 1900’s, but resolutely refused my Chinese friends entreaties to let us go up and see them.

“We do have a small bell I can let you see,” he said, as he found the paper he had been searching for. He handed it to us and said “Here, take a picture of this.”  It was a hand-written note that said “I found this bell in Shandong Province, and want to give it to the church.” It was signed and dated December 14, 2009.

The bell had been found by a reclycler who decided that the bell would have value to a church, so rather than sell it, he gave it to the Tianjin church.

“Would you be interested in seeing this bell?” Father Z. asked

I’m sure you can guess our response.

So Father Z, with his assistant in tow, took us to a shed behind the church building to see this old iron bell that was sitting under a table. It was too heavy to move out from under the table so we had to content ourselves with crawling around underneath to get some photos.

The bell has Chinese writing on it, indicating that it was made for a Catholic church in a specific town.

We are still trying to get in touch with the man who gave the bell to the church.

No Love

At the entrance to one of the Catholic churches in Tianjin  (one that gets lots of curious tourists) we spotted this sign instructing visitors how to behave (and not to behave) while inside the sanctuary.

no love

I had to chuckle.

A more accurate translation would be “no making out in the sanctuary.”

Tianjin Churches

I and a few friends spent yesterday afternoon traipsing around the city of Tianjin looking for old church bells.  Why Tianjin, you may ask?

First of all, with the high speed train that runs every ten minutes between Beijing and Tianjin, it’s an easy ‘day trip’ destination. In our case, it was just an afternoon trip. We left at noon and were back in Beijing by 7:30.

Secondly, because of the city’s history of being colonized by numerous western powers (all at the same time), there are quite a few old churches there.

We confirmed the existence of 4 old bells, most likely brought over from Europe in the early part of the last century, and we saw a hundred year old bell made in China for a Catholic Church. We were only able to get a portion of the story of this bell, but we have some leads to get the rest of the story. When I have pieced it all together I’ll post the photo and story.

In the meantime, here are pictures of the towers in which the other 4 bells reside.

Wanghai Lou Catholic Church was established in 1869 by French Catholics. This current structure dates to 1903, and, as you can see is undergoing renovations. We wandered into the compound and talked with the engineers overseeing the project.  They confirmed that there is a bell in the tower, but declined our requests for them to take us up to see it. Can’t blame them, really.

Xikai Catholic Church was built by the Jesuits in 1917, and is today the largest church in Tianjin. We had a long chat with the priest, who confirmed that there are bells in those towers, but he would not take us to see them.

The Anglican Church is now closed, but is a site protected managed by the Tianjin  Bureau of Antiquities. We could see a giant bell hanging in the tower. I’m hoping the Antiquities Bureau has some information on the bell, and hopefully some photos.

Stay tuned…..

Breakfast in Tianjin

Last week I had three friends visiting from the US.  They all work for an airline so were able to “pop over” for a quick three day trip.  They had a long list of things to do in those three days so hit the ground running.

One thing they wanted to do was ride the new ‘bullet’ train to Tianjin, which makes the run between Beijing and the port city on the coast in 30 minutes flat.  At first I suggested we take the train down in the morning, poke around Tianjin, then come back in the afternoon; however, since they had too much they wanted to do in Beijing, we decided to make the trip for the sole purpose of riding the train.

So, one morning last week we took the 7:30AM train out of the South Station.  We arrived in Tianjin at 8AM, walked around the rain-swept square, ate some baozi for breakfast (Tianjin is famous for baozi–steamed meat-filled dumplings), then boarded the 9:30 train back to Beijing.  We were back here in town by 10. Each way, the train hit a top speed ofr 330 kph.

We went straight to my friend’s teahouse.  When I told her we’d just come from a breakfast run to Tianjin, it only confirmed her suspicion that foreigners are certifiably nuts!