I spotted this “lovely” scene in Tianjin a few years back. The street cleaner’s trikes lined up waiting to be put to use. China’s mega-cities are still kept clean primarily by workers who peddle around on these and sweep the streets with straw brooms. Gotta love it!
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:
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 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 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.
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?
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.
“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.
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.
I had to chuckle.
A more accurate translation would be “no making out in the sanctuary.”
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.