Sunday, March 08, 2009

Christiana Tsai 3

I have been reading Queen of the Dark Chamber, the autobiography of Tsai up until the 1940's but here is a sequel,

    This book is a sequel to Christiana's first autobiography titled Queen of the Dark Chamber. This second volume includes events covered in the first book but with fresh insights. Christiana then picks up her story from 1949 when she and her lifelong friend and co-worker, Mary A. Leaman, fled China during the war with Japan. The narrative continues through her bedridden years and ministry in America. It was during those several decades as a bedridden invalid that the Lord used Christiana Tsai in a worldwide outreach through people He brought to her bedside in Paradise, Pennsylvania.

    Christiana's father held the governorship of Kiangsu Province in the final days of the Manchu Dynasty and so Christiana, one of over 20 children (her nickname was "Too Many!) was born and reared in luxury. At the age of 16 she was allowed to study music and English in the Ming Deh School for Girls established by the Leaman family from Paradise. But she was sternly warned by her family not to "eat the Christianity of the foreigners." God has His own plans for her life, however, and she was converted from Buddhism at that school in Nanjing, China. The principal, Mary A. Leaman, became Christiana's lifelong friend and godmother.

    Her story reads like dramatic fiction with wars, intrigue, and breathtaking events set in the colorful, oriental culture of classic, pre-Communist China. One of the first educated women in China, she was much in demand to speak and travel throughout the country, and embarked upon an evangelistic ministry in the company of Mary Leaman.

    Taken seriously ill in her prime with a mysterious disease which kept her bedridden for the rest of her life into her nineties, she endured years of suffering during China's war with Japan. Her influence for Christ was not over, however, when she came as a refugee to the United States.
Her papers are here.

One of the incidents recounted in Queen of the Dark Chamber takes place outside of a Buddhist temple in San Francisco. There Christiana addressed some American women who had been attending the temple and she spoke of her own conversion from Buddhism to Christianity. It happened that one of the women she spoke to was a relative of Robert Morrison, the missionary who had first translated the Bible into Chinese. (More about the Bible in Chinese another day.) However, this relative of Morrison`s had converted from Christianity to Buddhism. Tsai`s book is a unique narrative on the interaction of family, culture and religion for women in the early part of the last century.

It also affords valuable insights into decisions leading to a national phonetic Bible for China. There were at the time two trends in producing literature in print. The first was to use the traditional Han characters. However, due to lack of sufficient schooling, many people were illiterate. The missionaries often produced Bibles in a Roman alphabet for the langauge or dialect where they were working. This resulted in many various non-standarized orthographies.

Many Chinese linguists were working on a national phonetic alphabet for China in the 1930`s. This meant that one would have to learn Mandarin in order to read. The alternative would be that the population would become literate only in their own regional language. Hanyu Pinyin was approved in 1958.

Queen of the Dark Chamber offers an interesting account of the decision-making which lead to this first parallel national phonetic-character Bible for China.

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