Eric Liddell in China
Eric Liddell at the 1924 Paris Olympics
I crossed the Atlantic watching Chariots of Fire, and found the Telegraph I had carried with me had a feature on Eric Liddell, the British runner and Christian featured in the film. As those who have seen the movie know, Liddell declined to enter his 100 metre race in the Paris Olympics because he would not run on Sunday. Instead he ran the 200, winning a bronze, and to everyone's amazement "ran them off their feet", winning the gold in the 400 in 47.6, and setting a world record. The last scene is here -
What I didn't know was that Liddell had returned to China, where he was born, to serve as a missionary and teacher, and is greatly loved by the Chinese for his heroism and compassion during the Japanese invasion. He refused to leave them.
Brendan Gallagher writes,"In 1938 he heard of a wounded Chinese soldier lying helpless in a temple, 20 miles from the mission hospital. He cycled for 20 miles over rough terrain to get there and then found another injured soldier, who had survived a Japanese execution. He manufactured a makeshift cart to help push both men to hospital".
Gallagher reports that "Li Airui as he was known in the Far East, was considered a godly, heroic figure in non-communist China, and now the modern-day Chinese authorities have agreed to let his story of Christian humanity and sporting excellence be told". This is surprising good news. "John Keddie's acclaimed Running the Race, a biography that places Liddell's sporting life in the religious context in which it was lived, has been published in Mandarin and will be launched in China next month."
Liddell was interned in a Japanese camp, where he became the leader of the desperate men, women and children incarcerated there. When a prisoner exchange was made, he again refused to leave, sending a pregnant woman in his place.
A fellow internee, Stephen Metcalfe, later wrote of Liddell: "He gave me two things. One was his worn out running shoes, but the best thing he gave me was his baton of forgiveness. He taught me to love my enemies, the Japanese, and to pray for them."
As we flew above the clouds, I thought, it is impossible to predict the influence of a man or woman. Liddell's inspiring example of courage and love continues to grow.
It is estimated that there are between 50 million and 100 million Chinese Christians in China. Some of them will have heard his story by word of mouth, even before Keddie's book is published.