Chen Qingde 陳清德 (Tan Ching Tek) 1883-?
by Bruce W.N. Lo, 2012
Chen Qingde (陳清德), or Tan Ching Tek as he was known in the Fujian dialect, was born in Anhai (安海镇), Fujian province in 1883 to a rather wealthy family which owned eighteen businesses. Unfortunately, his father became addicted to opium, which led him to sell off all but one of the 18 businesses. In 1906, when Chen Qinde was in his early twenties, he decided to leave his home town for Xiamen or Amoy (夏門) some 30 miles down the Pacific coast in the hope to find employment. Xiamen was one of the first five Treaty Ports opened for commerce to the foreigners after the first Opium War in 1842. It was here that he came into contact with foreigners who had a very different worldview than he was brought up with.
Chen Qingde found employment with a businessman by the name of Hong Jinqun who sold wax candles and gold paper money (call spirit money) used during traditional Chinese funerals. Hong was a recent convert to the Seventh-day Adventist faith. It was around that time that the Mei Hua (or Bee Hwa) Middle School (美華中學) was opened by Benjamin L. Anderson at Gulangyu (or Kulangsu) (鼓浪嶼), an off-shore island opposite Xiamen. Hong urged Chen Qingde to investigate this new school. Chen found out that he would be allowed to work if he enrolls as a residential student and help defray his educational expenses. This financial arrangement suited him, so he decided to enroll in Mei Hua Middle School.
It was at Mei Hua that Chen Qingde made the most important decision of his life to convert to Christianity. It resulted in the cutting off of ties with his family. Not only would he lose his share of his father's inheritance, but his name would be stricken from the family's genealogical record in the Chen family temple. It is not clear what was in Chen Qingde's mind when he made such a decision, but his grandson, Dr. John C. Chen, did publish an article in 2007/2008 in the California State University (Los Angeles) student research journal, Perspectives: A Journal of Historical Inquiry, speculating Chen Quingde's thought process at the time of his conversion (See reference below).
Two persons had strong influence on Chen Qingde's decision to embrace Adventism: (1) his employer Hong Jinqun, to whom he would create a family connection by marrying his eldest daughter to Hong's youngest son; and (2) B.L. Anderson, the principal of Mei Hua Middle School, who became some sort of father figure to Chen.
Chen Qingde did well in school. He completed his education at the Mei Hua Middle School in 1909, as a member of its first graduating class. He decided to stay on to undertake ministerial training at the school so that he could become an evangelist. Upon completion of his ministerial training he went to south Fujian region to preach the gospel.
When he was nearly thirty years old, Chen Qingde married Huang Shuzhao (黄淑照) who was only fourteen. This was probably an arranged marriage. Together they had three children, a girl and two boys. His youngest son, Chen Qingxiang (Dr. Calvin H. Chen) later became a well known medical doctor in the US. Dr. Calvin Chen's research on the gate theory of pain control by acupuncture brought him to national and international fame in the US in 1972.
Chen Qingde proved to be a dynamic and charismatic preacher, who was well-liked by his audience. His sermon often emphasized the imminent return of Christ and the end of the world, were enhanced by illustrations of the images from the Books of Daniel and Revelation. He won people to his faith because he was a nice, friendly person with a ready smile, a fact frequently mentioned by his former parishioners.
Because of his good preaching ability, Chen was in frequent demand by church leader to preach the gospel to other communities. Therefore he was away from home a lot, and his young wife was left at home to take care of the three children. His success led to the formation of new Adventist churches in Zhangzhou (漳州), Quanzhou (泉州), Xiaoqi (小溪), and Huian (惠安), in the southern region of Fujian. Chen was also very generous. Once he gave away the hand-knitted sweater that his wife made for him to someone he considered more needy.
Chen Qingde continued to serve his parishioners in the Fujian province for over forty years. His main concern was his parishioners and tried to avoid politics as far as possible, even after the Communist victory in 1949. In one instance, after one of his houses of worship was closed, he was able to reopen it because a Communist officer remembered how Chen Qingde had treated him for an foot injury. Chen die in ???? in....
1908 in front of Chiao Chow mission chapel. L to R: WC Hawkins, Nga Pit Keh, IH Evans, Evang Tan, JN Anderson, BL Anderson, Ang Tou Kiet, and Tan Ching Tek (right most).
Chen, J.C. (2007/2008), Sinicizing Christianity in China: The conversion of Chen Qingde, Perspectives: A Journal of Historical Inquiry, California State University, Los Angeles, Vol 34, pp. 1-12. Available online: http://www.calstatela.edu/centers/perspectives/New%20Web3%20PDF/volume%2034/Chen.pdf
Chen, J.C. (2004) Stranded Scholar from Chin: The life of Calvin H. Chen, MD, Chinese America: History & Perspectives, Jan 1, 2004, p35-42. Available online: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=f5h&AN=15420608&authtype=geo&geocustid=s7324964&site=ehost-live
Last updated 10/5/2012 by B. Lo