David Lin (林堯喜 Lin, Yaoxi) 1917-2011 and Clara Lin (林葉遲生 Lin, Ye Chi-sheng) 1922-2018
Bruce W. Lo, Roger Lin, Ruby Jiao, and Angelina Lin-johnson, July 2020
Basic Biographical Information
The story of David Lin (林堯喜 pinyin Lín Yáoxǐ), pastor and administrator, and his wife, Clara Ye Chisheng Lin (林葉遲生) have inspired many young Chinese Adventist believers to go into the gospel ministry because of their (the Lin’s) amazing courage and endurance in the face of extreme religious persecution as China underwent one of its most tumultuous political changes in modern history.
Childhood and Youth
David Lin was born in Manila, Philippines on February 15, 1917 as the second son of Lin Bao-Heng, a graduate of Columbia University in New York. At the time, Lin Bao-Heng was serving as the Chinese vice consul in the Philippines. , During his childhood years, David lived in the Philippines, Canada, Shanghai, and Jakarta, where his father served as a diplomatic consul for the Chinese government. As a result, David not only learned his mother tongue, the Chinese language, but also English and Indonesian Malay.
David’s mother, Pan Cheng Kun, attended a Christian school in Suzhou, Jiangsu province. An American missionary named Miss Pyle had taught David’s mother to pray, however, it was a habit she did not developed for many years until after she was married and gave birth to her two sons Paul and David. When David was 2 years old, he ran a high fever and was rushed to a hospital. The doctors could not get his fever down. That night, David’s mother knelt in prayer and asked God to save her son. She made a promise to God: once David was healed; she would bring him up as a preacher. The next morning, David was sitting up and playing on the bed, his fever gone. David Lin recalled later, “Before the doctor had diagnosed my case, I recovered instantly. Since that day Mother drilled into my head that I belonged to God and would become a preacher.”
Two years later in 1919, David’s father, Lin Bao-Heng was transferred to Vancouver, B.C., Canada, where he served as the Chinese consul. In 1921 the rest of the family joined Lin Bao-Heng in Canada, where they remained until 1925. The two boys attended the Magee school in Vancouver, while the family attended the Baptist church in that city.
In 1925, the family relocated to Soerabaya, Java, where Lin Bao-Heng was appointed Chinese consul for Indonesia. There, the two boys, Paul and David, attended a private school run by an English lady, and learned to speak the Indonesian Malay language. Like the local children, they also learned to walk on bare feet.
When Generalissmo Chang Kai-shek captured the government in Beijing in 1927 and united China under on rule, Lin Bao-Heng lost his official position under the defunct Qing regime. The family then moved back to Shanghai, where Paul and David attended a school run by British schoolmasters in the British Settlement. Three years later in 1930, the family moved to Beijing, where Paul and David attended an American School. David was in the sixth grade and was taught by the principal, Miss Moore. One day, the teacher asked the students to tell the class what they wanted to be when they grew up. When it was David’s turn, he declared that he was going to be a preacher to much of the surprise of the whole class. Thereafter, David was regarded as an odd fellow.
On Sundays, mother Pan Cheng Kun, took the boys to a Methodist church where they made friends with the children of Pastor and Mrs. Fred Pyke, James, Louise, and Ruth, who were their schoolmates. In 1932, when Lin Bao-Heng moved to Hankow (Wuhan) to work in the Bureau of Internal Revenue, mother Pan Cheng Kun joined him and left the two boys with the Pykes. In Hankow there was no Methodist church, so Pan Cheng Kun visited many different churches in the city. One day a Seventh-day Adventist missionary came to solicit for donations. Lin Bao-Heng bought a subscription and talked with the missionary in English. Subsequently, an Adventist Bible worker, Abbie Dunn, visited the Lin’s, and invited Pan Cheng Kun to attend the Hankow Adventist Church, where she was impressed by the reciting of the Ten Commandments by the church members during the worship service. Just prior to that time she was once challenged by her lawyer brother-in-law, who questioned her regarding the rules of the Christian faith. When she told him that Christians lived by the Ten Commandments, he asked her to tell him what exactly are the Ten Commandments? Pan Cheng Kun was embarrassed that she could not recite all ten of them. So, when she visited the Hankow Adventist Church, she was sure that she had found the church that she was looking for.
During the summer vacation, David visited his parents in Hankow. His mother told him about the Sabbath doctrine. Upon return to Beijing, the Pykes learned of David’s new belief and they tried to dissuade him. In the meantime, Abbie Dunn wrote to another Adventist Bible worker, Lucy Andrus, in Beijing, who came to David’s school to invite him to study the Bible with her. This began a period of struggle for David – to keep or not to keep the Seventh-day Sabbath. By 1934, Pan Cheng Kun came back to Beijing and she and David attended the Adventist church together.
In 1935, the year David graduated from high school, tragedy struck. At the time, his elder brother, Paul, was studying in Park College near Kansas City, Missouri. One day he was killed in a motorcycle accident leaving David to be the only son in the family. Relatives tried to dissuade David from becoming a minister by suggesting that he should choose a more lucrative vocation to bear the family’s financial burdens, because preachers in China were poorly paid. But David did not change his aim in life.
Clara Ye Chi-sheng was born in Fuzhou, Fujian on October 20, 1922 to Christian parents, although they did not formally belong to any church or denomination. When Clara was seven years old, the family moved to Shanghai. Clara liked to listen to sermons in church, and often attended Huai-En Tang in Shanghai by herself. During the Sino-Japanese war, the Ye family, which included the parents, a daughter, and three sons, moved to the northwest town of Lanzhou, where they could be a bit safer because it was beyond the Sino-Japanese battlefront. But the city was still under constant Japanese air attacks.
One day in Lanzhou, Clara found a small pea-like growth on her eye and asked her father to take her to a hospital. He said he was free only on Sundays, but most hospitals at that time were closed on Sundays, except the Adventist hospital. While Clara was waiting for the doctor to see her, she met a nurse who had just come from Shanghai, and who invited her to attend the local Adventist church. Clara attended, and found out that Saturday was the true Sabbath. After attending the evangelistic meetings of Pastor Meng Zhaoyi with her mother and brothers in the summer of 1945, Clara decided to get baptized and joined the Adventist church. So it was in the Lanzhou Adventist church that Clara Ye got to know David’s mother, Pan Cheng Kun. Neither of them knew at that point in time they would one day be related by marriage. But obviously, David’s mother had a very positive impression of Clara.
After his high school graduation, David went to the China Training Institute in Chiaotouzhen, an Adventist junior college, to study for a Bible major. He was the only ministerial student who paid for his own tuition, all of his other classmates were recipients of scholarships set up to encourage young people to be trained for the ministry. Any student who could afford to pay their own tuition took other ‘normal’ courses such as pre-medical or business. In this sense, David was again the odd person out.
When the Sino-Japanese war broke in August of 1937, the school in Chiaotouzhen closed. David went to Hong Kong where he received funds from his parents to enable him to go to America to continue his ministerial study at Pacific Union College. During the war years, David’s parents moved to the northwestern city of Lanzhou, known as the “Free China” zone, as it was never occupied by the Japanese military. Lanzhou was still badly hit by Japanese air raids, but both David’s parents managed to escape injury.
In the summer of 1938, David’s first year in the United States, he went to San Francisco to do colporteur work in Chinatown. For the next four years, David worked in the college cafeteria, the machine shop, the bindery, or in the forest cutting cordwood to pay for his tuition. After graduation in 1941, David became romantically involved with a young lady, and their mutual affection grew with time. However, this lady had a different goal in life and was constantly urging David to change his study to medicine instead and to remain in the United States after graduation. Eventually David decided this was not what he wanted to do. Eventually they went their separate ways.
After Pacific Union College, David continued his graduate study at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Takoma Park, Maryland, where he also canvassed for a living during his spare time. In the winter, David worked in Danville, Virginia as a colporteur. David began working on his master’s thesis then, but because he needed to work to support himself, he did not complete the degree until 1946.
Entry to Ministry
In the fall of 1942, David was called to teach Chinese at Pacific Union College, a job that he resigned in 1943. Afterward he went to Honolulu to spend a year as a colporteur, setting a few new sales records. The thing that made him most proud was that in Hawaii, he gave Bible studies to a Japanese family and was able to win them to the Sabbath truth. In 1944, David returned to the west coast of the United States and was called to prepare Chinese Bible correspondence lessons in conjunction with the church’s radio ministry, The Voice of Prophecy. David had to print the lesson by hand and had them duplicated by offset, because there was no Chinese type available.
After the Second World War the church wished to restart their work in China. In November of 1945, the Seventh Day Adventist China Division issued an invitation through the General Conference to David Lin to return to China to lead out in the radio ministry, which he accepted. Due to a maritime strike and other unexpected events, the trip was delayed until end of 1946. During the period of waiting, David Lin wanted to get some training as a airplane pilot. He submitted an application to Latourneau Missionary Flying School in Georgia and applied to General Conference for support, thinking that it would benefit his mission work in China. But his application to General Conference was denied. In December 1946, David was able to travel with a group of western missionaries to China on S.S. General Gordon. Upon arrival at Shanghai, he worked with Milton Lee in the Radio Department of the China Division office. It was in Shanghai that David Lin was introduced, by his mother and a few enthusiastic church members, to a comely young lady, Clara Ye Chi-sheng, who had befriended the Lin’s parents a few years earlier in Lanzhou while both families were there to escape from the advancing Japanese army. Clara and David fell in love, and after a year of courtship, they were married on March 3, 1948. What made the young couple happy was that both David and Clara shared the same goal of devoting their lives to service in ministry. To this union, they were blessed with five children, one son and four daughters. The names of their children, in age order, are: Flora, Roger, Eva, Ruby, and Angelina.
In 1948 the civil war in China had reached a decision point in favor of the Communist army, and the liberation of Shanghai was imminent. By December, most of the western missionaries had withdrawn to Hong Kong, where a provisional China Division headquarters was set up. The radio Department moved to Canton, operated for six months, then moved to Hong Kong also in June of 1949. David was appointed editor of the Hong Kong edition of The Songs of the Times. In December 1949, the provisional office of the China Division turned over all duties to the Chinese staff in Shanghai, and David Lin returned to Shanghai as Division secretary. Hsu Hua was Division president, and S.J. Lee was treasurer. An image of the cover page of the China Division Reporter is shown with this article, which introduced the full team of the new China Division staff when this event happened. The last report written by David Lin as the Secretary of the China Division, appeared in the 1951 issue of the China Division Reporter, highlighted the great difficulties under which the Chinese Seventh-day Church operated in Mainland China.
The Korean war broke out in June 1950. As American soldiers fought under the United Nations flag drove into North Korea, Chinese volunteer troops marched across the border to push them back. At the same time, the American Seventh fleet was ordered to patrol the Taiwan straits to block any attempt by the Red Army to liberate Taiwan. China and the United States were at war. Since the Seventh-day Church and its mission organization was regarded as an American organization, its assets were frozen in December of 1950. In time, the formal church organizational structure in China mainland completely disintegrated. Politically active elements among the church workers got the upper hand, and eventually the Division officers were replaced by alternative persons by December of 1951.
David Lin and other church officers who were discharged got together to make slide rules for a living from 1952 to 1954. At the same time, they translated The Desire of Ages into Chinese. In time, other volumes of the Conflict Series were also translated. A group of young people from the Shanghai Seventh-day Adventist Church produced mimeographed copies of these books and distributed them. In 1955, David quit making slide rules for a living to compile a book on servicing X-ray machines, and then wrote another condensed book on Amateur Telescope Making.
20 Years of Imprisonment
In April 1958, David Lin was arrested on a counterrevolutionary charge, and was imprisoned for 3 years. Subsequently in 1960, he was sentenced to 15 years and was sent to a water conservation project at the White Lake Farm, where he pushed wheelbarrows, operated a power winch, and served successfully as an X-ray technician, power-station switch operator, and tractor electrician on a State farm. On March 28, 1991, David Lin was fully exonerated by the Chinese Government. As he recalled in his autobiography in 1993,
“In all these years I received humane treatment and at times I could so arrange my work as to keep the Sabbath fairly well. My children came to visit me several times and on one occasion I baptized my son Roger in a moat. It has been said that I baptized some people in prison, but that was not true.
In retrospect, I praise God for His providential care in making all things work out for the good of all concerned. First, the years of trial have revealed many flaws in my characters, stressing my need to overcome them. ….Second, He who sees the end from the beginning put me in ‘cold storage’ to tie over the perilous years of the Cultural Revolution….. I was in an ‘air-raid shelter.’
Only after many years did I realize that God had protected me from virtual disaster, for a political tornado struck our home in 1966. My father had died in 1959; my mother, wife, son, and four daughters remained to brave the storm. If the Lord had not also miraculously preserved them in those trying years, they would not have come through alive.”
After his prison term was over in 1975, David was transferred from the State farm to a coalmining company in Huainan, Anhui to translate technical literature for five years. There he earned a regular wage and was able to enjoy Sabbath privileges.
The Cultural Revolution
While David Lin was in prison, the Cultural Revolution began in the summer of 1966. Young people, usually students and workers, were organized into “Red Guards” to be used as instruments to overthrow societal order. People divided themselves into two groups, Rebels and Royalists, who fought each other. Christians were also targeted by attacks. Since David was exiled in a labor camp, he was spared the suffering caused by the major upheavals in society. But his family, his wife Clara, his children, and to some extent his mother, were unable to escape. Because of her refusal to attend school on Sabbath, Flora, David’s eldest daughter, was viewed as a truant and the Lin’s home was the first to be targeted when the local police came with Red Guards to launch a city-wide campaign against those who were labelled as “black descendants”. With war drums the students forced their way into the Lin’s house, ordering Clara Lin and mother-in-law, Pan Cheng Kun, to stand facing the wall, and then ransacked the home. They then forced Clara Lin and Pan Chen Kun to kneel outside as they threw their household belongings, mostly ancient cultural artifacts, including books and pictures, onto the street in a pile to set on fire. David’s mother, Pan Chen Kun, who was 72 at the time, found it hard to endure the suffering and was moved to Tianjin to stay with one of her distant relatives. But she was not able to get away from the prosecution which was being carried out nationwide. Only about a month or so after she arrived in Tianjin, she was investigated as to why she was there, and was forced into a brainwashing camp for a week or two. Right after she completed her time in the camp she was expelled back home. (Need a reference here) After the initial ransacking of the home, the Lin house suffered additional ransacks many times continuously for two to three weeks, often happening at midnight. For a month or two, David Lin’s wife, Clara, suffered greater persecutions. She was severely beaten by the red guards, her hair was cropped to shame her, and she was forced to stand on the neighborhood alley to be a public spectacle.
Throughout the decade of Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, especially during the early few years, Mrs. Clara Lin was the one who bore the brunt of the persecution. In the year following 1966, the Manager of the apartment building where they lived, would lead a group of people to come to the Lin’s home early every Sabbath morning, took Clara Lin away trying to force her to sweep the street on Sabbath. When she refused to do it, they would physically beat her until she was black and blue, and then they would bring her back in the afternoon. They tried their very best to dissuade her from keeping the Sabbath. After she had recovered for a week, the next Sabbath they took her again. Once she passed out, they poured cold water on her head to wake her up. Week after week, it lasted for three months from May 28 to August 28, 1967. Each time the family, particularly the children would pray for God’s intervention. When the Apartment manager realized that he could not change Clara Lin’s mind, he returned one afternoon, completely changed his approached, and agreed to let Clara Lin to sweep the street after sunset on Sabbath. From that time onwards people no longer come to trouble Clara on Sabbath.
Many years later, David Lin commented on his wife with emotional admiration,
“In moral stamina my wife stands highest in God’s estimate; for He suffered her to undergo the toughest trials, and though she faltered once and lost His presence, by His grace she finally overcame. As for Mother and me, God saw that we might not survive, and put us under shelter.”
In April 1969, three of Lin’s children, Flora, Roger, and Eva, aged 20, 19, and 16 respectively, were sent to Guizhou province in southwest China to live in a Miao minority village to be a part of a farming community. Schools had been closed since 1966 and there were more and more young people who needed jobs. However, there were not enough jobs available as most production activities had not returned to normal yet and college admissions had not resumed. Therefore, it was decided that most middle school and high school graduates would be sent to the countryside to be farmers. It was the policy that if a family had more than one middle or high school graduate, their children would alternate between being sent to the countryside and the city. The schools were supposed to coordinate this for the families; however, this did not happen for the Lin family and all three children were sent to the countryside, which was unprecedented. They could request reconsideration according to the policy, but Clara felt it would be safer to have the girls go to countryside with their brother and Roger did not mind going with them, so they all went to Guizhou together. The girls returned home to Shanghai after three years. Roger left Guizhou after four years and with the help of his uncle, he found a freelance technician job making steel molds for producing fiberglass machine parts. It earned him a good salary to support his family with, until he left China in 1979. (Need an reference here..)
Post Prison Years
In 1978 David Lin returned to Shanghai to join his family. As children of counter-revolutionary parents, David Lin’s children did not have a chance to receive a higher education at that time. President Nixon’s visit in 1976 opened up China to the West. Mrs. Edna Swan, who was the formal China division president Hsu Hua’s elder daughter (maiden name Hsu Ping), visited her family in Shanghai in late 1978 or early 1979. With that visit she also met with David and asked if there was anything she could help his family with. David asked her to help Roger to go to PUC for a college education. After returning to Angwin, she arranged to have Dr. Eric Tsao to be Roger’s financial sponsor and completed all the requirements and paperwork, successfully getting Roger into PUC by September of 1979. Roger graduated in 1983 with a BS in Computer Science and worked for the Adventist Media Center for 12 years. A few years after Roger’s graduation, Dr. Alice Holst set up a David Lin scholarship fund for his four daughters. The four girls also eventually went to the US for further education.
In 1989 David became the pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist congregation in Mu En Tang, one of the largest Adventist churches in China at that time. On March 28, 1991, David was fully exonerated, and the record of his imprisonment was officially erased. In 1997, at the age of 80, he fell from his bike, broke his left hip, and decided to fully retire after surgery. After this retirement, he followed his children to the United States and resided in Highland, California. He spent many of his retirement years doing translation work as well as providing educational facilities for his home country of China.
On February 10, 2011, David Lin passed away at the age of 94 after a short period of illness. Seven years later, Clara Lin also passed to her rest on March 7, 2018 at age 95. They are survived by their five children and twelve grandchildren.
The moving story of courage and endurance of David and Clara Lin continues to live on in the collective memories of not only the Adventist Chinese community but also in many western individuals who have an interest in the Adventist history in China.
Last updated 7/6/2020
Figure 1: Pastor David Lin
Figure 2: David Lin in 1950 when he was appointed Secretary of the China Divsion
Figure 3: David and Clara Lin in retirement in California USA. Taken around 1998.
Figure 4: Celebration of Adventist Heros, 2002.
Figure 5: David and Clara with Mark Finley at 2005 GC Session at St. Louuise
Figure 5: Image of the front page of the 1950 Fourth Quarter China Division Reporter, showing the entire line up of the national staff.
1. Jiao, Ruby “Memories of My Father Pastor David Lin”, Newsletter of the North America Sanyu Alumni Association, March 2011.
2. Jiao, Ruby, email messages to author January 2017 to July 2020.
3. Krause, Bettina “David Lin, 93, Adventist Pastor in China, ‘Giant of Moral Courage,’ Dies”, Adventist Review, February 23, 2011, accessed October 3, 2018, https://www.adventistreview.org/archive-4190.
4. Krause, Bettina, “Remembrance: Lin, 93, was jailed in China for his faith”, Adventist News Network, February 22, 2011, access October 3, 2018, https://news.adventist.org/en/all-news/news/go/2011-02-22/remembrance-lin-93-was-jailed-in-china-for-his-faith/.
5. Lin, Clara, “In the Hands of God”, unpublish manuscript, date unknown ca 2005, Testimony given at Adu’s Funeral. Available from Adventism in China, Center for Chinese Adventist Heritage (CCAH) Collection at https://ccah-collection.weebly.com/lindavid.
6. Lin, David, “1950 In Restrospect”, China Division Reporter, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp.1,7.
7. Lin, David, The Story of My Life, March 29, 1991. retrieved 8/2/2013 from http://www.sdadefend.com/Ad-history/D-Lin.htm.
8. Lin, David, “My Own Story”, China Letters: A Collection of Essays, Rapidan, VA: Hartland Publications, 1993. ISBN 0-923309-05-5. Available from books.google.de.http://books.google.de/books?id=D9GeH3s7EpoC&printsec=frontcover&dq=China+Letters+David+Lin&source=bl&ots=WPJZ-fd3iQ&sig=Ci3PQf6WwuhNJRRqWlY6HiybwyQ&hl=de&ei=DVxmTdzcKIaeOsbs9MEL&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBgQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false
9. Lin, David, “David Lin” in Chinese SDA History, Samuel Young (editor), Chinese Union Mission, Hong Kong, China, 2002 (in Chinese).
10. Lin, Roger, Email communication to author, June 21, 2020. Available from Adventism in China, Center for Chinese Adventist Heritage (CCAH) Collection at https://ccah-collection.weebly.com/lindavid. There were some differences among the Lin’s children in their recollection of what actually happened to Clara Lin during the height of persecution in the early days of Cultural Revolution. According to Clara Lin’s Memoir and the recollection of three of her daughters, the most severe persecution lasted for about three months from May 28 to August 28, 1967. But her son did not recall the events that happened during those three months, nor was he sure of the duration.
11. Lin-Johnson, Angelina, “Testimony of Angelina Lin-Johnson”, A talk presented at Andrews University on October 6, 2016, unpublished manuscript. Available from Adventism in China, Center for Chinese Adventist Heritage (CCAH) Collection at https://ccah-collection.weebly.com/lindavid.
12. Secretariat Appointee Files, RG21, File 00046343, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventsits Archives, Silver spring, Maryland.