|Against the Gates of Hell
Behind the Bamboo Curtain
Finding an entryway Preaching the Gospel of the coming Kingdom of God to all the world surely could not be accomplished until an effective means could be found to reach one entire fourth of that world, the inhabitants of the People's Republic of China.
The Work made several efforts to bring the message to the diverse Chinese population during the years of its isolation from the rest of the community of nations, begun in 1949 after Chiang Kai-shek had been toppled by the Communists. For a number of years, we broadcast from Taiwan, then called Formosa, where Chiang and his Nationalist forces had taken refuge. Some of our message undoubtedly went through, but we could never be certain of how much.
For a long time, we had been seeking a way to take the commission directly behind the Bamboo Curtain to this vast and populous country whose borders were shut tightly to Westerners. How could we get inside, how allay the dark suspicions of the Chinese leaders toward virtually everyone and everything beyond its boundaries?
Finding an entryway into the wary country was a lengthy and difficult task that took almost a full decade. The story of how it was at last accomplished is, in a capsule, the story of how the Church manages to fulfill its God-directed mission. It involves drama, high-level personages from widely diverse nations, seemingly insurmountable roadblocks, and, above all else, the intervention of Divine Providence.
Our China experience started in India in 1970 at a dinner in Herbert Armstrong's honor at the home of Dr. Nagendra Singh, then the secretary general of the office of President V. V. Giri, and who later became one of the justices of the International Court of Justice at The Hague. As an advocate for world peace through law, Dr. Singh admired Herbert Armstrong and, as the years went on, came to love him even though he himself was a devout Hindu. Later Dr. Singh was to introduce Mr. Armstrong to political and thought leaders in many nations, and even hosted both a lunch and dinner in the Pastor General's honor at The Hague itself.
At Dr. Singh's home that evening, we me". the Ethiopian ambassador to India, Getachew Mekasha, who was impressed by Mr. Armstrong and indicated a strong interest in having us visit his country. An invitation followed, a visit was scheduled and in 1973 Mr. Armstrong flew into Addis Ababa.
At that time in world history, Ethiopia was closer to China than perhaps any other country. Chou En-lai, premier of the People's Republic, was deeply indebted to Emperor Haile Selassie, and to Ambassador Mekasha, because when Chou went to Africa a decade before, Ethiopia was the only nation that would allow him to land and refuel. The arrangements had been made by Mekasha. After that incident, Chou showed his gratitude by allowing Mekasha to visit China on a number of occasions. Before long, air routes had been opened up between the two nations.
Having come to one of the few countries with close ties to China was fortunate enough. Yet there was more to come.
At a dinner in Mr. Armstrong's honor in the Ethiopian capital, we found ourselves seated next to a tall, portly man. As dean of the ambassadorial corps, protocol called for him to be seated at the head table. He was Yu Pei-Wen, ambassador of the People's Republic of China to Ethiopia. He spoke English perfectly and, to cap the series of providential occurrences, had relatives in Los Angeles!
Wen, formerly chief of protocol in the Foreign Office in Peking, had one of the most sensitive posts in the world for the Chinese Republic. The Organization of African Unity, one of the key developments in the history of Pan-Africanism, had been created in 1963 at a summit conference of thirty independent black nations. * For political and economic reasons, China had long been interested in cultivating the friendship of the newly emerging African countries; teams of Chinese experts in various areas were already in a number of countries along the east coast, cultivating friendships, and more were sent around the periphery to the west coast.
We got along famously, chatting alternately about China and Los Angeles. Niki had begun the flow of conversation when she produced a beautifully lacquered cigarette lighter upon which two Chinese characters were inscribed. She had heard, she said, that they were the name of the artist who had done the exquisite finish. Dr. Wen peered at the characters and burst into laughter. They formed a name, he told her, but hardly that of an artist — the name of a well-known French (S. T. Dupont) company which manufactured the lighter. Later Dr. Wen jokingly referred to the incident in his speech as a "capitalistic trick."
The upshot of this meeting? Wen, impressed with Mr. Armstrong's talk and mission, asked me: "Despite the estrangement of our countries, despite the fact your passport says you cannot come to China, will you and Mr. Armstrong be willing to come anyway""
"Yes," I answered. "Mr. Armstrong goes where God sends him, not where the United States State Department says he can or cannot go. Where a conflict exists, Mr. Armstrong obeys the laws of God, not the laws of man."
"Then," Mr. Wen replied, "I will see that you come to China."
Barriers arose. Wen helped us all he could, but in Peking, Chinese officials, while approving me, balked at inviting Mr. Armstrong The reason was not hard to find: as a consistent anticommunist writer and preacher he had for years identified communism as being anti-God. He had never differentiated among the various mutations communism had undergone in Russia, Yugoslavia or China; none of the forms was compatible with religion as he saw it. Nor would he alter his views to point out that Chinese communism was less anti-God than the Russian type, a modification, we were told, that would have pleased the officials and resulted in an invitation.
* The OAU was formed to bind the thirty countries into a loose federation for political, economic and defense cooperation. A secretariat was established in Addis Ababa. An impasse resulted, but thanks to Wen and our Ethiopian friends, signals came back that the doors were left open, though not widely enough at the time to admit us. Years went by, with our China adventure on the back burner. Then Japanese friends enter the story.
Our relations with the Japanese have been so close that they call themselves Mr. Armstrong's sons and my brothers. I myself am totally immersed in the Japanese culture and spend most of my spare time studying the language. Their leaders, seeking to normalize relations with their huge neighbor, had been traveling frequently to Peking and, while there, planting seeds in our behalf. They were spreading the word that Mr. Armstrong and his close aide were good people working through a good institution to make a good effort to bring about what all nations seek — a better world understanding. And that, certainly not least, we were prepared, even anxious, to put some of our treasure where our heart was, to donate something quite tangible, quite useful, through the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation, to China.
With realization of the true nature of our intentions, the objections slowly dissolved and a journey was in the planning stages for the fall of 1977 when Mr. Armstrong — as previously mentioned — became seriously ill with congestive heart failure. For three weeks his condition was critical, requiring at one time mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and manual heart massage. Nurses were in attendance around the clock, but much of the credit for his recovery should go to his second wife, the former Ramona Martin, who was at his bedside constantly, offering devotion and love. Loma Armstrong had passed away ten years earlier, three months before she and her husband would have celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary.
Ramona and Herbert Armstrong had been married about four months when the illness struck. Mrs. Armstrong was thirty-nine, the daughter of a longtime church member. A member herself, she had worked for us for many years. In 1974, she was transferred to my staff and, since I worked so closely with Mr. Armstrong, they became acquainted. They fell in love, and after a long courtship, were married on April 17, 1977. I gave the bride away at the joyous occasion. Since then, the Armstrong's have been living in Tucson, a happy and devoted couple.
When Mr. Armstrong recovered from his illness, plans for the China trip had to be postponed again. The reason: new problems with Garner Ted. The Pastor General had found it necessary to dismiss his son from the Work and felt he should remain in the country to oversee the reorganization of the Church under the laws of God.
Since the China trip was now in the final stages of preparation, Mr. Armstrong and I agreed it should not be postponed. We decided that I would journey there to lay the groundwork for a later visit by him. Since the written word is the most effective instrument for advancing cultural understanding between peoples, I felt that a program of helping the Chinese develop their libraries should be one of our goals in China. Our Japanese friends broached the idea to Chinese officials, who accepted it happily, and my visit was arranged for the summer of 1979. I would tour a number of institutions to obtain a visual picture of the libraries and other fields in which we could work through the Foundation. Our hosts would be the newly created China Society of Education, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture.
And so, at long last, the Bamboo Curtain parted for the Church.
Clasping Hands across the Hemisphere The Chinese people were unfailingly generous and gracious hosts. There was an instant rapport between us, camaraderie clearly evident at the many banquets they hosted for us and which we, in return, gave for them. Whatever suspicions there were years before of our intentions were gone. They liked us. We liked them. It was as simple as that. When people of such divergent backgrounds and political ideologies can feel that way about one another, there is no limit to the good that can be accomplished.
We were guests in the full sense of the word, not permitted to pay for our food, lodgings, ground and internal air transportation. * During our intensive schedule, we visited libraries and universities in Peking, Nanking and Shanghai, among them the famed Peking University, China's Harvard, where the late Chairman Mao Tse-tung's first job was as an assistant librarian. Meetings with their presidents and departmental heads gave us an unparalleled inside look at what they were doing. At the same time, we told them about ourselves, distributing copies of The Plain Truth and, in "soft sell," told them about our Work and our commission. We could not offend our hosts, a nation without religion, by delivering our message as we had in other nations. In his own preparation for the visit, Mr. Armstrong was planning to tell their leaders of the coming world government, though not, as he said, "in Christian or Bible-sounding words."
From Shanghai I returned to Tokyo, from where I reported the results of the trip to Mr. Armstrong. After a few days, I returned to China for another two weeks, again engaging in intensive discussions in Peking, Hanghow and Canton. We concluded arrangements for Mr. Armstrong to meet with the premier or party chairman, depending on their availability, for his private plane to land, for a tight schedule of dinners, meetings and receptions, and to bring in a television crew to film a complete documentary of his visit, another first. No foreign organization had ever been permitted to do this before. Not so incidentally, these arrangements were hardly cut and dried procedures, to be had for the asking. Each had to be negotiated with the utmost tact and delicacy through what seemed an endless chain of officials, down to the last detail of where Mr. Armstrong would stay and who would pay the costs. The Chinese, delicately yet quite firmly, again insisted on being the complete host.
* We did the things all tourists, including former President Nixon and Vice-President Walter Mondale, do: visited the Forbidden City in Peking — where we gaped at its temples, palaces and fifty-foot walls — the famous Nanking and Shanghai pagodas and, also in Nanking, the birthplace of Sun Yat-sen, the revolutionary hero who was the first president of the Chinese Republic. The Mao jacket, we learned, is misnamed. Its actual originator was Sun Yat-sen, whose beautiful stone mausoleum outside Nanking is a national shrine.
During this second visit, I was asked to deliver an address to the faculty and students of the University of Peking, and later at the institution's department of law, a signal honor. Even where differences in the cultures of nations preclude the adaptation of some features of the other's experience, we can nonetheless study that experience profitably to understand better the world community. Thus I traced the rise of the lawyer throughout our evolving history, imparting to my Chinese audience some appreciation of the central role he has played in the nation's growths — a role that has firmly entrenched the lawyer in the social, business, and political fabric of the United States. As one illustration, I pointed out that there have been twenty-three lawyers whose careers took them to the White House.
"The United States," I said, "was founded upon the notion of a 'rule by law.' That the lawyer should figure so prominently is not surprising. As the People's Republic of China has occasion to observe the continuing evolution of the American democracy, you would be well advised to pay particular attention to our legal institutions. The law and the lawyer are as informative as any microcosm of American society."
I also, however, found it necessary to be sharply critical of the legal profession in my country, asserting that many members of the bar are failing to live up to the high ideals expected of them. It was a stance not many lawyers take; after all, I am a member of the bar and it is more customary for attorneys to act as counsel for the defense of their own profession than as prosecuting attorneys. But truth is truth and so I told the Chinese:
Traditionally, the legal profession is a learned profession pursuing a learned art. It is this learning which sets a profession apart from a mere "calling" or "occupation." To perform his many and difficult duties arising from his complex obligations to his profession, to the courts, to his clients, to society at large, and to himself, a lawyer has to be more than a skilled and resourceful craftsman; he must be a learned and cultured man. The requirements of painstaking and often rigidly supervised preparation for the practice of law, which in some instances go back to pre-Revolutionary times, as well as the almost universal insistence upon searching tests devised to ascertain the intellectual (and moral) qualifications and knowledge of persons desiring to enter the profession of the law, are in some authors' minds proof that the proper practice of law is a matter of high intelligence, vast erudition, sterling character, and an exacting training combining systematic and industrious acquisition as well as disciplined mastery of a large body of intellectual knowledge based on reason and experience.
The failure of members of the bar to live up to the ideal is not astonishing. Yet many in America were shocked when, during the Watergate crisis of the Nixon administration, it was revealed that many of the chief scoundrels were lawyers.
One of the repercussions of the Watergate affair was a renewed interest on the part of our law schools in teaching courses in legal ethics and professional responsibility. Many states also added examinations in such subjects as a prerequisite to admission to practice law. In fact, one of the conditions placed on those who were disbarred as a result of the purge after Watergate was that they successfully complete such an examination before returning to practice.
It is now widely recognized that many lawyers fail to attain full growth, in terms of the ideal lawyer. Indeed, many of them never glimpse the vision either of what is rightly expected of the legal profession or of them individually. As far as they recognize, their responsibilities begin and end with serving their clients, and for them the law is only a set of mechanical rules, which they attempt to manipulate for the interests of their clients. Returning to Tokyo I learned, to my disappointment and certainly his, which Mr. Armstrong could not shake off a persistent stomach ailment and would be unable to make the trip to China after all. Since all arrangements had been formalized, we decided that I would substitute for him again and, while so doing, pave the way ever more firmly for his eventual arrival by enlarging our friendships and deepening our mutual understanding.
Chief Justice Arthur T. Vanderbilt of New Jersey, I told the students, outlined five essential functions of the great lawyer: wise counseling to all persons in the varied crises of their lives; skilled advocacy; the obligation to improve his profession; leadership in molding public opinion; and the unselfish holding of public office.
Education in these five functions is in large measure the responsibility of the individual lawyer, not only while in law school but also through his working years. This, as Chief Justice Vanderbilt puts it, is "practicing law in the grand manner — the only way it is worth practicing."
I spent two more hectic weeks in China, highlighted by the first cultural performance sponsored by the Foundation inside that country. On the earlier trips, I had been enormously impressed by the range and quality of the Chinese theatre. The artistry and enthusiasm of the individuals and ensembles was superb, the music haunting, the costumes breathtakingly lovely.
One day, while discussing with the minister of culture the possibility of bringing to the United States some of the fine troupes that have not yet appeared in our country, an idea popped suddenly to mind. Somewhat rashly, without knowing if I were asking something impossible or even wildly absurd, I put the question to him then and there: Could the Foundation sponsor a theatrical event in China, to which we would invite officials of the government, university leaders, members of the faculties and students? It would be a gala benefit performance by the finest artists available, an evening of entertainment presented by us to them.
His face broke into a wide smile. It was, he said, a delightful idea. Yes, indeed, he would approve. We set to work at once, engaging directorial personnel who, in turn, brought together a troupe of 133 of the finest Chinese singers, dancers, musicians, and actors, many of whom had already traveled all over their country, and also through South America and the United States.
The show was put together — with a rapidity that would make our own producers gape — and performed at Peking's Nationality Palace Theatre before about 1,500 persons who received it with unrestrained enthusiasm. The entire two-hour entertainment filmed by our television crew and available to American audiences is a glittering illustration of international bridge-building by a Church adjunct.
On our last evening in China, I represented Herbert Armstrong as deputy honoree at a banquet in the Great Hall of the People in Peking, remarkable because it brought together seventy-five ambassadors of nations around the globe in one room, all gathered to pay tribute to a man who was seeking nothing for himself but the greatest gift man could give himself — peace on this earth. I glanced around the hall as the dinner progressed and was overwhelmed when I saw how many dignitaries of the world had come together there because they, too, wanted that gift. I saw envoys from Iron Curtain countries, the Third World, the Far and Middle East, and Latin America. At the head table, on my immediate right, was the Cuban ambassador, which was ironic yet also revealing. At precisely that time, the presence of a Soviet brigade in Cuba was confronting President Carter with a potentially explosive international crisis. In the absence of relations between the two countries, Carter was unable to discuss this matter with a diplomatic representative. Yet the Worldwide Church of God, through its representative, was at that moment in close contact with a highly placed Cuban official!
Need I spell out any more clearly the influence, actual and potential, of this God-loving people in helping to bring a measure of sanity to a world rushing headlong into the twilight?
There was still another demonstration during that period of how the Church succeeded in bringing envoys of deeply divided, indeed hostile, nations into one room, where they could talk to one another in a pleasant, friendly atmosphere and, hopefully, establish a rapport. In between our China trips, we hosted a dinner party in Tokyo to which we invited some 200 persons. At the head table sat the ambassadors of Israel, Tunisia, Lebanon, and China. Neither Tunisia nor Lebanon has diplomatic relations with Israel, and Israel has no relations with China! Nevertheless, they were all introduced to one another and registered no objection when we asked if they could be photographed together.
By the end of 1979, with Mr. Armstrong's health significantly improved, the long-postponed visit to China became feasible. Again I worked out a rigorous and wide-ranging schedule of activities and, on December 2, Mr. Armstrong flew to Peking — the first leader of a Christian church to be officially invited to meet with leaders of the People's Republic of China.
For five days and four nights, Armstrong had formal and informal talks with leaders of government and education as part of what he described as his "most important and successful trip."
"Although in a communist and atheist-oriented country I did not use Bible language, I did get over to them the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, announcing the coming one-world government of God," he assured readers of Plain Truth in his Pastor General's Report. He wrote that speaking to the leaders of Communist China is akin to reaching one fourth of all the people on earth, one billion people.
In Peking, Mr. Armstrong spoke for an hour with Tan Zhenlin, vice-chairman of the Standing Committee on the National People's Congress and one of the three top men in the Chinese government today. He gave to Tan, a former close associate of Chairman Mao Tse-tung and Premier Chou En-lai, a prophet's eye view of the coming United Europe, which will touch off the final holocaust of this age on earth and usher in the Kingdom of God.
Mrs. Armstrong, Mrs. Rader and I, as well as some of Herbert Armstrong's "sons" from the Japanese Diet, were along on this trip, which included visits to the "Forbidden City," the Great Wall and the national library. Mr. Armstrong was guest of honor at a dinner given by government and university leaders, and also addressed a banquet attended by many educators and their wives. He was the main speaker at a dinner given by the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation in the Chinese People's Great Hall for the diplomatic corps.
Mr. Armstrong was very open in his discussions with the Chinese people. He told his listeners that they, along with other human beings in the nations of the world, are striving to achieve the Kingdom of God on earth. But whatever path they choose to reach that goal, whether socialism, democracy, or any other form of government, they cannot succeed. For man's law cannot bring to pass what humanity has sought for six thousand years, a great new world. God alone has the power to create His Kingdom here. It will be God who will intervene through Jesus Christ, and Christ will come to rule as Kin and High Priest.
There was no effort at conversion; there never is in any nation he visits. The missionaries who fanned out across China in the nineteenth century warned people to change their ways of life and accept God or face fateful consequences. Mr. Armstrong uttered not one word that even hinted at proselytizing. He simply told them what lay ahead.
And they listened.
A Chinese employee of the Liberian embassy in Peking told one member of our party: "I have never heard such a message as I heard last night in the Great Hall of the People. There are two ways of life. The way of getting causes all the troubles in the world, and the way of giving is the solution. I wish I could hear more on this subject, and I hope to hear soon that we may have an office of the Ambassador Foundation here. I have never seen such a man as Mr. Armstrong.
We went to China, not as politicians, not as businessmen seeking any kind of quid for our quo, not as salesmen trying to drive a good bargain for our side, but as people of good will, giving and not getting, our hands extended not to take but in friendship. We left some of our treasure and promised we would give more. We also left something else in the soil of China — feelings of trust and admiration for us and what we seek. From these seeds great oaks can grow.