Around the dioceseNews

Eric Liddell and Chinese Christianity

Last month, Christ Church Morningside, together with our friends in Morningside United Church, organised an event celebrating the life and work of Eric Liddell. We’re very thankful to Prof Hugh Goddard for the article below telling us more about it.


2024 is the centenary of Eric Liddell winning his gold medal in the 400 metres at the Paris Olympics, as memorably portrayed in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire. The Eric Liddell Community in Morningside has arranged a programme of events in order to celebrate this success, and help a new generation to gain an appreciation of his achievement and legacy, and details of this can be found at The Eric Liddell 100 – The Eric Liddell Community.

As a contribution to the programme, Christ Church Morningside, an Episcopal congregation in south-west Edinburgh, with the support of Morningside United Church, the church of which Liddell was a member during his student days in Edinburgh in the 1920’s, arranged a half-day symposium in February in order to commemorate the other great theme of his life, namely Christian mission in China. The full title of the event was ‘The Life and Death of Eric Liddell and the Rebirth of Chinese Christianity’, and a recording of it is now available at Eric Liddell and Chinese Christianity (

In the hour-long recording Prof. Brian Stanley, Professor Emeritus of World Christianity in the University of Edinburgh’s School of Divinity, focused on ‘The Last Days of Eric Liddell and the Last Days of Mission Christianity in China’, outlining the different phases of Liddell’s work in China after he graduated from the University of Edinburgh, firstly in the rather European environment of the Anglo-Chinese College in Tientsin, then in the much more rural environment of Siaochang, where he learnt Chinese, and finally in the internment camp in Weifang where he died in 1945.  Prof. Stanley spoke movingly of the practical Christianity which he demonstrated in that harsh environment, as testified to by Scottish nurse Annie Buchan, whose papers can be found in the Centre for Research Collections in the University Library.

In a kind of mirror-image of Prof. Stanley’s talk on Liddell’s work in China, Dr. Alexander Chow, the Co-Director of the Centre for the Study of World Christianity in the School of Divinity, then spoke on ‘Chinese Christianity amongst the new Scots’, outlining early Chinese figures who became established in Scotland, including William Macao (c. 1753-1831), who worked for the Board of Excise in Edinburgh, and Wong Fun (1829-1878), the first Chinese medical student in the University of Edinburgh.  Dr. Chow then elaborated on the importance of food in bringing about the establishment and growth of Chinese communities in the country, including Christian ones. There are now seven Chinese churches operating in Edinburgh, and further details of them can be found in the Centre’s recent report on Global Christians in Edinburgh.

Dr. Mark McLeister, Lecturer in Chinese Studies in the Department of Asian Studies, also contributed to the discussion, on the basis of his anthropological research on ongoing Christian influences in China today.   Dr McLeister considered the revival and re-invention of religion since 1978, thinking particularly about the growth and diversity of Christianity.  He spoke about the official policy on religion in China, considering how the Chinese state seeks to manage religion more generally, and Christianity in particular.  He then discussed to what extent the state is able to achieve its religious goals with specific reference to Christianity.  The event took place in the Playfair Library in Old College, which was kindly made available by the Principal, Prof. Peter Mathieson, and was attended by around 180 people.

Prof. Hugh Goddard