Gladys Aylward (1902-1970)

This year is the 50th anniversary of the death of Gladys Aylward (1902-1970): “English missionary in China and Taiwan who worked to end the traditional Chinese practice of binding women’s feet, led a large group of orphans out of occupied China, and set up orphanages in Hong Kong and Taiwan”…

Gladys Aylward is buried in Taiwan, only 12 km from where I live here at St. John’s University. Her grave is in the grounds of Christ’s College, 臺北基督學院, located on the top of a very steep wooded hill above Guandu. Every time I go into Taipei by road or MRT, I pass by just below that college, but this is only my third visit to see the grave. Bit put off by that steep hill, the heat and all the mosquitoes up there under the trees!

My good friend and CMS mission partner colleague, Shelagh was called to the mission field as a child through hearing Gladys Aylward speak at her church in Canada. Shelagh served as a missionary nurse overseas until she retired only a few years ago – and when she visited Taiwan in 2009, Bishop Lai took us up that steep hill to visit the grave. He noticed the seal (right photo below) of the then President of the Republic of China (Chiang Kai-shek 蔣中正) on the grave – Gladys Aylward became a citizen of the ROC in 1936 (though I see that the gravestone says 1941). With all the political turmoil of the time, she eventually settled in Taiwan, ROC in 1958, and died on January 2, 1970.

Gladys Aylward’s Chinese name is 艾偉德 Ai Wei-De, the characters are written vertically on the wall behind the tomb (left photo above). Her life story was published in ‘The Small Woman’ by Alan Burgess (1957), and from that book, made into what Gladys Aylward always thought to be a wildly exaggerated romantic Hollywood classic, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958), starring Ingrid Bergman. Ah, but it’s a great movie! Apparently it was filmed in N. Wales and the children in the movie were from the Chinese community in Liverpool.

The words on her grave are as follows:

MISS GLADYS AYLWARD
MISSIONARY (1902-1970)
Born on the Twenty-Forth of February, Nineteen Hundred and Two in London, England
She came to China in Nineteen Hundred and Thirty to preach the Gospel, in response to the Lord’s call:
And became a citizen of the Republic of China in Nineteen Hundred and Forty one
She was laid to rest in the Lord, at Taipei, Taiwan, on the Second Day of January, Nineteen Hundred and Seventy
“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit”. John 12:24”

The grave is hidden away on the main campus, on the edge of the steep hill, next to graves of the founder and others associated with the college. The vegetation has grown up and the steep slopes are covered in trees and plants. Down below are several new high-rise apartment buildings that are almost taller than the hill itself. The graveyard is really a little oasis in the midst of a busy bustling area of Taipei. Oasis for mosquitoes that is – don’t stay there long or you’ll get eaten alive!

And most moving for me is the quote on her grave in English and Chinese:

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit’. John 12:24

‘一粒麥子不落在地裏死了,仍舊是一粒;若是死了,就結出許多子粒來’ 約翰福音 12:24

10 thoughts on “Gladys Aylward (1902-1970)”

  1. I chose Gladys Aylward as my topic for my CSE RE, what a wonderful inspirational woman, we are blessed with her faith and her story,

  2. That’s great and makes her story real to us, not just a film. What a privilege to be able to see her grave with its inscription in English and Chinese

  3. Thank you Catherine. Gladys Aylwood’s story inspired my faith, first during my very early teens. I remember how she felt called to China, but was ( I think!?) turned down by mission agencies at some point, yet found her own way to go none the less. Also struggling and persisting to master the language she would need.
    She sowed a seed that helped me through med school, if God calls, God will also equip.

  4. Thank you for sharing all that, Catherine! Gladys Aylward’s story was so important in inspiring my missionary call too, but that began through reading “By Searching” by Isobel Kuhn, which my uncle – Edwin Shepherd, Dad’s younger brother, once a choirboy here at St Mary’s with my Dad and Grandad, and later founder/conductor of the London Emmanuel Choir: he died conducting the first night of the annual Central Hal Westminster Carol Festival, when I was in my second year at LBC! – sent me when he heard that I had made a commitment to Christ in response to Billy Graham, relayed to the local Baptist Church when #i was preparing for Confirmation! How amazing that Gladys Aylward’s story had such a large part in your missionary call and that you pass her grave daily! Praise the Lord! xx Jenny

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