Book Reviews

Book Review: Fierce the Conflict (Norman Cliff)

Fierce the Conflict was written by Norman H. Cliff, the son of former missionaries to China. He has interviewed many Christians who suffered for their faith. In his book, Cliff surveys how Christianity grew during the time Mao Zedong was in power by looking at the faith of eight Chinese Christians during these frightening times.


Chapter one is about Allen Yuan. At eighteen-years-old, Allen Yuan became a Christian. After quitting high school, Yuan went to a Bible school and within four years married. When Mao Zedong came to power, Yuan and others agreed that joining the TSPM would compromise their faith—this would result in a life sentence. During his twenty years in a labor camp, Yuan had no Bible, hymns, nor Christian fellowship. His wife had to labor to feed six children and a mother-in-law. She was considered an “anti-revolutionary” because of her husband. She often cried out to God, but she never left the faith. At sixty-two-years-old, Yuan was allowed to leave the labor camp. He never recanted his Christian faith.

Chapter two is about Esther Cui. She grew up with Christian influences, yet in middle school her immediate family died. She clung to the fact that God loves and cares for orphans. She later graduated with high marks in science in college. She didn’t study the Christian faith during this time, but she recommitted her life to Christ when an evangelistic team visited her town. She spent three years at a seminary and a London Bible College afterwards. Returning to China before the “Liberation” occurred, Cui was arrested because she was thought to be working with Western imperialists. She spent four and a half years in a prison, but never had to do any labor. She married Peter after her release, and they became leaders of underground churches.

Chapter three presents Watchman Nee, who was taught the Bible growing up and became a Christian at seventeen years old. He rejected denominationalism and sought simple Bible studies with prayer, regular observances of the Lord’s Supper, and a “real sense of the Lord’s presence” (65). Nee preached regularly and evangelized in groups often. After a decade of prayer, his best friend Charity, a mocker of his faith, converted to Christ. The two would soon marry. Nee, accused of assisting the imperialists, was sentenced to fifteen years in prison, and then five more in a labor reform camp. Charity died during his time, and Ne died on a tractor headed to the prison hospital. Nee’s The Normal Christian Life, an exposition on Romans, has been written in over thirty languages and has sold over one million copies.

In chapter four, Fan Peiji grew up in a Christian home of humble beginnings and hard work, but it was when he graduated from middle school that he put his faith in Jesus Christ. He knew that he must preach the gospel to his fellow countrymen. After finishing Bible school and seminary, he helped run various short-term Bible schools. They were closed due to the Japanese forces, and building a church was difficult, but it was Mao Zedong who would be the real problem. The Cultural Revolution brought shame to Fan and his family, and Fan had to decorate statues of Mao Zedong which went against his conscience. With Mao Zedong’s death, Fan was free to preach again until his own passing.

In chapter five, Wu Mujia was in a dark period in his young adult life. Wu was struggling with work, questions concerning creation, and guilt over sins. After being saved at a gospel service, Wu began preaching a simple gospel message in different villages. After seminary, Wu became a Presbyterian pastor. Later arrested and given a life sentence in prison as a counter-revolutionary, Wu spent twenty-three years in a labor camp. Released from prison because he was above sixty years of age, he discovered his wife had died. He went on to teach Greek and Hebrew and write commentaries on some New Testament books. He held no bitterness over the past.

Chapter six tells us about Graham Wu, who knew about God in his earliest years and came to believe on Jesus Christ at the age of sixteen. Wu had a doctor’s education, and would at times be placed in precarious positions which involved close work with the government. He spent fifteen months in prison under suspicion of being an anti-revolutionary. He came to a point where he tried to combine with faith with Mao Zedong’s teachings. He later repented, pursued ministry, and wasn’t concerned that his faith may cost him his job.

Chapter seven is about David Wang, a fourth-generation Christian who came to know Christ at fourteen years old. At the age of thirty-three, Wang married, was ordained as a Presbyterian pastor, and became the pastor of a new church in a busy industrial city. He never revoked Christ to the Communists. The Liberation leaders set up flags and a picture of Mao inside of Wang’s church. During one such meeting Wang went into the church, removed the flags and the picture, and walked out. He and his family were now “anti-revolutionaries.” Wang left his family to ensure their safety. Through God’s guidance Wang found rewarding work under the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Over the years, one by one his family met up with Wang.

Chapter eight describes Wang Zhen, a Communist member in his youth. Zhen became a Christian when God healed his infected leg. He would eventually take over running an orphanage. He raised money and taught the older children how to knit and make embroidery which they would sell. He experienced dangerous incidents (e.g., thieves, being stabbed). Wang was imprisoned for not joining the TSPM. At sixty-nine-years-old Wang went to the hospital for a swollen leg. He was reminded of God’s work, and upon his release became a pastor again.

In chapter nine, Cliff notes that if it were not for the sufferings during the Cultural Revolution, Christianity would not have prospered in the surprising ways that it did. There are four appendices. The first three are sermons be Wang Mingdao, Watchman Nee, and Fan Peiji, respectively. The fourth Appendix is a map of China.

Critical Evaluation

As already mentioned, the chapters on these eight Christians occur within the same timeframe. This, including the map provided in Appendix 4, is helpful because the Chinese names and places quickly blur together for me, a white guy who grew up in the Southern US and has lived in Europe for eight years). Since these eight Christians lived through the same time period, sometimes we see them cross paths (in chapter five, Wang Zhen, whom chapter eight is about, gives Thayer’s Greek/English Lexicon to Wu Mujia, 126).

The downside to the eight stories being set within the same timeframe is that they begin to sound repetitive. Noting again my difficulty with Chinese proper nouns, it was difficult for me to remember who went to which school that was set in a specific town in a certain year. Many of the Christians written about in the book became Christians relatively young and would eventually attend a Christian school and/or seminary.

The book is about the suffering and trials of eight Chinese Christians, yet their sufferings didn’t play as big of a part in the book as I expected. For example, in chapter four on Fan Peiji there is not much detail on how bad the suffering was. The reader is given a broad enough view to see that times were hard, and that accusations could be easily set against Christians. These days were dark. Some of Fan’s church members turned against him, but I don’t know how this would look or in what way Fan needed to be tight-lipped around them. He had to provide food for eight mouths to feed in a time when he wasn’t able to work much, and had to decorate statues and busts of Mao Zedong which went against his conscience. This would be difficult, and it is different from what we are experiencing today in North America, but beyond the labor reforms, there isn’t simply much information on how poorly the experiences were.

In chapter six, the discussion with Graham Wu and the mixing of Christianity and Mao’s teachings was an excellent addition to the book. It helps me and hopefully other readers consider what beliefs we are compromising and mixing cultural ideas into. I should add that I originally wrote this review years ago, and I no longer have this book. I can’t add how Christianity was mixed with Mao Zhedong’s teachings nor the implications for us today.

This is more of an observation than a critique, but Cliff makes no comment, neither positive nor negative, about the seemingly “poor” use of Scripture in the chapter on Graham Wu (see Psalm 12:5 on p135, and Jeremiah 31:3 on p139).


Seeming to be copied straight from one of Paul’s lists of suffering, these Chinese citizens suffered assaults, hunger, starvation, deception, deaths of friends and family members, loneliness, very long stretches of imprisonment in labor camps, some had to run from communist leaders, they received slander, some doubted, yet they continued to cling to God, house churches continued whenever and wherever it was possible, people were continually being added to God’s kingdom, and there was faithful endurance and prayer. Though the stories of suffering are not riddled with details, it is enough that it should cause Western Christians to examine their own proclamations of faith. 


  • Author: Norman H. Cliff
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Joshua Press Inc (July 15, 2001)

Buy it from Amazon or H&E Publishing!

Disclosure: I wrote this review for a Church History class. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. 

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