A gesture at the right time can change a life. For Yuan Zhiming, producer of The Cross: Jesus in China video series, just such a moment came when he was 11 years old. He was unable to forget that gesturea smile from a persecuted pastoryears later when he was an officer in the People's Liberation Army and editorial writer for China's largest newspaper, People's Daily. It lay as a hidden wellspring feeding Yuan's books and television programs, including the influential Yellow River Elegy, as he argued for greater political freedom in China.
He told CT that in the fall of 1966 he was living in his home village of Bafang in Hebei province near Beijing. The village's 5,000 residents eagerly waited for the corn to ripen. But a political storm was brewing. Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution, the nationwide purge of Western ideology, was about to engulf them. Peasants were to believe without question that an earthly Communist paradise could be achieved in 10 years.
The flies in this revolutionary ointment were the 1,000 Christians in Yuan's village. Prominent among them were a Catholic priest and a female lay leader.
Yuan and many Protestants in North China admired the resolute faith of local Roman Catholics. Yuan told CT, "Before the Cultural Revolution, the priest was diligent in preaching in the surrounding villages." Both Protestants and Catholics respected his teaching.
One night, the leader of the local militia decided to make an object lesson out of these two believers. He led hundreds of students from 12 villages to find and harass them. Yuan followed along. The Christians were denounced as "evil snakes." The students stormed into the rooms of the priest and the woman, but the two were not there.
Yuan joined in as the ...