At 8:50 a.m. on Dec. 9, 2018, Ran Yunfei arrived early at the sixth floor of Jiangxin Building, No. 56, Taisheng North Road, Chengdu to attend the church’s Sunday worship service. As there are only two doors in the elevator on the first floor of this building, on Sunday mornings, people stood and waited in two long lines to take the elevator to the church. Typically, a stranger would come up to greet Ran Yunfei with a handshake. After worship concluded at 11:00, Yunfei took the elevator to 23rd floor of the Jiangxin Building and gave an hour’s lecture to the adult Sunday School on “Christianity and Chinese Culture”, “Lecture 7: How to face death determines how you live”, “My land and my people.” Ran Yunfei’s aims his series of lectures at the issue of how death is dealt with in Chinese culture. He said that the Chinese are the only people in the world who are unprepared for death. Paradoxically, Feuerbach also said that the Chinese worry more about the dead than most in the world. Before you die, you don’t prepare for death, and you seldom think about the things related to death. After you die, there are a lot of cumbersome funeral procedures, various levels and arrangements, which make those you leave dizzy. But how to face death? There are deep lessons to study and learn, because how to face death, determines how we live. As a writer, widely recognized as “extremely rich in learning,” Ran Yunfei, a Christian, is now more concerned about how to use his knowledge to preach the Gospel, so that more people can clearly understand the differences between Chinese culture and Christian culture. In the past, he has said, “Woe to a man whose knowledge does not serve others!”
As a dissident writer and a liberalist intellectual who once praised Hu Shi’s progressive improvement, Yunfei became known for his sharp views and words in the public sphere. Some called him “Bandit Ran.”
In early 2011 the Jasmine Movement, authorities arrested and jailed Yunfei for “subversion of state power,” but due to international and domestic public opinion and diplomatic pressure, released him six months later. In an article about Ran Yunfei, Liu Shahe, an older poet, said, “I once wrote a couplet to give him. The first line of the couplet says, ‘Urinating toward the dragon spring to cause a fog’ and the second line reads, ‘I see Yunfei drinking tea in a tiger’s den.’ It takes great courage to urinate in front of the dragon spring and drink tea in tiger’s den.”
Reporter Ma Xiaobing described Ran Yunfei in Ran Yunfei: The Man as follows: “Writing all night without feeling tired; drinking eight liang liquor but still sober-minded; playing mah-jong all night but not tired; playing games as if absent-minded; surfing the internet all day and barking with all his might.” Xiaobing once described the change of his thoughts in this way: “When I came across the internet, I met Mr. Hu Shi again (I had read Hu Shi in the past, but I didn’t feel his words deeply, so I call this a re-encounter), as well as Mr. Wilberforce and others, who became guides to change my spiritual history.”
At a little past 8:00 p.m. on Dec. 9, Christians from other places greeted Ran Yunfei as the news of the arrest spread in WeChat groups. During the conversation, Yunfei’s son-in-law told us that police had taken Yunfei and Wei, his wife, away. Police officers then took the couple’s daughter and son-in-law away. Authorities implied that Yunfei and his family members were all taken on Dec. 9 because of their common faith. The day before Dec. 9 was the day the Nicodemus Bible study met, which Yunfei hosted in his home every other Saturday for Christians and Gospel seekers. He and his son-in-law, Jiang Wenyu, led the Bible study sessions.
One meeting focused on Nicodemus, a Jewish intellectual in the New Testament. He asked Jesus several philosophical and theological questions. Nicodemus represents the kind of intellectuals who yearn for truth, but their rational doubts block faith. Yunfei confesses that he was once a Nicodemus. His Bible study class also attracted Nicodemuses who live in Chengdu as well as those from other places and happen to pass through this town. Discussions often stimulate deep thoughts, challenging deep human rationality, thus becoming a new cultural “scenic spot” in Chengdu.
The Nicodemus Bible study started in 2012. Three years later, the stone wall inside Yunfei’s heart, blocking him from trusting God, collapsed. Romans chapter 13, the chapter that untied the knot in his mind, reflects the hindrance Yunfei experienced. When Yunfei, an uncompromising anti-autocracy dissident, heard of “obedience to the government,” he became furious. On Oct. 31, 2015, as the Nicodemus Bible study studied chapter 13 of Romans, Yingqiang, leading the Bible study group, made a complete interpretation of the premises of civil government. He explained the rights and obligations of the government and the rights and obligations of citizens in Romans 13 and warned us not to take the Bible out of context. This greatly inspired Ran Yunfei. Combining the different views of Aquinas, Locke, Luther, and Calvin on this chapter suddenly enlightened him. He quickly stood up from the pile of books and said, “From today forward, I will believe in the Lord.” Yunfei’s words even shocked himself, along with Li Yingqiang and the others who heard them. For a while, those listening to Yunfei sat stunned, before clapping for him.
On May 30, 2016, the day of his baptism, Ran Yunfei testified that, “Since someone preached the Gospel to me in 1987, I have been like a fugitive. Almost every year, people preached the Gospel to me in many places. I had been hunted by the ‘Gospel’ for 28 years. Finally, on Oct. 31, 2015, the 498th year after the publication of the 95 reformation theses by Martin Luther, I decided to believe in the Lord. At the age of 46, I found the father of my flesh. At the age of 50, I found my Father in Heaven.” Ran Yunfei’s baptism testimony was widely circulated, causing a ripple in the public sphere. Some people cheered and wept for him. Others expressed regret, saying that Yunfei, now a Christian, was not as meaningful to society as the former “bandit Ran.” Friends, however, familiar with him, see how, because of the reversal of his own life, he has blessed his family, neighbors, and more people.
Yunfei experienced one extraordinary blessing/miracle in his own personal life: the sudden withdrawal from decades of dependence on alcohol. A deep connection exists between the Chinese literati and wine, likely because Chinese philosophy has not solved the problem of where to go in life. Asking such serious questions can only bring about void and pain. For many, the way to deal with void and pain includes drinking wine, which in turn, gives the culture a sense of intoxication. The cruelty of China’s reality also provides justification for the use of wine. Ran Yunfei once told his friend, Liao Yiwu, that alcoholism was the minimum cost he paid for democracy. Like Liu Ling in “The Seven Sages of Zhulin,” Yunfei was often drunk on the street. Because he lives on the seventh floor, his wife couldn’t get him upstairs when Yunfei became intoxicated, so she had to put a quilt in the reception room for him to sleep on. When he sobered up, Yunfei would carry the quilt upstairs. After being baptized, Yunfei unexpectedly gave up wine-drinking. As for why, he still doesn’t understand. It was God’s act, he reasoned.
After believing in the Lord and being baptized, Yunfei suddenly realized that he had never undertaken any housework. He told his wife, “I will wash dishes after dinner every day.” In the past, he had attended many social activities and was away from home throughout much of the year. Now, except for the purpose of preaching the Gospel, he seldom participates in wine parties and meals. In his past, Yunfei ignored his wife, but now he studies and discusses the Bible with her every day. In the past, when he met friends at the speech center, his arrogance would basically drive him to speak constantly while others listened to him. He displayed a “challenge me if you can” attitude. Now, to the surprise of his friends, Yunfei smiles as he quietly listens to others.
Others note that his appearance even reflects the change in Yunfei. In October 2017, at the marriage renewal ceremony for him and his wife, he shared the guilt and grace of marriage he experienced with a piece titled, “A Prodigal Son Who is Accepted By God.” He confessed that the Gospel Pastor Wang Yi preached to him greatly challenged his Confucian marriage concept. Ran Yunfei’s outward appearance as well as his spirit within reflect the change God has made in him. The change of appearance occurred due to religion. Yunfei experienced a spiritual change within due to the Gospel. Man can be a moral model if he is not born again, but if he is not born again, he cannot see God. Ran Yunfei said, “Before I believed in the Lord, I felt that I, Ran Yunfei, was a good man with a sense of justice and motivation to act. After believing in the Lord, under the light of the Bible, I realized that I was a completely rotten man, an incurable sinner. I was just like other people without God, with no difference. The most difficult thing in life is to know myself. I thank God for letting me know my nature and return to Him humbly.”
What Ran Yunfei, an intellectual, needs most–what intellectuals need—is his own time to write books and make speeches. This is the ideal of traditional intellectuals. Yunfei learned the Bible teaches that those who give up worldly fame and wealth for God will be rewarded. He realized that if one possesses the power of knowledge, it is not because he is powerful, but because of God’s grace. This gift, he understood, must be used to help others and glorify God. Otherwise, God will take this gift back.
Ran Yunfei shares many testimonies in this respect. Books that Ran Yunfei has written are banned on the mainland. With his knowledge and talent, however, he may easily publish them in Hong Kong and Taiwan. He has devoted many hours to various services. These include being the adult Sunday School teacher of the church, a teacher of the school of humanities, and a student and teacher at the seminary. Simultaneously, he leads the reading group of religious students. He also leads Christians and worshippers from other churches, leads the Nicodemus Bible study class, speaks at irregular social, academic, and evangelical lectures, and lectures to other churches, compiling teaching materials for Chinese Christians.
Passionate about the Gospel, Ran Yunfei maintains a phone book in which he writes down phone numbers of Gospel admirers who have visited him in his home. Afterwards, he calls the people in Chengdu one-by-one. He also invites his relatives, friends, and readers to participate in the Bible study. Yunfei said that he used to hold lectures in Chengdu without having to make announcements. Those interested would see the forthcoming lectures on the internet and rush from far away to buy tickets to attend his lectures. Now, he calls to invite them to his home to listen to him share better knowledge and tea.
At times, many do not want to come. Nevertheless, Yunfei still insists on calling to invite people over. He often reminds himself to break the pride of the intellectuals and prepare for humiliation because of the Lord. Although his study the “Reactionary House” was not extensive, the number of listeners once reached 120. Having a study in their living room, however, was not enough. Ran Yunfei and his wife opened all the bedrooms so more people could sit on the bed and listen. In summer, they turned the air conditioners on early in the morning so that their home would not be too sultry when crowded with listeners. During break time, Yunfei provided tea and fruit snacks to those attending. This enables Gospel seekers to experience the humility and warmth of a great writer.
Whenever he has the opportunity, Yunfei, the subject of long-term government surveillance, would preach the Gospel to the people around him, including police officers and state security officers. Once, the police stopped at the door of Yunfei’s house and refused to let the Gospel seekers inside. Yunfei asked his wife to pour tea for the police. He then sat on a stool and said, “As long as God blesses, at some point, you do love the enemy.” After Dec. 9, police heavily guarded his family home. Police cars parked outside while officers interrogated Gospel seekers at the reception room. Police also monitored the corridor.
To help counter his lumbar vertebrae disease, Yunfei performed swimming exercises every day. In the months following Dec. 9, state security officers kept watch at the swimming pool. On New Year’s Eve, Yunfei went to a local restaurant to eat dinner with his family and relatives. Several state security officers stood watch at the dinner table from the beginning to the end. In March, church members managed to evade the door guard as they visited his home. When they left however, police officers beat and captured them
Also in the spring, Zhang Chunlei, elder of Guiyang’s Renai Church, visited Yunfei Zhang Xinyue, and Li Yingqiang’s wife. Police immediately reported this to the Guiyang state security. Consequently, authorities forcibly took Chunlei onto a high-speed train. Ran Yunfei appeared to remain calm and quiet under the pressure, He read more than 10 books a month and undertook various services. Authorities did not allow him to go out until Nov. 23, 2019. At that time, he travelled Shanghai. The next day, Sunday, he attended church. Leaving the service with grateful tears, Yunfei expressed his feelings to his Circle of Friends [Editor’s note: The “Circle of Friends” is a person’s group of friends on the Chinese social media platform WeChat]:
“Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to attend the first public worship and communion since Dec. 9. The grace of the Lord is sufficient.”