|Gladys May Aylward|
Missionary to China
24 February 1902|
Edmonton, London, England, UK
3 January 1970 (aged 67)|
|Resting place||New Taipei, Taiwan|
|Education||Silver Street School, Edmonton, London|
|Organization||Gladys Aylward Orphanage|
|Known for||Movie The Inn of the Sixth Happiness based on her life|
Gladys May Aylward (24 February 1902 – 3 January 1970) was a British evangelical Christian missionary to China, whose story was told in the book The Small Woman, by Alan Burgess, published in 1957, and made into the film The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, starring Ingrid Bergman, in 1958. The film was produced by Twentieth Century Fox, and filmed entirely in North Wales and England.
Aylward was born to a working-class family in Edmonton, North London, in 1902. Her parents were Thomas John Aylward and Rosina Florence Aylward (née Whiskin). Her siblings were Laurence and Violet. She worked as a domestic worker (housemaid) from her early teens, but later felt a calling to go overseas as a Christian missionary. She was accepted by the China Inland Mission to study a preliminary three-month course for aspiring missionaries, but was not offered further training due to lack of progress in learning the Chinese language.
On 15 October 1930, having worked for Sir Francis Younghusband, she spent her life savings on a train passage to Yangcheng, Shanxi Province, China. The perilous trip took her across Siberia with the Trans-Siberian Railway. She was detained by the Russians, but managed to evade them with local help and took a lift from a Japanese ship. She traveled across Japan with the help of the British Consul and took another ship to China.
Work in China
On her arrival in Yangcheng, Aylward worked with an older missionary, Jeannie Lawson, to found The Inn of the Eight Happinesses, (八福客栈 bāfú kèzhàn in Chinese) the name based on the eight virtues: Love, Virtue, Gentleness, Tolerance, Loyalty, Truth, Beauty and Devotion. There, she and Mrs. Lawson not only provided hospitality for travellers, but would also share stories about Jesus, in hopes of sharing the Gospel. For a time she served as an assistant to the Chinese government as a "foot inspector" by touring the countryside to enforce the new law against footbinding young Chinese girls. She met with much success in a field that had produced much resistance, including sometimes violence against the inspectors.
Aylward became a Chinese citizen in 1936 and was a revered figure among the people, taking in orphans and adopting several herself, intervening in a volatile prison riot and advocating prison reform, risking her life many times to help those in need. In 1938, the region was invaded by Japanese forces and Aylward led more than 100 orphans to safety over the mountains, despite being wounded herself. She not only led the orphans to safety, but personally cared for them and converted many of them to Christianity. She never married, but spent her entire life devoting herself to Christian work with the people of China.
She was repatriated to Britain at the beginning of the Second World War, and taught young children at Basingstoke Preparatory School for several years. After about 10 years she sought to return to China, and after rejection by the Communist government and a stay in British administered Hong Kong, finally settled in Taiwan in 1958. There, she founded the Gladys Aylward Orphanage, where she worked until her death in 1970.
The Inn of the Sixth Happiness
A film based on her life, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, was released in 1958. It drew from the book The Small Woman, by Alan Burgess. Although she found herself a figure of international interest due to the popularity of the film, and television and media interviews, Aylward was mortified by her depiction in the film and the liberties it took. The tall (1.75m/5' 9"), blonde Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman was inconsistent with Aylward's small stature, dark hair and North London accent. The struggles of Aylward and her family to effect her initial trip to China were disregarded in favour of a movie plot device of an employer "condescending to write to 'his old friend' Jeannie Lawson." Also, Aylward's dangerous, complicated travels across Russia, China and Japan were reduced to, "a few rude soldiers", after which, "Hollywood's train delivered her neatly to Tsientsin." Many characters and place names were changed, even when these names had significant meaning, such as those of her adopted children and the name of the inn, named instead for the Chinese belief in the number 8 as being auspicious. For example, in real life she was given the Chinese name 艾偉德 (Ài Wěi Dé- a Chinese approximation to 'Aylward' – meaning 'Virtuous One'), however in the film she was given the name 真爱 Jen-Ai,( pronounced- Zhen-Ai, meaning "true love"). Colonel Linnan was portrayed as half-European, a change which she found insulting to his real Chinese lineage, and she felt her reputation was damaged by the Hollywood-embellished love scenes in the film. Not only had she never kissed a man, but the film's ending portrayed her character leaving the orphans to re-join the colonel elsewhere, even though in reality she did not retire from working with orphans until she was 60 years old.
Death and legacy
Aylward died on 3 January 1970, just short of her 68th birthday, and is buried in a small cemetery on the campus of Christ's College in Guandu, New Taipei, Taiwan. She was known to the Chinese as 艾偉德 (Ài Wěi Dé- a Chinese approximation to 'Aylward' – meaning 'Virtuous One').
A London secondary school, formerly known as "Weir Hall and Huxley", was renamed the Gladys Aylward School shortly after her death.
There is a blue commemorative plaque on the house where Gladys lived near the school in Cheddington Road, London N18.
Numerous books, short stories and films have been developed about the life and work of Gladys Aylward (listed below).
- Crowther, Bosley (14 December 1958). "The Inn of the Sixth Happiness". New York Times. Retrieved 24 May 2015.
- http://familytreemaker.genealogy.com/users/b/l/i/Ian-Blight/WEBSITE-0001/UHP-0060.html[self-published source]
- Latham, pp4-6
- "GLADYS AYLWARD – MISSIONARY TO CHINA". Berith.
- "Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. 44: 118. 2006.
- Burgess, Alan. Gladys Aylward, The Little Woman.
- IDEA - Magazine of the Evangelical Alliance Jan/Feb 2018 p.18 with photo
- "Heroes of History: Gladys Aylward".
- Wellman 1998, p. 197
- Cast Script. British Film Institute.
- Wellman 1998, p. 198
- Wellman 1998, p. 201
- Hero Tales by Dave & Neta Jackson
- These Are My People by Mildred T. Howard
- The Archive of Gladys Aylward is held at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. http://www.soas.ac.uk/library/archives/
- Aylward, Gladys, MS 291571: Letters and relics of Gladys Aylward, missionary to China, School of African and Oriental Studies, University of London
- Aylward, Gladys (1980), Gladys Aylward: The Little Woman, ISBN 978-0-8024-2986-5
- Burgess, A (1957), The Small Woman (New Impression ed.), Pan Books, ISBN 0-330-10196-X
- Hunter, C (1971), Gladys Aylward: Her Personal Story, Coverdale House Publishers, ISBN 0-902088-25-4
- Latham, R. O. (1952), Gladys Aylward, One of the Undefeated: The Story of Gladys Aylward, Edinburgh House Press, OCLC 24941398
- Thompson, P (1971), London Sparrow: The Story of Gladys Aylward, Word Books, ISBN 0-85009-026-1
- Benge, Janet; Benge, Geoff (1998), Gladys Aylward: The Adventure of a Lifetime, ISBN 978-1-57658-019-6
- Purves, Carol (2005), Chinese Whispers: The Gladys Aylward Story, ISBN 978-1-903087-57-2
- Jackson, Dave; Jackson, Neta (1994), Flight of the Fugitives: Gladys Aylward, ISBN 978-1-55661-466-8
- Wellman, Sam (1998). Gladys Aylward: Missionary in China. Barbour.
- The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958) – feature film
- Gladys Aylward, the Small Woman with a Great God (2008) – documentary
- Torchlighters: The Gladys Aylward Story (2008) – animated DVD for children ages 8–12