This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the oral history interview of Paul Contento (CN 472, T2) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words have been omitted, except for any non-English phrases which could not be understood by the transcribers. Foreign terms which are not commonly understood appear in italics. In very few cases words were too unclear to be distinguished. If the transcriber was not completely sure of having gotten what the speaker said, "[?]" was inserted after the word or phrase in question. If the speech was inaudible or indistinguishable, "[unclear]" was inserted. Grunts and verbal hesitations such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. The transcribers have not attempted to phonetically replicate English dialects but have instead entered the standard English word the speaker was expressing.
Chinese place names are spelled in the transcript in the old or new transliteration form according to how the speaker pronounced them. Thus, "Peking" is used instead of "Beijing," if that is how the interviewee pronounced it. Chinese terms and phrases which would be understood were spelled as they were pronounced with some attempt made to identify the accepted transliteration form to which it corresponds.
Readers should remember that this is a transcript of spoken English, which follows a different rhythm and rule than written English.
One portion of the interview on page 7 that refers to living persons have been removed from the user copy of this transcript and from any copies made of the tape of this interview. The removal has been indicated in the user copy text. This restriction will expire on December 31, 2042.
... Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence on the part of the speaker.
.... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.
( ) Words in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.
[ ] Words in brackets are comments by the transcriber.
This transcript, made by Jonathan Seefeldt, Paul Ericksen, and Todd Thompson, was completed
in February 2004.
Collection 472, T2. Interview of Paul A. Contento by Robert D. Shuster, December 9, 1992.
CONTENTO: ...down the Yellow River. And then she [Contento’s wife, Maida E.M. Bolster] came to our station to do some women’s work in particular, ‘cause I had no one doing the women’s work. And she came with Mrs. Woods. I met her for the first time and then we met a few times after that. And, well, finally, we...we decided okay. [laughs] But even getting married was very difficult.
SHUSTER: Why was that?
CONTENTO: Because the...we had to go the coastal city of Tientsin, a thousand five hundred miles away to the coastal area. We were way up northwest. And the mission had ruled that we couldn’t travel together. So somebody had to take her down and come back and then I had to follow. So that’s what happened.
SHUSTER: Why did you have to go all the way to the coast to get married?
CONTENTO: Because the American Consul was there. And in order to get it registered as an American marriage we had to go over to where the consul was. So that’s what happened. It was 1933.
SHUSTER: ‘33 you got married.
CONTENTO: Yeah, yeah.
SHUSTER: Then did you go on furlough? Or did you...?
CONTENTO: Well, we went...no, no we didn’t do that. Actually.... What did we do? 1933 we came back. 1933 we...we went down. We were married, went on our honeymoon in Korea. At that time...Korea was under the Japanese at that time, so we could travel anywhere in Korea. Had a wonderful time there in Korea and then we came back.
SHUSTER: To Inner Mongolia.
CONTENTO: To Inner Mongolia there.
SHUSTER: How long...how long were you in Inner Mongolia altogether? When...?
CONTENTO: Nine years.
SHUSTER: And you came in 1929?
CONTENTO: I went up there 1928. Well, I...I...yeah. I went to language school ‘28. I went up there 1929, that’s right.
SHUSTER: So you were there till 1937?
CONTENTO: [pauses] Yeah. Yes, I think so. I’m trying to get this geography straight [laughs], get the history straight. [pauses] Yeah, I think so. I think that’s what we did. Then went home on furlough. I think we went home on furlough in 1936.
SHUSTER: Didn’t you go to the...let’s see, the Henry Martyn Islamic School?
CONTENTO: Yes, we did, yeah. What we did was...we saw in that Ningxia area a lot of Muhammadans [Muslims]. And where I lived there were a lot of Muhammadans. And nobody was doing any work amongst the Muhammadans. And we knew there were a lot of Muhammadans in southwest China too. About million down there and about a million northwest. Because where we were was near the Tibetan border and there were a lot of Muhammadans on the Tibetan border. And Ningxia was about thirty percent Muhammadan. So we decided we would train to preach the gospel to the Muhammadans. And my wife was very knowledgeable about that. She was a very knowledgeable woman about many things. She was a graduate of University of Edinburgh and also of University of London...London University. So...and she had a very wide knowledge. So anyway she arranged...she knew that there was a Henry Martyn School of Islamic Studies in north India. So we got permission from the mission to go there and....
SHUSTER: Who run...who ran the school? Was it...?
SHUSTER: Who ran the school?
CONTENTO: There was a man [pauses].... I suppose he’s a CMS [Church Missionary Society] missionary. His name was Bevan Jones. He was the principal. He founded the school. Bevan Jones, a Welshman. And it was a very fine school because they...they taught not only the Muhammadan theology of Islam, the history and culture of Islam, and Islam...the Koran.
SHUSTER: This is Islam worldwide? They taught culture, Islamic culture worldwide or...?
CONTENTO: Yeah. Well, Islam, you know, is...one in every seven in the world is a...is a Muhammadan. This...and it’s...it’s...it’s...it’s growing right now, it is, at an alarming rate, ‘cause they have all that money, you know, all that oil money and they’re...they’re lavish with it and they’re making converts everywhere. It’s rather tragic.
SHUSTER: What kind of things did you learn at the school?
CONTENTO: Well, we did that and we had...we went to two schools. We went there first and there we learned Islamic theology, the teaching of the Koran. We also learned the history of Islam. And we also learned the culture.
SHUSTER: How long were you there?
CONTENTO: One year. It’s very short. [laughs] But the...then we left there and went to Jerusalem, because there the CMS (Christian...China...Christian Missionary Society, Christian Mission...CMS was it) had a language school to teach Arabic. And we knew that if you’re going to work amongst Muhammadans, you’ll have to know some Arabic. So we went there to study Arabic and we were in Jerusalem one year. We lived in the Old City. That time was prior to the setting up of Israel.
CONTENTO: 197...[pauses] 1937.
CONTENTO: ‘37, yeah. So we were a whole year...whole year there. And it was only the Old Jerusalem, the Old City. The...the new Je...the new buildings, there were none, none started yet. So we were there a very interesting time, because it was very close to the...Israel being declared a home for the Jews, Balfour’s announcement [Great Britain’s Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour’s Declaration in November 1917 advocating “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."]. And already there was great clashes. But what we discovered was that there were not many Arabs there. They came late to pell-mell from all over. They were not there.
SHUSTER: It was mainly Jewish or...?
CONTENTO: The...the...the...in the...the...Jerusalem itself had an Arabs’ bazaar and all that sort of stuff, crowded little city, you know. But all...but outside on the hills it was just these Arab shepherds. There was...there was...there was...they had built nothing. For instance down in Beersheba...went down to Beersheba, had about half a dozen houses. That’s all it was. Whereas 1985 I went there on a trip. It...Beersheba...Bethlehem (let’s say Bethlehem) was as...as big as Berkeley, California [laughs], and just as modern. Beautiful streets and beautiful everything transformed. The Jews transformed the place, you know. But the Muhammadans didn’t see that. They.... Anyway, that’s a sidetrack. So, we did that....
SHUSTER: You mentioned that you went to the school in Jerusalem to learn Arabic...yeah, Arabic?
CONTENTO: Yeah, we....
SHUSTER: They didn’t teach that at the Martyn Islamic School?
SHUSTER: They didn’t teach Arabic at the Martyn Islamic School?
CONTENTO: They...they...they were not specializing in it. No, they weren’t specializing . And if you knew a lot already (Arabic), they...they had a class for Arabic. But you had to be advanced. And missionaries who were already using the language went there to polish it up. But in Jerusalem it began A-B-C [the rudiments], you know, of Arabic. And that’s all we did learn was A-B-C. I remember on the street I went into a shop in Jerusalem one day and there was a tall, great big Arab gentleman with a beard and glasses and so on and so forth. “Well, what are you doing here in Jerusalem?” But it wasn’t the tourist season, you see. I said, “Oh, we’re here learning Arabic.” He said, “Yeah?” I said, “Yes, sir.” “How many years you going to be here?” I said, “One year.” “Ha, ha, ha, ” he said. “Nobody can earn...learn Arabic under eleven years.” I said, “I believe you. I believe you.” And I walked out. Yeah, so we didn’t learn very much, but we learned...
SHUSTER: The ABCs.
SHUSTER: You got the ABCs.
CONTENTO: ABC’s, yeah, yeah. ABC of the language.
SHUSTER: So, let’s see you’re at the Martyn School in ‘37 and the Jerusalem School in ‘38? Spent a year at each place, is that...?
CONTENTO: Yeah, that’s...something like that, that’s right. And then we left there for China.
SHUSTER: And where’d you go then in...?
CONTENTO: Well, when we arrived in China, already the Japanese had invaded China. And Shanghai was under siege [November 1937] and Nanking was under siege [September-December 1937]. So we couldn’t go in through front door, so we went through the back door. And that meant going down Indochina to Haiphong and then Hanoi and then by a French railway line up to the interior of China through the back door. And that’s what we did.
SHUSTER: And were you...did you go back to Inner Mongolia or did you go to another station?
CONTENTO: No, no. You had to go through the south.
SHUSTER: No, did you go back to Inner Mongolia or did you...I mean, where were you heading towards? Where was your mission station?
CONTENTO: Well, when we arrived we didn’t know what we were going to do. We were going to evangelize Muhammadans. And there were a lot of them right there in that southwest corner, you see. So...so that we started on that. And...but something had happened: Pearl Harbor had taken place. And you know, prior to that (when we arrived in China)...prior to that, you couldn’t...you couldn’t talk to any student about Christianity. They were anti...anti-British, anti-Japanese, anti-American, pro-Russian, anti-Christian. You couldn’t do anything with students. We didn’t try. But now something had happened: the Japanese had occupied those coastal cities and thousands of students fled to the west. The whole faculty.
SHUSTER: To the west of China.
CONTENTO: West of China, way to the west of China. Most of them toward Kunming, southwest where we were. So here we found this place flooded with...with students.
SHUSTER: So you’re originally going to Kunming to do Muslim work...
CONTENTO: Right, right.
SHUSTER: ...but then you got involved in student work.
CONTENTO: That’s right, that’s right. So, we weren’t there very long before we had a rap at our door and the students knocked at the door and we said, “Yes. What do you want?” He said, [imitating Chinese accent] “You American?” “Yeah.” “Well, we like American. We...we want to study English. You teach us English.” Wow. “Teach you English? We have no textbooks.” “Well, ” they said, “you have English Bible, don’t you?” Some of them could speak English, you know. And we said, “Yeah, we have English Bible, but not many of them.” “Well,” they said, “you use English Bible to teach us. We know the Bible is better than Shakespeare [Shuster laughs], we know.” ‘Cause some of them were from the elite universities of Beijing, Nanjing and Canton universities. So these were the elite that arrived there, and here there were thousands of them. So that’s what we did and that was the beginning of student work in China. A very remarkable thing.
SHUSTER: So you never really worked among Muslims then [Contento coughs], for a significant period of time.
CONTENTO: No, we never got started.
SHUSTER: As you started working among students, what were your goals? What were you...?
CONTENTO: Well, my wife had been one of the founding members of the Inter-Varsity in Edinburgh University. So she had a goal in view. And she explained to me that the Inter-Varsity, which was started in England, was an organization that formed student groups in the university. They were planted in the university. They weren’t taken out. They were planted in the university and that they became autho...autonomous in the groups. And we had to train the leadership, and principles of Bible study, and so on and so on and so forth. She had it all down. So that helped me to get the vision. So the main thing we were occupied then was to teach them English. So what to do? So we managed to find some simplified Gospels, English Gospels in simplified English language. And we used the crude methods of mimeographing at that time, the...the old use the roller, you know, method. And so we mimeographed many many hundreds of sheets of that stuff. And taught them the gospel...English through the gospel. So we set a pattern. We would teach for one hour: forty-five minutes pure English, fifteen minutes gospel. So you may not find it hard to believe, but I had four classes every morning. They were all waiting in line.
SHUSTER: How big was each class?
CONTENTO: Forty or fifty. And then my wife had four classes in another part of the building. And they would wait in line, you know. One class out, one class in, one class out. Well, it...it was...it was unbelievable, unbelievable.
SHUSTER: Was this totally independent of a university? Or were you kind of a adjunct...?
CONTENTO: Yeah, totally independent of university. We didn’t start teaching university there. We taught later on up in the other university. We...my wife and I taught in three different universities in China because that was a very wonderful way to get into the university, be part of the staff, you know, have the privileges of being a member of the...of the university. So anyway, what happened immediately, that we founded a...started a Inter-Varsity group right then and there in Kunming, the first China Inter-Varsity Christian Student Fellowship. And we were very fortunate. There was a young man there at that time maybe twenty-two, twenty-three, who was a medical student who was a very keen Christian and he became the first chairman of the first Inter-Varsity Christian Student Fellowship movement in China.
SHUSTER: What was his name?
[portion of interview removed]
SHUSTER: What...you mentioned that you would teach English for forty-five minutes and the gospel for fifteen minutes. What would you say in those fifteen minutes? How would you...?
CONTENTO: Well, we began by telling gospel stories. You know, that Jesus said, you know, the parables and the metaphors in the New Testament are...are wonderful.
SHUSTER: Are there any stories that are particularly effective in reaching [unclear]?
CONTENTO: Oh yeah, a lot of those stories, like the rich young ruler [Luke 18:18ff] and Zacchaeus [Luke 19:1ff], you know, and the story of Lazarus [John 11:1ff], and...and the...and the...and the rich man who to hell [Luke 16:19ff], you know [laughs]. Oh, tho...those...many of those stories, you have to teach them in a dramatic way. You have to dramatize them, you know, but use a very simple English.
SHUSTER: One missionary told me that some stories are particularly effective in reaching Chinese, such as the Prodigal Son [Luke 15:11ff], because of the high value placed on...
SHUSTER: ...a loyalty to your parents, so (what?) the son leaving that way would be shocking.
CONTENTO: That’s right, that’s right
SHUSTER: Are there other stories like that...?
CONTENTO: That’s the master story [perhaps Contento means most effective or foundational story]. That’s the master story, I mean. You could turn any of the...of the New Testament...any of those parables into.... You take the Parable of the Sower [Matthew 13:1ff, Mark 4:1ff, Luke 8:1ff], the sower is the human heart, the soil is the human heart, four types of human heart, four types of soil, and so on and so forth. They can all be turned into evangelistic mode, you know, to challenge. So I had...I was lucky. I had [Charles] Spurgeon’s book on the Parables of our Lord. And they’re marvelous, you know, full of content because you can tell a story in five words if you’re not...if you’re not careful. The story has to be filled in, there’s got to be a real story, has to have a central truth, it has to have a conclusion, you know [laughs]. And it takes technique to produce a story that’s going to be effective, you know. Not every part of a story is important. There’s...there’s one important point, and you have to grab that and drive that home. Oh, the Prodigal Son story I must have preached maybe a thousand times or more in...all over China wherever I was [laughs]. I still preach it today, you know. It’s still a great story. So anyway, what happened was that was organized, the first Inter-Varsity. And then from there on the students kept moving away. They came to Kunming, then they’d go to Guiyang in Guizhou Province, and then they’d go to Sichuan. You see, the government moved them to where there was plenty of rice. And...and Chengdu, Sichuan, western Sichuan, was a real rice country. And so they settled at half a dozen universities there. And so, naturally we had to move there.
SHUSTER: When did you move there?
CONTENTO: Well, we first moved up to northwest. Our mission insisted that we move up to northwest where we had labored before. And they hadn’t...it wasn’t clear in their mind about student work. It didn’t mean anything to them. They only thought in terms of villages and common people. In fact, I...I...I frankly confess to you that some of our fellow missionaries were very critical. We tried to enlist some of them to help us. “What? We didn’t come here to teach English Bible. We came here to reach the millions and millions of Chinese, not just these few students.” You know, they said, “the Contentos are super-proud. They’re going to teach students. They’re going to reach students, not the common man.” You know, they didn’t realize that leaders all come from the educated class [laughs]. When God wanted to use a big evangelist he chose the Apostle Paul, he didn’t choose somebody else, right?
CONTENTO: And they did something which our missionaries failed to do. They established churches in the main cities, not in the villages. And then from the cities to the villages. All missionaries made that mistake, tried to reach the countryside and then eventually they convert the city. But they’re stupid because that wasn’t the Pauline doctrine at all.
SHUSTER: And it’s interesting too, because as you say people were banging on your door asking to be taught English that was...
SHUSTER: ...providing such an opportunity.
CONTENTO: Right, right. I...we used to laugh behind their...their backs, you know. So....
SHUSTER: When were you sent up to northwest China?
CONTENTO: Well, I had to go up to northwest China. And while we were up there....
SHUSTER: What year was that?
SHUSTER: ‘38. So you were only in....
CONTENTO: No, I think it was ‘39, ‘39, ‘39.
SHUSTER: So you were only in Kunming for about a year then?
CONTENTO: We didn’t stay more than a year up there, no. They had a big conference up in the northwest there and the head of the mission at that time was the Bishop [Frank] Houghton. And he was very interested in student work and he had visited our student work down in in Kunming at that time and was very excited about it. So...so he told us there’s a big student center in Han... in...south of Xian. Xian is a big city, but south there’s Hanzhong. And there’s a cluster of universities there and for us to go there. And we...so we left, chop-chop [quickly] to go down there, and that’s where we started the Inter-Varsity. Again, with the...called the Northwest University. There we became members of the staff, we were teaching English. And that gave us a footing in the university, you see. Our house became a student center. And so....
SHUSTER: How large was the Inter-Varsity group in that city?
CONTENTO: The Inter-Varsity group grew to about...about a hundred, a hundred and twenty, something like that, yeah.
SHUSTER: So, larger really than most churches?
CONTENTO: Oh yes, oh yes, yes, larger than most. Oh, we had...it...it was a time of revival, you know, also amongst the students. We had a revival in that northwest area there. The engineering college...they...they...they separated the schools into wherever was convenient, to find a big temple that they could, you know, settle in or where there’s plenty of food there. And there’s a place called Guluba [sp?] and they put the engineering college there. And so I started going there and...and some Christians already there and a real revival took place there. And....
SHUSTER: Among the students or among...?
CONTENTO: Huh? Amongst the students, amongst the students. And they started to have (and this is a very interesting thing)...they started to have an early morning prayer meeting. And early morning to them meant...meant four o’clock in the morning and it wouldn’t be daylight till about seven.
[recorder stopped to switch tapes and restarted]
SHUSTER: ...[continu]ation of the interview with Reverend Paul Contento by Robert Shuster on December 9th, 1992. You were talking about the revival up in...up in....
CONTENTO: Yeah, revival broke out in that engineering college. It took me by surprise. Those guys were really...really meant business, they were really serious. They’d believed that sin was sin. You’ve got to get rid of it. So in the morning...in this morning prayer meeting, they’d...I’d join them. They’d...they borrowed an empty room in the school and it was dark, you know, and they’d...one guy holding a candle, you know, and reading some Scripture. And then they’d start to pray, you know, one after another prayed, the whole circle around. And no matter how your feet were freezing, you just got...you just stood there. And I know some were converted right in that meeting. I remember one girl saying to me...she said, “I heard about this meeting and I...I...I laughed at it.” And then she said, “I’ll...I’ll go and see what they do.” And she said, “You know, I was standing there and the one next to me, they prayed until the one next to me. I knew the next one to pray was me.” And she said, “I didn’t know what to say.” So she said, “I suddenly realized I was a sinner.” And she said she prayed that way, “Lord, I...I know I’m a sinner now. Please forgive me and cleanse my sins” and so on and so forth and so on, so on. She got converted right then on that spot. And went on around her own then. That was an amazing, an amazing work of the Spirit of God. Actually, it was really the work of the Spirit of God.
SHUSTER: What happened to the people who had been converted at this revival? Where did they go?
CONTENTO: Well, they met every Sunday. They had a Sunday service too. Oh yeah, they had a Sunday service. It was...they borrowed one of the classrooms. At that time, you know, the government allowed the students to do what they like. And we used the....
SHUSTER: This was of course the Kuo Min Tang.
CONTENTO: The Kuo Min Tang, yes. We used the classroom for evangelistic meetings. We could borrow it anytime. And I remember borrowing the main hall (held over a thousands students) several times for special speakers. I remember in Sichuan when we...I went down to...from there north I went down to Sichuan. And my wife stayed in north, I went down alone to start to work down in...in the Sichuan area, central China.
SHUSTER: When would that have been? What year would that have been?
CONTENTO: Maybe ‘41.
CONTENTO: Maybe ‘41, ‘42. And I was there over a year. And I was...I hooked up with an old friend of mine, Doctor Calvin Chao [Zhao Junying], Chinese evangelist, very famous evangelist at that time. He’s still living by the way. And, oh, he had great power, he had great power. I remember there in one service there in Chongqing, he was preaching. There were over a thousands students there. And he gave the invitation, you know, and there was hardly a dry eye in the audience, you know. And the...about two hundred came to the front, you know, and kneeled down there and...and not only accept Christ as their savior, but dedicate their lives to the Lord, you know, really out and out for Christ. And that...that revival was...was even more genuine than the one in the north because in that revival students began to confess their sins and then...publicly...and then some began to do something about it. Students who had stolen books out of the library took the stu...li...library books back to the university and told the director of the university, “I’m sorry I stole these books. I want to return them.” They didn’t know what to make of it. It’s not like Chinese to...to confess their sin publicly, you see.
SHUSTER: Did you have any way of following up these students after they left the university?
CONTENTO: Oh yeah, sure.
SHUSTER: What happened?
CONTENTO: Well, we met them. Yeah, we met them again and again. And, of course, the...the word grew. It went from one university to another. It was like a disease that spread down [laughs], really like a...like the flu, you know, just spread. So that 1944 we had a great convention in Chongqing. And I was there. And there were representatives from fifty Chinese colleges and universities already. That’s by 1945.
SHUSTER: ‘45, yeah. The history that I was reading said that IV was formed in Chongqing in July 1945.
CONTENTO: That’s right.
SHUSTER: Yeah. So that’s when the national...
CONTENTO: I was there. Yes, yes.
SHUSTER: ...national organization was formed.
CONTENTO: Yeah, I was there. And yeah...that was went it was...they had this great conference brought together by Calvin Chao. He was the one that got all these universities to send delegates from everywhere. My wife was there. And...and it was organized and called the All China (in Chinese it’s very smooth) [says the name in Chinese] . It means All China Inter-Varsity Association, or Union. And they had a constitution and by-laws and everything else. And a committee was formed, a national committee. And there were six on the committee, and I was a member of that committee. Doctor Calvin Chao was (he wasn’t doctor then, he was a reverend)...and he was made the executive secretary of the committee. And we had some famous Chinese on it: Doctor Jai Jai [sp?]
SHUSTER: Wang Ming Dao?
SHUSTER: Andrew Gih?
CONTENTO: No, he wasn’t there, no. He...he...he wasn’t connected with that. And Wang Ming Dao was not connected with that either.
CONTENTO: Yeah, this was prior to that. Their...they were stars in their own sky [Shuster laughs]. Yeah, now there’s a...there’s a...let’s see, I can’t remember now. There’s another American on that committee named...named Doctor Hopkins from north China, Northwest University. Doctor Hopkins, yeah. He became the treasurer. I was the...I was invited to be the advisor and Calvin Chao was the general secretary.
SHUSTER: Why don’t we talk about Calvin Chao for a couple minutes. You’ve mentioned him a few times.
SHUSTER: What kind of person was he? How would you describe his personality?
CONTENTO: Well, I’ll tell you what it was. He...he was a...he was an evangelist, a Chinese evangelist. And...but before he was converted he was interested in Christianity and so on and so forth. But anyway, he was third year university student and he contracted TB [tuberculosis]. And there was a lady missionary, American lady missionary that helped a number of these Chinese leaders. And she...she...he...he...she lived...he lived in her home for three years. And she nursed him through the...his TB time. And he got...he got better. But some of the others were in her home too, like Wang...Wang Tsai [Leland Wang] and Anaji Juwan [sp?] wasn’t...he was different...he was in Shanghai. But a number...and this very famous one, the most famous of all (what’s his name [pauses] who became the leader of the Little Flock?)...
SHUSTER: Watchman Nee?
CONTENTO: Watchman Nee, yeah. Watchman Nee was also converted really in her...her home.
SHUSTER: And her name?
CONTENTO: She had a Bible class.
SHUSTER: What’s her name again?
CONTENTO: [coughs] I don’t quite remember her name now. I think Kensomna Christensen [sp?] or something [possibly Chinese preacher Dora Yu or British missionary Margaret Barber, both mentioned in Watchman Nee’s biographies], but I’m not too sure. But anyway she did a marvelous work with these guys who were converted in her...under her...under her ministry and became.... Well, this Calvin Chao, he became an itinerant evangelist. And then....
SHUSTER: Was he connected with any church or mission, or was he just doing it on his own?
CONTENTO: Well, he made connection with what was called the CNEC. At that time it was called Chinese Native Evangelization Crusade, but later, and they still exist now under...they’re called the National [pauses]...C-N-E-C, Natio...Chinese National [pauses] Association of...CNEC...Evangelistic Commission. Oh yeah, Evangelistic Commission [Christian Nationals Evangelism Commission]. They changed the name, but...at that time. But anyway, he...he was connected with them and they...they supported him. So...and he...he was...began to do student work. He was a very brainy man, a very good speaker, dynamic speaker, good Bible teacher, and good evangelist. So he...he started doing student work and then we worked together for awhile.
SHUSTER: What was he like as a person? What was his personality?
CONTENTO: He was very dynamic and very friendly, and especially when he...when he realized that I was...I was treating him as an equal, you know. You know, missionaries unconsciously...they don’t mean to but they...they project themselves as the superior, you know. But I...I never felt that way. I always felt that “Well, I’m as...he’s as good as I am. So what?” So I never had any difficulty that way. In fact that was a great asset in our work that people felt that we esteemed them as...as equals and....
SHUSTER: Had that been a cause of resentment between Chinese Christians and foreign Christians?
CONTENTO: Oh yeah, sure, yeah. That’s always underneath, you know. Chinese are very good at covering up, you know. And Chinese have a philosophy: “Never offend anybody because he may become your enemy,” you know. And so they...in other words, “Don’t...don’t wake up a sleeping dog,” you know, or something like that. They...they...they’re very tolerant, the older ones, of course, the older ones. The more modern ones will talk right back to you [laughs]. It’s a very different situation. But anyhow, he was really a leading light in that conference. And he got the money to pay for many of those students to pay for their travel. He got the money from that organization, CNEC. So I...I was his right hand man and we worked together.
SHUSTER: Was this CNEC an indigenous Chinese group or was it another...?
CONTENTO: No, actually it’s very interesting. That was started by a dentist in Seattle, Washington, who became very interested in missions, and his name was (I forget now what it is, but I forget now).... But anyway, he...he started that. And he...he was very missionary-minded. And so, I forget how they actually launched that thing. I think that he had son-in-law or somebody that was...became a missionary, and through him launched this Chinese Native Evangelization Crusade. And....
SHUSTER: But the purpose was to train native Chinese evangelists?
CONTENTO: They were not to train them. It was to send them out, support them. As long as they knew a scratch of the gospel, just [unclear]. Get the evan...gospel out. Get the gospel out. They didn’t have to be theologically trained or something like that.
SHUSTER: But just recruit....
CONTENTO: Recruit whoever was suitable, yeah.
SHUSTER: ...the native Chinese and send them out.
CONTENTO: And just paid them enough to keep them alive, you know, this kind of thing and so on and so forth. Well, they were lucky when they got Calvin Chao [Shuster laughs], because he was a...he was a really...has a great brain, a great mind and a man of great vision. So well, that’s what happened was that he was being supported by them and so he traveled around with us, and I traveled around with him, and we had a tremendous time in...in evangelism amongst the students there.
SHUSTER: While this was happening, while this revival was going on in so many universities, were there barriers or obstacles to the work?
CONTENTO: Not really. In a way, all the...all the conditions were conducive towards revival. The Chinese were very pessimistic about their future. Students had....
SHUSTER: This was while the war with Japan was going on?
CONTENTO: Right. Japan were going, further and further inland, further and further inland, didn’t know when they were going to stop. And all the atrocities the Japanese committed. You know the Japanese were...they were...they were...they were brutal beyond all imagination. I don’t care what they look like on the outside. Once they’re let loose, they...they’re just like tigers, you know. They...they mistreated the Chinese and especially the women, you know. They just...chattels, everything. It’s unbelievable. So, that...and then these students, they couldn’t find...they didn’t know where their parents were or their families were. And if it was not for the Chinese central government supporting them with rice they...they would have all perished. It was the...it was Chiang Kai-Shek and his policies that...that was able to hold these students together in universities.
SHUSTER: Do you think again there was a reflection of the Chinese high value of educating...education of...?
CONTENTO: Of course, of course. Oh yeah, sure. You know, they’ve always had that you know. That’s a basic characteristic in their...in their character, in their philosophy. And you know, just a digression now, but I wonder why China four thousands year BC already had some very...you know, their history goes back to at least three thousand BC, you know. Some...some of it’s maybe even four thousand BC and they had these great kings and.... And then...and they...these...these...all these dynasties kept a record, you know. The dynastic...from the Han...Han dynasty, which is two thousand BC until modern times, the...each dynasty kept a record of all...they had the economic record, political record, and the...so on and so forth. And why Africa has nothing? This is a digression in my story.
SHUSTER: Why do you think that is?
CONTENTO: I don’t know. I’ve been reading a book on Africa, right here. I’ve been...and I...I...I...it’s...it’s...it’s absolutely unbelievable. I don’t know. They...they’ve got nothing.
SHUSTER: Africans and Their History by Joseph E. Harris.
CONTENTO: And he’s a black man. Nothing, they had nothing. So I...that’s a digression. But anyway, going way back, you see, China had a great heritage, you know. The sayings of those great.... Confucius was a collector of all the wisdom before him. It’s not all his wisdom, he’s a collector. So you can see how far back that goes. Well, that has nothing to do with it except, you see, the students had a determination to...for education.
SHUSTER: Education in China, yeah.
CONTENTO: Yeah. So this...this conference was...now became a national movement and had this national committee. One was the...the head of the Education Department in China, he was one member of the committee. And another one was a political guy. But they’re all good Christians. And we met together and that...it was that time they...they authorized me to make connection between China Inter-Varsity and the British Inter-Varsity, China Inter-Varsity and the American Inter-Varsity. And I was the one who cabled to the British and cabled to the Americans. And then Stacey Woods was a friend of mine, the head of the American and then he...they accepted the China Inter-Varsity as a...under their wing, you know, as a....
SHUSTER: How did you know Stacey Woods?
CONTENTO: Oh, I knew him...I came home on furlough one time and ran into him and then I met him many times after that. You know, finally we were accepted as associate members of the Inter...Inter-Varsity international staff, IFES [International Fellowship of Evangelical Students]. For thirty years my wife and I were members of that, associate members of their staff in China.
SHUSTER: Do you recall what year it was that you met?
CONTENTO: Yes, we met that...they called it Inter...Inter...Inter...let’s see, what...Inter...Inter....
SHUSTER: International Fellowship of Evangelical Students?
CONTENTO: International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. It met in Harvard University. I was there as a representative of China, as well as Doctor Calvin Chao. And now when...when...when was that? ‘40, 1940 something or that, I think ‘40, yeah. I...I...I f...the dates....
SHUSTER: But that was the first time you’d met him?
CONTENTO: No, no. I...I...I was...I went there and when we had the...when it was organized and he was there, of course. No, I’d met him about ten years before that.
SHUSTER: So about 1934?
CONTENTO: I’ll tell you when I met him. I was a student at the University of California at Berkeley. And....
SHUSTER: That was in ‘46?
CONTENTO: Yeah, it was.
SHUSTER: So that’s...you met...you before?
CONTENTO: [coughs] And then Stacey Woods came there. And I met him [coughs], got to know him.
SHUSTER: So you met in ‘46?
CONTENTO: I think I’d met him before that. I went to one of his camps. You know, they...they used to have Campus In the Woods in Canada. And I went to one of his camps and.... But I’d met him even prior to that, so we became quite close friends you might say.
SHUSTER: What kind of man was Stacey Woods? How would you describe his...?
CONTENTO: Oh, he was...he was very suitable for that job, he was very suitable.
SHUSTER: In what way?
CONTENTO: Well, in his temperament, in his...his attitude toward...toward Asians, and....
SHUSTER: What was his temperament?
CONTENTO: Well, he was very very easy to be friends with, you know. He was an Australian, you know, originally. But, he...he was kind of a fellow who you felt at home with when you start talking to him. He always made you feel at home and friendly and kindly. And he never had this look down attitude, you know, “I’m superior.” Never. And you...you felt he was genuinely interested in you. That’s...that’s the kind of man he was.
SHUSTER: Was he a good administrator?
CONTENTO: Yes, he was, I think. Yes, he was. He...so he was the...he became the head of the IFES until he died , I guess, something like that. He moved to Switzerland and lived in Switzerland and.... So, yeah he was a...he was a great guy, really. Very suitable for that type of work.
SHUSTER: Do you recall any stories or anecdotes that help reflect his personality?
CONTENTO: [pauses] Well, I...I always thought he...he had a tendency to think of you higher than you were thinking [laughs]...than you really thought of yourself [laughs]. You know what I mean? Kind of...he always wanted to learn from me, sort of, learn from me about Chinese, you know. He wanted to learn from me. So, in that sense, it was not facetious, not put on, but he was genuine...genuinely interested in knowing from experience how you felt about the Chinese in particular, and so on and so forth. So...but he was a no-nonsense kind of guy. He didn’t...he was...he was...you know, he was serious minded. And he had a very fine family, so I...I...I liked him very much.
SHUSTER: How did...did the Chinese Inter-Varsity have much contact with the other Inter-Varsity organizations or...?
CONTENTO: Well, what happened was that Calvin Chao was then...Stacey Woods got the Inter-Varsity organization to recognize him as the...first as executive secretary of the...of the...of the All-China IVF Committee.
SHUSTER: To recognize Doctor Chao?
CONTENTO: Yeah, recognize Doctor Chao. Then later they made him executive secretary of the Inter-Varsity Far East. And this is before [David] Adeney came on the scene. And so...so he was designated as.... But something happened (and I...I don’t know as I should record this)...but anyways something happened that...that threw a fly in the ointment [idiom meaning to create a problem or difficulty], you know. I...I don’t want to name names ‘cause this is...this will go down. But anyway, there was....
SHUSTER: Well, I mean...you have mentioned the fly in the ointment. [rustling sound] Yeah, this [recorder] is on now. What did you mean by that?
CONTENTO: Well, this...what I meant by fly in the ointment was this. You see, that our mission had just changed general directors.
SHUSTER: Your mission, of course, was China Inland Mission.
CONTENTO: China Inland Mission. Mr. [George] Gibb was general director. He was dying. And they sent for a man named Houghton, Frank Houghton. But he had been made a bishop of the...the Chinese church in west Szechuan, where they had a British system of having bishops. So he was made bishop, so he’s called Bishop Houghton. And so he....
SHUSTER: And he’s the same one who had endorsed your work in Kunming.
CONTENTO: Yes, he came...he came to Kunming and saw our work and he was electrified. He could not believe it. There were all these students around the place, and IVF going like a hotcake [idiom meaning to be in great demand], you know. And...and so, he...so he went to Shanghai and...and...and received...the old gave him the...handed him the torch, not literally.
SHUSTER: Old man would be George Gibb?
CONTENTO: Yeah, George Gibb gave him the torch and he became the general director . So then he settled in and then he...he began to have contact with IVF himself and became tremendously interested in. So then he wrote me a letter one day and said, “I deeply appreciate your work and what you’re doing,” and so on and so forth. “If you don’t mind, I’m going to...I’m send [sic] for a young man that I know personally who has...has long experience in IVF work in England and some experience in America. And I’m going to send him out.” And he didn’t mention the name, but then when David Adeney came out, then I knew this David Adeney was the man he had in mind. So then Bishop Houghton....
SHUSTER: Had you met Adeney before or was that first time you met when he came out? Had you met before?
CONTENTO: No. No, I hadn’t met before. And then when he came...when David Adeney came out, he...he immediately outlined his plan for the IVF, you know. Because...because he became so enthralled with IVF, he began neglecting the mission directorship. This was...worked to his...his...to his demise. But anyway he was so excited over the IVF work, so he and Adeney would concoct...discuss together in Shanghai and then Adeney would go up to Nanking, where the office was planted. They moved from Chongqing to Nanking. And...and then Calvin Chao moved to Nanking too. Well anyway, Calvin Chao began to see that the mission was going to be...this IVF movement was going to be run by Adeney as a...as a pawn of Bishop Houghton. Bishop Houghton used Adeney to run the IVF. And I myself have heard Houghton say himself, “I don’t know whether I’m IV...I’m CIM or IVF.”
CONTENTO: “IVF. I don’t know which I am.” So, well, the dear fellow, he meant well, but he did the wrong thing because....
SHUSTER: Why did he...why do he think it was necessary to do that, do you think?
CONTENTO: Well, he...because missionary work was humdrum and here was something exciting, exciting, something new. Students, thousands of university students converted, you know, and many of them are on fire for Christ, you know. He saw the endless possibility of these...of this movement, you see, and so he...he wanted to identify with that.
SHUSTER: But why do you think he thought it was necessary to take it over from the Chinese, or take it...?
CONTENTO: Because he didn’t know any better. He didn’t...missionaries at that time were all imperialists. I started out as an imperialist too. I thought I was a very humble American, but I found very soon on the station where I was...I was...they...they made me the center of everything. I had the money and (not too much)...but I had the money and so on and so forth. Just naturally you...you...you come to be the [pauses]...the...the pope [laughs] unconsciously. And if you accept it...you accept it you’re...you’re cooked [idiom meaning you are in trouble], because they...they...outside they bend but inside they remain straight, you see. So [pauses] this began to...this began to bring queries by the...by Bishop Houghton’s fellow workers. For instance, “What is he [Bishop Houghton] doing here? He’s always consulting [David] Adeney,” and Adeney was.... So Calvin Chao saw [pauses] that he was no longer the...the director. He was no longer the general...executive secretary. And Mr. Adeney has a very [pause] nice way of dealing with people, but he has this way of.... Calvin Chao describes it like this, he said, “He has a way of gradually putting himself into the middle of the picture and then he gradually makes everybody fade away.” Now I’ve got that in writing if anybody wants to see it [Shuster laughs]. So, he did that unconsciously too. I’m...I’m sure he didn’t do it deliberately. But anyway...so Calvin Chao wrote me a letter. He said, “I’m resigning. I’m resigning.” They made it...they concocted an excuse to say that Calvin Chao was being supported by a non-IVF organization which was called the CNEC [Chinese Native Evangelization Crusade], you see. And that...that if he wanted to stay with the IVF, he could not give any reports to the CNEC, you know, not report the work as.... With Calvin Chao being supported by the CNEC, naturally, you’d have to give some accounts, you know. So, with this...this is...and so Calvin Chao resigned.
SHUSTER: But wasn’t Adeney supported by CIM?
CONTENTO: Yeah, sure [laughs]. That’s right, that’s right. So, Calvin Chao resigned and went to Hong Kong, yeah.
SHUSTER: And what did he do there?
CONTENTO: Well, he was in Hong Kong. And you know how it happened that...
SHUSTER: It must have been [unclear]....
CONTENTO: ...gradually China closed, the Communists gradually came in...came in. The last days that we were there, I had been separated from my wife for four years...five years. I was in Berkeley doing a degree in the University of California and she stayed in China. And I went back and I could only go to Chongqing, because north was already under the Communists. So then I went to Chongqing. Finally after the Communists took Chongqing, they allowed me to go back to the northwest. And then I went back to the Northwest University and I was there a few months and we managed to get out. It’s a long story, but we managed to get out. But, before that, Calvin Chao had gone out, and he was in Shang...he was in Hong Kong. And he con...contacted me and said that he hoped I could join him there. So, that’s what we did. When we’d been....
SHUSTER: So...so this...with InterVarsity it happened after the end of the war [World War II], but before the Communist takeover. Is that right?
CONTENTO: They had to dissolve themselves. The IVF in China dissolved itself because, as I said, if Communists come, they’ll grab the organization and...and make use of it.
SHUSTER: But I mean [pauses], Calvin Chao’s leaving IVF happened after the end of World War II, but before the Communist takeover. Is that right?
CONTENTO: Yes, that’s right.
SHUSTER: Between ‘45 and ‘49?
CONTENTO: Yes, that’s right, that’s right, that’s right, yeah. Yeah, he came in...he went out of China about 1949, 1950.
SHUSTER: Oh, okay.
CONTENTO: About that time. About that...
SHUSTER: So that was...so that was just shortly before the Communists took over then.
CONTENTO: Yeah, that’s right, right, right, right. Because if the Communists took over, they would grab him and he would be put in prison...
CONTENTO: ...dealing with student work, you see.
SHUSTER: When...when did you leave China to go to Berkeley?
CONTENTO: Well, I left China 1951. Arrived in Hong Kong and we met Calvin Chao and his wife. Calvin Chao in 1950 had been to Singapore, and he’d held revival meetings there (very successful), and they said to him, “You must come back.” And he was very smart. He said, “Well, you’re...is there any theological seminary in Singapore?” They said, “No.” “Well,” he said, “alright, I’ll come back and start a theological seminary.” And so he was invited to return to Singapore to start Singapore Theological Seminary [pauses] under the Singapore Interchurch Union. There was a Singapore Interchurch Union existing prior to his going there.
SHUSTER: If we could back up a second. When did you leave China to go to Berkeley?
CONTENTO: Oh no, that’s much later. That’s seven...seven years later. I went to the Phillipines.
SHUSTER: No, but you had said that you were...your wife was in China...
SHUSTER: ...and you were in Berkeley.
CONTENTO: Oh well, yes, yes, yes.
SHUSTER: When did you come back?
CONTENTO: I returned in ‘51. I refer...no, ‘49, ’49, ’49. I returned ‘49.
SHUSTER: So you...so you...so you left China in ‘49 to go to Berkeley?
CONTENTO: No, I returned and I was four years in Berkeley, so I returned in...
SHUSTER: Okay, so you...so you left China in ‘45 to go to Berkeley?
CONTENTO: ‘46, ’46, ’46.
SHUSTER: ‘46, okay. And what motivated you to do that. Why...?
CONTENTO: Oh, because it...
SHUSTER: Was it a furlough or...?
CONTENTO: I...I couldn’t continue with student work, because what happened was that the students then wanted to know what university you graduated from. And if I said....I said, “Moody [Bible Institute],” well, that’s not a university, so to them I was a nothing. “Where did my wife graduate from?” “Edinburgh University.” “Oh, number one, number one, number one!” My wife graduated [laughs] from University of Edinburgh, number one. “Where did you graduate from?” “Oh, from Moody Bible Institute [laughs].” “That’s number...number ten.” [laughs] So, I told my wife...I said, “I must go back and...and get a degree in the University of California.” So I did.
SHUSTER: In order to get credibility with the....
CONTENTO: Yeah. That’s the idea. Yeah, that’s the idea. So I graduated in anthropology and they thought I was...I was wonderful. So...but it didn’t mean anything.
SHUSTER: Now, your daughter Isobel was born about that time?
CONTENTO: Yeah. She was born in Northwest China.
SHUSTER: Northwest China. So, your wife was raising her for the first few years...
CONTENTO: That’s right.
SHUSTER: ...by herself.
CONTENTO: That’s right. She couldn’t go to a normal [pauses] OM...CIM school in...in Cheefoo, so she was trained with...by my wife in Xian, the city of Xian at that time. So, she got a...she got English education from my wife and...and geography and something from Chinese school. She was trained [laughs]...trained in both languages.
SHUSTER: And then you returned to China again in ‘49?
CONTENTO: I returned ‘49, yes.
SHUSTER: And were in Chongqing. What...what were...were you in student work in Chongqing?
CONTENTO: Oh no...yeah, I was teaching in Chongqing University.
SHUSTER: And this was under...this was under the Communists or...?
CONTENTO: The Communists hadn’t come...ohh.... The Communists came while I was there. When I first arrived there were no Communists. The Communists arrived the...I was there nearly a year before the Communists came. I was right there when they came. We welcomed them [pauses] as they came through the town.
SHUSTER: What was the atmosphere in the city like before the Communists took over?
CONTENTO: Before the Communists came the atmosphere in the city was like death. They’d had rumors that they buried people alive, you know, and chopped peoples’ heads off and so on and so forth. So people were...were just frightened to death [pauses] and that’s...that’s a fact. So when they...the first troops came and the university staff lined the street in front of the university to welcome them, they passed by. They never even looked at us. The president of the university was right there near me and he raised his hand, but they...they didn’t even look. They were ragtaggle [disorganized and poorly equipped], about every five or six had one gun. And their...their...their clothes were rather ragga...ragged and...and.... They carried money in their pockets. Wherever they stopped to buy things, they paid. And...and so they...they said, “Is this...is this the mighty Communist army?” you know. And the Communists were very cunning how they deceived the people, you see. So for the first month nothing happened and everything seemed to be free. And people were just roaming around the streets and someone says, “Well, if the Communists are like this, this is wonderful. They didn’t bury any of us alive or anything like that.” But at the end of one month, they put on a curfew for forty-eight hours. I was right there, forty-eight hours. At the end of forty-eight hours, fifty thousand people had disappeared.
SHUSTER: Who were these people? I mean, what...?
CONTENTO: Oh, they had a dossier you see. The first month they were there they were writing the dossier, who to pick up and all these...you know, all these people who had....
SHUSTER: What type of people did they pick up?
CONTENTO: Mostly shopkeepers, landlords. Mostly...landlords number one. They were the number one. And shopkeepers, goldsellers, and anybody that had a successful business. They were all capitalists, you see. And so they were the targets. And many, many who were in the government offices they picked up. Yeah, that’s what they did.
SHUSTER: Were Christians targeted in particular?
CONTENTO: Well, I’ll tell you what they did. They had...we had the Inter-Varsity Fellowship there in Chongqing. And the...the...the chairman who’s a very dedicated young fellow, very dynamic young fellow, they picked him up.
SHUSTER: Was there a trial or did they just disappear?
CONTENTO: The trials came soon after that. I went to the trials to look and see. It was a very...the students took me there. They said, “You must come and see.” And day after day after day these public trials, you know, I wondered what they were like, you see. So I went to one of them. You want to...me to describe it?
CONTENTO: Okay. Well, three or four students took me there. They were good Christian students. They thought I should see. So I arrived outside there in the grassy knoll and here was a...a...a platform about three feet high, about...maybe about twenty-five feet long and about ten feet deep or.... And I’m there, they had a couple of desks and had these cadres there, sitting there, you know. The judges were sitting there [laughs] and then a great mob of people facing them, you know, maybe about three, four, five hundred people, facing them. Then they brought in the...the first criminal. And I...I could see he was a business man, the way he was dressed you know. And he had a flag stuck in the back, into his back of his coat, you know, sticking up and his sins were all written on that flag, you see. And he was led up there to the platform and he knelt down. And then the judge, who was just a...just a soldier...I mean, he was just dressed like and ordinary soldier, judge [laughs]...so he...he began to enumerate the sins of capitalism and so on and so on and so forth. And this man had been an exploiter...an exploiter and he said, “Now I know there are some people here he has exploited! I want you to come forward today.” They had already selected them you know. So a woman comes up there, up to the front there, and she points to him and says, “This is what he did to me and how he exploited me,” and so on and so forth, you know, so on and so forth. When she’s finished, “Any more?” Another come up there, another come up there and a third come up there. This was a long trial. [laughs] And another come up there, and a fourth come up there, and so on and so forth. I think there were four or five who categorized this fellow as a...as a...as an unscrupulous, what they used to called a boxuezhe.
CONTENTO: No. Boxuezhe is just to peel off, you know. He was a [pauses]...who...who was a...a whatchamacallit. Anyway he....
CONTENTO: Parasite, yeah, just a parasite of the people. So he...so then he said, “Alright, now,” he said to the public, “you are the judge, you are the judges. What shall we do with this man?” And at the proper signal they all shouted one word, [pauses] “Saah!” Decapitate. Saah. Cut with a sword. So the man was picked up and two...two soldiers escorted him away and they took him away to a place were they executed him. This was it. I actually saw an execution myself too one time. I was on the city wall of the university. We lived inside the university and the cemetery was lined outside the wall and that’s where they executed them. We saw these....
CONTENTO: Yeah, public. And I saw these fellows...these fellows brought there and then they were told to kneel down, you see. So, instead of kneeling down, they flopped down. So they lifted them up again, you know, because they saw if they were flopped down it was not easy to..to cut there heads off [laughs]. “Bring them up again and hold their shoulders!” And then this one guy would...one slice, you know, off rolled the head, you know. I said, “It’s just so unbelievable...unbelievable.”
SHUSTER: Did you see the head of the Inter-Varsity chapter put on trial?
CONTENTO: No, we didn’t see him. He just...we know he was shot. We know he was shot.
SHUSTER: But he wasn’t tried publicly. Or at least you didn’t see it.
CONTENTO: Not the same way, no, not the same way.
SHUSTER: What...what was your treatment like as a westerner?
CONTENTO: Well, as a matter of fact, they just ignored us. And our own students, and I think the students generally, they just...they just went along with the Communist idea. They were not Communists. They just...they knew we had not...would not propagandize them against Communism or...we were very careful not to talk against Communism. In fact my wife got very...very shocked one day because after the Communists....
SHUSTER: This was after you were reni...reunited with her?
CONTENTO: Yeah, then I went...I was allowed to go back north. (I’ve jumped this a bit there.) I went up north...after that I went back up north. And...but this...this story is that she was professor in Northwest University, and co-professor in the English department. And then when the Communists arrived the next day he came with a Communist uniform.
SHUSTER: Who came?
CONTENTO: This professor. He ca...put on a Communist uniform. And he said to my wife, “Are you surprised?” And my wife said, “I’m very surprised.” He said, “So was my wife.” He said, “She did not know that I was a Communist.” He said he had been a Communist for a long time, but underground, you understand? So my wife thought, “I wonder what he’s going to do to me. I’ve...I’ve talked against Communism.” But he didn’t do anything. Yes. Well, where did we break off into this...?
SHUSTER: Well, we’re talking about how they treated you as a westerner. You said they more or less ignored you.
CONTENTO: Yeah, the only thing was that they would not allow us to leave. We were not allowed to leave.
SHUSTER: Why do you think that was?
CONTENTO: They...we talked to the cadres and we...”Why not let us go as...as...as...as there’s nothing to do now? We’ve stopped...stopped teaching already.” And he said, “Well, I’ll tell you. In China now it’s very hard to enter China.” But he said, “I’m telling you it’s more...it’s more difficult to get out.”
SHUSTER: And why was that then? Why was it...?
CONTENTO: Deliberate intention to intimidate, to...to do...make you feel small, make you feel helpless, you know, and this kind of thing. It did...it was deliberate, yeah. They all got out eventually.
SHUSTER: Was it towards some end or why...? I mean, why were they trying to do that?
CONTENTO: Well, “You are capitalists and imperialists and we’ll...
SHUSTER: So it was a type of revenge?
CONTENTO: ...show you we are the boss, not you. You’re not the boss anymore.”
SHUSTER: So it was a type of revenge?
CONTENTO: Yeah. It’s not really...that’s more or less what it was.
SHUSTER: Was Inter-Varsity continuing to meet during this time?
CONTENTO: Well, I’ll tell you, it’s very strange. They...they...they dissolved the organization. No more Inter-Varsity. Nobody talked about it anymore. It was all finished.
SHUSTER: When did that happen?
CONTENTO: That happened before Mao [Zedong] captured...came down to capture the southern part.
SHUSTER: So that would have been early ‘49 or so?
CONTENTO: Yeah. Cause ‘51, they finally took over. Well, there’s a difference, see. They took the north and then stopped. And they didn’t come down to Chongqing (that’s the south) until...they had a pause, quite a big pause in there. They consolidated the north first, you see, and then they came down south. So, we...yeah, I would say that [pauses].... What time is it?
SHUSTER: Three-thirty [3:30].
CONTENTO: Oh, 3:30, that’s alright. Yeah, I would say that [pauses] we...we...we met secretly...secretly.
SHUSTER: Which I imagine was dangerous.
CONTENTO: It was. We met outside the city. There was a farmhouse where we used to meet. And of course, the university students all professed to be very, very satisfied with Mao, you know. “Oh, Chairmen Mao,” you know. “Oh,” they said, “he’s...he’s...he’s a darling,” you know. And “the sun rises,” you know, “in the east.” That was “the suns rising east.” “Dong...dong fang tai yang chu lai.” The sun is rising in the east, and Mao is the rising star.” So on and so forth. So they were protecting themselves. And I think some really thought that he was a...now a real changer of China.
SHUSTER: A reformer.
CONTENTO: Yeah. That was very silly, because they saw later.... ‘Cause what...what Mao feared most was university students. He didn’t fear the high school students. He feared the university students, so he scattered them all over China [laughs].
SHUSTER: Universities were closed when the Cultural Revolution [1966-1976].
CONTENTO: That’s right, that’s right, yeah. But we met...I met three months with this faculty in brainwashing sessions. I joined the American...the English-speaking faculty. And we had our brainwashing for three months. Every...every day for morning ‘til noon.
SHUSTER: What went on during them?
CONTENTO: Well, they began...they had a textbook they gave us. We had to discuss the textbook. So, the first...the first lesson in the textbook was an American scientist is persecuted for his...for his science. And that was the fellow down in Tennessee that...the monkey....
SHUSTER: Oh, the Scopes Trial .
CONTENTO: The Scopes Trial, yeah. That’s the first lesson in this book, how this scientist was persecuted by religion, you see. Because William...William Jennings Bryan represented religion and he persecuted this guy. So, because he...this fellow taught that man came from the...from the apes...from the monkeys. And...and then it went on after that you know, just the usual line, exploitation of capitalism and so on and so on. In the end they gave us an examination. And I was a little bit...I was a bit frightened. “What...what are they going to do with this?” So I...I decided I’d just tell the truth. So, they... the question was...three questions in the examination. Question number one: “What was your thinking before we arrived?” You know. “What was your attitude towards capitalism?” and so on and so on and so on, exploitation and so on and so on and so on. Then the second thing is: “What is your attitude now? After all this learning, what is your attitude now?” So we had to put that attitude. The sting was in the third question. The question was: “Trace the change in your thinking from what you were to what you have become,” you see. Still they...they passed me and gave me a...gave me a passing grade and handed me back my...my exam paper. That’s why they thought this guy is hopeless.
SHUSTER: But they didn’t allow you to teach anymore, or did they?
CONTENTO: No, no, that’s all stopped.
SHUSTER: When were you able to leave China?
CONTENTO: We left...I went up and joined with my wife [pauses]...I want to say 1951.