True friend from a distant land

By Sun Ruisheng and Palden Nyima (China Daily)

Updated: 2021-05-12


A family photo of Michael Lindsay, his wife, Li Xiaoli, and their children taken in the 1950s in Britain. Two of his children, Erica and James, were born in China.[Photo provided to China Daily]

British citizen played heroic role in helping to free China from Japanese aggression, Sun Ruisheng and Palden Nyima report.

International friends can come in many shapes and sizes. However they arrive on the scene, they are always appreciated, especially in times of turbulence. Michael Lindsay (1909-94) is a case in point. The British citizen contributed a great deal to the causes of education and humanitarianism in China during World War II.

After graduating from the University of Oxford in 1931, Lindsay arrived in China in 1937 on a ship from Canada intending merely to teach Keynesian economics at Beiping Yenching University, the current Peking University.

He traveled with Norman Bethune, the Canadian thoracic surgeon who dedicated his life to medicine and humanitarianism in China during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45).

Between 1937 and 1941, Lindsay taught in the university. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, instead of working as an economist at the university, he was inspired to play a role in China's resistance against the invading Japanese forces during the war.

Lindsay left Beijing at the end of 1941, and went to the Communist-led Jinchaji base-named after the area straddling Hebei and Shanxi provinces, and part of today's Inner Mongolia autonomous region-together with his wife Li Xiaoli, with the help of the Eighth Route Army.

"Lindsay was inspired by the efforts local Chinese people made in fighting against Japanese aggression. After learning that Chinese armies on the frontlines were suffering supply shortages, Lindsay was determined to lend a hand," says Yan Juhai, a retired official from Shanxi's Lyuliang city.

Yan says along with his wife, Li, who was a Shanxi local and a former student of his, Lindsay helped to provide supplies to guerrilla fighters in Japanese-controlled areas, and he also worked as a frontline radio specialist.


Lindsay helps with communication equipment of the Communist forces in Yan'an, Shaanxi province, in 1944.[Photo provided to China Daily]

"In the Jinchaji base, Nie Rongzhen (1899-1992), the base's top commander, appointed him to work as the communications consultant, where he became a full-time radio technician contributing greatly in communication technology innovation and training," says Yan.

As a foreigner, he was able to take advantage of the fact that occupying Japanese troops did not subject him to body searches. "He sacrificed his life to do many things to help the frontline, besides his work as a radio expert," says Yan.

He often bought badly needed medicine for wounded fighters and he also purchased vital telegraph components for the Chinese army.

After spending three years fighting and living in the Jinchaji base, Lindsay and his wife arrived in Yan'an in Shaanxi province in 1944 and helped the headquarters of the Eighth Route Army there to fix its telecommunication equipment.

They stayed for 18 months in Yan'an, and after the victory in the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, they decided to return to the United Kingdom to visit their parents, and went via the United States in 1945.

Lindsay stayed for eight years in China, and his two children were born in conflict zones.

He made only a few low-profile visits to China after the war, mostly in the role of an economist and scholar on international relations.

"Lindsay is an internationalist who helped Chinese people through their most difficult time, and recorded their hardship and bravery," says Yan, adding that Lindsay introduced the philosophy of Keynesian economics to China and helped China to fight against Japanese aggression.

"He has contributed greatly to the friendship between China and the UK," he says.

Xie Dehui, from the city of Lyuliang in Shanxi, was impressed after he visited the Lindsay and Li Xiaoli Memorial Hall. It reminded him of the stories he had heard of those extraordinary times and how that era gave rise to incredible and heroic feats.

"As descendants of the region, we should learn from these heroes, in that we need to carry on their spirit of internationalism. And we should be dedicated and devoted to our own jobs, to work hard for the revitalization of the great Chinese civilization.