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‘Shanghai Faithful’ explores complicated family history

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By Laura Drinan
Hometown Weekly Reporter

“For me, as a writer, you’re always looking for a story to pursue. The whole time it was right in front of me: It was the story of my family,” said Jennifer Lin, a journalist and the author of “Shanghai Faithful.” As a reporter for 31 years, Lin brought her investigative skills to research the last five generations of her family for the narrative novel.

On September 14, Lin visited the Westwood Public Library to talk about the research that contributed to the family memoir.

Lin, who started researching the book about 30 years ago, began the talk with a brief history lesson on the politics surrounding the United States and China in the 1970s. Lin’s father, who emigrated from Shanghai to Philadelphia in 1949, could only contact his family through letters until President Nixon visited China. “When [my father] arrived in the Untied States, he would receive letters from his father, who was fluent in English, and we would get letters every month from Shanghai. My Italian-American mother had the foresight to save all these letters, so we, as a family, cherish them,” Lin said. “The only connection we had to China were these letters.”

Jennifer Lin discusses her novel, ‘Shanghai Faithful,’ at the Westwood Library and the research she conducted to write it.

Jennifer Lin discusses her novel, ‘Shanghai Faithful,’ at the Westwood Library and the research she conducted to write it.

Lin recalls first hearing her grandfather’s voice in 1972, when they were finally able to call China, and could visit China once President Carter reestablished diplomatic relations in 1978. As a 20-year-old senior in college, Lin finally met her family in China when she took a trip with her sisters and father. While it was – at first – a joyful family reunion, Lin’s father quickly learned about the hardships his family in Shanghai had gone through and the disturbing truth about the family’s experiences. Lin said it was traumatic for her father to have learned about the family’s problems, but it only inspired her to research more.

“When we came home after this two week trip, he kind of took what he learned about the past and put it in a box and put it far away,” said Lin. “But I was 20 years old, I was becoming the journalist that I would eventually become, and I could not let go of the question of: ‘What happened to them? What happened to my family and why?’ So this began what my father called my obsession.”

The obsession later led to Lin unlocking pieces of the past and learned about Watchman Nee, a Christian teacher who spent time in prison for his faith after the Communist Revolution, and her grandfather, Reverend Lin Pu-Chi.

Although genealogy websites have helped people discover their ancestor’s names and unlock their family’s pasts, Lin’s inspiration to delve deeper and thoroughly research for decades delivered a unique look on the past, present, and future of Christianity in China.

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