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Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Gladys Aylward

Gladys Aylward was born of a working-class family in Edmonton, London in 1902. Although forced into domestic service at an early age, she always had an ambition to go overseas as a missionary, and studied with great determination in order to be fitted for the role, only to be turned down by the China Inland Mission because her academic background was inadequate.

She spent her entire savings on a railway ticket to Tientsin in north China in order to fufil her dream. With a Scottish missionary, Mrs Jeannie Lawson, the pair founded The Inn Of The Eight Happinesses, in a remote outpost at Yangcheng.

Gladys Aylward achieved much in China having become a foot inspector in the official campaign against the binding of female feet. She became a revered figure, taking in orphans and adopting several herself, intervening in a volatile prison riot and advocating for prison reform, risking her life many times to help those in need.

In 1942 Gladys Aylward led 94 orphans to safety over the Chinese mountains after the Japanese invasion, despite being wounded herself.

Her story was told in the book The Small Woman by Alan Burgess, published in 1957. In 1958, the story was made into the Hollywood film The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.

Gladys Aylward strongly disapproved of the movie as she was played by a divorcee, Ingrid Bergman.

Gladys Aylward died on January 3, 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 "Ài Wěi Dé" - a Chinese approximation to 'Aylward' – meaning 'Virtuous One'.  

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