The Hero Behind the Scenes

Her name was Li-Niang. She worked with Olga and Nils at the station in Dali/Tungchowfu in China. Li-Niang was a hard-working woman, who helped my great grandparents take care of their children. My grandmother Edna loved Li-Niang.

It was Li-Niang who taught her Chinese, who made sure she got bathed and hid Edna when bandits were roaming the streets, sometimes breaking into the missionary station.

My grandmother Edna was born in Xian in 1913 and spent her first years at home with her missionary parents Olga and Nils. At the Dali station, Li-Niang was in charge of Edna, as well as of the chickens, the goat and other animals needed in the household.

Olga and Nils often went away from the missionary station to tend to the sick or hold meetings in other villages in the countryside. As it was very dangerous to travel around, they left Edna at the station, in the care of Li-Niang.

In this photo, Li-Niang sits on the sofa in the livingroom. She looks a bit surprised – perhaps not so used to being photographed. In the stories about missionaries and their work in foreign countries, the people behind the scenes are often forgotten. Photos of kitchen help, cleaners, drivers, gardeners and nannies are not that common – and the names are seldom noted.

But here it is. The picture of Li-Niang – a very capable woman who was a second mother to my grandmother Edna and who most probably saved her life.

My grandmother told me about one time when the robbers came to the station, shooting wildly, screaming and searching for anything valuable. Li-Niang pushed my grandmother – then only a few years old – into a cupboard and rapidly started serving soup in bowls in the kitchen. When the robbers came in, they were startled at first, but then sat down to eat. They left the house with some of the missionaries’ possessions, but their beloved daughter was safe in the cupboard.  

In 1920, Edna started school on the mountain of Jigong Shan – or Rooster Mountain. She was very happy to start school in China instead of having to go back to Sweden like so many missionary children before her. The Swedish Union School had opened in 1918, and even though many children who came there didn’t speak Swedish very well, the lessons were all in Swedish. My grandmother told me that when they didn’t have classes, they would speak Chinese with each other, as they thought Swedish was a much harder language.

The Swedish Union School on Jigong Shan / Rooster Mountain
Edna by the window and her younger sister in the chair. This was their room at the boarding scchool.

After having started school, Edna didn’t return home more than once or twice a year, and her relationship with Li-Niang faded away. But she never forgot about her first Chinese mother figure and made sure to tell us about Li-Niangs importance in her life. It might well be that her story could have ended in a very different way, had it not been for Li-Niang. ❤

The hero behind the scenes

4 thoughts on “The Hero Behind the Scenes

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    1. Thank you, Brad! Yes, it would be great if she had descendants who could find this. If she had children of her own, I think they could know about it, but then again – at times it wasn’t very popular to be around foreigners and maybe not to be working for religious people either. But, it sure is a nice thing to think about – that her descendants could know how much she meant to our family 🙂

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