Gladys Aylward

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Gladys Aylward (Chinese name: 艾偉德, pinyin: ài wěi dé) (24 February 1902 – 3 January 1970) was the evangelical Christian missionary to China whose 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, starring Ingrid Bergman.

Aylward was born of a working-class family in Edmonton, London in 1902. Although becoming a domestic worker 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.

Her determination was such that, in 1930, she spent her life savings on a passage to Yuncheng, Shanxi Province, China, where she founded The Inn of the Eight Happinesses (八福客棧) (The Hollywood film changed this to The Inn of the Sixth Happiness) in a remote and backward area. For a time she served as an assistant to the Chinese government as a "foot inspector" by touring the countryside to enforce the new law against footbinding young Chinese girls. She met with much success in a field that had produced much resistance, including sometimes violence against the inspectors.

In 1938, the region was invaded by Japanese forces, and Aylward led 94 orphans to safety over the mountains. She remained in China after World War II, later moving back to England. Later still, she decided to return to China, but was denied re-entry by the Communist Chinese government and settled in Taiwan in 1953.

She died on 3 January 1970, and is buried in a small cemetery on the campus of Christ's College in Guandu, New Taipei. She was known as 艾偉德 (Ài Wěi Dé, 'Virtuous One') to the Chinese.

Shortly after her death, an Edmonton secondary school formerly known as Weir Hall was renamed Aylward School, and later Gladys Aylward School, in her honour.

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