THE NIGHT OF THE LONG KNIVES

Instead of death, it brought life

By Tek Chong

It was a night of terror. On that night in July 1934, Hitler sent his Nazi stormtroopers to carry out a political massacre. Hundreds of Germans and Jews were murdered, many were his enemies, others were his personal friends. That was the night his horrendous Nazi Regime started. Historians called it the Night of the Long Knives.

The Night of the Long Knives occurred for me at Hong Kong University in September 1957. This was my first day living in my hostel, May Hall.

The joy of being admitted to a prestigious medical school had subsided. Tonight, fear took over. As we new students huddled in our rooms, the seniors were prowling the long corridors of the hostel hunting for “Green Horns” aka freshmen. The traditional ritual of “ragging” was in full swing.  The practitioners of such rites reasoned that all new students who fancied their superior IQ of getting admitted into this world-class university would inevitably carry a baggage of self-importance. Hence for their own good, the seniors had the obligation to help these inflated juniors go through an educational rite of humiliation.

A week of re-education followed. For the first six days and nights in May Hall (as well as in most of the hostels of the University), “Green Horns” were invited to the rooms of their honourable seniors for re-programming to grind them through the mill of humility. The method of re-orientation was as varied as the creativity of the seniors. Some of the popular ways were:

  • Shoe-shine Special: polishing senior’s shoes with one’s toothbrush
  • The Royal Flush: washing one’s hair in the flushing toilet bowl
  • The Chain-gang March: marching students around the corridors chained neck to neck via neckties
  • High Noon Gun Fight: dropping dead when shot at by seniors’ finger-pistol.*

(*Note: This tradition of ragging was soon banned by the university authority because of petitions on grounds of cruelty by over-protective parents.)

So, on that night the Night of the Long Knives was in full session in my hostel and I was taking refuge behind closed doors in my room. But my tranquility was short-lived. A knock soon sounded at my door. When it persisted, I had to open the door. Outside stood a collection of seniors. To my horror, they were smiling. Earlier, friends tipped me that the most sadistic ‘raggers’ would be those who appeared most friendly.

You a new student?”. I acknowledged by bowing deeply, hopeful to show that I was already a very humble man. The next question sent a chill down my spine, “You a Christian?” Wow! Religious heretic hunters! I was about to betray my Lord, ala the Apostle Peter. But before I could blurt ‘no’, the leader said, “We are inviting you to my room for a Bible study. Will you join us?

My first thought was “Bible study? What a bore. No thank you.” But then another thought suddenly popped into my mind, “Wait a minute. Bible study with these seniors! Surely then I can take refuge from the Long Knives lurking around the corridors.” Quickly I responded, ‘Yes, yes. I will join you.

So that was how I was conscripted into the May Hall Bible study group.

It turned out that this Bible study was far from boring. Very quickly I grew to respect the 6-7 members in the group. I realised they were a highly intelligent breed. They were all top scholars from top schools of Hong Kong (HKU creamed off the top 5 % of the student population. Hence these guys are the best of the best).

The discussion was stimulating and lively. These students (mostly medical or science undergrads) were well-read and highly informed intellectuals. I saw they treated the Bible with reverence and love. To them, they had no doubt what they were studying is the Word of God.

Back home in Malaya, I attended a Christian mission school in Malacca. Classmates invited me to church youth social meetings “to meet some pretty girls from the neighbouring girl’s school.”  Soon, following the crowd, I got swept into the church and was baptized.

I was eventually invited to take up leadership in the church youth fellowship. However, my faith was shallow; Christianity was just a kind of social event. Liberal missionaries from America had invaded our church, watering down the doctrines, and teaching us that miracles recorded in the Bible were written by writers tainted by the superstitions of their time.  I got the impression that the Bible was just an ancient book recording some magical talks for the uneducated common folks. Christianity was just a ‘do good’ religion encouraging people to be nice. Hence Christianity was no big deal to me.  I cruised along comfortably with the church crowd.

After finishing high school, I was transferred to a government school for the pre-university class.  Soon I was preoccupied with the preparation to compete for a place in a medical school. Following the advice of one biology teacher – “If you want to study medicine you cannot be superstitious and believe in the outdated Bible taught in your mission school. Patients are cured by modern medicine and not by prayers” – I decided to put religion aside in order to be a bona fide scientific-minded medical student.

But on that fateful first night of my university life, I stumbled into a Christian group that would affect me for the rest of my life. I was puzzled by these new friends. They were friendly and helpful and lots of fun. But they took Christianity seriously. They were not religious; they were followers of Jesus Christ who to them was not merely a good and pious religion founder but God Himself who came to earth two thousand years ago.

As we discussed the Bible, they actually believed Jesus did turn water into wine; that He did perform miracles of healing, casting out demons, etc. Each of these accounts was explored with well-researched background facts.  So, when Christianity was studied with such care and seriousness, I began to acknowledge that it was indeed a trustworthy body of truth and I began to take it seriously. But one nagging doubt still lingered in my mind.

One day I raised my doubt, “Isn’t the Bible outdated by Darwinism?”  I was echoing my biology teacher back home. To answer my question, a science postgraduate from the group made an appointment to meet me in the university library. He showed me the biographies of several well-respected past and present scientists who unashamedly declared their Christian faith. I was also introduced to Professor S.Y. King, Dean of the Electrical Engineering Faculty, and later to be Vice-Chancellor of our university. He was a revered academician and he told me that he had not a shred of doubt that the Bible was 100% the Word of God.

I continued to attend the Bible study group every Wednesday night, rain, or shine. This group study instilled in me the love of studying the Bible to this day. Wherever I went, I either started or joined a Bible study group. Fifty years later when we had our Christian association reunion, I found out that those who were in that group had also continued the Bible study group habit and have remained strong in their faith. That night which I feared would be a night of terror had turned out to be the beginning of a new life for me.

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