World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Gladys Aylward

Gladys May Aylward
Missionary to China
Born (1902-02-24)24 February 1902
Edmonton, London
Died 3 January 1970(1970-01-03) (aged 67)

Gladys May Aylward (24 February 1902 – 3 January 1970) was a British 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 film The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, starring Ingrid Bergman; although the movie was produced by Twentieth Century Fox, it was filmed entirely in North Wales and England.


  • Early life 1
  • Work in China 2
  • The Inn of the Sixth Happiness 3
  • Death and legacy 4
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • Further sources 8
    • Archives 8.1
    • Bibliography 8.2
    • Videography 8.3
  • External links 9

Early life

Aylward was born to a working-class family in Edmonton, North London, in 1902. Her parents were Thomas John Aylward and Rodina Florence Aylward (née Whiskin). Her siblings were Laurence and Violet.[1] Although she became a domestic worker (housemaid) at an early age, she always had an ambition to go overseas as a missionary and studied with great determination to be fitted for the role, only to be turned down because her academic background was inadequate, and the China Inland Mission to which she applied was convinced that it was not possible to learn the language at her age.

Her determination was such that, in 1932, she spent her life savings on a passage to Yangcheng, Shanxi Province, China. The perilous trip took her across Siberia, where she was forced to get off the train she was on and walk to her destination.

Work in China

On her arrival in Yangcheng, Aylward worked with an older missionary, Jeannie Lawson, to found The Inn of the Eight Happinesses. 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.

Aylward became a Chinese citizen in 1936 and was a revered figure among the people, taking in orphans and adopting several herself, intervening in a volatile prison riot and advocating prison reform, risking her life many times to help those in need.[2] In 1938, the region was invaded by Japanese forces, and Aylward led over 100 orphans to safety over the mountains, despite being wounded herself. She never married.

She returned to Britain in 1948, where, after 10 years she sought to return to China. However, she was denied re-entry by the Communist government and instead settled in Taiwan, in 1958. There she founded the Gladys Aylward Orphanage, where she worked until her death in 1970.[3]

The Inn of the Sixth Happiness

A film based on her life, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, was released in 1958. It drew from the book The Small Woman, by Alan Burgess. Although she found herself a figure of international interest, thanks to the popularity of the film and television and media interviews, Aylward was mortified by her depiction in the film and the many liberties it took. The tall, Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman was inconsistent with Aylward's small stature, dark hair and cockney accent. The struggles of Aylward and her family to affect her initial trip to China were disregarded in favour of a movie plot device of an employer "condescending to write to 'his old friend' Jeannie Lawson." Also, Aylward's dangerous, complicated travels across Russia and China were reduced to, "a few rude soldiers," after which, "Hollywood's train delivered her neatly to Tsientsin."[4] Many characters and place names were changed, even when these names had significant meaning, such as those of her adopted children and the name of the inn, named instead for the Chinese belief in the number 8 as being auspicious. Colonel Linnan was portrayed as half-European, a change which she found insulting to his real Chinese lineage, and she felt her reputation was damaged by the Hollywood-embellished love scenes in the film. Not only had she never kissed a man, but the film's ending portrayed her character leaving the orphans to re-join the colonel elsewhere,[5] even though in reality she did not retire from working with orphans until she was 60 years old.[6]

Death and legacy

Aylward died on 3 January 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 艾偉德 (Ài Wěi Dé- a Chinese approximation to 'Aylward' – meaning 'Virtuous One'). " Shortly after her death, an Edmonton secondary school, formerly known as Weir Hall, was renamed, "Gladys Aylward School," in her honour (now renamed Aylward Academy).

Numerous books, short stories and films have been developed about the life and work of Gladys Aylward (listed below).

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^  
  3. ^ "Heroes of History: Gladys Aylward". 
  4. ^ Wellman 1998, p. 197
  5. ^ Wellman 1998, p. 198
  6. ^ Wellman 1998, p. 201


  • Hero Tales by Dave & Neta Jackson
  • These Are My People by Mildred T. Howard

Further sources



  • Aylward, Gladys, MS 291571: Letters and relics of Gladys Aylward, missionary to China, School of African and Oriental Studies, University of London 
  • Aylward, Gladys (1980), Gladys Aylward: The Little Woman,  
  • Burgess, A (1957), The Small Woman (New Impression ed.), Pan Books,  
  • Hunter, C (1971), Gladys Aylward: Her Personal Story, Coverdale House Publishers,  
  • Latham, R. O. (1952), Gladys Aylward, One of the Undefeated: The Story of Gladys Aylward, Edinburgh House Press  (ASIN B001DK2WV6)
  • Thompson, P (1971), London Sparrow: The Story of Gladys Aylward, Word Books,  
  • Benge, Janet; Benge, Geoff (1998), Gladys Aylward: The Adventure of a Lifetime,  
  • Purves, Carol (2005), Chinese Whispers: The Gladys Aylward Story,  
  • Jackson, Dave; Jackson, Neta (1994), Flight of the Fugitives: Gladys Aylward,  
  • Wellman, Sam (1998). Gladys Aylward: Missionary in China. Barbour. 


  • The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958) – feature film
  • Gladys Aylward, the Small Woman with a Great God (2008) – documentary
  • Torchlighters: The Gladys Aylward Story (2008) – animated DVD for children ages 8–12

External links

  • Biography of Gladys Aylward
  • An anecdote on how the book came to be written
  • Photos of the Inn of Eight Happinesses at Yangcheng (2006)
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.