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Gladys Aylward  (24 February 1902–January 3, 1970) was the Protestant 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 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.

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 (????) (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 ninety-four children to safety over the mountains. She remained in China after World War II, later moving back to England. She later 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, Taipei County. She was known as ??? (Ai-wei-de, 'Virtuous One') to the Chinese.

An Edmonton secondary school formerly known as Weir Hall was renamed Aylward School in her honour shortly after her death.


  • R. O. Latham, Gladys Aylward, One of the Undefeated: The Story of Gladys Aylward as Told by Her to R. O. Latham (1950)
  • Catherine Swift, Gladys Aylward: The Courageous English Missionary (1989)
  • Phyllis Thompson, London Sparrow (1971)
  • Alan Burgess, The Small Woman (1957)

Aylward's letters are in the archives at the SOAS, University of London.

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Source: Wikipedia

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