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Translator of 44 theology books into Chinese, ’59 SWBTS grad dies

ARLINGTON, Texas (BP)–When Wayne Wei-Yuan Siao died from complications of a stroke in an Arlington, Texas, hospital, at age 91, he left a legacy encompassing 44 theological textbooks translated from English to his native Chinese.

Siao was a 1959 graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He served as a teacher and pastor in China and Malaysia for more than 50 years. He also once served on the executive committee and the Christian ethics commission of Baptist World Alliance.

Siao’s most significant contribution to theological education was his translation of theological books, totaling nearly 7.5 million Chinese characters. He produced most of the manuscripts from 1953-69 while serving as the translation editor for the Orient Baptist Theological Textbooks Committee.

A.H. Strong’s “Systematic Theology,” Robert A. Baker’s “A Summary of Christian History” and W.T. Conner’s “The Faith of the New Testament” were among the books Siao translated.

In 1975 William Jewel College in Liberty, Mo., awarded Siao an honorary doctor of divinity for his voluminous contribution to Chinese theological literature.

James Leo Garrett, distinguished professor emeritus of theology at Southwestern Seminary, said after Siao’s Nov. 29 death that his contribution to the Christian faith should be neither underestimated nor overlooked.

“I would think that his work of translation of American, chiefly Baptist, theological works into Chinese was one of the most significant translation projects of the kind in the 20th century. Therefore, his contribution to theological education and ministerial training in lands where the Chinese language is spoken and read is indeed very significant,” Garrett said.

Siao’s daughter, Vivian, agreed, saying, “Students for many years will benefit from his efforts in translating these works into Chinese.”

Born in China in 1910, Siao was only 6 years old when his father, a pastor, died. His mother then moved the family to Canton where she enrolled in the Pooi-In Baptist Women’s Bible Institute.

Siao was educated by Baptists as well. He studied at Pui Chang Baptist Academy and then enrolled in Shanghai Baptist College, known later as the University of Shanghai.

Garrett noted that Siao’s association with Baptist work in Shanghai was significant. “His roots in education were at Shanghai when Baptist missionaries still had the freedom to work before the Communist revolution,” Garrett said.

Siao graduated from the University of Shanghai in 1932, after which he served as a teacher and principal at Baptist campuses in Canton, Hockshan, Pingshek and Hong Kong. He left China in 1949 along with thousands of others who feared the rule of Mao Tse Sung. He resided in Macao until 1953.

After a move to Malaysia, Siao served the Baptist Theological Seminary in Penang as an instructor and dean from 1954-55 and 1970-76. He served as the seminary’s sixth and first Malaysian national president from 1977-85.

Bill Thomas, now interim pastor of Wallonia Baptist Church in Cadiz, Ky., was president of the seminary in Penang before Siao. He said Siao’s work as dean and his later election as president gave the seminary credibility in the eyes of Malaysian nationals.

“He was the leading Baptist of the country,” Thomas said. “When Siao agreed to become dean of the Penang seminary in 1970, from that moment the seminary began to flourish.”

Siao’s peers revered him as a capable and dedicated man, Thomas said.

During the seminary’s 25th anniversary celebration in 1979, he was referred to as God’s chosen leader for the seminary. “He has constantly demonstrated his love for the Lord by giving himself in service, by imparting vision to the Malaysian Baptist constituency, by challenging students to set themselves as mature examples before the believers, and by offering exemplary leadership to the Seminary faculty and staff,” the seminary’s Jubilee Journal noted.

After retiring from the presidency of the Penang seminary, Siao assisted in establishing the Chinese language division of Singapore Baptist Seminary.

Roger Capps, now an International Mission Board theological educator in Bulgaria, served under Siao as dean at the Penang seminary and with him at the seminary in Singapore.

“Dr. Siao helped the seminaries gain respect among the nationals and assisted the Malaysia Baptist Convention in building a strong foundation for the future of the schools,” Capps said. “He possessed many gifts and talents, but he also had a generous spirit. He loved the Lord, his church, and had a profound calling to help prepare men and women to serve the Lord through the church. He was a Baptist church statesman.”

Daughter Vivian called him a tireless worker. “He devoted his life to the translation of theological literature and education and the furthering of Baptist work in Malaysia and Singapore,” she said.

Thomas called Siao “one of the most important men I ever worked with…. We had a wonderful working relationship,” he said.

Siao also was a dedicated family man. He and his wife, Si Tek Chan, were married for 65 years.

“He was devoted to his children and his family,” Vivian Siao said. “He took great interest in us and even moved to the United States to be near us in 1992.”

In addition to his wife, five of Siao’s six children live in the United States. His daughters, Wai-Mui Lau, Wai-Tse Siao and Viola Wang reside in Los Angeles. Vivian Siao resides in Arlington, Texas. She served as a piano instructor at Southwestern Seminary from 1987-88 and 1994-95.

Siao’s son, Yan-Park, is the pastor of Immanuel Chinese Baptist Church in Wichita, Kan. Yan-Park said his father imparted a spiritual legacy to his children and influenced his own development as a minister.

“When I think of my father I think of a man of conviction,” he said. “He influenced my life tremendously. His life has been a model for me. The conviction that my father showed in his ministry spoke to me and has been speaking to me all of my life.”

Another son, Anslem, also is following in his father’s footsteps. He is the executive director of the Chinese Baptist Press Limited in Hong Kong.

    About the Author

  • Gregory Tomlin