''Our purpose is Christian character-building,'' said Shi Ruzhang, assistant general secretary of China's national YWCA. Or, as Li Shoupao, general secretary of China's national YMCA puts it, ''We emphasize the C in YMCA.''
One sign of the more liberal attitude toward religion by the Chinese leadership since the fall of the ''gang of four'' and the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976 is the revival of YMCAs and YWCAs in China's principal cities.
The substantial, seven-story YMCA building in downtown Shanghai, which was used as a hotel during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) has been returned to its original owners and now serves as national headquarters both for the YMCA and the YWCA.
Not having been maintained properly for years, the building is dilapidated, and being without heat, this correspondent and his hosts sat around in overcoats or padded jackets during a recent interview. No penetrating winter chill, however, could dampen the bubbling enthusiasm of the officers of the YWCA and YMCA.
''The YWCA, said Mrs. Shi, ''doesn't take the place of church. We witness our belief through our actions.''
These actions include classes in English, music appreciation and Chinese history; excursions to nearby tourist sites; the running of nurseries; and training courses for kindergarten and nursery teachers.
''Recently, we opened a course for 45 people from small neighborhoods to teach them how to run nurseries. We had excellent teachers, including doctors and health care workers, and our pupils all passed their exams with good grades. Now they are all working in their respective neighborhoods.
''If we keep our eyes open and are aware of our social responsibilities, there is a lot of work we can do. We mustn't rely on the state alone.''
Gan Xianzhen, senior secretary of the Shanghai YWCA, has been active in the YWCA movement for more than forty years. Like many other Christians, she was shipped off to what was called a ''cow shed'' during the Cultural Revolution where she had to engage in manual labor. Now she teaches English at the ''Y'' and is active in a revived church in western Shanghai.