30-September-2000 -- Catholic World News Feature Story |

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ROME, Sep. 29, 00 (CWNews.com/Fides) - Many of the 120 witnesses to the faith in China who died between the 17th and 20th century were martyred in the provinces of Hebei (northeastern China) and Guizhou (southeastern China) from where Christians evangelized the neighboring province of Guangxi.

In order to give a sense of the heroic virtue expressed by the lives and deaths of the Chinese martyrs, CWN and Fides present two of the stories of martyrdom. From the many documented and touching cases Fides chose the stories of Anna Wang (1886-1900), a young girl killed in Hebei during the Boxer Rebellion, and French missionary Father Augustine Chapdelaine, MEP, (1814-1856) who died during the persecution of Christians in Guangxi.

The martyrdom of Father Chapdelaine was used by colonial powers Britain and France-- who hardly tolerated the Catholic Church at home-- against the Qing Empire in the years of the Opium War which ended with the Five Ports Treaty in 1842 and 1862.

Anna Wang was born to Christian parents in 1886 at Majiazhuang, in the Weixian zone in the south of Hebei province. Her mother died when she was five. At an early age her strong character was already visible: at eleven she was to be given in marriage but she strongly opposed the idea. On July 21, 1900 a band of Boxers reaches Majiazhuang. They captured a group of Christians and warned them, "The government has banned the practice of western religions. If you renounce your religion you will be set free. If you refuse we will kill you."

Anna's stepmother decided to renounce her religion, and urged Anna to do the same. But Anna refused to follow her and cried in a loud voice: "I believe in God. I am a Christian, I do not want to renounce God. Jesus save me!" Anna and a number of companions prayed through the night. In the morning the Boxers took the Christians who refused to deny their faith to the execution field.

Anna watched the terrifying scene of the execution of little Andre Wang Tianquing, aged 9. The non-Christians were anxious to save him, but his mother said: "I am a Christian, my son is a Christian. You will have to kill us both." The leaders of the band made a sign with their heads. Little Andre knelt down and bent over. He looked towards his mother and smiled. Then the executioner's axe struck the boy's neck. On that day the Boxers killed five women with their children, including a ten-month-old baby.

Anna kept watch with the Church in Weixian. On her knees she prayed out loud and kept her eyes set on the sky. A soldier said to her, "Give up your faith and you will live." But Anna made no reply, and when he insisted, she said, "Do not touch me; I am a Christian. I prefer to die rather than give up my faith." The bandit brutally cut off her right arm and repeated his question: "Do you deny you religion?" She said nothing. He struck her again. Anna said, "The door of heaven is open," and she whispered the name of "Jesus" three times, lowering her head. The bandit made the final blow, severing her head from her body.

Father Augustine Chapdelaine (Chinese name: Ma Lai), a priest of the Paris Society for Foreign Missions, left France in 1852 for the mission in the province of Guangxi. After meeting with a number of difficulties he eventually reached Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province, north of Guangxi, in 1854. He studied the language for a few months and then went to Guangxi where he met some new Christians. In Guangxi there was a community of 300 people, members of the Meos and Hmong ethnic minority groups. Father Chapdelaine's ministry lasted only a few months.

At Yaoshan he celebrated the first Mass in December 1854. He took the Chinese name of Ma, but this name was also used by Muslims because it is the first syllable of Mahomet and the priest was reported to the police for being an accomplice of Muslim rebels. The local prefect, a wise, balanced man, saw the accusations were false and advised the priest to return to Guizhou for his safety. After a brief period, the missionary returned to his catechumens in Guangxi and, in March 1855, he baptized nine people including an elderly convert from Buddhism, Laurent Bai Man.

In the meantime, the local prefect was replaced by a new one who was hostile to Christians. In February 1856, for the second time, Father Chapdelaine was accused formally in front of the prefect. The accusation said that the foreign faith was perverse and justified all crimes. The prefect sent two men to capture the priest, and the Christians urged Father Chapdelaine to escape, but he replied, "If I leave, you will suffer for it. To save you from greater harm, I must stay with you." When they insisted, the priest agreed to take refuge at the home of the writer Luo Gongye, a respectable citizen. A few days later, Father Chapdelaine, Bai Man and four other Christians were arrested and whipped, but they refused to deny the faith. Bai Man and the others were beheaded, but the wounded Father Augustine died in slow agony.

The local Christian authorities protested against the martyrdom of Father Chapdelaine saying it was a violation of the Treaty of Nanjing (1842) which stated, "It is forbidden to beat or maltreat in any way French citizens who were arrested." The Chapdelaine case was used for political and economic ends by France and Britain: the latter declared a second war on China which ended with the second Treaty in 1862. Article 13 of the Treaty stated that Christians of all confessions were allowed to practice their religion and that missionaries were allowed to move freely in China.

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