After the first wave of missionary activities in China during the late Ming to early Qing dynasties, the Qing government officially banned Catholicism (Protestantism was considered outlawed by the same decree, as it was linked to Catholicism) in 1724 and lumped it together with other 'perverse sects and sinister doctrines' in Chinese folk religion.
While Catholicism continued to exist and increase many-fold in areas beyond the government's control (Sichuan notably), and many Chinese Christians fled the persecution to go to port cities in Guangdong or to The Philippines, where many translations of Christian works into Chinese occurred during this period, there were also many missionaries who broke the law and secretly entered the forbidden mainland territory. They eluded Chinese patrol boats on the rivers and coasts; however, some of them were caught and put to death.
Towards the middle of the 18th century five Spanish missionaries, who had carried out their activity between 1715 and 1747, were put to death as a result of a new wave of persecution that started in 1729 and broke out again in 1746. This was in the epoch of the Yongzheng Emperor and of his successor, the Qianlong Emperor.
A new period of persecution in regard to the Christian religion occurred in the 19th century.
While Catholicism had been authorised by some Chinese emperors in the preceding centuries, the Jiaqing Emperor published, instead, numerous and severe decrees against it. The first was issued in 1805. Two edicts of 1811 were directed against those among the Chinese who were studying to receive sacred orders, and against priests who were propagating the Christian religion. A decree of 1813 exonerated voluntary apostates from every chastisement – that is, Christians who spontaneously declared that they would abandon their faith – but all others were to be dealt with harshly.
In this period the following underwent martyrdom:
Peter Wu, a Chinese lay catechist. Born of a pagan family, he received baptism in 1796 and passed the rest of his life proclaiming the truth of the Christian religion. All attempts to make him apostatize were in vain. The sentence having been pronounced against him, he was strangled on 7 November 1814.
Joseph Zhang Dapeng, a lay catechist, and a merchant. Baptized in 1800, he had become the heart of the mission in the city of Guiyang. He was imprisoned, and then strangled to death on 12 March 1815.
Also in the same year, there came two other decrees, with which approval was given to the conduct of the Viceroy of Sichuan who had beheaded Monsignor Dufresse, of the Paris Foreign Missions Society, and some Chinese Christians. As a result, there was a worsening of the persecution.
Augustine Zhao Rong, a Chinese diocesan priest. Having first been one of the soldiers who had escorted Monsignor Dufresse from Chengdu to Beijing, he was moved by his patience and had then asked to be numbered among the neophytes. Once baptized, he was sent to the seminary and then ordained a priest. Arrested, he was tortured and died in 1815.
John da Triora, O.F.M., priest. Put in prison together with others in the summer of 1815, he was then condemned to death, and strangled on 7 February 1816.
Joseph Yuan, a Chinese diocesan priest. Having heard Monsignor Dufresse speak of the Christian faith, he was overcome by its beauty and then became an exemplary neophyte. Later, he was ordained a priest and, as such, was dedicated to evangelisation in various districts. He was arrested in August 1816, condemned to be strangled, and was killed in this way on 24 June 1817.
Francis Regis Clet of the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians). After obtaining permission to go to the missions in China, he embarked for the Orient in 1791. Having reached there, for 30 years he spent a life of missionary sacrifice. Upheld by an untiring zeal, he evangelised three immense Chinese provinces: Jiangxi, Hubei, Hunan. Betrayed by a Christian, he was arrested and thrown into prison where he underwent atrocious tortures. Following sentence by the Jiaqing Emperor he was killed by strangling on 17 February 1820.
Thaddeus Liu, a Chinese diocesan priest. He refused to apostatize, saying that he was a priest and wanted to be faithful to the religion that he had preached. Condemned to death, he was strangled on 30 November 1823.
Peter Liu, a Chinese lay catechist. He was arrested in 1814 and condemned to exile in Tartary, where he remained for almost twenty years. Returning to his homeland he was again arrested, and was strangled on 17 May 1834.
Joachim Ho, a Chinese lay catechist. He was baptised at the age of about twenty years. In the great persecution of 1814 he had been taken with many others of the faithful and subjected to cruel torture. Sent into exile in Tartary, he remained there for almost twenty years. Returning to his homeland he was arrested again and refused to apostatize. Following that, and the death sentence having been confirmed by the Emperor, he was strangled on 9 July 1839.
John Gabriel Perboyre, C.M., entered the Vincentians as a high school student. The death of his younger brother, also a Vincentian priest, moved his superiors to allow him to take his brother's place, arriving in China in 1835. Despite poor health, he served the poverty-stricken residents of Hubei. Arrested during a revival of anti-Christian persecution, upon imperial edict, he was strangled to death in 1840.
Augustus Chapdelaine, M.E.P., a priest of the Diocese of Coutances. He entered the Seminary of the Paris Foreign Missions Society, and embarked for China in 1852. He arrived in Guangxi at the end of 1854. Arrested in 1856, he was tortured, condemned to death in prison, and died in February 1856.
Lawrence Bai Xiaoman, a Chinese layman, and an unassuming worker. He joined Blessed Chapdelaine in the refuge that was given to the missionary and was arrested with him and brought before the tribunal. Nothing could make him renounce his religious beliefs. He was beheaded on 25 February 1856.
Agnes Cao Guiying, a widow, born into an old Christian family. Being dedicated to the instruction of young girls who had recently been converted by Blessed Chapdelaine, she was arrested and condemned to death in prison. She was executed on 1 March 1856.
All three had been called on to renounce the Christian religion and having refused to do so were condemned to be beheaded.
In Guizhou, two seminarians and two lay people, one of whom was a farmer, the other a widow who worked as a cook in the seminary, suffered martyrdom together on 29 July 1861. They are known as the Martyrs of Qingyanzhen (Guizhou):
Joseph Zhang Wenlan, seminarian
Paul Chen Changpin, seminarian
John Baptist Luo Tingyin, layman
Martha Wang Luo Mande, laywoman
In the following year, on 18 and 19 February 1862, another five people gave their life for Christ. They are known as the Martyrs of Guizhou.
Jean-Pierre Néel, a priest of the Paris Foreign Missions Society,
In June 1840, Qing China was forced to open the borders and afforded multiple concessions to European Christian missions after the First Opium War, including allowing the Chinese to follow the Catholic religion and restoring the property confiscated in 1724. The 1844 treaty also allowed for missionaries to come to China, provided if they come to the treaty ports opened to Europeans.
The subsequent Taiping Rebellion significantly worsened the image of Christianity in China. Hong Xiuquan, the rebel leader, claimed to be a Christian and brother of Jesus who received a special mission from God to fight evil and usher in a period of peace. Hong and his followers achieved considerable success in taking control of a large territory, and destroyed many Buddhist and Taoist shrines, temples to local divinities and opposed Chinese folk religion. The rebellion was one of the bloodiest armed conflicts in human history, accounting for an estimated number of 20–30 million deaths. As missionary activities became increasingly associated with European imperialism, violence against missionaries arose.
In 1856, the death of missionary Augustus Chapedelaine trigged a French military expedition during the Second Opium War, which China lost. The resulting Treaty of Tientsin, granted Christian missionaries the freedom of movement throughout China and the right to land ownership.
As missionaries started to build churches or schools in offensive locations like old temples or near official buildings, tensions with the local Chinese population arose. The missionaries also abolished indigenous Chinese Catholic institutions that had survived the imperial ban. In some regions, Catholic missionaries started "quarantining" new Chinese converts from the hostile social environment as they see the mission as "enclaves of Christianity in an alien world". The separation sparked conspiracy theories about the Christians and eventually accumulated in the massacre of 60 people in a Catholic orphanage. In comparison, Protestant missions were less secretive and treated more favorably by the authorities.
Chinese literati and gentry produced a pamphlet attacking Christian beliefs as socially subversive and irrational. Incendiary handbills and fliers distributed to crowds were also produced, and were linked to outbreaks of violence against Christians. Sometimes, no such official incitement was needed in order to provoke the populace to attack Christians. For example, among the Hakka people in southeastern China, Christian missionaries frequently flouted village customs that were linked with local religions, including refusal to take part in communal prayers for rain (and because the missionaries benefitted from the rain, it was argued that they had to do their part in the prayers) and refusing to contribute funds to operas for Chinese gods (these same gods honoured in these village operas were the same spirits that the Boxers called to invoke in themselves, during the later rebellion).
Catholic missions offered protection to those who came to them, including criminals, fugitives from the law, and rebels against the government; this also led to hostile attitudes developing against the missions by the government.
And so passed an era of expansion in the Christian missions, with the exception of the period in which they were struck by the uprising by the "Society for Justice and Harmony" (commonly known as the "Boxers"). This occurred at the beginning of the 20th century and caused the shedding of the blood of many Christians.
It is known that mingled in this rebellion were all the secret societies and the accumulated and repressed hatred against foreigners in the last decades of the 19th century, because of the political and social changes following the Second Opium War and the imposition of the so-called unequal treaties on China by the Western Powers.
Very different, however, was the motive for the persecution of the missionaries, even though they were of European nationalities. Their slaughter was brought about solely on religious grounds. They were killed for the same reason as the Chinese faithful who had become Christians. Reliable historical documents provide evidence of the anti-Christian hatred which spurred the Boxers to massacre the missionaries and the Christians of the area who had adhered to their teaching. In this regard, an edict was issued on 1 July 1900, which, in substance, said that the time of good relations with European missionaries and their Christians was now past: that the former must be repatriated at once and the faithful forced to apostatize, on penalty of death.
Following the failure of the Boxer Rebellion, China was further subject to Western spheres of influence, which in turn led to a booming conversion period in the following decades. The Chinese developed respect for the moral level that Christians maintained in their hospital and schools. The continuing association between Western imperialism in China and missionary efforts nevertheless continued to fuel hostilities against missions and Christianity in China. All missions were banned in China by the new communist regime after the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, and officially continue to be legally outlawed to the present.
As a result, the martyrdom took place of several missionaries and many Chinese who can be grouped together as follows:
To these are joined a number of Chinese lay faithful:
James Yan Guodong, farmer,
James Zhao Quanxin, manservant,
Peter Wang Erman, cook.
When the uprising of the Boxers, which had begun in Shandong and then spread through Shanxi and Hunan, also reached South-Eastern Tcheli (currently named Hebei), which was then the Apostolic Vicariate of Xianxian, in the care of the Jesuits, the Christians killed could be counted in thousands. Among these were four French Jesuit missionaries and at least 52 Chinese lay Christians: men, women and children – the oldest of them being 79 years old, while the youngest were aged only nine years. All suffered martyrdom in the month of July 1900. Many of them were killed in the church in Zhujiahe Village, in which they were taking refuge and where they were in prayer together with the first two of the missionaries listed below:
^ abcdefghijklDavid Lindenfeld. Indigenous Encounters with Christian Missionaries in China and West Africa, 1800–1920: A Comparative Study. Journal of World History, Vol. 16, No. 3 (September 2005), pp. 327–369