• “There is nothing worth living for, unless it is worth dying for.” – Elisabeth Elliot

Martyrs of the 1900 Boxer Rebellion

(from Asia Harvest’s September 2000 newsletter)

What Was The Boxer Rebellion?

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” Psalm 116:15

Many Christians around the world know that China is experiencing a great revival. Some estimates claim as many as 30,000 people in China come to faith in Jesus Christ every DAY! But what fewer people understand is that the seed for the current great revival was sowed with the blood of many thousands of Christians. They paid a great personal cost to keep the light of the Gospel burning in the darkness of the world’s most populated country.

A few months ago, it dawned on us that exactly 100 years had passed since the awful summer of 1900, when 188 foreign missionaries and more than 32,000 faithful Chinese believers were butchered simply because they were Christians. We have yet to see any articles or newsletters marking the century of the Boxer Rebellion, so we determined not to let the year pass by without reminding our readers and supporters of the heroic deeds of these martyrs. This is not simply the story of cruelty and death, but more a testimony of God’s people staying true to their Savior despite desperate circumstances.

The Chinese view the 1800s as the most degrading and humiliating time in their long history. The Japanese, British, Dutch, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Russians and other countries had seized Chinese land by military power, and were raping China of its wealth and natural resources. It was in this atmosphere that a secret Chinese society, known as The Boxers, was born. They were also known, ironically, as the Righteous Ones. Their message was to rally the Chinese people to drive foreign influence out of China. Working behind the scenes, the Boxers grew rapidly in influence until they had members in every part of the country. In the last few years of the 1890s foreign missionary activity became more and more difficult, and Chinese Christians were persecuted and accused of being “running dogs” for the Western Imperialists. Something was about to erupt. In June 1900 one observer noted,

“Crazed mobs rampaged through the cities of north China, looting and burning churches and the homes of missionaries and Chinese Christians. They were led by bare-chested fanatics called Boxers who brandished long-curving swords and cried for the heads and hearts of Christians and missionaries.”

George Ernest Morrison, a reporter with the London Times newspaper, filed this report from Beijing:

“As darkness came on, the most awful cries were heard in the city, most demonical and unforgettable, the cries of the Boxers, ‘Sha kuei-tzu’ (kill the devils), mingled with the shrieks of the victims and the groans of the dying. For Boxers were sweeping through the city, massacring the native Christians and burning them alive in their homes.”

On the following pages let us now recall some of the heroic testimonies of those who paid the ultimate price for their faith 100 years ago. Most of these testimonies are adapted from the book “By Their Blood” by James and Marti Hefley.

Massacre in Shanxi

The most severe persecution came in the northern province of Shanxi, where the governor of the province, Yu Xian was a noted Boxer sympathizer. In Fenzhou in northern Shanxi, however, local officials seemed to be more kind to the missionaries than in most other locations. A number of missionaries flocked to Fenzhou at the invitation of workers stationed there, believing they would be safe until the trouble blew over.Shortly after they arrived in the town, however, the evil governor assigned a new magistrate over Fenzhou, who promptly placed an armed guard over the foreigners. The missionaries knew they had walked into a trap and feared the worst.

Lizzie Atwater, a young pregnant woman, wrote a final letter to her parents on August 3, 1900:

“Dear Ones, I long for a sight of your dear faces, but I fear we shall not meet on earth… I am preparing for the end very quietly and calmly. The Lord is wonderfully near, and He will not fail me. I was very restless and excited while there seemed a chance of life, but God has taken away that feeling, and now I just pray for grace to meet the terrible end bravely. The pain will soon be over, and oh the sweetness of the welcome above!

My little baby will go with me. I think God will give it to me in Heaven, and my dear mother will be so glad to see us. I cannot imagine the Savior’s welcome. Oh, that will compensate for all of these days of suspense. Dear ones, live near to God and cling less closely to earth. There is no other way by which we can receive that peace from God which passeth understanding…. I must keep calm and still these hours. I do not regret coming to China, but am sorry I have done so little. My married life, two precious years, have been so very full of happiness. We will die together, my dear husband and I.

I used to dread separation. If we escape now it will be a miracle. I send my love to all of you, and the dear friends who remember me.”

Twelve days after her letter was written, Lizzie Atwater, her unborn baby, and six other missionaries were hacked to death by the guards.

Later, when Lizzie’s parents in Oberlin, Ohio, heard the dreadful news of the death of their daughter, son-in-law, and unborn grandchild, they said, in tears, “We do not begrudge them – we gave them to that needy land; China will yet believe the truth.”

A Brave Aussie

Australian missionary David Barratt, who had been in China only three years, heard terrible reports all around him of missionary massacres. He wrote to a colleague: “The Empire is evidently upside down… Our blood may be as a true center for the foundation of God’s kingdom, which will surely increase over this land. Extermination is but exaltation. God guide and bless us! ‘Fear not them which kill,’ He says, ‘are ye not of much more value than many sparrows?’ Peace, peace to you. We may meet in the glory in a few hours or days…. Let us be true till death.”

In such trusting faith the young Aussie missionary was killed on a desolate mountain shortly after.

“They went about destitute, persecuted and mistreated – the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.” Hebrews 11:37-38

Although many missionaries decided to stay at their post and endure whatever came their way, some attempted to flee to safety. Foreign embassies in Beijing and Shanghai offered protection and evacuation for foreigners who made it to them. Many missionaries, however, worked in extremely remote places, in isolated mountainous areas and deserts. They had to make journeys of hundreds of miles on foot through Boxer-infested areas to reach safety.

Two groups of missionaries fled Shanxi Province towards Hubei Province to the south. According to authors James and Marti Hefley:

“One group of 14 people included two families with six young children and four single women. Mobs followed them from one village boundary to the next, hurling sticks and stones, shouting, ”Death to the foreign devils!’ Robbers stripped them of everything but a few rags. Emaciated from hunger and thirst, shoeless, barebacked in the scorching heat, desperately trying to hold up filthy, torn Chinese trousers, they staggered from village to village half alive.

The young children displayed remarkable insight and faith. ‘If they loved Jesus they would not do this,’ seven year old Jessie Saunders reminded her parents…

A few days later Jessie’s baby sister, Isabel, died from beatings and exposure to the hot sun. As Jessie grew weaker, she cried for a place of rest. Her wish was granted a week after Isabel’s death. The two children were buried beside the road.

In one village attackers dragged one of the men, E.J. Cooper, into the open country and left him for dead. He somehow revived and crawled back to his family and friends. His wife, Margaret Cooper, began lapsing into unconsciousness. Her beatings were severe, and she slipped into merciful death.

On July 12 Hattie Rice collapsed in the heat. A mob began stoning her and a man ran a cart over her naked body to break her spine. Her companion, Mary Huston, shielded her body until shamefaced men came with clothing. When she was again clothed, they took her from Miss Huston to a temple and consulted their gods about her fate. When a priest announced that the gods would let her live, the men carried her back to the other missionaries on a stretcher. She died a short time later.

The survivors somehow kept moving. They crossed and re-crossed the Yellow River. They were imprisoned and released. Miss Huston suffered the worst. Part of her brain was exposed from beatings received at the time Miss Rice had been fatally wounded. Her friends could do no more for her than protect her from the sun. She died on August 11. Both young women were from the United States, Miss Rice from Massachusetts and Miss Huston from Pennsylvania. They had labored with selfless love among opium addicts, providing a refuge for them. They had taken nothing from China but had given everything.”

For every one foreign missionary who died during the terrible year 1900, almost 200 Chinese Christians perished. One Chinese man who had earlier denied Christ later repented and told the Boxer leaders: “I cannot help but believe in Christ; even if you put me to death, I will still believe and follow Him.” For this he was beaten to death, his body cut open, and his heart extracted and exhibited in the magistrate’s office.

Faithful Yen and Other Chinese Martyrs

In the town of Honchau, a Christian leader known as “Faithful Yen” and his wife were tied to a pillar in the pagan temple. After beating him with rods, the Boxers lit a fire behind them and burned their legs raw. Although they still would not deny Christ, Mrs. Yen was set free. But Faithful Yen was thrown to the ground and firewood stacked around him. The fire was lit. After a few minutes of roasting in agony, he tried to roll out of the fire. A Boxer began to heap his body with hot ashes and coals. A soldier standing by could stand the spectacle no longer and cursed the Boxers. The Boxers leaped on him and cut him to pieces. At this, other soldiers rushed on the Boxers and chased them out of the temple. They then took the pitifully burned Chinese Christian from the fire and carried him still alive to the magistrate’s house, only to see the official throw the man into a dark prison cell when it is presumed he died. Faithful Yen remained faithful to the very end.

In Taiyuan, the provincial capital, many Chinese Christians were forced to kneel and drink the blood of the many foreigners who had been beheaded. Some also had crosses burned into their foreheads. One Chinese Christian mother and her two children were kneeling before the executioner when a watcher suddenly ran and pulled the children back into the anonymity of the observing crowd. Taken by surprise, the Boxers were unable to find either the man or the children. They then turned back to the mother and asked if she had any last words. Dazed, she begged to see the face of the kind man who had taken her children. The man came forward in tears at the risk of his life. Satisfied that the children would be cared for, the mother went to her death because she would not deny her Lord. A quick flash of steel, and the executioner’s sword separated her head from her body, and her soul from this world into the presence of her loving God.

These few stories represent just a tiny glimpse of the events of 1900 in China. Thousands of others faithfully endured to the very end. Like Moses, they “chose to be mistreated along with the people of God…because he was looking ahead to his reward.” (Hebrews 11:25-26).

May we who follow Jesus learn from the examples of people such as the martyrs of the 1900 Boxer Rebellion!

 

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  • “By confessing sin we gather strength to resist it; thereby the enemy of our souls is foiled, the conscience is kept tender, the heart is sanctified, and the blood of Jesus becomes increasingly precious. Let us constantly flee to the cleansing fountain!” – Mary Winslow

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