|Martyr Saints of China|
Zhōnghuá xùndào shèngrén
Memorial plaque at Saint Francis Xavier ChurchHo Chi Minh City)(
|Died||1648–1930, Qing dynasty and Republic of China|
|Martyred by||Boxer Rebellion, etc.|
|Venerated in||Catholic Church|
|Beatified||November 24, 1946, by Pope Pius XII|
|Canonized||October 1, 2000, by Pope John Paul II|
|Notable martyrs||Anna Wang, |
Augustine Zhao Rong
Francisco Fernández de Capillas
The Martyr Saints of China, or Augustine Zhao Rong and his 119 companions, are saints of the Catholic Church. The 87 Chinese Catholics and 33 Western missionaries from the mid-17th century to 1930 were martyred because of their ministry and, in some cases, for their refusal to apostatize.
Many died in the Boxer Rebellion, in which anti-colonial peasant rebels slaughtered 30,000 Chinese converts to Christianity along with missionaries and other foreigners.
On January 15, 1648, during the Manchu Invasion to Ming China, Manchu Tatars, having invaded the region of Fujian and Francisco Fernández de Capillas, a Dominican priest aged 40. After having imprisoned and tortured him, they beheaded him while he recited with others the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. Father de Capillas has since been recognised by the Holy See as the protomartyr of China.
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 Indonesia, 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 1715–1747, 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.
All four of the following were killed on October 28, 1748:
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:
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.
The following martyrs belong to this period:
Three catechists, known as the Martyrs of Maokou (in the province of Guizhou) were killed on January 28, 1858, by order of the officials in Maokou:
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 July 29, 1861. They are known as the Martyrs of Qingyanzhen (Guizhou):
In the following year, on February 18 and 19, 1862, another five people gave their life for Christ. They are known as the Martyrs of Guizhou.
In June 1840, Qing China was forced to open 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 a 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 July 1, 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.