The Martyr Saints of China, or Augustine Zhao Rong and his 119 companions, are saints of the Roman 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 xenophobic peasants slaughtered 30,000 Chinese converts to Christianity along with missionaries and other foreigners.
In the ordinary form of the Latin Rite they are remembered with an optional memorial on July 9.
On January 15, 1648, the Manchus, having invaded the region of Fujian and shown themselves hostile to the Christian religion, killed Saint 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 ports cities in Guangdong or to Indonesia, where many translations of Christian works into Chinese occurred during this period, there were also many brave missionaries that 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 eighteenth 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 Emperor Yung-Cheng and of his son, Qianlong.
Saint Peter Sanz, O.P., Bishop, was martyred on 26 May 1747, at Fuzhou.
All four of the following were killed on 28 October 1748:
1. Saint Francis Serrano, O.P., Vicar Apostolic and Bishop-elect
2. Saint Joachim Royo, O.P., Priest
3. Saint John Alcober, O.P., Priest
4. Saint Francis Diaz, O.P., Priest.
A new period of persecution in regard to the Christian religion then occurred in the nineteenth century.
While Catholicism had been authorised by some Emperors in the preceding centuries, Emperor Kia-Kin (1796–1821) 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:
5. Saint 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 November 7, 1814.
6. Saint Joseph Zhang Dapeng, a lay catechist, and a merchant. Baptised in 1800, he had become the heart of the mission in the city of Kony-Yang. He was imprisoned, and then strangled to death on March 12, 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.
The following martyrs belong to this period:
7. Saint Gabriel-Taurin Dufresse, M.E.P., Bishop. He was arrested on May 18, 1815, taken to Chengdu, condemned and executed on September 14, 1815.
8. Saint 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 baptised, he was sent to the seminary and then ordained a priest. Arrested, he was tortured and died in 1815.
9. Saint 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 February 7, 1816.
10. Saint 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.
11. Saint Paul Liu Hanzuo, a Chinese diocesan priest, killed in 1819.
12. Saint 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 thirty years he spent a life of missionary sacrifice. Upheld by an untiring zeal, he evangelised three immense provinces of the Chinese Empire: Jiangxi, Hubei, Hunan. Betrayed by a Christian, he was arrested and thrown into prison where he underwent atrocious tortures. Following sentence by the Emperor he was killed by strangling on February 17, 1820.
13. Saint 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 November 30, 1823.
14. Saint 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 May 17, 1834.
15. Saint 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 July 9, 1839.
16. Saint 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, he was arrested, and, upon imperial edict, strangled to death in 1840.
17. 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.
18. Saint Laurence 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 February 25, 1856.
19. Saint 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 March 1, 1856.
Three catechists, known as the Martyrs of MaoKou (in the province of Guizhou) were killed on 28 January 1858, by order of the Mandarin of MaoKou:
17. Saint Jerome Lu Tingmei
18. Saint Laurence Wang Bing
19. Saint Agatha Lin Zao
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):
20. Saint Joseph Zhang Wenlan, seminarian
21. Saint Paul Chen Changpin, seminarian
22. Saint John Baptist Luo Tingyin, layman
23. Saint Martha Wang Luo Mande, laywoman
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.
24. Saint John Peter Néel, a priest of the Paris Foreign Missions Society,
25. Saint Martin Wu Xuesheng, lay catechist,
26. Saint John Zhang Tianshen, lay catechist,
27. Saint John Chen Xianheng, lay catechist,
28. Saint Lucy Yi Zhenmei, lay catechist.
In the meantime, some incidents occurred in the political field that had notable repercussions on the life of the Christian missions.
In June 1840, the Imperial Commissioner of Guangdong, wished to abolish the opium trade that was being conducted by the British, had more than twenty thousand chests of this drug thrown into the sea. This had been the pretext for immediate war, which was won by the British. When the war came to an end, China had to sign in 1842 the first international treaty of modern times, followed quickly by others with America and France. Taking advantage of this opportunity, France replaced Portugal as the power protecting the missions. Following on from this, a twofold decree was issued: one part in 1844 which permitted the Chinese to follow the Catholic religion; the other, in 1846, with which the old penalties against Catholics were abolished, and restored the property taken in 1724. The 1844 treaty also allowed for missionaries to come to China, but they were only permitted to come to the treaty ports opened to Europeans; this fact was used as a legal justification for the execution of Augustus Chapdelaine (mentioned above).
In the mid-19th century there was a civil war in China known as the Taiping rebellion, during which a Chinese Christian from Guangdong named Hong Xiuqian, claimed to have 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 they destroyed Buddhist and Taoist shrines, temples to local divinities and opposed Chinese folk religion. The war was very costly in lives, accounting for perhaps 20-30 million deaths, thus making it the second bloodiest conflict in human history (after the second world war). After the rebellion was crushed, the aftermath of the catastrophe led to Christianity acquiring a bad name, due to its association with the rebellion. This helped provoke violence against missionaries.
Violence against missionaries during this period, was also provoked due to the increasing association between missionary activities and foreign imperialism, including in relation to France's imperialist activities in China that were conducted under the banner of protecting the missions.
Following the martyrdom of St Augustus Chapedelaine (mentioned above) in 1856, France launched a military expedition in response. This expedition concluded in 1860 with the treaty of Tientsin, which gave catholic missionaries the freedom to move throughout China and to purchase land (this right was extended to Protestants as well).
From then on the Church could live openly and carry out its missionary activity, developing it also in the sphere of higher education, in universities and scientific research. With the multiplication of various top-level cultural Institutes and thanks to their highly valued activity, ever deeper links were gradually established between the Church and China with its rich cultural traditions.
Missionaries provoked the Chinese by building churches or schools on top of old temples or near official buildings. They also abolished indigenous Chinese catholic institutions that had survived the imperial ban. Missions also sometimes acted as though they were quarantining Chinese converts from the surrounding society (due to the pressure and hostility of family and friends against conversion), and the way that they were separated helped fuel bad rumours among Chinese about what the Christians were actually doing. Such rumours about a catholic orphanage in Tianjian in 1870 led to the massacre of 60 people. Less secretive Protestant sects were treated more kindly 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 disaster of the uprising by the “Society for Justice and Harmony” (commonly known as the “Boxers”). This occurred at the beginning of the twentieth 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 nineteenth century, because of the political and social changes following the Opium War and the imposition of the so-called “unequal treaties” on the part of the Western Powers.
Very different, however, was the motive for the persecution of the missionaries, even though they were of European nationality. 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.
As a result, the martyrdom took place of several missionaries and many Chinese who can be grouped together as follows:
a) Martyrs of Shanxi, killed on July 9, 1900 (known as the Taiyuan Massacre), who were Franciscan Friars Minor:
29. Saint Gregory Grassi, Bishop,
30. Saint Francis Fogolla, Bishop,
31. Saint Elias Facchini, Priest,
32. Saint Theodoric Balat, Priest,
33. Saint Andrew Bauer, Religious Brother;
b) Martyrs of Southern Hunan, who were also Franciscan Friars Minor:
34. Saint Anthony Fantosati, Bishop (martyred on July 7, 1900),
35. Saint Joseph Mary Gambaro, Priest (martyred on July 7, 1900),
36. Saint Cesidio Giacomantonio, Priest (martyred on July 4, 1900).
To the martyred Franciscans of the First Order were added seven Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, of whom three were French, two Italian, one Belgian, and one Dutch:
37. Saint Mary Hermina of Jesus (in saec: Irma Grivot),
38. Saint Mary of Peace (in saec: Mary Ann Giuliani),
39. Saint Mary Clare (in saec: Clelia Nanetti),
40. Saint Mary of the Holy Birth (in saec: Joan Mary Kerguin),
41. Saint Mary of Saint Justus (in saec: Ann Moreau),
42. Saint Mary Adolfine (in saec: Ann Dierk),
43. Saint Mary Amandina (in saec: Paula Jeuris).
Of the martyrs belonging to the Franciscan family, there were also eleven Secular Franciscans, all Chinese:
44. Saint John Zhang Huan, seminarian,
45. Saint Patrick Dong Bodi, seminarian,
46. Saint John Wang Rui, seminarian,
47. Saint Philip Zhang Zhihe, seminarian,
48. Saint John Zhang Jingguang, seminarian,
49. Saint Thomas Shen Jihe, layman and a manservant,
50. Saint Simon Qin Chunfu, lay catechist,
51. Saint Peter Wu Anbang, layman,
52. Saint Francis Zhang Rong, layman and a farmer,
53. Saint Matthew Feng De, layman and neophyte,
54. Saint Peter Zhang Banniu, layman and labourer.
To these are joined a number of Chinese lay faithful:
55. Saint James Yan Guodong, farmer,
56. Saint James Zhao Quanxin, manservant,
57. Saint 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 the village of Tchou-Kia-ho (or Zhujiahe), in which they were taking refuge and where they were in prayer together with the first two of the missionaries listed below:
58. Saint Leo Mangin, S.J., Priest,
59. Saint Paul Denn, S.J., Priest,
60. Saint Rémy Isoré, S.J., Priest,
61. Saint Modeste Andlauer, S.J., Priest.
The names and ages of the Chinese lay Christians were as follows:
62. Saint Mary Zhu born Wu, aged about 50 years,
63. Saint Petrus Zhu Rixin, aged 19,
64. Saint Ioannes Baptista Zhu Wurui, aged 17,
65. Saint Mary Fu Guilin, aged 37,
66. Saint Barbara Cui born Lian, aged 51,
67. Saint Joseph Ma Taishun, aged 60,
68. Saint Lucia Wang Cheng, aged 18,
69. Saint Maria Fan Kun, aged 16,
70. Saint Mary Qi Yu, aged 15,
71. Saint Maria Zheng Xu, aged 11 years,
72. Saint Mary Du born Zhao, aged 51,
73. Saint Magdalene Du Fengju, aged 19,
74. Saint Mary Du born Tian, aged 42,
75. Saint Paul Wu Anju, aged 62,
76. Saint Ioannes Baptista Wu Mantang, aged 17,
77. Saint Paulus Wu Wanshu, aged 16,
78. Saint Raymond Li Quanzhen, aged 59,
79. Saint Peter Li Quanhui, aged 63,
80. Saint Peter Zhao Mingzhen, aged 61,
81. Saint John Baptist Zhao Mingxi, aged 56,
82. Saint Teresa Chen Jinjie, aged 25,
83. Saint Rose Chen Aijie, aged 22,
84. Saint Peter Wang Zuolong, aged 58,
85. Saint Mary Guo born Li, aged 65,
86. Saint Joan Wu Wenyin, aged 50,
87. Saint Zhang Huailu, aged 57,
88. Saint Mark Ji Tianxiang, aged 66,
89. Saint Ann An born Xin, aged 72,
90. Saint Mary An born Guo, aged 64,
91. Saint Ann An born Jiao, aged 26,
92. Saint Mary An Linghua, aged 29,
93. Saint Paul Liu Jinde, aged 79,
94. Saint Joseph Wang Kuiju, aged 37,
95. Saint John Wang Kuixin, aged 25,
96. Saint Teresa Zhang born He, aged 36,
97. Saint Lang born Yang, aged 29,
98. Saint Paulus Lang Fu, aged 9,
99. Saint Elizabeth Qin born Bian, aged 54,
100. Saint Simon Qin Chunfu, aged 14,
101. Saint Peter Liu Ziyu, aged 57,
102. Saint Anna Wang, aged 14,
103. Saint Joseph Wang Yumei, aged 68,
104. Saint Lucy Wang born Wang, aged 31,
105. Saint Andreas Wang Tianqing, aged 9,
106. Saint Mary Wang born Li, aged 49,
107. Saint Chi Zhuzi, aged 18,
108. Saint Mary Zhao born Guo, aged 60,
109. Saint Rose Zhao, aged 22,
110. Saint Maria Zhao, aged 17,
111. Saint Joseph Yuan Gengyin, aged 47,
112. Saint Paul Ge Tingzhu, aged 61,
113. Saint Rose Fan Hui, aged 45.
Besides all those already mentioned who were killed by the Boxers, it is necessary also to remember:
114. Saint Alberic Crescitelli, a priest of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions of Milan, who carried out his ministry in Southern Shaanxi and was martyred on July 21, 1900.
Some years later, members of the Salesian Society of St John Bosco were added to the considerable number of martyrs recorded above:
115. Saint Louis Versiglia, Bishop,
116. Saint Callistus Caravario, Priest.
They were killed together on February 25, 1930 at Li-Thau-Tseul.
Following the failure of the Boxer rebellion, the government recognized it had no choice but to modernize, 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.