OUR SAD MARCH
A missionary's search after the Boxer Rebellion
During China’s Boxer Rebellion at the turn of the last century, 21 Alliance missionaries and 14 of their children were murdered by rebels who were bent on eradicating foreign, and especially Christian, influence in China. In addition, of a group of Swedish missionaries under the auspices of The Alliance, 41 adults together with 15 of their children perished. In total, 135 Protestant missionaries and 51 of their children were slain, along with large numbers of Catholic priests and national believers from both branches of the faith.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, Annie Gowans, a missionary affiliated with The Alliance, returned to Peking (now Beijing), where she had ministered alongside Swedish colleagues and Chinese church leaders and parishioners. The following report was adapted from the November 17, 1900, issue of The Christian and Missionary Alliance, a forerunner of Alliance Life.
August 20—Wang Sa, an old servant who had run away before any grave danger had publicly shown itself, appeared at the British Legation looking simply wild. For two months he had acted the part of a vagrant! He told us of many massacres amongst our people! One dear old saint, Mrs. Kao, . . . had been seen lying dead with her sewing still in her hand. She truly was ready, I believe, clothed with the righteousness of Christ.
[Of] Chen Hsien Sheng and Lin Hsien Sheng, two of Mr. Erickson’s [a Swedish missionary] most trusted helpers, we were told [one] was lying unburied, [and] the other body had been thrown into the well with the cripple boy, a protégé of Mr. E’s. Wang Hsien Sheng had gone away to his home in the far north before the trouble broke out, so we hope he may have been spared. With Wang Sa, the old servant, and Sang Ya, a Christian mason, I set out for the American Legation to ask Major Conger for two men to go with us to Chi Shou Wei [a district of Peking] to search for any other people who might have escaped the Boxers. Maj. Conger gave me a letter to the commanding officer of the U.S. troops, who was to be found in the Imperial City. He kindly gave us four soldiers, and we set out through the west gate of the Imperial City.
What desolation, what deserted streets met our gaze, where all had been life and business a few months before. Suddenly a gate opened and out rushed a number of women with cries of recognition: “You know us; won’t you protect us?” “We often went to your meetings.” “See, here are your little scholars,” pushing forward a dear little pupil. “Won’t you save us?” The women were almost frantic, and the children looked quite pale and thin. With difficulty we got them quiet enough to listen to our promises to do all we could for them. Their great desire was that we should write on a piece of cloth that they might show to the soldiers or any that might molest, that they were our people and belonged to us. The unusual noise brought out many neighbors, who surrounded us begging also for a letter of protection. Vows and promises of belonging forever to our church were made, if only we would say we knew them now. We tried to point them to the One who was able to save, and they listened as never before. On we went until we came to the next family where we hoped to find a welcome.
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Chow, so true and tried, and their promising children: no trace of them and the house occupied by strangers. The neighbors said, “Moved away long ago,” which interpreted by the Christian Chinese who knew, meant that all had been massacred.
Another old woman who lived next door to them also gone! Then a few streets further on, we came to Mrs. Sung’s, our most promising Bible woman. Her husband and children came out and amidst sobs and tears told us how their mother’s head had been cut off in their own yard. How much we had hoped from our dear Sung Nai Nai, but God carries on the work, though He takes the workers. Her husband whispered to us, as we were leaving, the name of the man who had done the foul deed. On learning that he lived in the vicinity and that there was no doubt as to his identity, we went and took him prisoner.
Near Mrs. Sung lived another of our women, whose life had been spared because she never showed herself out-and-out for the Lord, and she told us reliable news of many of our dear friends. It saved our sad steps that day, and let us hope she was enabled to take a step forward herself. Next on our sad march came the court where the good old cobbler (won to belief in the truth through the “chaste conversation” of his wife) lived. The gate was bolted, and the soldiers had almost to kick it in. There, too, strangers occupied the room always kept so neat and clean, and they all assured us that they had never heard of such people. People on the street as we came out told us that both had been killed.
Our next visit was to the old Mohammedan woman who had asked us if a woman who had been a Mohammedan could be allowed to be a Christian, but even her home was pulled down. Then to the Li family, who for many months had been halting between two opinions. The Boxers had spared them, but death had entered, and sorrow and anxiety possessed the family because of the troublous times. They told us of the brutal death of our precious Mrs. Wang, and on going to her home, we could find no trace of her husband or children. Many children who were known to have been in a foreigner’s school were killed. In the next house we found that the woman who had been a constant adherent for three or four years had, with her son, a schoolboy, been carried off by the Boxers.
We were now coming near to “Ya’rh’s” home. . . . She came to us six years ago as a schoolgirl and had learned her lesson well. Her environments outside of her school life had been of the worst, her father being keeper of the jail and her mother an opium sot. [Ya’rh] was led away by the ways of the world, but since her marriage to a very respectable man had sought us out again. . . . We went in and were received with tears of joy. “Oh,” she said, “I’ve almost been killed again and again. God alone has protected me.”
After a very satisfactory talk, we went out of doors again to where the soldiers were waiting. With an anxious face Ya’rh turned and said, “What are you going to do with that man?”
“He killed Mrs. Sung,” we answered. “All the neighbors saw him do it, and we have told the soldiers to take him prisoner to prevent his doing more harm.”
“Oh,” she pleaded, “let him go, let him go. He is only a young man and did not know what he was doing.”
Her distress was so evident, we said, “Ya’rh, do you know him?”
“Know him?” she said. “He is my brother, my mother’s son.”
We certainly were in a quandary. What should we do? We dared not release him as he would at once have put to death the Sung family, who had informed on him, so we told poor Ya’rh he was now in the soldiers’ hands and must be left there.
Two more calls were made, one on our old teacher’s family. Mr. Chin, our teacher and [an] earnest Christian, had been forced to strangle himself by the Boxers. His family, too, were able to tell us exactly what man put him to death, so we decided to . . . take him if possible. He was a well-educated man, . . . a writer in the Russian bank, but unfortunately, he was not at home to receive us. Our last call was on our oldest church member, Mrs. Li and her daughter Chou Tzu (another of our cherished hopes), but not a trace of the entire family was to be found.
The day was far spent, and we retraced our weary steps, looking in our homeward way on the ruins of Chi Shou Wei. Only broken bricks marked the spot where we had spent so many happy years. That, however, seemed a trifle compared with all we had heard and seen that day. . . . The language of our heart now is:
“For all Thy saints who from their labors rest, Who Thee before the world by faith confessed, Thy name, oh, Jesus, Be forever blest!”