Little Cao Zuolin (Ts’ao Tso-Lin) was raised in Tongzhou, near Beijing. His father was a teacher at the North China College, and Cao was a typical energetic young boy, always seeming to find something mischievous to do. His two older sisters were studying at a Presbyterian school in the capital, but the school term in 1900 had ended early because of the Boxer troubles and they had come home for the summer.
On 7 June, word came that Christians were being slaughtered in the area. Cao’s parents decided that the whole family should flee immediately to Fuho, where they had many relatives. Little did they know that this small town too was in chaos and would yield a total of 43 martyrs before the month was over. The crazed Boxers vowed not only to kill the believers there but to leave not even a dog or a chicken belonging to a Christian alive. The An family, who lived next door to the house where Cao and his family were hiding, were all put to death on 17 June. The Caos would surely be next. There was no escaping, as the Boxers blocked all the roads out of Fuho. Cao experienced things that summer than no 11-year-old boy should ever have to. He later recounted:
Someone came and told us that my father had just been killed. He was seen by Boxers when he was trying to creep unobserved into his brother’s house for a drink of water. Pursued by them, he waded across the river, but they were soon upon him, and with rough hands, they dragged him back to the spot, not far from our lodge, where the bodies of two others martyrs lay. ‘Pray to your God to save you!’ they cried, as they set upon him from all sides with swords and spears.
Just before sunset, the Boxers found Cao’s uncle hiding in some bushes and dragged him, along with an old Christian man named Zhou, to the place where Cao’s father had been slain. “You can kill my body, but you cannot hurt my soul,” he said with a brave smile; and as the death blows fell on him he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
That night, the terrified Cao huddled with his mother and sisters in a garden shed. His mother suffered beyond words, but mumbled something about not letting the Boxers have their way with her. That night, in sheer exhaustion, Cao managed to sleep for a few hours, and when he awoke he found his mother and sisters next to him lying dead. They had chosen to take poison rather than face being raped and murdered.
Cao’s non-Christian uncle pleaded with the Boxers to spare the boy’s life. The rest of the family was dead, he argued, and there was no point shedding the blood of a lad who was in no position to take revenge. For once common sense prevailed and the boy was left alone.
God did not abandon Cao Zuolin. He later recalled:
It seemed to me I would be so much happier if I could join my loved ones in heaven. The next night after they died I had such a beautiful dream about them. I saw my father, mother, and two sisters in white robes, with a flood of glory about them and a great throng of angels close by. Two or three times this vision came to me, and comforted me.
Some time later, Christians in Beijing heard that a few children in Fuho were still alive and they came and took Cao to the capital, and there he was taken care of.
China’s Book of Martyrs. Carlisle: Piquant Editions, 2007. Used by permission.