Chen Dayong (Ch’en Ta-Yung) was born a short distance from the south-east gate of Beijing. As a child, he was described as “a plump, short, round-faced, good-natured, honest boy who enjoyed a good conscience and two meals a day. He was fond of a joke but also fond of his books. One day, a missionary passed through his village. Chen came running out of his house to see the “big nose,” and was intrigued by the books he was selling, with titles such as Entrance to Virtue and Knowledge, Glad Tidings, and Evidences of Christianity. He bought one, and within just a few days its contents had made such an impact on him that he attended the Sunday service of the London Missionary Society. He told the church leaders he was hungry to learn more about Christianity, and he went home that day armed with more material for his soul to devour.
At the time, Chen was engaged to a girl who had been chosen by his parents. Neither they nor his future in-laws were impressed with his new interest in Christianity, but he was undeterred by their opposition. Some months later, he believed and was baptized. His angry mother brought forward the date of his wedding in the hope that it would distract him from this new “doctrine of devils”, but when he announced he would marry only if the ceremony was a Christian one, she was furious and his father disowned him.
Now happily married but penniless, Chen and his new bride needed an income. The Methodist Mission in Beijing offered him work as a gatekeeper which he eagerly accepted. Not only did it afford him the opportunity to share his faith with people on the street, he was also able to continue his study of the Bible. His wife soon made a profession of faith and, though she never learned to read, she matured into a strong Christian. Years later, Chen’s elderly father took his place as gatekeeper of the mission. The man who had disowned his son came back a broken man, begging him for help. Chen was only too glad to give it.
He and his wife had four sons and six daughters, all of whom grew up committed Christians. When the Boxer violence broke out in 1900, Chen was preaching in a small town beyond the Great Wall. The local Christians urged him to flee into the mountains, where they would help conceal him from the murderers, but he replied: “No, I will not leave until all the members of my flock are first hid away.”
On 5 June, Chen, his wife and their youngest son and daughter travelled to the town of Yanqing, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north-west of Beijing, The Christians had told him all the places they could hide in the mountains and, assisted by the chapel gatekeeper, they were on their way when a man saw them and immediately rushed into the town to tell the Boxers that a group of Christians was escaping. The Boxers quickly rode out and overtook the fleeing family. First, they stripped them of all their possessions. Then Chen’s daughter, who was nicknamed “Apple”,
ran screaming to her mother’s arms, from which retreat she saw the savage Boxers and irresponsible rabble kill and behead her father, the chapel keeper and her brother [Chen Weifan], a boy as generous and noble as his three older brothers, while she in childish fear cried out, “Oh, mother, what shall we do? What shall we do?” “We will all go to our Heavenly Father together,” said the old woman, her faith never wavering to the last, and she and her baby daughter of thirteen were hacked to pieces locked in each other’s arms.
Some months later, the Chens’ third son travelled to Yanqing and recovered their remains to give them a proper burial. It might have seemed natural for this man to long to avenge the ruthless murder of his parents and siblings, but in fact he had already forgiven those who had committed the dastardly acts. The local authorities asked him whether they should track down the murderers and inflict on them the same punishment, but he told them it was not necessary. They asked whether he wanted to apply for compensation for the property his family had lost, and again he said, “No.” The only request he made was: “I should like to go and preach the gospel to the people who murdered my parents.”
China’s Book of Martyrs. Carlisle: Piquant Editions, 2007. Used by permission.