As the first Taiwanese convert of the English Presbyterian mission in Tainan, Kau had a life experience typical of most native converts. He heard the Gospel inadvertently as he passed an evangelistic meeting on his way to seek guidance from the deities in a local temple because of his failed business. The preacher was probably Wu Wun-Swe, an associate preacher from Amoy who accompanied James Laidlaw Maxwell, the first English missionary to Taiwan. Kau was baptized on 12 Aug 1866 together with three native Taiwanese: Tan Che, Tan Ui, and Tan Chheng-Ho. They were baptized by William Sutherland Swanson, an English Presbyterian minister stationed in Amoy who came to Tainan primarily for this purpose.
After his conversion, Kau first served as cook and helper to Maxwell. Then, with his strong faith and enthusiasm for evangelism, he became the first native preacher. In the course of 38 years, he served various churches in virtually every part of the English Mission, spanning across the central, southern, and eastern parts of Taiwan, even including the Pescadores.
Kau’s most horrible experience was the persecution of the Pi Tau church on 11 Apr 1868 when he was severely beaten by a frenzied mob and imprisoned by the local authorities for 50 days, partly for his own safety. The persecution, though originally an anti-Catholic campaign, manifested the typical suspicion of the common Taiwanese people that Christianity was a malicious foreign force which, along with other colonial powers, was trying to impose poisonous control over the minds of the locals. An interesting aspect of this incident was that Kau was imprisoned partially because he confessed that he “was a sinner.”
Two months after this incident. Maxwell, together with Hugh Ritchie, the first English Presbyterian minister to Taiwan, wrote a full report, “Violent Persecution in Formosa” to Rutherford Alcock, then English ambassador to China. They asked for his intervention. The outcome was a reparation of 762 silver dollars to Pi Tau church for her loss.
Kau retired in 1904. He resided with his eldest son, Kau Chin-Sheng, in Tainan until his death in 1912. The younger Kau was a teacher at Tainan Theological College, the first Presbyterian seminary in Taiwan. After 1907, he was pastor of Thai Peng Keng Church in Tainan, the first Presbyterian Church in Taiwan. Kau Chang raised a distinguished family which, through six generations, has produced many influential leaders in the Taiwanese church and society, including C. M. Kau, the former general secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from A Dictionary of Asian Christianity, copyright © 2001 by Scott W. Sunquist, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.
- Lai, John Yung-hsiang, Topics on Taiwan Church History, Series II (1990). Ng, Bo-kheng, 90 Years’ History (1865-1955) of the Tai-Peng-Keng Maxwell Memorial Church, the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (1988).