Gao Xin (Kao Hsin) was an evangelist in charge of the mission station at Fuho, just four miles (6.5 kilometres) north of Tongzhou in the present-day Beijing Municipality. On 5 June 1900, the Boxers set up a sacrificial altar in honour of the demonic spirits they worshipped.
Gao’s household consisted of his elderly mother, his wife, Shu Shan, an eight-year-old son, a three-year-old daughter who was deaf and dumb and a baby boy aged 15 months. On 7 June, news arrived that the Christians in Tongzhou had been butchered, and Gao decided to flee into the mountains north of their home. It was impossible to take the three children, so his mother suggested that he go, with a Christian boy named Li Rui whose whole family had already perished, while Shu Shan and the children went to stay with non-Christian relatives in the hope that this might keep them safe from the Boxers. Gao’s mother was asked what her plans were. “I shall stay here,” she replied. “Can we not bear a little suffering for Jesus? If it is his will, we shall meet again; if not, let us trust him, even unto death.”
The next morning, Gao and Li left Fuho. For weeks they survived in harsh conditions, walking long distances in order to stay ahead of the Boxer chaos. One night, Gao had a horrible dream in which he saw someone wounded and covered with blood. He knew that something terrible was happening down on the plains, but he had no alternative but to press on. He later learned that his entire family had been slaughtered by the Boxers, among a total of 42 Christians slain in Fuho.
Shu Shan and her three children had gone to her grandmother’s house. Just a few days later, a crowd of Boxers surrounded the building, shouting, “Kill! Burn!” The grandmother was no longer willing to shelter her Christian relatives and told them to leave. In despair, Shu Shan “made her way across the fields, carrying the heavy fifteen-month-old baby, sometimes carrying, sometimes leading the three-year-old girl, while the eight-year-old boy walked by her side. Without food, without money, without a roof in the whole world to shelter them, her woman’s instinct turned her to the spot which she had once called home.”
Tenderly, Shu Shan tried to save the life of her elder son by sending him to stay with some other relatives, but he calmly said: “No, Mother, if we are to die, let us all be together. I am not afraid.” When they were close to their home in Fuho, the family stopped for a brief rest. The faithful and loving Christian mother
was faint with heat and thirst, and her eyes were so swollen with days of weeping that she could hardly find her way. She sank down exhausted under a tree. A peddler whom she knew passed by on his way to town. “Please ask my aunt to come and bring me some water,” she gasped. “Don’t ask for water,” the man replied, “jump into the river yonder. Your mother-in-law is dead. The Boxers cut her to pieces yesterday. They’ll kill you if you go into the village.” “I shall go home,” she said; “If they kill me, let it be at our own home.”
The Boxers watched from the village as the brave Shu Shan gathered her three children and trudged, one painful step at a time, towards her home. Inside the gate they found the mangled corpse of Gao’s mother. A mob of Boxers, along with dozens of villagers, stared at the pitiful family. Shu Shan turned to them and asked: “If you kill me, kill all my children. Don’t keep them alive to suffer after I am gone.” However, the Boxers announced that the three-year-old girl had not been destined to die by the spirits, and they told the crowd that if anyone wanted her they should come and take her. A young man named Ho did so. Another man knelt and begged that the life of the baby also be spared, but the Boxers refused.
Shu Shan was dragged out of the house into the yard. She stood,
her baby in her arms, and saw her dear boy slowly stabbed to death. A cruel spear thrust slowly through his back, then as he ran screaming round and round the tree, one after another cut at him with swords and spears. A wild thought came into the mind of the frenzied mother as she clasped her doomed baby close to her heart; perhaps she could save him from that slow torment. With the strength of a maniac, she dashed [him] against the tree, killing him instantly. The Boxers took their revenge by slowly doing the mother to death.
A shallow grave was dug in the backyard and the corpses were flung into it. Poignantly, some burnt pages from a hymn book blew into the grave before it was covered up.
It was some months before it was safe for Gao to go back to Fuho. His flight from the Boxers had taken him far, even outside the Great Wall and into the Mongolian deserts. After his return, Gao lamented: “I cannot tell you how I felt when I stood by the charred ruins of my once happy home, looking at the rude heap of earth, under which lay the bodies of my mother, wife, and two sons.”
China’s Book of Martyrs. Carlisle: Piquant Editions, 2007. Used by permission.