In the mid-1850s, Pechuia, located near Amoy (present day Xiamen), was a successful part of the English Presbyterian missionary work in Fujian Province. Un Hese was the first female baptized in Pechuia, as the English Presbyterian missionaries took main responsibility for the area after Americans briefly ran missionary work there. Missionaries recorded Un Hese’s baptism in March 1855, and the ceremony most likely took place in 1854, when missionaries noted she was one of Pechuia’s earliest believers.
The missionaries found her fascinating not only because she was the first woman baptized in Pechuia, but because she was able to meet the strict standards for admission into the Church without a formal education. English Presbyterians, as well as American missionaries, had stringent processes to complete in order to satisfy their requirements for baptism. One reason for this, for example, was to ensure that new Chinese Christians were resolute in their desire to leave behind the Chinese traditional worship of idols. Un Hese met the English Presbyterian standards, and her zeal attracted the attention of the missionaries. To them, Un Hese was an important member of the broader group of steadfast and faithful converts at Pechuia.
In March 1855, after the baptism of Un Hese, one of the missionaries, James Johnston, wrote about the remarkable path of Un Hese as she prepared for her conversion. He noted that it was difficult for her because she lacked the direct instruction of the missionaries. Instead, her sons relayed scripture and sermon content to her when they returned home from lessons and meetings. According to Johnston, she was unable to attend for herself because she was a woman, and it was against Chinese custom for her to attend. During her examination, the range and accuracy of her knowledge surprised the missionaries.
Unfortunately, as a result of her successful examination, her baptism created a local backlash. Johnston wrote that females were not able to “come publicly out to the worship of God.” This mild form of persecution lasted until May, 1856, and Johnston claimed that this period of resistance had not done any real damage to their mission. He claimed instead that it had confirmed the genuine nature of the faith of the converts and church members during that period. Un Hese showed great courage when she came forward to face her conversion examination alone, without any women before her to look to for guidance and without any women with her to lean upon for support.
- Cheung, David. Christianity in Modern China: The Making of the First Native Protestant Church. Studies in Christian Mission. 28 ( Leiden: Brill, 2004), 222-224.