Wang Chengpei (Wang Ch’eng-p’ei) is remembered as “the wheelbarrow man and martyr”. His family came from a village near the famous Confucian city of Tai’an in Shandong, and first encountered the gospel when his father travelled to Beijing to sit an examination for a master’s degree. It took him two months to walk the 400 miles (645 kilometers) to the capital, and the long journey home again suddenly seemed even more arduous when he heard he had failed the exam. He decided to remain in Beijing for a time and take in the sights.
One day, he saw a large crowd of people gathered outside a strange-looking building. He pushed his way to the entrance and found that this building too was filled with people, all listening intently to a foreigner. Wang’s father could not understand the man’s message, but afterwards the missionary engaged him in conversation and, surprisingly, offered him a job as a “chapel keeper” for a few months. He eagerly accepted, as he had little money.
After a few months it became evident that he had placed his trust in Christ, and he told his new Christian friends he wanted to go back to Shandong so he could witness about this new life to family and friends. As soon as he reached home - on a Sunday - he urged his wife and children to believe in Jesus; and with a simple prayer they did so, and joy and peace came into their household.
Although he had never once heard of Christ before, Wang Chengpei began to preach the gospel
through the whole neighborhood. … He went from village to village carrying with him copies of the books that had been given him to read and from which he gained much of his instruction. He was especially attached to the Gospels and Epistles, and made them his constant companions. Being a teacher, and widely known in that part of the province, he had no difficulty in obtaining access to the homes.
After just a few weeks his father ran out of books, and he instructed Wang to go to Beijing to buy more. He advised him to take a wheelbarrow with him so that he could bring back as many volumes as possible, and also gave him a letter for the missionaries, which listed 18 people who believed in Christ and wished to be baptized. After resting in Beijing for a few weeks, Wang began the long journey home with a heavy load. Many times his barrow tipped over on the rough paths, but he was invigorated by the knowledge that the books would bring more people in his community to Christ, and he was encouraged by the missionaries’ promise that they would soon come to Shandong to hold a baptismal service.
Some time later, the elder Wang died and went to be with his Heavenly Father. The job of leading the church and preaching the gospel fell on the shoulders of Wang Chengpei, while his faithful mother diligently shared the good news with the other women of the village. When the missionaries invited her to travel to Beijing for more instruction in the Bible, she was very enthusiastic and once again Wang’s wheelbarrow skills were called upon to transport the elderly woman to the capital. After a short distance, the barrow hit a pothole and she was thrown out and seriously injured, so Wang bought a donkey to carry her instead. After almost a year in the capital, they returned to their village and Wang, having sold the donkey, wheeled his mother the entire 400 miles.
He was again visiting Beijing when the Boxers launched their attack. Wang joined hundreds of other Christians inside the Methodist Mission compound, and there they prayerfully endured weeks of intense pressure as the bloodthirsty insurgents tried everything they could to get in to massacre them. One account paints a grim picture of their situation:
The Boxers on the outside were pitching bricks over the wall, while the Christians within hurled missiles back in hope of breaking the heads as well as the ranks of the enemy. The Chinese soldiers [who sided with the Boxers] had climbed to the roof of a house where they could see into the court and pick off with their rifles any who showed themselves, so that … the Christians under Wang Chengpei were compelled to creep about close enough to the wall to avoid the bullets of the soldiers on the roof, and far enough away to avoid the bricks of the Boxers.
One young pastor named Liu Jixian (Liu Chi-hsien) raised his head too high above the wall and was killed instantly by a bullet which pierced his brain. Wang Chengpei, who was regarded as a leader by the other believers inside the compound, decided they must fight their way out or face certain slaughter. He led the men to victory, but a bullet pierced his hand and passed through his body. A few hours later, attended by loving hands, with faith in God and a smile on his face, he passed away, and was laid in a martyr’s grave.
China’s Book of Martyrs. Carlisle: Piquant Editions, 2007. Used by permission.