Little is known of Wang’s childhood and youth. He grew up in Wuding County in the mountains of Yunnan Province, where he attended Christian schools, and as a young man he taught in a similar school for over a decade. Later he became an evangelist and was eventually elected chairman of the Sapushan Church Council in Wuding in 1944, becoming general superintendent of all ethnic minority churches in Wuding and Lequan Counties in 1949. He was ordained a pastor in 1951 or 1952.
Among the Miao, an ethnic group known as the Hmong in other parts of Southeast Asia, Christianity was very strong. Their shared faith, the result of Western missionary activity in the early 20th century, helped shape an ethnic identity among what was an impoverished and weak community.
After 1949, Wang responded positively to overtures of cooperation with the new government of the People’s Republic of China. He supported the Chinese Christian Patriotic Three-Self Movement and was even named a model worker. But with the outbreak of the “Anti-Rightist Movement” in 1958, Wang refused to denounce landlords and former missionaries and counseled forbearance to Miao Christians. As a result, he increasingly ran into political difficulties.
During the Cultural Revolution, Wuding County became a focal point of attacks on religion. Wang was declared a counterrevolutionary and made an object of criticism by the Red Guards. Twenty-one Christian leaders, among them Wang Zhiming, were imprisoned in Wuding between 1969 and 1973. He was sentenced to death in 1973 and executed at a mass rally in December of that year. Christian protests immediately afterwards threw the rally into confusion, demonstrating that the attempt to eradicate religion in Wuding was a failure.
As part of the government’s efforts to correct the wrongs of the Cultural Revolution, Wang was posthumously rehabilitated and his family given compensation. In 1981, a memorial was erected near his home, the only monument thus far in China known to commemorate a Christian executed for his faith during that turbulent era.
In 1998, a statue of Wang was dedicated at Westminster Abbey, London, one of 10 statues representing the continuing importance of Christian martyrdom for the church in the 20th century.
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.
- Wickeri, Philip L., “The Abolition of Religion in Yunnan: Wang Zhiming,” in The Terrible Alternative: Christian Martyrdom in the Twentieth Century, ed. Andrew Chandler (1998).