The London Missionary Society was the first Protestant organization to work in China, when Robert Morrison arrived in 1807. By the late 1850s, the work was slowly advancing in Guangdong.
In the town of Boluo (formerly known as Poklo, approximately 40 miles, or 65 kilometers, east of Guangzhou), the 1862 report of the Society mentioned a Chinese martyr named Che Jinguang (Chea Kam-kwong in Cantonese). He had worked as a keeper at the Confucian temple in Boluo until well into his fifties, but in 1856 he became the town’s first Christian. Che encountered the gospel when he received literature from two evangelists working with the British and Foreign Bible Society, and travelled to Hong Kong to gain further instruction. Pastor He Jinshan and the Scottish missionary James Legge suspected that Che wanted to join the church only to secure a paid job with them and were reluctant to baptize him, even though he showed them that he had defaced his ancestral tablet with a chisel to prove his commitment to Christ. He persisted, “and one night he waited outside for Legge after a prayer meeting. It was raining, and as Che let the rainwater fall on his head, he told Legge that God would baptize him even if Legge would not. Legge then baptized Che, and Che returned to Boluo and began a self-supported ministry as an itinerant evangelist.”1
Che was the first Christian in Boluo, but he was not to remain alone for long. In 1858, he returned to Hong Kong with two other new believers, and in 1859 with two more. In 1860, he showed up in Hong Kong with nine more converts and told the missionaries that there were dozens more in the town. The foreign missionaries were astounded by the success he was having, for China at the time was considered a difficult place to present the gospel and converts were generally few and far between. John Chalmers decided that he should visit Boluo himself to see what God had been doing there. With a Chinese colleague he arrived in the spring of 1860, and
They were greatly cheered both by the steadfastness of the converts already received, and by the urgent application of many of the people for Christian baptism; of these, forty-four were deemed suitable subjects for that ordinance. In January 1861, sixteen more persons from Boluo were received into the Church … making a total, up to that time, of eighty-five individuals who had publicly come over to the Christian camp.2
In May, another 40 people were received for baptism. Plans were drawn up to build a church. The missionaries marveled at how “the seed of truth sown in the heart of an aged and obscure man had been watered by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and through successive years it had brought forth thirty, sixty, and a hundred-fold.”3 However, Satan and his forces then set about destroying the new movement. Almost all the converts were simple farmers from the village communities surrounding Boluo, and now the “high-class” men from the town decided to intervene before the church grew any larger.
When James Legge visited Boluo in October 1861 and spoke with the governor of Guangdong, who met him there, he received assurances that no more harm would come to the believers. However, a mere two weeks after he had returned to Hong Kong, the authorities not only allowed a vicious persecution of the Christians in Boluo, they were directly responsible for instigating a riot that resulted in the martyrdom of Che Jinguang. Legge later wrote:
When I left, Che … was full of joy, as I was, and unsuspicious of danger. On the evening of the 13th of October, he was forcibly carried off by a body of ruffians. … They took him to a village not far off, and hung him up all night by the arms and feet to a beam. During the two following days he suffered much torture and insult, and on the 16th he was taken to the river side, and, on refusing to renounce Christianity, was put to death, and his body thrown in the stream.4
The elderly Christian Che Jinguang had been promoted to the glorious presence of the Heavenly Father, and entered the history books as the first recorded Chinese Protestant martyr.
China’s Book of Martyrs. Carlisle: Piquant Editions, 2007. Used by permission.
- Taken from a profile of Che Jinguang on the website http://www.prayforchina.com. For more information on this first Chinese Protestant martyr, see Lauren Pfister, The Proto-Martyr of the Chinese Protestants: Reconstructing the Story of Chea Kam-Kwong, unpublished manuscript, May 2003; and Ma Jingquan, Chea Kam Kwong: China’s First Martyr, Hui Xun nos.242-43 (Hong Kong Council of the Church of Christ in China, July 1997).
- LMS Annual Report (1862), pp 26-28, cited in Arnold Foster, Christian Progress in China: Gleanings from the Writings and Speeches of Many Workers (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1889), p89
- Foster, Christian Progress in China, p. 904
- LMS Annual Report (1862), pp. 26-28, cited in Foster, Christian Progress in China, p. 90