1920  — 1997

Wu Mujia

Itinerant evangelist; Presbyterian pastor; suffered 23 years in prison for not joining the Three-Self Patriotic Movement; taught biblical languages at Yanjing Seminary.

Early years

Wu Mujia was born in 1910 in Tangshan, northeast Hebei. His father was very poor, and had to borrow money to pay for the education of his children. Wu did well in school, but was constantly aware of the burden to pay off education debts. After finishing middle school, he was admitted to a college of agriculture and industry. He was unsure at that time what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. A friend invited him to a meeting, which turned out to be a Christian gathering. He had no interest in religion and was upset at having been deceived, so he broke off the friendship with the boy who had invited him.

Upon graduation from college, he became a teacher in Manchuria. The Japanese invasion of Manchuria changed everything for Wu. He lost his job and returned to the family home in Tangshan.  He found his family still in poverty and his father working hard to support them. After staying at home for a while, he travelled around, living with various friends and looking for a secure job. He spent a few months in the army, and then taught in a middle school for a while.

Unable to find fulfilling and long-term work, Wu became very unhappy, even depressed. He was grieved to see his family struggling to make ends meet, and his countrymen suffering at the hands of the invading Japanese. Basic questions swirled in his mind. Where did the world come from? Where was the universe going? What was the meaning of life? He became friends with some dissolute people, and fell into bad habits, doing things he knew were wrong.  He said later, “I knew that inside of me I was utterly corrupt. I had a sense of guilt about the things I was doing. Life around me was unsettled…I could not see the light, and my parents and close friends were unable to help me.”

Conversion to Christ and first years of ministry

Looking for work, Wu moved to Henan province. While waiting for a train, he was approached by a stranger who invited him to attend a Christian meeting, since the train would not be coming for a long time. This time, Wu agreed to go. He enjoyed the service, after which he was invited to the home of a church worker. When she asked him to join her in a time of prayer, he consented, and was soon saying, “O God, I know that I am a sinner. Please forgive me for what I have done in the past. Please receive me as your child.”

When he arose, he had a sense of peace and the absence of worry. He started reading the Bible, which he enjoyed more and more. Having obtained permission to live permanently in Henan, Wu, who still had no job, began traveling from place to place, preaching the gospel to small crowds. His messages focused on “The great love of Jesus.” He taught the peasants to sing simple hymns and memorize passages from the Bible. 

Without really planning to, he told one audience that he intended to spend the rest of his life as a preacher. Not long after that, while he was staying with a poor farmer, three letters came asking him to take a post as a teacher in a middle school.  He knelt down to pray for guidance, and felt the presence of “God’s power to cleanse people of their sins and to give them peace of heart.” As verses of the Bible flooded into his mind, he became convinced that God wanted him to continue preaching the same message he had been sharing in an unsophisticated way with those farmers. He declined the offer of a teaching job and continued as an itinerant preacher.

In 1936, sensing the need for more biblical and theological training, Wu was accepted as a student at the Tengxian Theological Seminary in south Shandong, founded by Dr. Watson Hayes, a conservative evangelical Presbyterian missionary. He studied there for four years, during which he concentrated both upon the normal theological and biblical studies and also upon English, Hebrew, and Greek. In his last two years he spoke at services in villages in the surrounding area, walking long distances to do so, earning high marks in all subjects.

Serving as a pastor and Bible teacher

Upon graduation, he was made pastor of a Presbyterian church in Beijing. At this time, there was a great emphasis upon the “Three Self” principles of self-support, self-governing, and self-propagation, in order to make the churches less dependent upon foreign missionaries. Wu fully accepted this program and worked hard to build his church through expository preaching and pastoral work.

Japanese forces had already invaded China and mastered much of north China, but after Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, British and American missionaries became members of Japan’s enemies, and were interned with other foreigners in a camp in Weixian, Shandong. Wu could see that hard times were coming. At that time, words from a hymn became very important to him: 

When I fear my faith will fail
Christ can hold me fast.
When the temper would prevail,
He can hold me fast.
He will hold me fast,
For my Saviour loves me so,
He will hold me fast.

Worn out from busyness, Wu joined an informal group that met in Xiangshan, not far from the Summer Palace. He examined his life and found that he lacked spiritual zeal and a warm heart. During this period he read through the entire Old Testament in Hebrew. On Sundays he went out to preach in churches, and found that he had a new power in the pulpit. He and his wife had been following Hudson Taylor’s practice of relying solely on prayer for the provision of finances, not asking anyone for donations. 

After the Anti-Japanese War, students whose universities had been moved into remote areas of China returned to Beijing. Wu began to divide his time between serving his church and working among students with the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF). A great movement of spiritual interest and revival was taking place among students in China at the time. Wu joined with CIM missionary Leslie Lyall in leading Bible studies and prayer meetings in Lyall’s home in Beijing for the next two years. More than two hundred could fit into the hall on the property; a service was held at 8:00 A.M every Sunday for the students, to whom Wu expounded the Scriptures.

Wu and his family lived with the Lyalls for three months during 1948, discussing with them the challenges that would come when the Communists finally gained control of China. He said to his co-workers and to the students, “There is clearly trouble ahead of us and we are going to suffer as Christians, but the church in China will survive these trials.” Wu joined with Wang Mingdao and Calvin Chao in helping the students prepare for persecution, since it was obvious they most of them did not want to cooperate with a Communist government. Wu attended services in Wang Mingdao’s chapel, and held long talks with him about how they should respond to the demands for total loyalty which the new rulers of China were beginning to make.

In 1950 the Christian Manifesto, signed by thousands of Christians and their leaders, made it clear that even a modicum of religious liberty would come at a high price. Accusation meetings were beginning, in which church members and other pastors would join in accusing Christian leaders who did not join the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) of being unpatriotic and dangerous to the government. When Wang Mingdao was so treated, many Christian students publicly expressed support for him and opposed the campaign against him. Then Wu was brought before a tribunal and accused of fomenting the student movement. He was classified as a counter-revolutionary. His main accuser turned out to be the leader of the smaller, and theologically liberal, Student Christian Movement (SCM) group in Beijing, with the motive clearly being envy. (Thirty years later, in an act intended to show his remorse, he brought back from overseas a study Bible and gave it to Wu.)

Wu was arrested on August 28, 1955, and placed in a cell next to that of Wang Mingdao, who had been incarcerated about three weeks earlier. Both were given life sentences. Wu was sent to a prison in Shanxi Province, and then later to Manchuria. Sadly he said farewell to his wife Xongwu, who had hardly any money at all, though Wu’s sister could help support her and his aged parents.


For the next twenty-three years, Wu engaged in lard labor in the fields, growing vegetables. He was not allowed to read the Bible or to pray openly, but was permitted to read books about Marxism and Leninism, Chinese history, and Chinese literature. He memorized passages from the Tang and Song dynasties, particularly those by Li Bai, Du Fu and Xing Jiaxin. He later said:

During this period I was spiritually weak and made many mistakes. I keenly missed having no family, no Bible and no Christian fellowship. Doubts came to me from time to time, and I seriously considered giving up my faith.
One summer’s evening I was working alone in a vegetable garden…alone with my thoughts. I could not deny the experiences that I had had of forgiveness by my Saviour and his power in my life. I could see clearly that God had often heard my prayers, and that the Holy Spirit had guided me.

He decided then that he would not abandon his faith, since God had done so much for him.

Meanwhile, God was taking care of his wife, as people would come by and leave parcels of food and clothing. Her health finally deteriorated, and she asked permission to see her husband one last time, but was denied her request. She was speaking words of love to her husband as she died.

Years later, when asked what he had learned during his time in prison, he said:

I discovered my own weakness and my need of the Lord. I learned that God is wonderfully gracious. I came to know his love, and now see that he was preparing me to take hold of the present opportunities to serve him. Why, during the Cultural Revolution, when the Church was being severely persecuted and some Christians died, I was kept safe in prison! God kept me safe so that I can share him today.

Release and later ministry

After Deng Xiaoping assumed power, many political prisoners were set free as part of the reforms in 1978-1979. Since Wu was over sixty and had served more than twenty years in jail, he was allowed to return home. His beloved wife was gone; his children had moved away; his books had been confiscated. The government had allowed him a small apartment in northwest Beijing, but he had no idea of how, at the age of seventy, he could now serve the Lord. He spent many hours in prayer, seeking God’s guidance.

Then Pastor Ying Jizeng, Principal of the Yanjing Seminary, invited him to teach Hebrew and Greek there. Though some members of the faculty of the seminary had stood on the other side during accusation meetings, the Lord told Wu to let the past go and move forward into this new arena of ministry. He taught Hebrew and Greek at the seminary for the next fifteen years. He also penned a number of popular commentaries on different books of the New Testament.

Other opportunities came to Wu as a consequence of his choice to work within the TSPM. For example, he preached in the large TSPM Chong Wen Men church in central Beijing. Many others who had been imprisoned when he was chose to minister in unregistered congregations.

Wu Mujia died on March 26, 1997, at the age of eighty-seven.


  • Adapted from Norman H. Cliff, Fierce the Conflict, Dundas, Ontario: Joshua Press Inc., 2001, 111-127.

About the Author

G. Wright Doyle

Director, Global China Center; English Editor, Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA.