Wu Weizun’s maternal grandfather Yuan Chang, at the end of the Manchu Dynasty, in Wuhu, Anhui, was a magistrate; because of his work in flood control, he was greatly loved by the local citizens. He was later transferred to Beijing, where he served as fantai, a second-rank official. During the Manchu Dynasty, he represented the Qing government in making a treaty with Czarist Russia. In 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion, he was killed by the Boxers. His 12-year old daughter, Yuan Jilan (Wu Weizun’s mother) fled with her mother to Songjiang, in Jiangsu province for refuge. After order was restored, the Qing Court buried Yuang Chang?? and two other loyal officials on the banks of West Lake in Hangzhou, honoring them as “Shrine of the Three Loyal [Officials].”
At Songjiang, Yuan Jilan had the opportunity to study at a church school operated by American Methodist missionaries, Wesley Memorial School, where she learned the Bible and trusted in Christ as her Savior. After graduation from middle school, at the age of nineteen she married into the Wu family, which was very prominent, in Dongyang, Zhejiang. Her father-in-law, Wu Pinyan was a high level official in Qing Court, and formed a very close personal friendship with Yuan Chang, (when he was alive). Three years after the wedding, the entire family moved to Hangzhou. Wu Weizun’s parents had eight children in all, five boys and three girls. Sadly, the eldest and the second sons both died early; Wu Weizun was the sixth child.
Wu Weizun’s father worked first in the provincial government as a junior government employee, then entered a factory to work there. His mother first taught school then, seeing that preachers of the Gospel were few, resigned her teaching position and, taking a nursing infant with her, enrolled in the Jinling women’s seminary at Nanjing. After graduation, she was sent to the Methodist church in Songjiang to serve on the pastoral staff.
Wu Weizun was born in July, 1926, in Songjiang, Jiangsu province. After his birth, his mother gave him a name from the Bible, Epaphras (a Christian in the church at Colossae who had suffered imprisonment with Paul for the sake of the Gospel). Little did she know the close connection that the rest of his life would have to this name, and that he would become a real “Chinese Epaphras.”
Wu Weizun grew up in the church. In addition to Sunday school and worship services in their home, his mother’s faith and life left a profound impression upon him. His thoughts became rebellious after his fifth year of elementary school, however, leading to four or five years of outright opposition to God. One day in May, 1941, as he was kneeling in heartfelt prayer, God’s spirit began to work in him, and he saw his pride. He earnestly repented and received the new birth. From that time onward, he possessed the life of Christ within, filling his heart with peace and joy.
In the winter of 1941, after the start of the Pacific War, many church schools had to close as a result of the conflict. In 1942, Wu Weizun successfully took the examination for Zhexi high school, one of the provincial high schools in Zhejiang. From the time of his conversion, he had tried to follow the commands of the Bible, being willing to suffer loss, and insisting upon telling the truth, not currying others’ favor, not worshiping idols (including bowing to the picture of national leaders). He imposed strict requirements upon himself, fighting against his temper and bad habits, and exercising self-control and the ability to endure hardship. In his third year of high school, though course work was intense, he still steadfastly read the Bible, observed a quiet time, and progressed greatly in his spiritual life.
After graduation from high school, Wu went first to teach in a village elementary school in the west Zhejiang for a half a year before returning to his alma mater, Wesley church school in Songjiang as a member of its faculty. His heart was deeply stirred at a ministers’ retreat sponsored by Shanghai Chinese Theological Seminary in 1946. Having committed himself to the life of a preacher, he entered that seminary in October of the same year. While in seminary, he did his pastoral internship at Shouzhen Church in Shanghai.
Following the Communist occupation of Shanghai in May, 1949, Wu became a physics teacher at the Shouzhen High School; in 1955 he moved to the Shanghai Tongji high school as an instructor in the same subject. He had left the Shouzhen Church and begun to worship at the Nanyang Road Little Flock Church and had assumed duties as one of the “responsible brothers” . He returned to the Shouzhen Church again in August, 1958 and served as a deacon there. But he was forced to leave the church due to his refusal to joi the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and to criticize Wang Mingdao.
He was introduced to a Christian teacher in Tianjin in 1956 and married her in the following year, the ceremony being conducted in Beijing by the Rev. Xu Hongdao. During this time, he visited Wang Mingdao, who was released from his first arrest, and now in great difficulty. During their conversation Wu expressed his hope that Wang “could be like Samson in the Bible, to win the fatal battle after the growth of his hair.” (See Chinese Epaphras, p. 148) . This was Wu’s only meeting with Wang. After his marriage, he and his wife settled in Tianjin. In order to be able to live with his wife, in 1957 Wu transferred from Shanghai to Tianjin, where he taught physics at the 46th High School.
Because the four remaining churches in Tianjin were all under the control of the “Three- Self Movement,” Wu and his wife held services to pray and worship God at home. At the school he steadfastly maintained his Christian stance, and during the compulsory political study sessions he did not express enthusiasm, so in December, 1957, he was sent down to Liu An village, north of Tianjin for correctional farm labor. He continued to read the Bible and pray, however, and if any of the peasants asked him questions about the Christian faith he shared the Gospel with them and availed himself of every opportunity to give his testimony, thus fulfilling what he considered to be his duty towards God and man. For this reason, he was often described as “having spread religious superstition,” and suffered a great deal of difficulties. At the time, the main goal of sending people to the countryside was to change their thinking, but because he insisted on retaining his Christian belief he could not be “re-educated.” Others were able to leave, one batch after another, and return to the city, but he was always left behind to suffer hardship in the village, subject to constant “thought reform.”
In December, 1959, Wu was transferred to work in a factory in the northeast of Tianjin. Because he continue to read the Bible, share the Gospel, and give his testimony, just as he always had, he suffered many torments, being often assigned to perform the most dirty and difficult tasks. One time, in order to separate him from others, those in authority even had him assigned to care for sheep for a half a year. Little did they know that this would afford him more opportunities to read the Bible. During this period, he carefully studied the Bible, taking copious notes.
At the end of 1961, Wu Weizun was returned to Tianjin to work at the Wireless Middle Technical School, this time not to teach, but to look after the recreation club of the school. Half a year later, he was transferred again to the physics laboratory to serve as a lab assistant. All this time, he kept in frequent contact with brothers and sisters in Christ in Beijing, Shanghai, and other places, while he wrote and copied articles for “Christian Fellowship” to mail out. Since these were considered “illegal activities” or “anti-revolutionary activities,” he also was aware that he would possibly face persecution and suffering before long. He began to fast and pray at stated times in order to prepare for the coming trials.
On July 30th, 1964, Wu Weizun was summoned by the police and his house was searched . . Because he refused to say anything during his interrogation , he was sent to a detention center. During eight trials within one month, refused to “give an explanation of his case”. Afterwards, regardless of how the prison authority coupled threats with promises, he was always determined “to give no explanation, confess to no crime, not repent, but only to trust in the Lord and put all things into his hand” (ibid., 219). While he was in the detention center , because he insisted upon giving thanks before his meals and fasting at regular times, he had to endure severe punishmet, such as hunger, force feeding, , beatings, heavy handcuffs and chains. He suffered extreme hardship, but he never gave in. In February, 1967, he was convicted of “counter-revolutionary crimes.” Furthermore, because “in prison he had failed to confess; stubbornly refused to change; offended the proletarian dictatorship; and displayed reactionary arrogance,” he was sentenced to an unlimited term of punishment. Nevertheless, he imitated the example of Christ and did not seek any revenge or appeal the sentence, but was happy to endure, accepting suffering and taking up his cross for the sake of Christ.
After his sentencing, Wu served out his punishment on the Tianjin jail re-education-through-labor team. From the time of his arrest to conviction and sentencing, his wife was listed as “the spouse of a counter-revolutionary,” and though outside the prison, also endured suffering and hardship. Finally, under extreme pressure, she had no recourse but to divorce her husband and to marry another man. His third oldest brother, because he was a Christian, was also labeled a “counter-revolutionary.” During the Cultural Revolution, his mother was humiliated by by the Red Guards, to the point where she could hardly speak clearly. At last, the entire family - mother, three brothers and three sisters and their children - were all forced to leave for Dongyang village, their ancestral home in Zhejiang . His parents died not long afterwards. Then, when Wu had no more sorrow left in him , in prison he set his mind to “listen to the Word from the Lord, follow the Lord’s will, put him first in everything, to bear witness fitting for a Christian.” (ibid., 264).
In April of 1967, Wu Weizun was transferred to a steel plant, which was in fact a labor camp, in Pingluo,Ningxia province for reform through labor. During the Cultural Revolution, because he refused to read Mao’s Little Red Book, sing revolutionary songs, shout “Long live [Chairman Mao]”, or bow before the picture of Mao, and even kept on saying thanks before meals, he was labeled “someone who refuses to change” and was subjected to repeated beatings and humiliations—- it was really a living death.
Wu was transferred to Yinchuan, Ningxia, in February, 1979, to work in a machine shop. The political climate had already undergone a great change. Many prisoners wrote self-criticisms, confessed their crimes or submitted an appeal, in order to obtain a reduction of their sentence or even release. But, to maintain a holy and good conscience before God, Wu persisted in his refusal to “repent” or confess; nor would he defend his case in court or plead for justice. He relied on the saying of the apostle Paul, “Do not avenge yourself; be willing to back off; leave room for God’s wrath; for it is written in Scripture, ‘The Lord say, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay”’” (ibid., 298.).
Although Wu had resolved to persist to the end, even not confessing to any crime, even if it would mean death, in the spring of 1981 the highest court in Ningxia reduced his sentence to six years. When the notice came to him, however, he saw that it contained the phrase, “he has truly repented.” He considered this to be a deceptive and clever stratagem, for he had never “repented” of any “crime.” He dared not violate his own conscience, much less endorse a falsehood in order to gain a reduced sentence or his freedom. He would rather drink the bitter cup to the dregs. Consequently, he wrote a letter to the court informing them that he had never repented of any offense; they had made a mistake; and he was returning their notification to the court.
He wrote, “For a Christian, the main consideration, the main thing we seek, is whether our words, our deeds, our thoughts are in obedience to God’s Word, in conformity to the Scriptures, fulfilling the will of God, pleasing to him in all respects. If so, even if the authorities condemn us as anti-Party, anti-socialism, counter-revolutionary, so be it. Even if that is their sentence, we must persevere, and must absolutely not waiver out of fear of them. Their accusation merely reveals them to be enemies of Christ and rebels against God’s nature. Jesus himself, by obeying God’s will, accomplishing that for which he was sent, and seeking to please God, was charged with being a rebel against Caesar, a self-proclaimed king, misleading the people, and other political offenses. He did not argue, but fully submitted, and was crucified according to God’s will, drinking the cup given to him by the Father. I should follow his example when I am similarly charged, not admitting any crime, nor even denying any guilt; not even considering such things, just single-mindedly carrying out God’s will, drinking that cup God has given to me.” For this reason, Wu refused this sort of “tainted freedom.”
From the time Wu was imprisoned in 1964 until the spring of 1980, he was cut off from contact with the outside world for 16 years, not being allowed to correspond with any relatives or friends, so that no one knew whether he was alive or dead. At the beginning of the 1980s, when the political situation relaxed, his third oldest brother, who had already received re-designation as a normal citizen, and was living in Quanzhou, Fujian, wrote letters to several possible places, seeking to find out where Wu Weizun was. Finally he learned that Wu was under reform through labor in Yinchuan machine shop, a labor camp in Ningxia . In April, 1980, his brother hurried from a long distance away to visit Wu in prison, where he was able to talk with him for one half and hour under the observation of prison guards . Afterwards, Wu was allowed to correspond with people on the outside, and resumed communications with fellow believers.
At that time, the correspondence of inmates was subject to strict examination. A brother in Shanghai sent a Chinese Bible to Wu in 1982, which was intercepted and never delivered to him. It had been eighteen years since he had read the Bible. His older sister tried to send him an English King Jame’s Version Bible in 1983. As soon as the censor saw it was an English book, he gave it to Wu. He felt s if he had receive a treasure, and went every morning to a classroom to read it avidly. . In 1984, when conditions had become more relaxed, he received another Bible from his sister, this time a Chinese reference Bible; he was also able to correspond more freely and frequently with believers outside. These letters were later collected into a book, Christian Fellowship [Communication].
After the “reform and opening” in China, Wu’s life in prison improved. The prison offered a class on culture in 1982, and Wu was appointed to teach middle school mathematics. Since this was his field, he did his best to teach well, and thus received favorable evaluations from inmates and prison officials alike. For the last five years of his time in prison, Wu served as a teacher. Not regarding whether he agreed or disagreed, the court finally “imposed” (Wu’s remark) the six-year reduced sentence on him. As soon as the term had been served, the prison authorities compelled him to leave! Though he considered that the court’s action was “dirty” and “detestable,” nevertheless, in order to “submit to authority” he “had no recourse but to leave the prison.” Still, he considered himself a “criminal outside the prison” and continued to express his disagreement. “I absolutely do not accept your judgment; I am still a ‘criminal’ who has not repented, and never will.” Furthermore, from the time of his release, he began to fast regularly, eating only on Mondays and Thursdays, to protest the court’s “deception and duplicity” towards him.
On May 28, 1987, at the age of 61, Wu was formally released from prison. Because of his persistence in his course of action, the authorities decided to take care of him, giving him a hut outside the prison; his personal residential registration (hukou) would remain in the machine shop; and there would be a monthly living allowance of 45 RMB. For ten years, he considered himself to have lived the life of a “life prisoner outside the walls”, never leaving the Yinchuan Machine Shop.. Each day his main work was to receive Christians who came to visit him from other places, maintain contact with believers elsewhere through his writings and correspondence, publish “Christian Fellowship,” and mail it to those who needed it. He also gave Bibles and Christian books to those who lacking them.
Wu’s daily as a “saint” was quite simple: A few boards sufficed for a place to sleep and he politely turned down friends’ offers to supply him with a real bed. Aside from the barest minimum of living expenses, his greatest expenditure was for postage and printing. For the convenience to the many believers who came to visit, he built a simple toilet for them..
As he had for several decades, Wu fasted regularly up until his death. The amazing thing is that the illnesses he suffered in prison - hemorrhoids, arthritis, diarrhea, cough - all healed by themselves. Furthermore, he never came down with the usual ailments of old age, and he slept well - all of which could be considered nearly miraculous, and which he felt to be God’s special grace towards him.
Because Wu often corresponded with believers in a variety of places about problems of faith, and criticism of the Three Self Patriotic Movement inevitably occurred in his letters;his influence widely spread daily. Beginning in 1996, therefore, his house was often searched and its confiscated confiscated, and he was often summoned for questioning. The first time this happened was November 12, 1996, in the evening. He was taken to the police station, with a large pile of confiscated Christian books stacked in front of him, and interrogated all night long. As before, he responded to questioning with only four words, “nothing to report. When the police saw that it was no use to hold him, they sent him home. In a letter to his older brother in Taipei, Wu wrote, “In June of 2000, I had my house searched and goods seized for the fourth time; on April 23rd of this year, they came for the fifth time to search and confiscate. . They took not only Christian Fellowship but also all the Bibles, reference works, and everything.” (ibid., 362). In the face of this abuse of power, he stuck to his principles of “non-resistance, not disputing, and not begging.”
Amidst such perilous conditions, Wu Weizun finally finished his autobiography, A Chinese Epaphras, in December, 1999, at the age of 73. Among his “last words,” were these:
“In different times and a different environments, with a different statuses in life and different positions as a Christian, the Lord has led me to fight different spiritual battles at different stages in life I have nothing in myself about which to boast, because no testimony and no battle did I think I could bear or fight by myself. Every testimony was borne with the fullness of God’s grace, every battle won by the power of his wisdom. All glory, therefore, must go to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, to whom belong all praise, trust, grace, power, wisdom, and blessing - everything is from him” (ibid.358).”May God have mercy upon me and protect me, grant me his grace and save me to the uttermost, so that I might be ready to complete the course remaining to me, might not fall short of the marvelous grace which the Lord has suffered and shed blood to grant to me, and at the last behold his glorious face” (ibid. 359).
On December 21st, 2002, Wu Weizun left the world in his simple and shabby hut, at the age of 76, finally completing the cruciform course of his life.
- Wu Weizun, The Chinese Epaphras. Taipei: CMI Publishing Co. Ltd., 2002