1901  — 1956

Yu Chenghua

Elder at Shanghai Christian Assembly (or Meeting Hall); Watchman Nee’s closest co-worker; ophthalmologist; martyr.

In 1901 on January fifth, Yu Chenghua was born in Zhejiang province in the county of Xinchang. From his grandfather’s generation, the Yu family was a Christian household. His grandfather Yu Fengquan, a blacksmith who opened a shop at home, had personally experienced the horrific era in which Boxers killed Christians, but his mind was strengthened to endure suffering for the Lord.

Yu Chenghua was well-educated from childhood and was admitted to St. John’s University in Shanghai in the early 1920s. In 1921, he married a Sunday School teacher. In 1927, he graduated from St. John’s University’s medical school, remaining afterwards to teach at his alma mater, then working as a doctor at a Red Cross hospital. Although he grew up in a Christian household, he didn’t truly experience repentance and rebirth until he was 28 years old. He had just graduated from medical school when he was struck with tuberculosis, hemoptysis and fever, requiring him to return home to Xinchang to recuperate. During this period, he received the illumination of the Holy Spirit, repented sincerely, experienced a great spiritual revival, and ultimately obtained God’s healing. Afterwards his whole life changed; he read the Bible fervently, relentlessly pursued the truth and tried to obey God’s will. Once he had fully recovered, until his martyrdom in 1956, he never again suffered from lung disease.

Around 1930, Yu Chenghua served the Lord at the Christian Assembly in Wende lane on Hatong Road in Shanghai, becoming one of the church’s responsible brothers. In 1933, he took his whole family to Changsha, where he was the director of ophthalmology at Xiangya Medical College and concurrently established a church. While at Xiangya, his compensation was generous; he lived idyllically, residing in a garden-encircled bungalow, with groundskeepers to tend the flowers and lawn. In 1936, Watchman Nee and Li Yuanru invited him to return to Shanghai to work side by side with them in ministry. After seeking through prayer to know clearly God’s will, he abandoned his affluent life, taking his family back to Shanghai to serve in vocational ministry; he was shortly thereafter appointed as an elder of the church. In the second year following their departure from Changsha, the nation was shocked by the Changsha Fire of 1938.

As a medical doctor graduated from St. John’s University and an ophthalmologist, Yu Chenghua had many opportunities for lucrative work, but in order to devote more time to church ministry, he only opened a small clinic next to the church, which provided barely enough income to sustain his family. He possessed superb medical skills, but he did not rely completely on his own abilities and wisdom, constantly relying instead on prayer to relieve the pain of others.

He and his wife reared one daughter and five sons, all godly Christians like him, all of whom went through many troubles for the sake of Christ.

From 1937 to 1938, Yu Chenghua translated Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection’s The Practice of the Presence of God and Madame Jeanne Guyon’s Sweet Smelling Myrrh. Thereafer, he further dedicated himself unreservedly to God, wholeheartedly seeking to please him, to be in his presence and to walk humbly with him. As an elder, he devoted his life to the core message of “always abiding in Christ” (or “dwelling in God’s presence”) and “denying ourselves to take up the cross and follow the Lord.” In the end, he died for his witness to this message.

In 1955, government authorities began a “purge counterrevolutionary movement” in Christian circles. On January 29th of 1956, there was a major raid on a Shanghai Christian gathering in which more than a dozen responsible brothers were arrested. Yu Chenghua was among those taken, being detained first in the church building (Reception room of Shanghai Nanyang Road Christian Assembly) where in insolation he might confess to the church’s “problems,” the authorities intending to order him to expose other responsible brothers. But he wouldn’t speak or write a single word, no matter what manner of coercion or bribery they employed. He firmly rejected any accusations and maintained a peaceful conscience.

After being held in the church twenty days, the authorities, claiming that he was “resisting confessing” to the charges, increased their pressure by transferring him to prison to be detained for further review. The authorities’ first intention was to dig out from him strong evidence of the church’s guilt, the second being to use his prestige to make him into a “Judas” in order to destroy the church. The judicial officers adopted “Wheel Tactics”, which entailed keeping him awake day and night, taking turns interrogating him,to break his will. Yu Chenghua suffered from hepatitis, reportedly spent fifty days in detainment and went into a coma three times, but he never confessed to anything. From the beginning to the end of his 70-day imprisonment (including days in the church), he left posterity with this statement, “I, Doctor Yu, can eat well and sleep well, and my conscience is at peace.”

After his third coma, the prison doctors determined that he might not live twenty-four hours and the authorities, fearing to bear the responsibility of his death in prison, allowed him medical parole. After leaving prison, he was sent to Hongren Hospital, but his burden had become too heavy and on April thirteenth of 1956 he passed away at only fifty five years of age. After his death, his family, brother Yu Chengrong, and a few friends and neighbors held a simple memorial service for him at Wanguo funeral home on Jiaozhou Road. In those years of terror, no one dared to have anything to do with being “counterrevolutionary.” His wife was sorely grieved; while on the way home from the hospital, she shouted to the heavens “Wronged, we have been wronged!” In years to come, she would receive comfort, peace and strength from God. Even in an environment of persecution, she remained lively and strong until her passing in August, 1992 at 90 years of age.

Yu Chenghua was buried in Zhejiang in his hometown of Xinchang next to his grandfather in an unmarked grave.


  • Yu Chenghua (俞成华), The Practice of the Presence of God (《与神同行》), Chinese Christian Testimony Ministry, 1999.
  • Yu Chongjia (俞崇架), Life in the Holy of Holies—Anecdotes about Yu Chenghua (《至圣所内生活――俞成华轶事》), Chinese Christian Testimony Ministry, 2003.

About the Author

Yading Li

Senior Associate, Global China Center; Chinese Editor, Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity.

Translated by Conner McCarthy

Conner McCarthy is a translator for BDCC project. He received a B.A. in Music and East Asian Studies from the University of Virginia in 2014. He is currently a member of the 2014 Trinity Fellows program at Trinity Presbyterian Church.