Orthodox Christianity in China? The Story of the Chinese Martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion

Orthodox Christianity in China? The Story of the Chinese Martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion


The feast day commemorating the Chinese Orthodox Christian martyrs from the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 has just passed on the New Calendar. A post about these remarkable martyrs on OCN’s Facebook page has gone viral, with 8,000 likes, more than 1,000 shares, and hundreds of thousands of views as of this writing.

Clearly, many people are interested and amazed to hear of the faithfulness of these Chinese Orthodox Christians.

Considering the outpouring of interest, we’d like to share some more information about the historical context and witness of these fellow Christians. A recent account of their lives includes details of the early Russian Orthodox mission in the Albazin region of China, which started in the 17th century, and then continues:

In the years following, Orthodoxy made significant inroads among the Albazin Chinese population, becoming a kind of ethnic religion of the people. Emperor K’ang Chi was favorable toward these Christians, and for a time it was hoped the emperor might become a kind of Saint Constantine of the East. When the Chinese court later discovered that local Roman Catholic missionaries followed orders from western masters, however, Emperor K’ang Chi and his successors began persecutions against Christians. Because of their position at court and the Orthodox foothold among the Albazin Chinese faithful, the Orthodox were spared much of this persecution – for a time.

While the growth of the Orthodox Chinese mission was modest, its faithful were solid witnesses for their faith in Christ. Just as pagan Rome saw earlier Christian devotion to Christ as a rival to Imperial loyalty, so to did the Imperial Chinese of the late 19th century see Christians as enemies of the Emperor. While some in China were embracing western modernist ideas, others – including the dowager Empress, nationalists, and those who practiced martial arts – sought to eliminate any challenges to tradition, including foreign influences. This movement was dubbed by foreigners the “Boxer movement”.

By June 1900, placards calling for the death of foreigners and Christians covered the walls around Beijing. Armed bands combed the streets of the city, setting fires to homes and – with Imperial blessing – killing Chinese Christians and foreigners. Among the Orthodox community of the city were Priest Mitrophan Tsi-Chung, his Matushka Tatiana, and their children Isaiah, Serge, and John. Baptized by Saint Nicholas of Japan, Saint Mitrophan was a shy and retiring priest, who avoided honors, and labored continually for the building of new churches, for the translation of spiritual books, and for the care of his flock.

It was in this ministry that Saint Mitrophan met his martyrdom on June 10, 1900. About seventy faithful had gathered in his home for consolation when the Boxers surrounded the house. While some of the faithful managed to escape, most – including Saint Mitrophan – were stabbed or burned to death. Saint Mitrophan’s holy body fell beneath the date tree in the yard of his home, his family witnesses to his suffering.

His youngest son, Saint John, an eight-year-old child, was disfigured by the Boxers the same day. Although the mob cut off his ears, nose, and toes, Saint John did not seem to feel any pain, and walked steadily, declaring that it did not hurt to suffer for Christ. Saint Ia (Wang), a mission school teacher was also among the martyrs, was slashed by the Boxers and buried, half-dead. In an attempt to save her, a bystander unearthed her, carrying her to his home where the Boxers seized her again, torturing her to death, thereby crowning her with the crown of martyrdom for a second time.

Saint Isaiah, 23, the elder brother of Saint John, had been martyred several days earlier. Despite repeated urging, his bride Saint Mary, 19, refused to leave and hide, declaring that she had been born near the church of the Mother of God, and would die there as well.

When the feast of the Holy Chinese Martyrs was first commemorated in 1903, the bodies of Saint Mitrophan and others were placed under the altar of the church of the All Holy Orthodox Martyrs ( built from 1901-1916). A cross was later erected on the site of their martyrdom, standing as a testimony of the first sufferings of Orthodox faithful in a century of such great suffering. The church, along with others, was destroyed by the communists in 1954; the condition and whereabouts of the relics are not known. A short history of the martyrs and an akathist in their memory have recently been written.

On the occasion of the centenary of the Holy Chinese Martyrs of the Boxer Rebellion, let us as Orthodox faithful ask their prayers that we may have the courage of their witness in our own time and place, and like them to live out the call of our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19).

You can read more and download the Akathist to the Chinese Martyrs here. Holy Martyrs of China, pray to God for us!

Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network.  You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+.

About author

Seraphim Danckaert

Seraphim Danckaert is Director of Mission Advancement at St. Tikhon's Orthodox Theological Seminary. He holds an M.Div. from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology and is a Ph.D. candidate in theology at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.