Weekly Story: Kao Hsin’s Story



A Chinese Christian relates his summer of 1900.

For weeks a spell of horror had brooded over us, and one by one the children dropped out of the day-school taught by my wife, the more timid ones from non-Christian families going first.

Kao Hsin, His Wife, Two Children, Mother, and Grandmother. (Four generations.)
Kao Hsin, His Wife, Two Children, Mother, and Grandmother.
(Four generations.)

Kao Hsin’s Story.


Kao Hsin, the evangelist in charge of the out-station at Fu Ho, was a graduate of the college and seminary.

IT was Monday, June 5th, [1900] when the long-dreaded Boxer altar was set up in our village of Fu Ho, four miles north of T’ungchou. For weeks a spell of horror had brooded over us, and one by one the children dropped out of the day-school taught by my wife, the more timid ones from non-Christian families going first. So the school was closed earlier than usual for the summer vacation. My family consisted of my mother, my wife, an eight-year-old son, a three-year-old daughter, who, being very deaf, had never learned to talk, and a boy fifteen months old. My wife’s mother and other relatives lived in an adjoining place, while in our yard were the day-school building and the chapel, where, every Sunday, Christians met for worship. At the time when my story begins my only sister’s oldest son, Li Jui, was staying with me. His father, Li Te Kuei, was the evangelist in charge of the out-station of Yung Le Tien, eighteen miles south of T’ungchou. Li Jui, who was a student in the North China Academy at T’ungchou, had come to my home at the close of school; for his father had said to me, “Don’t let my boy come home; I want one member of my family left alive.” June 7th, Li Jui was at T’ungchou, and there heard of the massacre at Niu Mu T’un, only six miles from his father’s home. It was a sad family circle to which he told this story when he came to us in the evening. Before light the next morning we were on our way to T’ungchou, eager for tidings, yet dreading what our eyes might see and our ears hear. The city compound, a center of busy life the day before, was almost deserted. Two or three Christians had hired donkeys, and were just starting for Peking. “The missionaries all went to Peking in the night,” they said, “and they left word that any of us who wished to go might follow them.” We still lingered in the city until the tidings which we dreaded reached us: Li Jui’s father, mother, and three little brothers, with we knew not how many of the Yung Le Tien Christians, had been slaughtered. Dumb with sorrow we turned homeward. As we went out of the north gate of the city we happened to meet a messenger from P’ing Ku, an out-station forty miles to the northeast. He came to bring word that the deacon in charge of the station, Li Wen Jung, was prostrated with fever; his wife, a frail little woman, was unable to care for him, and their neighbors, none of whom were Christians, were afraid to help them. “Are there Boxers in P’ing Ku yet?” “No, but there are all sorts of wild rumors, and they do need help.” The appeal touched my heart, and I wondered if, in this remote mountain region, we might not find a place of refuge, and at the same time carry help and comfort to our friends. It was dark when we reached home. As we told the stories we had heard my mother said: “You and Li Jui must go to P’ing Ku. You will not be safe here, for the Boxers are hunting down all the leaders in the Church. Your wife and children will be safe with heathen relatives in the country; far safer than if you are with them, for you have preached in every hamlet about here, and every one knows you.” “And what about yourself?” I asked. “I shall stay here,” she replied, positively. “I have lived here all my life, and have not an enemy in the town. Perhaps by staying I can keep the property from destruction. Anyway, I am too old to climb the mountains with you on my poor, crippled feet, and I feel safer here than I would in Peking.”

The next morning my mother kept urging us to scatter, and my wife, taking her children, went to her grandmother’s in a little village three miles to the northeast. I thought of the sickness and loneliness of the deacon’s family in P’ing Ku, of my brother’s wish that Li Jui might be spared to keep his name alive, of my mother’s argument that those I loved best would be safer when I was far away; so, at ten o’clock, my nephew and I left our home, little dreaming how many weary miles we should wander, or what a horrible fate awaited those we left behind. Tears streamed down my face, but my mother was calm and brave. “Can we not bear a little suffering for Jesus? If it is his will, we shall meet again; if not, let us trust him, even unto death.”

At noon the next day we reached P’ing Ku. Deacon Li, although much better, was still in bed, and his wife sobbed convulsively when we entered. Their messenger had returned the day before with the sad tidings of T’ungchou; they had tried to hire carts to take them to T’ungchou, but no one dared to go. “You are safer here,” I said. “If the Boxers organize here, the mountains are near for a refuge.”

The next day was Sunday, a strange, sad day, for only one Christian, Mr. Kuo, joined our little circle for prayer. We read a chapter from “The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life,” and the thought that everything which comes to us is the appointment of God’s loving will brought comfort to us all.

Deacon Li was improving rapidly, and I felt that his wife and two children should at once find a refuge in the quiet mountains. Mr. Kuo, who lived with his family in a quiet mountain hut, consented to shelter them, and share with them his humble fare. So, about three o’clock Monday morning, Deacon Li and I stole out with Mrs. Li and the children to a rendezvous two miles away, where Mr. Kuo had promised to meet us with a donkey for Mrs. Li to ride. After meeting Mr. Kuo, Deacon Li and I went back to his home. There we staid until another Sabbath came. Neighbors began to talk threateningly, and ugly rumors flew everywhere. A friendly yamen runner brought warning of a plot to bind us and give us up to the Boxers whenever they arrived in P’ing Ku, thus winning their favor. So at three o’clock Monday morning we fled, Deacon Li to join his family seven miles away, and then take them to a safer refuge.

I left behind me my long teacher robe, my foreign spectacles, and my Bible, and wore the coarse costume of a laborer. My nephew and I were not used to mountain climbing, and soon grew weary; then we lost our way in the wild gorges. The heavens were black with a coming storm, and there was no sign of a human habitation. In our bewilderment we turned to God with a prayer for guidance. Just then I saw two crows, and prayed, “O Lord, direct their flight, and we will follow.” They flew toward the northeast, and going two miles in that direction we came to a little house. It was already raining. We knocked at the door, and a young man who was working in the garden came toward us. He responded cordially to our appeal for shelter, and although he knew that we were Christians, he kept us more than a week, sharing his coarse food with us, while we helped him in his garden work.

All these days a terrible weight oppressed me, and if I fell asleep at night I was haunted by dreams. One day, about noon, I lay resting in a state between sleeping and waking, when a horrible vision of some one covered with blood from streaming wounds appeared to me. I think it must have been the day my mother died. Every day tears kept welling to my eyes, and my orphaned nephew often wept with me. Sometimes we would find a lonely spot in the mountains where we could look toward home, and try to comfort one another. But when we were with others we were careful not to betray the fact that we were Christians, as it might bring trouble to our host. We heard cannonading, and knew that somewhere the storm of battle was raging.

I wrote a letter to my family, telling them to come to me, or, if they did not think it best to come, to send me money. I hired a messenger to take this letter to Fu Ho, but after going only twenty miles he returned, as there were Boxer altars on every hand, and all travelers were examined. I blamed him bitterly for cowardice then, but now I know it was God’s hindering. Had he reached Fu Ho he would not have found my friends, my letter would have fallen into the hands of the Boxers, and they would have sought me out. Although it had been rumored that I was dead, some of the Boxers did not believe it; so they formed a cordon, taking in several villages, and drew the circle in narrower and narrower, hunting me down like a stalked deer.

There were no Boxers in our quiet mountain village; but soon an altar was started in a larger place near, and a friend came to tell our host that the rumor was abroad that he was harboring Christians. Our hostess grew nervous, and unwilling to involve others in difficulty, we decided to leave at once. Where should we go? Li Jui wanted to go back to T’ungchou. I, too, felt that I must know the fate of my dear ones. We had just gone through a mountain-pass when we met a Christian named Yang Erh from a village near T’ungchou.

“Where are you going?” he asked in great surprise.

“Back home.”

“It won’t do,” he said. “I have been hidden away; but last night I ventured to my sister’s home, and about two in the night the Boxers came hunting for me, and I just escaped with my life.”

“Then let us go to Tientsin.”

“There is no safety in that direction, either. The only hope lies in going beyond the Great Wall.”

So we turned back and spent another night in our mountain village, and the next morning, June 27th, we turned our faces northward, walking thirty miles that day. When darkness gathered we sought the shelter of an inn. The innkeeper looked at us suspiciously, saying, “We do not keep strangers here; who knows who you are?” To all of our entreaties he turned a deaf ear. No one would harbor us. We must lie down to sleep in the mountains, without bedding or food. If we staid near a village the barking dogs might betray us to Boxers; if we went far away, wild beasts might find us. But God was with us, though the darkness was over us, our rest a stone.

We traveled by little side-paths in the mountains to avoid the Boxers, who guarded the great roads. Often we lost our way, and the paths were so hard to climb that at most we made only twenty-five miles a day. Sometimes we could get food and lodging in the little hamlets; but though there were no Boxers here, the people were very suspicious. No matter how thirsty we were we did not dare go near a well ourselves, lest some one suspect that we were throwing in poison; and we were very cautious about approaching a door, lest they accuse us of smearing it with blood. On the other hand, if we acted nervous or seemed to avoid people, we were always stopped and questioned. So we tried to put on a bold face, and gave the customary greetings. In every village we were questioned as to the reason for our journey, and we replied that we were in search of work; for we were almost penniless, and hoped to find some work. Often on our journey we had to beg our food, and many a night we slept in caves. Far beyond the Great Wall, about two hundred miles from home, we fell in with another traveler, who, as we walked together, grew more and more friendly. He took us with him to an inn where he was acquainted with the landlord, and rest was sweet to us weary wayfarers. But twenty days of hunger, thirst, fatigue, consuming anxiety, and loss of sleep, had been too much for me, and that night a severe attack of dysentery almost prostrated me. We were still about thirty-four miles from home of the man who had befriended us. The next morning he insisted upon my riding his donkey; but I was so ill that we could only go a short distance that day, and it was afternoon of the second day when we reached his home. It was the 6th of July, and for nearly two weeks I was very ill. My host and his family showed us every kindness, trusting us as brothers, finding Yang Erh and my nephew work in a store in the town, and I worked there also after my strength returned. Travelers were coming continually, and so we heard of the ravages of the Boxers in Peking,—that all of the missions had been destroyed, and only the legations and a Catholic cathedral were holding out. “The Chinese Christians have all been slain,” we said; for we did not know that many of them had been sheltered in the legations.

About the last of July we heard that foreign soldiers had captured Tientsin; so, after a few days, we left our kind friends and started southward. Once we were stopped and searched by Boxers in uniform, but they found no proof that we were spies or Christians. When we reached the Great Wall we heard that the allies were approaching T’ungchou. A little later we saw refugee soldiers of General Nieh’s army, looting as they fled. When we were forty miles from Peking we heard that T’ungchou was in the hands of foreign soldiers. The next day, as we went on our way, we heard cannonading. It was August 14th, the day Peking was captured. As we drew near the place where my wife and children had taken refuge, I hoped against hope that, during these two months of storm, God’s miraculous care had kept some of my loved ones. A man whom I knew approached me, and started as if he had seen a ghost. “What! You are still alive? Where are you going?” “I am going home.” “Home!” you have no home, for your house is burned; you have no family, for the Boxers have killed them all.” I staggered on to the home of relatives, where I heard the details of the tragedy, and learned that my little deaf daughter and my aged grandmother, who was not a Church member, were the only ones left of my family. “The old lady is so feeble and foolish,” the Boxers said, “and the child is so little and idiotic; they can never take vengeance on us.” I heard of the slaughter at Fu Ho of forty-two Christians and many others who were suspected of being Christians. All of my wife’s near relatives except two brothers were among the slain. With the exception of myself and my daughter, only six orphan children were left of the Christian community in Fu Ho.

I was warned that I must not go to Fu Ho to see these poor survivors; for the Boxers, though disbanded, were still living there. I must go to T’ungchou, and seek the protection of American soldiers. I did not know that the T’ungchou missionaries and hundreds of fellow Christians were still living in Peking. In the darkness of that night, fatigued by a day of walking, faint for lack of food—for I had walked thirty miles since eating a meal—benumbed by overwhelming sorrow, I pushed on with Li Jui toward T’ungchou, still several miles away. At midnight we reached the river, and saw many people, some laden with stolen goods, some fleeing from the foreign soldiers. In the distance we heard the occasional report of a rifle. Crossing the river not far from the city wall, we went on in the darkness. We came to a sort of booth, and, unable to crawl farther, lay down with dead bodies all about us. Before day dawned an old man passed. ‘‘Can we get into the city?” I asked. “Yes, but if the foreign soldiers call to you, stop at once. They will make you work; but if you run they ‘ll shoot you.” Just at daylight, before we had entered the city gate, Russians came out to impress laborers. Soon we were unloading rice and other supplies from boats outside the North Gate. Once that day I felt the lash of the overseer because, faint with fatigue and hunger, I dropped a box. There were seventy or eighty in our company, some of them merchants, teachers, or officials, whose shoulders had never before carried a burden. We were kicked and cuffed, and rifles were pointed at us. At noon food was given us. At night, guarded by soldiers, we were formed in ranks, and, with soldiers to guard us, were marched to the South Suburb, where they halted us on a bank. Some of the company thought that the Russians had taken us out to shoot us. In about half an hour we saw two Russian cannon and ten carts loaded with ammunition, and soon we were all at work helping the horses to drag them. As we struggled along, no better than the beasts, the soldiers struck us with whips or rifles to make us go faster. A man stumbled, the wheel of the gun-carriage broke his leg, still the Russians beat him until they saw that he was unable to rise, then left him to die. They drove us through the street where our city mission had stood, and where I had spent so many happy hours. There was not one brick left upon another, and my heart was very sad. Then our drivers changed their plan, and made us retrace our steps and go southward. As we crossed the moat just outside the city, one of the poor human beasts sought a refuge from life’s bitterness in the river. The Russians gathered on the bridge and stoned him to death. Outside the city we passed the ruins of our once beautiful college buildings. It was growing dark, the rain was falling in torrents, and they marched us back through the city, part of the way wading to their knees in water.

So a month was passed in slavery. Gradually we received kinder treatment when our taskmasters found that we served them faithfully, and did not try to get away. After about three weeks we saw a man who had been an inquirer, and was just returning from two months of exile beyond the Great Wall. With him was a Chinese who was a member of the Greek Church and could speak a little Russian. He told our masters who we were, and after that we received less cruel treatment. This inquirer went on to Peking, and, finding missionaries there, told of our plight. Meantime I met a Christian in T’ungchou, and heard, to my great joy, that missionaries and Christians were still living in Peking. Not long after this an American soldier came to the Russians with a letter; we were told that we were free, and soon we were with the kind friends in Peking who had effected our release. There Li Jui found his oldest sister, a student in the Bridgman School, and before many days had passed another sister was found in a country village.

Not until nearly three weeks later could I seek out my little daughter in Fu Ho, and then I went with a missionary, guarded by American soldiers. Soon after we gathered together the orphan children of Fu Ho, and took them to Peking.

I can not tell you how I felt when I stood by the charred ruins of my once happy home, looking at the rude heap of earth, under which lay the bodies of mother, wife, and two sons. Let others tell you the story of their death.

—Luella Miner, China’s Book of Martyrs (1903).

The Weekly Story is a weekly article, featuring different people in history, that made an impact, or had a story to tell, that will help enlighten the reader on the struggles regular people had to endure.

Copyright is as individually indicated per reading. The Americanist collection as a whole, along with any unique editing, formatting, or accompanying notes and commentary Copyright © 2014 Steve Farrell & The Moral Liberal.

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