In all the excitement of what God is doing in China today, let’s not forget the price that was paid by both Western missionary pioneers and Chinese believers.
According to Stark and Wang…
Nearly half of all Protestant missionaries who came to China before 1891 died or went home due to ill health. Infant and childhood mortality rates were three times higher than back home.
In 1899 the Boxer Rebellion resulted in the death of over 30,000 Chinese Christians as well as 47 Catholic priests and nuns and 136 Protestant missionaries and 53 of the children.
Even before they came to power, the Communists were killing Christians. Between 1945-48 Chinese Communist forces killed 96 Catholic missionaries including 12 nuns. Once they were in power the Communists continued to imprison, torture and kill Catholic believers, priests, nuns and bishops.
Most well-known Chinese church leaders ended up in prison or worse.
Watchman Nee was arrested in 1952 and spent the rest of his life in prison under harsh conditions. He died in prison 1972.
Wang Zhiming was arrested with his wife and three sons at the height of the Cultural Revolution in 1969. On December 29, 1973 Wang was brutally executed in a stadium in Wuding in front of a crowd of 10,000, most of them Christians.
Samual Lamb was imprisoned in 1957 and released. Immediately he began preaching again. He was re-arrested in 1958 and imprisoned until 1978 under harsh conditions. Upon his release he restarted his “house church” although now it could no longer fit inside a house as it had grown to 4-5,000 people.
In 2001 fifty agents of the Public Security Bureau invaded Samuel Lamb’s unregistered church, ransacking the building and destroying equipment. Lamb was imprisoned again. He refused to relent and was released after international pressure.
As so many Christian leaders were dead or in prison Li Tianen devoted himself to training young leaders. Out of his efforts arose the Fangcheng Fellowship which become one of the largest of all house church movements in China.
In 1975 he was arrested and given a death sentence. A huge flood forced the postponement of his first scheduled execution. The second execution date was interrupted by an internal Communist Party power struggle. One of Li’s most bitter enemies was the local secretary of the Communist Party, Fang Iancai. Fang’s faction lost power and he ended up sharing Li’s death row cell. Li led Fang to Christ. Li eventually was released and Fang’s sentence was commuted to 15 years in prison.
By 2010 the Fangcheng Fellowship had an estimated membership of 10 million.
Other leaders who suffered under the Communists include Wang Mindao, Yuan Xiangchen, John Sung, Li Tianen. These prominent leaders are a tiny representation of the many thousands of ordinary believers who suffered for Christ under the Communists.