It’s good of you to keep me company on my night beat, son.
See the big white British-style building there, shining in the moonlight? That is where you will study medicine next year.
No, you’re not going to become a policeman. I won’t have it.
Let me tell you a story, son.
You were only a baby. Blissfully ignorant of the chaos. Maybe the madness was related to the despair of that terrible famine. Maybe it was demonic. I’m no believer, but there were powers at work amongst the group who called themselves ‘Boxers’ that frightened the living daylights out of me. They were also fiercely anti-foreign. In my mind, I can still hear their songs. No, I won’t sing any … they are too shocking for your tender ears (1). Anti-foreign posters were everywhere, declaring amongst other things that the dreadful famine was due to our people turning to Christianity.
It was when we heard rumours that a pro-Boxer official was being sent to govern Shanxi that I really panicked. Thank God I did ... if there is a god You know that our home village is mostly Catholic. As soon as I heard the news, I sent a message to your grandparents, warning them.
I knew people who sometimes attended the foreigners’ meetings. I sent anonymous messages, warning the foreigners to flee Shanxi while they could. Some left, but others said they’d simply trust God.
Trust God? When bands of Boxers were marching around the countryside carrying banners that said, ‘Exterminate the church’?
The violence peaked in the middle of 1900. You were only a few months old, son, when the Empress Dowager issued the order to kill all foreigners.
My job was to simply keep the peace. The Boxers did the killing. I helped with crowd control at places like the orphanage and the hospital. I kept the masses safe as they looted the facilities, looking for anything of value after the foreigners were killed, burned alive or had fled.
Most of those awful days have blended into one bloody mess in my mind. There is one day, though, that I can never forget.
It was at the entrance to the governor’s residence. The sun was almost as merciless as the governor, who had come out to watch the sport. One by one, the Christian prisoners were called up in full view of the crowd. They were asked to renounce their faith. The answers ranged from lengthy to blunt, confident to timid, but the believers, having got this far, invariably answered ‘no’.
One by one, I heard a swish then a thud behind me and the gasp of the crowd in front of me as another head rolled.
There was more blood spilt that day than you’ll see in a lifetime of medicine. One man in the crowd tried to break through our line of police. “Mama, recant, I beg you,” he screamed.
Plenty of Chinese Christians had recanted and lived. That young man was about the same age as me. My mother would never recant, but she was hiding safely in a mountain cave with her church friends. His mother was about to lose her head.
“Wang Guimei, do you renounce your faith?” Screaming again, the young fellow tried to force his way through to the execution scene. I restrained him, holding his arms down, pushing against him with all my strength. His head strained forwards over my shoulder, veins bulging as he struggled to get past. When the inevitable swish came from the executioner’s sword, that poor fellow collapsed into my arms. My shirt was saturated with his tears. I was reprimanded later for not pushing him away.
It could so easily have been your grandmother.
No, my boy, never will you be a policeman. You are to bring healing, not destruction.
That wicked governor, Yuxian, was later executed, by the way. The reparation money our province was forced to pay the foreign missions was used to set up Shanxi University. And so, in one way, son, you will benefit from the madness.
Now, my boy, I hope you understand why I push you to become a doctor. Your grandmother has dreams of you becoming a priest, but don’t you listen to her. Learn from but don’t be influenced by the foreign Christians in that university either. You just study hard. Become a good doctor.
Here comes our corner again. It’s time for my diligent boy to study another hour then get to bed. Goodnight, son.
The characters in this piece are fictional. However, the Boxer Rebellion is factual. It happened in 1900. Shanxi University, described in this story, celebrated its centenary in 2001 and continues strong today. That white building stands still as a monument to those martyrs.
(1) Some of the violent songs of the Boxers are also too shocking for FaithWriters readers. Suffice to say that themes included the incest supposedly practiced by Christians, as well as the earnest wish that the country have all ‘foreign devils’ expelled. Several translations of songs can be found in ‘The Search for Modern China’ by Jonathan D. Spence (W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1990), p.232.
During the summer of 1900, it is estimated that 32,000 Chinese Christians (the vast majority being Roman Catholic), 93 Protestant missionary adults, 74 missionary children and 47 foreign Roman Catholic priests & nuns lost their lives during the Boxer uprising. http://www.sg.omf.org/content.asp?id=13262 accessed 15th October 2006.
160 of the martyred foreigners were killed in Shanxi province - http://www.us.omf.org/content.asp?id=9322 accessed 15th October 2006.
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