|Fei Qihao (1879-1953)|
Fei Qihao (also spelled Ch’i-hao) was born to Chinese Christian parents in Dongzhao, about 12 miles northeast of Beijing. He graduated from North China College in 1898 and took a job as a teacher in a mission school in Taigu (now known as Mingxing), Shanxi Province.
During a school break, he travelled to Fenzhou to visit his sister. While there, he was introduced to Charles and Eva Price, missionaries to China who were graduates of Oberlin College. Fei soon left his position at Taigu and moved to Fenzhou, where he began to teach.
Very soon thereafter, the most dramatic and frightening incident in Fei’s life occurred. Over the preceding decades, China had been carved into various “spheres of influence” by European powers, and Westerners claimed immunity from prosecution in Chinese courts. This included missionaries, who sometimes expropriated land from Chinese peasants for their mission stations and to give away to Chinese converts.
On top of that, floods and other natural disasters left Chinese peasants destitute, many of whom became addicted to opium.
The Boxer Rebellion
In this environment, secret societies began to arise dedicated to restoring Chinese values and prestige, and particularly supporting the Qing dynasty against the foreigners. One of these, the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists, was particularly revolutionary in their outlook. They believed that through their martial arts practices, spirit possession, and magic, they could make themselves immune to the cannons and bullets of the Western powers. They also believed that when they rose up to drive the foreigners out, an army of spirit soldiers would descend from heaven to aid them in their cause.
Most of the Boxers, as the members of the society were called by Westerners, were peasants and opium addicts made desperate by their situation, which they blamed on Christian missionaries, Chinese Christians, and Europeans. In 1900, they began a violent revolt against foreign influences known as the Boxer Rebellion. It wasn’t long before other secret societies and even the Chinese army joined the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists in their bid to exterminate the foreigners.
Given that China had long been abused by foreign powers, it is perhaps understandable that the Boxer Rebellion was characterized by high levels of brutality and ferocity against foreigners. In Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi Province, at least 37 missionaries and 30 Chinese Christians were beheaded on July 9 and their bodies left to be eaten by dogs. Chinese Christians came at night to bury them secretly; the government responded by executing 200 of the local Christians in the coming days.
By the end of August, 159 Protestant missionaries (including 46 children) and 12 Catholic missionaries had been murdered in Shanxi Province alone.
Some of those killed were close friends of Fei, and he himself was almost among the dead. Fei, the Prices, and other missionaries were “evacuated” from their mission in Fenzhou by a local magistrate, who gave them an escort of Chinese soldiers. The missionaries were told that they were going to be taken to the coast, where they would be safe. The soldiers stole some of their property, such as Fei’s horse, but the group thought they would at least escape with their lives since the soldiers would protect them from the Boxers.
As the group approached a village, some of the soldiers told Fei that the missionaries were going to be killed, and gave him the opportunity to save himself. It wasn’t an easy decision, but he decided that there was nothing he could do to save his friends, so he left. The soldiers robbed him of everything he had except a single silver coin. He stayed in the area until he got confirmation that the missionaries were killed, including the children, and then he began a 400 mile trek across northern China to the port city of Tianjin, where he informed the American consulate of the deaths of the missionaries.[i]
From Tianjin, he went to Beijing where he was greeted with more bad news. As Chinese Christians, his entire family had been threatened with death. At the urging of one of his brothers, who was not a Christian, his parents had committed suicide to save the rest of the family. So Fei was left without friends or family as a result of the Boxer Rebellion.
Fei decided to write to Alice Williams, a missionary he had met in Taigu. Alice had returned home to Oberlin, Ohio, to take care of her ailing mother. Her husband George had remained in China to care for opium addicts and had been murdered two weeks before the Prices.
Alice Williams arranged for Fei to be invited to study at Oberlin College. He set sail from China with Luella Miner, an Oberlin graduate and an American Board missionary, and Kong Xianxi, a friend of Fei’s from college.
His troubles weren’t over, however: when they arrived in San Francisco, immigration rejected their passports due to technical issues. They were eventually approved, but the train they took to Oberlin carried them north into Canada, and they were once again denied entry to the US. They waited in Toronto while the Chinese consul in New York worked to get them admission to the country.
They finally got their visas straightened out, and arrived in Oberlin in January, 1903, sixteen months after landing in San Francisco.
Despite his experiences in the Boxer Rebellion, Fei was involved in the Student Volunteers for Foreign Missions at Oberlin. He graduated in 1906, then went to Yale for a year to get his MA in education.
Return to China
Fei returned to China and began to work in the education department of the YMCA. He was soon asked to assume the presidency of Chihli Provincial College in Baodong, Hebei Province, 87 miles from Beijing. Then in 1910 he was named Associate General Secretary of the YMCA in Beijing, a position he held until 1929.
During this time he met a woman named Wang Yurong. The two had seven children, three boys and four girls.
Meanwhile, the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) was consolidating power in China. First under the Christian Sun Yat-sen and then under Chiang Kai-shek, the Kuomintang converted China into a republic and started the process of driving out the foreign powers.
Chiang Kai-shek set up his government in Nanjing in 1927 to distance it from the Qing dynasty, and managed to consolidate power in 1928 as the sole government of China.
In 1929, Fei left his educational career to spend the next ten years working in a variety of financial departments in the Kuomintang government. During the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), he became the director of personnel of the Central Trust of China in Chongqing, the wartime capital.
After the war, he was appointed to a commission to set up a new municipal government in Beijing. He also resumed his educational activities. He served on the boards of several schools and colleges, as well as the Beijing YMCA.
When the Chinese Communist Party took over China in 1949, Fei retired from his positions. He remained in Beijing until he died of a stroke in 1953.
In his life, Fei encountered enormous danger and heartbreak, yet it never weakened his faith. He continued to be committed to Christianity in China, seeing education as a critical vehicle for the advance of the Gospel. When needed, he also lent his talents to the government.Despite all opposition, Fei realized that to advance, China needed the perspective, knowledge, and values that Christianity could bring to its culture.
[i] Excerpts of Fei’s account of these events can be found at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1900Fei-boxers.asp.
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