Taiyuan massacre

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Taiyuan massacre
Part of Boxer Rebellion
LocationTaiyuan, Shanxi province, North China
DateJuly 9, 1900
TargetForeigners, Christians
Attack type
Deaths45 Christian men, women and children

The Taiyuan massacre took place during the Boxer Rebellion, July 9, 1900, in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, North China. Reports at the time alleged that Yuxian, governor of Shanxi, ordered the killings of 45 Christian missionaries and village Christians, including children.

Recent research, however, raises questions. Roger Thompson, in his article about Yuxian, the supposed "Butcher of Shanxi", found that there were no eye-witnesses accounts and that both the missionary sources and the Chinese official reports hide the full truth. Nevertheless he concludes, "The weight of the evidence leads to a conclusion that mob violence, not Yuxian, was responsible" for the massacre. [1] Another study finds that the accounts from the time offered different accounts of the executions, though agreed on the skeletal narrative. [2]

The massacre[edit]

Protestant and Catholic missionaries and their Chinese parishioners were massacred throughout northern China, some by Boxers and others by government troops and authorities. After the declaration of war on Western powers in June 1900, Yuxian, who had been named governor in March, implemented a brutal anti-foreign and anti-Christian policy. On 9 July, reports circulated that he had executed forty-four foreigners (including women and children) from missionary families whom he had invited to the provincial capital Taiyuan under the promise to protect them. [3] [4] Roger Thompson points out that the widely circulated accounts were by people who could not have seen the events and that these accounts closely followed (often word for word) well known earlier martyr literature. In any case, this event became a notorious symbol of Chinese anger. [1] By the summer's end, more foreigners and as many as 2,000 Chinese Christians had been put to death in the province. Journalist and historical writer Nat Brandt has called the massacre of Christians in Shanxi "the greatest single tragedy in the history of Christian evangelicalism." [5]

Christians in Taiyuan before the 1900 massacre[edit]

By the late 19th century, there were long-established Christian communities. Catholic missionaries first came to Shanxi in 1633, and Protestant churches were established in 1865. [2]

Reports from resident missioners[edit]

Visiting missioners and others[edit]

  • Dr. and Mrs. Schofield, with Mr. R. J. Landale, 1 also an Oxford man, sailed for China, via America, on April 7, 1880, the Doctor and his wife reaching Shanghai on June 30, and Mr. Landale some days earlier. Dr. and Mrs. Schofield, after a brief period of study at Chefoo, left for Taiyuanfu at the end of October, Mr. and Mrs. Landale following them early the next year. At that time there were only two stations in Shansi : Taiyuanfu, the capital, and Pingyangfu in the south of the province.

    — "The jubilee story of the China Inland Mission"[6]
  • Mr. Hudson Taylor had long wished and made many attempts to reach Shansi, and at length found his way opened in the summer of 1886. Accompanied by Mr. Orr-Ewing, and his son, Herbert Taylor, he reached Taiyuanfu on Saturday 3 July 1886, where they were warmly welcomed by Dr & Mrs Edwards, and by the other workers, among whom were Mr Taylor's niece and nephew, Gertrude and Hudson Broomhall. As the workers from the south of the province had already reached the capital, a Conference was held from Monday 5 July to Wednesday 14 July, which period proved to be " days of blessing " and spiritual refreshment.[6]

A report of this conference was made[7] and includes the following note of those present:

We were warmly received, and kindly entertained by Dr. and Mrs. Edwards, and soon met the remainder of our T’ai-yüen missionaries (my dear niece and nephew Gertrude and Hudson Broomhall, Mr. Sturman, Mrs. Rendall, Miss Kingsbury, and Miss Symon), also Miss Kemp, or Roachdale, who was on a visit to her sister Mrs. Edwards. Our workers from the P’ing-yang plain had come up, viz.: Mr. William Key, and five of the Cambridge band, the Rev. W. W. Cassels, Mr. Stanley P. Smith, Mr. D. E. Hoste, Mr. Montagu Beauchamp, and Mr. C. T. Studd. The usual Saturday afternoon prayer meeting for the widely scattered members of our mission, was a very happy and deeply interesting one. A series of special meetings were commenced on the Monday and from notes taken by Mr. Stanley P. Smith and Mr. Lewis, the following account has been compiled by Mr. Montagu Beauchamp, as the friends present asked to have a permanent record. Mr. Orr Ewing kindly offered to present a copy to any missionary desiring it. Others also having expressed a wish for it, the book has been prepared for more general circulation.

  • Mr J J Turner and Mr F James travelled from Chianking on 17 Oct 1876 arriving in "Taiyuanfu" in April 1877 to discover the region was suffering from 3 years of famine. They left on 28 Nov, two days before the arrival of Timothy Richard with famine relief. Returning the following March 1878 with famine relief were Mr Turner, Rev A Whiting (American Presbyterian Mission) and Rev David Hill (Wesleyan Missionary Society).
  • Sarah Alice Young nee Troyer, known as Alice or Sade to her family
Letters from Sarah Troyer home to her family are archived as "Papers of Sarah Alice (Troyer) Young; 1894-1900", collection 542 in the Billy Graham Center archive. Most of her work was in Lugan Fu in "Shansi" (ie Shanxi). Included is a letter from 1899 with a paragraph starting (poorly transcribed it seems) "My last letter was sent you from Tai üen hu about a week ago.". The previous letter appears to be missing but details of other missionaries working in the area are given. John and Sarah Troyer died in the Boxer Rebellion, 16 July 1900 in Shanxi.
  • Moir Black Duncan and Jessie Chalmers Duncan (born Janet Chalmers Lister) and their daughters
Archives held at the Angus Library under code GB 0469 DUN about which the library reports that

In October 1888 Moir Duncan set sail for China under the auspices of the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS). He was assigned to the province of Shanxi (Shansi), where the renowned missionary Timothy Richard had famously worked for famine relief on behalf of the BMS during the 1870s. For two years Moir Duncan studied Chinese at Taiyuan in Shanxi. In 1890 Jessie Lister sailed to China to join her fiancé, and on 28th November 1890 they were married at the British Consulate in Tientsin. The Duncans set up home at the Taiyuan mission station, and in 1891 their daughter Frances was born. A year later they moved to the neighbouring province of Shaanxi (Shensi), where a small group of Chinese Christians had established a community known as Gospel Village.

Further information available in the books "The missionary mail to faithful friends and candid critics (the substance of letters written from Shên Hsi)", by Moir Black Duncan, London: Elliot Stock, 1900; "The life of Moir Duncan", by Jessie Chalmers Duncan, Baptist Union of Scotland, 1907; "The history of the Baptist Missionary Society 1792-1992", by Brian Stanley, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1992.

The Massacre[edit]

Quotations and Other References[edit]

From China and the Allies Volume 1, by Arnold Henry Savage Landor, p. 265-268. The report stats that Yu-Hsien, the Governor of Shanxi, had a bitter hatred of foreigners and was swift to follow the Empress's orders and to instruct the ford of the Yellow River to be closely guarded lest any escape:

The first riot occurred on June 27, when Miss Coombs was killed and Dr. Edwards' hospital destroyed. A messenger brought this information in a letter written by Dr. Miller Wilson, and sewn into the sole of one of the messenger's shoes.

On July 9 the Governor, Yu-Hsien, having taken the precaution to have the gates of the city closed and carefully watched, commanded all the foreigners in the city to appear before him, sending armed soldiers to enforce his orders.

The Europeans, driven to the Yamen, were received in audience by Yu-Hsien, who had by his side the Prefect and Sub-Prefect of the province, while a number of servants, five hundred soldiers, and a crowd of murderous individuals, surrounded the foreigners.

When all had been brought up, Yu-Hsien enjoined the Europeans to prostrate themselves at his feet, accusing them of bringing vice, evil, and unhappiness in the Empire of Heaven. There was only one remedy for such evil, and that was to behead them all. The order was to be carried out in his presence.

Two Roman Catholic Bishops and three other missionaries were then led out, and were the first to be decapitated on the spot. Then one and all — men, women, and children — were mercilessly beheaded in the courtyard of the Yamen, in front of the hall in which they had been received in audience, and well in sight of the bloodthirsty official. [...] To satisfy their superstitious curiosity, the soldiers are said to have pounced on some of the bodies, still throbbing, of these unfortunates, and cut their hearts out for inspection by the bonzes and other learned men.

Insult — no greater could be given in China — was added to injury by taking the bodies outside the city walls and leaving them to the dogs instead of burying them. Great credit should be given to the local native Christians, who, with admirable pluck and faithfulness, to say nothing of the danger to themselves, surreptitiously secured the bodies by night and buried them. Partly on account of this charitable deed two hundred native Christians were put to death five days later (July 14).

In despatches sent by the local officials to various Yamens it is stated that 37 foreigners and 30 native converts were massacred on July 9; but it is not known for certain whether that figure includes children, or only adults. A report from a city in the neighbourhood of Tai-yuen-fu places the number at 550, quite a number of Yu-Hsien's officers being so horrified at the Governor's orders that they sent the foreigners under their charge to him, that he might carry out his vengeance personally.

The report concludes that Mr and Mrs Piggott, for whom a £5000 reward had been offered were presumed killed in July. Mr and Mrs Hay (mistakenly captured as the Piggotts) escaped to Hankow on 13 February 1901 with Mr M'Kie, Miss Chapman and Miss May.

From Death Throes of a Dynasty: Letters and Diaries of Charles and Bessie Ewing, Missionaries to China, by Charles Ewing, Bessie Ewing, edited by E. G. Ruoff:

A fourth event was the throne's awareness of the massacre of missionaries at Taiyuan, the capital of Shansi. There on July 9, thirty-eight Protestant and Catholic missionaries and ten Chinese converts had been beheaded despite the fact that they had been under the protection of the governor, the bitterly anti-Western Manchu nobleman, Yu Hsien. Unfortunately the killings continued, so that by the end of August a total of 159 Protestant (including 46 children) and 12 Catholic missionaries had been murdered in Shansi province.

From A page of "China's Millions", reports of the CIM, page 111 includes a paragraph on Taiyuan. The report includes a map of Shanxi showing the location of missionary stations.

[...] During July from 15,000 to 20,000 native converts were massacred in the northern provinces. The Times Correspondent.

In Tai-Yuen the capital of Shansi, the notorious anti-Foreign Governor Yu Hsien, invited all the missionaries into has [sic] yamen, and some 33 Protestant Missionaries, and a number of Roman Catholic Priests, were ruthlessly murdered by his orders. [...]

Out of the total of 91 China Inland missionaries in that province alone, when the trouble began 36 have escaped to the coast, 38 have been murdered, and 17 are still unaccounted for. Other missions have also suffered very severely, the American Board, the English Baptist Mission, and the Sheo-yang Mission having lost nearly all their Shansi Workers.

From Encyclopaedia Sinica under the heading Boxerism (p. 62). The "party of fifteen" mentioned is that featured in "A Thousand Miles of Miracle":

Shansi, where Yü Hsien was governor, suffered most. Fire and sword reigned here, Yü Hsien himself taking part in killing the Catholic and Protestant missionaries, to the number of fifty-one, in his Yamen on July 9th and 11th. Some parties were able to escape from the South, but through much suffering : others were killed on the roads : some wandered in the mountains until the storm blew over. Over sixty foreigners were killed in the province, besides those already mentioned as massacred in T'ai-yuan fu. But a party of fifteen escaped from Kalgan across the Gobi desert and reached safety in Irkutsk. Native Christians, Protestant and Catholic, suffered cruelly, a great number being put to death.

The BMS website bmsworldmission.org has transcriptions of telegrams sent at the time which detail those who died in Taiyuan.

One of the most prominent murdered Catholics was Italian bishop Gregory Grassi (born 1833), canonised a Saint by Pope John Paul II on 1 October 2000. His companions of martyrdom were four other Franciscan friars, seven Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, 11 Chinese members of the Third Order of St. Francis- of whom six were seminarians- and three Chinese employees of the franciscan mission of Taiyuan in the Apostolic Vicariate of Northern Shansi. They all belong to the 120 Martyrs of China that were canonized by Pope John Paul II on 1 October 2000.

Later related events[edit]


About three months later than the Memorial Services at Pao-ting-fu which have just been referred to, a party of eight missionaries started for the province of Shan-si. Their names are Dr. E. H. Edwards of the Sheo-yang Mission, Rev. Moir Duncan, and Dr. Creasy Smith of the B.M.S., Dr Atwood of the American Board, and Messrs. D. E. Hoste, A. Orr-Ewing, C. H. Tjader, and Ernest Taylor of the C.I.M. In response to the invitation of the new Governor, Ts en-ch un-hsiien, the party of eight missionaries, under an escort provided by the Governor, started from Pao-ting-fu on Wednesday, June 26, reaching T ai-yiian-fu [poor transcription of Taiyuan-fu, the capital of the Shanxi province] on July 9 the first anniversary of the awful massacre in that very city. The following extract from the diary of one of this party describes their reception :

July 9. Reached T ai-yiian-fu. Twelve months ago to-day forty-five European and American missionaries and others were slaughtered by order of the Governor. The scene to-day was a strange contrast. Thirty miles off, outriders inquired as to the time of our arrival. Ten miles off, the Governor s body guard blared out their welcome and unfurled their standards. Two miles nearer, the Shan-si mounted police made salute. Three miles from the city, we exchanged our litters for Pekin carts to facilitate our reception. A large and representative body of Christians seemed delighted to welcome us. Their faces bore clear traces of the sufferings endured. From this point the procession rapidly increased, as we proceeded between rows of officials, both military and civil. At the entrance to the pavilion stood an Imperial officer, who stepped forward and said, "I welcome you in the name of the Emperor of China."

Taken unedited from "Last Letters and Further Records of Martyred Missionaries of the China Inland Mission"[8]

Indemnity funds[edit]

The Shansi Imperial University at Taiyuan was founded in 1901 with funds from the indemnity levied against Shansi for the massacre of the Christians by the Boxers.[9] During the first decade of the university its chancellor was the Baptist missionary Timothy Richard who also headed the Western College.

References and further reading[edit]

  • Brandt, Nat (1994). Massacre in Shansi. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press. ISBN 0815602820.
  • Clark, Anthony E. (2013), "Mandarins and Martyrs of Taiyuan, Shanxi, in Late Imperial China", in Clark, Anthony E. (ed.), A Voluntary Exile: Chinese Christianity and Cultural Confluence since 1552, Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 93–116, ISBN 9781611461480
  • Clements, Ronald; Bell, Prudence (2014). Lives from a Black Tin Box. Milton Keynes: Authentic Media. ISBN 978-1860249310.
  • Cohen, Paul A. (1997). History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231106505.
  • Esherick, Joseph (1987). The Origins of the Boxer Uprising. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0520058283.
  • Thompson, Roger R (2007), "Reporting the Taiyuan Massacre: culture and politics in the China war of 1900", in Tiedemann, R. G.; Robert A. Bickers (eds.), The Boxers, China, and the World, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 65–92
Accounts from the time

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Thompson (2007), p. 65-92.
  2. ^ a b Clark (2013), p. 98-99.
  3. ^ Esherick (1987), p. 190-191.
  4. ^ Cohen (1997), p. 51.
  5. ^ Brandt (1994), p. xiii.
  6. ^ a b "The jubilee story of the China Inland Mission : with portraits, illustrations & maps", by Marshall & Broomhall, 1915.
  7. ^ "Days of Blessing in Inland China", available online at DustAndAshes.com
  8. ^ An OCR-ed version of Last letters and further records of martyred missionaries of the china inland mission; with portraits and illustrations, edited by Marshall Broomhall B.A., published in London by Morgan & Scott
  9. ^ "The Study of Change: Chemistry in China, 1840-1949", by James Reardon-Anderson, published 2003, ISBN 0-521-53325-2

External links[edit]