29 DECEMBER 1973
The story of Wang Zhiming is a poignant example of the challenges faced by Christians during the Cultural Revolution in China. He was the only Christian executed during that period to have a memorial built in his honour in China and was also recognised as one of ten representative martyrs on the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey in London.
Wang Zhiming was born in Wuding County, Yunnan region, shortly after the arrival of the first missionaries in the area. He became a teacher in a Christian school and served as a pastor to a community of 2,800 Christians during one of China’s most difficult decades. The Cultural Revolution sought to modernise China by discarding ancient and traditional elements, and during this time, Wang joined the Three-Self movement, a state-sanctioned Protestant organisation.
Despite his affiliation with the Three-Self movement, Wang refused to participate in public denunciation meetings, where people were humiliated and berated. He believed that as a pastor who had baptised these individuals, he should not now be part of their public humiliation. This refusal made him a target for local Red Guards, who saw his leadership in a “foreign religion” as a dangerous influence.
In May 1969, Wang and some members of his family were arrested. He endured four years in prison before his sentence was carried out. On 29 December 1973, he faced a public denunciation before ten thousand spectators at a mass rally in a stadium, after which he was executed.
Reportedly, some of Wang Zhiming’s last words were an encouragement for people to follow God above all else. Despite the tragic end to his life, his faith and convictions left a lasting impact on the local Christian community. His wife was held in prison for three years, and two of his sons endured nine years of imprisonment. Tragically, one of his sons died while in detention.
Over time, the Chinese government recognised the injustice done to Wang Zhiming and offered a reparation of $380 US to his family, which was a meagre amount compared to the value of a human life. Nonetheless, despite the persecution and loss, the church in the Wuding area grew significantly, which would have been in line with Wang’s desires and aspirations.
Wang Zhiming’s story represents the resilience of faith in the face of persecution and the lasting impact of individuals who choose to stand by their beliefs, even at great personal cost. His memory is honoured both in China and abroad as a symbol of Christian martyrdom during a tumultuous period in Chinese history.