Christianity arrived in China by way of Syria in the 600s. Depending on China’s relations with the outside world, Christianity over the centuries was free to grow or was forced to operate secretly.
The 120 martyrs in this group died between 1648 and 1930. Most of them (eighty-seven) were born in China and were children, parents, catechists or labourers, ranging from nine years of age to seventy-two. This group includes four Chinese diocesan priests.
While Catholicism had been tolerated by some Emperors in the preceding centuries, Emperor Kia-Kin (1796-1821) of China published numerous and severe decrees against it. The first was issued in 1805. Two edicts of 1811 were directed against those among the Chinese who were studying to receive sacred orders, and against priests who were propagating the Christian religion. One decree, proclaimed in 1813, forgave voluntary apostates from every chastisement, that is, it pardoned Christians who spontaneously declared that they would abandon their faith. All others who persevered were to be dealt with harshly. As a result, a number of Christians underwent martyrdom in this period.
The thirty-three foreign-born martyrs were mostly priests or women religious, especially from the Order of Preachers, the Paris Foreign Mission Society, the Friars Minor, Jesuits, Salesians and Franciscan Missionaries of Mary.
Born in 1746, Augustine Zhao Rong was a Chinese soldier who accompanied Bishop John Gabriel Taurin Dufresse (Paris Foreign Mission Society) to his martyrdom in Beijing on 14 Sept 1815. He was moved by the bishop’s presence. As a result, Augustine was baptised and not long after was ordained as a diocesan priest. He worked in the Su-Tchuen province. However, he was arrested for his faith and work. While under arrest, he had to suffer the most cruel tortures. As a result of his injuries, he died in prison in 1815. He was beatified in May 1900.
Beatified in groups at various times, these 120 martyrs were canonised in Rome on 1 October 2000. – CatholicCulture.org