Stories: by Person: Z

Zhao Maijia

1919 ~ 2007

Zhao Maijia, originally named Zhao Zongyi, was born in 1919 in Lin County, Henan. Because of famine, he was taken as a young child by his parents to live in Shize Village in Tunliu County, located in the Changzhi district of Shanxi Province. His family was just one of many from Lin County who relocated there. When Christianity reached Shize Village, many residents became believers, and for this reason it became known as “Gospel Village” and was called this until the founding of the People’s Republic of China, when it was renamed “Shize Village.”

When Zhao Zongyi, along with his two elder brothers, two elder sisters, and parents first arrived in Shanxi, they didn’t have a house to live in, and the only shelter they could find was a cave. Their life in Shanxi was extremely impoverished. His father was a porter, and his mother found work sewing cloth soles for shoes, but their income was always meager, and when Zongyi was just three years old, his mother passed away. At that time, his then 13-year-old sister took over household responsibilities and became his main caregiver. As a young child, Zongyi contracted a serious case of dysentery, and came close to dying. His father continued to work as a porter to support the family, but this required him to carry goods between Henan and Shanxi, and he was often not at home. Just a few years later, owing to the strenuous manual labor and constant malnutrition, his father became seriously injured, and when Zongyi was just ten years old, he lost his father as well. It was fortunate then, that his second eldest brother found a good job, and with this supported Zongyi’s studies all the way through high school. Zongyi became the most educated youth from his village.

Even though from an early age Zhao Zongyi would attend church with his family, he did not have a belief in God. After graduating from middle school, he moved to the city of Taiyuan in Shanxi Province for high school. He was only able to finish half of his secondary education. Just after the start of the Sino-Japanese War on 7th of July 1937, his second eldest brother became sick and died. Lacking financial support, Zongyi had no choice but to drop out of school. Having no better alternative, he exchanged the pen for the sword, and enlisted in the army. After facing life - or - death situations as a soldier, he returned to the Changzhi district in Shanxi to convalesce from an illness. It was at this time that Evangelist and Pastor Zhang Meng’en came to the Changzhi distric, and Zhao Zongyi accompanied his eldest brother Zhao Siyi to hear Pastor Zhang preach. After hearing Zhang, Zongyi wrestled in his heart for three long weeks, until one day when he read Psalm 32:8: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” These words moved him deeply, and from this point on he earnestly sought to follow God.

One evening alone at church, as he was praying and contemplating, confessing his whole heart to God, and earnestly seeking to know God’s will for his future, he observed a white sheet of paper [appear before him], upon which was clearly written “Maijia.” At that time, although he didn’t understand its meaning, he was confident that this was his new name, given by God, and in it was also contained God’s plan for his life. Hence, he changed his name to Maijia, and solemnly inscribed this name in his Bible. The next day, when he shared about his experience, everyone at church saw a connection to the words of Jesus, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” They understood the word “Mai Jia” to mean that like a grain of wheat [maizi], he would sacrifice and abandon himself, and as a result, much fruit would be produced and the church would grow. Zhao readily accepted this explanation; he was willing to sacrifice his life and follow the way of the cross.

After this, Zhao Maijia became more zealous, and traveled to nearby mining areas to spread the gospel, reading the Bible, praying for people, and leading many to believe. It wasn’t long after this that the Japanese occupied his hometown, and to avoid being subjugated by the Japanese and being labeled a traitor to the Chinese, he fled his hometown. Through the introduction of a classmate, he joined the Communist Eighth Route Army Anti-Japanese Death Squad, and fought as a guerilla warrior at Taihang Mountain. Because he had some education, he was soon sent to study at the Anti-Japanese Military University, where he developed a strong physique as a result of doing manual labor, such as fetching water and picking grain. He graduated after two years, and was then assigned to an artillery school. However, after finishing training, he was admitted to the hospital to recover from recurrent sores on his legs. Shortly thereafter, the Japanese Army raided the Eighth Route Army base at Taihang Mountain. Owing to his illness, Zhao Maijia became separated from the army during the retreat. In desperation, he descended the mountain by himself, and headed for Lin County, where he planned to go into hiding for a while at the home of his relatives. At this time, the cooperation between the Nationalists and Communist broke off, and since he was wearing the clothes of the Communist Eighth Route Army and had his legs wrapped with puttees [in the style of the Communist soldiers], when he fell into the hands of the Nationalist Army, he was detained at prison camps at Luoyang, Xi’an, and other locations. He suffered greatly while a prisoner, but these circumstances served to revive his faith, as any time he could spare from work he spent reading the Bible and praying.

In May of 1943, Zhao Maiya was finally released in Xi’an. There he ran into Zhang Meng’en, the same pastor who had led him to faith. With Pastor Zhang’s help, Zhao was then able to attend a church school for a half year in Dali County, Shaanxi Province. That following year, in June (1944), Pastor Zhang recommended him yet again to another school, this time to study theology at the Northwest Bible College in Fengxiang, Shaanxi. When he enrolled he formally changed his name to “Maijia,” and it was at this time that the director of the school, Paster Zhang Make [Mark] pointed out to him that “Maijia” also was to the name of Mecca, the holy city for Islam. Because of this, he became more resolute in his calling to go west, and to the idea of bringing the gospel to the Muslim peoples. Pastor Mark had already established the Chinese Christian Gospel Mission Group in 1942, the slogan of which was “Spread the gospel back to Jerusalem.” They were resolved to take the Christian faith westward, across the provinces of Shaanxi, Gansu, Ningxia, Qinghai, and out from Xinjiang Province into the Muslim countries until they reach Jerusalem. The motive and goal behind the Gospel Mission Group aligned with the sense of mission in Zhao Maijia’s heart, and so he formally joined the organization. After joining, he started to live even more frugally and to be even more hardworking, in order to train his body and his mind for missions work.

By 1940, all provinces in Northwest China, except for Xinjiang, had established churches. For this reason, it became the goal of the Gospel Mission Group to bring the gospel to Xinjiang Province. In the summer of 1946, Zhao Maijia and Dai Yanzhong were sent together to Qinghai Province [the neighboring province to Xinjiang] to work. On the way, they passed through the cities of Lanzhou and Xining, coming finally to stop in Huangyuan County [in Qinghai]. Sensing the need for Huangyuan to hear the gospel, Dai Yanzhong stayed in this city while Zhao Maijia continued on westwards to Dulan County [in Qinghai]. The journey there was full of dangers and difficulties; he crossed high mountains, wilderness, and desert, where he not only encountered herds of wild animals, but also bandits and robbers. At all times he faced starvation, dehydration, and the threat of violence. In a letter to Pastor Mark, he wrote, “If you don’t have a clear leading from the Lord, at all costs, do not take this road!” (Shenguo Xialü [Silk Road Mission - Story of a Heroic Couple], p.101).

To Zhao Maijia, Dulan was a completely unfamiliar environment; all the people he encountered there were Hui, Mongolian, Tibetan, or Kazakh. Because of the differences in food, language, and living conditions, he faced many difficulties, but by far the greatest difficultly was getting these people to listen to the gospel. In a letter back to his seminary, Zhao Maijia wrote: “… missionaries called to the Northwest should first come here to Dulan; and those missionaries called to the nations of Central Asia should first go to Kashgar in southern Xinjiang. …If the road from Huangyuan to Dulan is the baptismal pool of the devoted, . . . the road to Kashgar is the furnace of faith. After this time of testing and refining, we can finally say with sincerity that the aspirations we have been called to will really be carried out. And it truly becomes possible for us to bring the gospel to the Northwest, and back to Jerusalem” (Shenguo Xialü [Silk Road Mission - Story of a Heroic Couple], pp.101-103).

In March of 1947, He Enzheng, a female teacher the Fengxiang [County] Bible College in Shaanxi Province, led five students from the Northwest Bible College - Fan Zhijie, Lu De, Wei Suxi, Zhang Moxi [aka. Moses], and Li Jinquan - from Xi’an, where they were sent out by the churches with blessings, to go to Xining City and join with Zhao Maijia. Their goal was to the western most part of Xinjiang, Shule County [south of Kashgar], China’s western gate. They planned to serve there while also studying the local language, and after a while to depart for the Muslim countries to the west.

He Enzheng’s delegation passed through Pingjing, Tianshui, Gangu, and Lanzhou, serving the churches along the way by leading spiritual training meetings, preaching, and holding evangelistic gatherings. When Zhao Maijia learned of their plans to join him, he hurried form Dulan to meet them at Qinghai Lake. When they came to Dulan, they purchased more camels, and prepared food, water, tents, and other supplies for their journey. This caravan of eleven all showed bravery as they pressed westward, despite the threat of vast desert wilderness, wild animals, and thieves. On the way, they faced dehydration, food shortages, and rapids; they also got lost; they encountered thieves and other dangerous bandits, yet all the while they depended on prayer and made it safely through each obstacle. Just as they passed through Golmud City and the Qaidam Basin, and were getting ready to start out on the next stage of their journey, however, they encountered a blockade set up by a Red Army troop led by Ma Bufang, who happened to be a Muslim. Except for Zhao Maijia - who obtained permission to be left behind to take care of the camels and other odds and ends - everyone else in the party was taken in army trucks back to Xining. He Enzheng’s delegation was left with no choice but to change their itinerary and go instead to assist different churches in the Northwest, and wait for the next opportunity, which came the next year, in 1948. That year, He Enzheng and Feng Suxi were sent out again to Xinjiang. They passed through the counties of Wuwei, Zhangye, Jiuquan, Anxi [former name of Guazhou County] in Gansu Province, and Kumul in Xinjiang Province, serving churches, holding evangelistic meetings, and preaching in each of these locations. In September of 1949, they finally reached the city of Urumqi, where they stayed working at the church on Mingde Road until March 1949.

In the spring of 1948, Zhao Maijia went by himself to Xinjiang, by way of the counties of Zhangye, Jiuquan, and Dunhuang in Gansu, and then along the Tianshan mountains, passing through Hami, Turpan, and Korla. To support himself along the road, he engraved and sold signet chops. After a few months, he reached the city of Kashgar, on the far west boarder. He never returned to Central China.

In Kashgar, Zhao Maijia rented a small house and began to hold gatherings. At that time, he became the first Chinese missionary to the southern Xinjiang region. By the next year the gatherings at his house had grown to around 20 to 30 people, and a church was officially established. Subsequently, Dai Yanzhong and Lu De in succession joined with Zhao Maijia in southern Xinjiang. Later in 1949, Zhao Maijia decided to hand over the leadership of the church he began in Kashgar to the “Northwest Spiritual Group,” which had come to Kashgar initially on an evangelistic mission. Zhao Maijia and his two co-workers Dai Yanzhong and Lu De then went out to the surrounding regions of Shache [aka. Yarkand], Hetian [aka. Hotan] preaching the gospel and establishing churches.

After 1949, the Public Security Bureau came to investigate Zhao Maijia. They discovered he had been a member of the Eighth Route Army, had graduated from the Anti-Japanese Military University, and had even participated Anti-Japanese Death Squad, and could receive veterans’ benefits. However, Zhao Maijia was willing to give this all up and stay in Xinjiang to spread the gospel.

Beginning in 1951 a number workers in Xinjiang with the "Northwest Spiritual Group" were arrested. Those detained included Zhang Guquan, Zhao Ximen [aka. Simon], Liu Deming, Shi Xinmin, Wen Muling and others. In 1952, the churches in Shule and Yarkand were forced to close, but believers continued to gather in these areas until the start of the Cultural Revolution.

In 1953, through the introduction of Pastor Zhang Meng’en, He Enzheng agreed to go to Kashgar, Xinjiang, and marry Zhao Maijia. At that time, many were concerned for her, because they believed this far - off place to be quite dangerous, and urged her not to go. Without hesitation, she replied, “In southern Xinjiang, the church has finally managed to open the door, and a church has been established. If he (Zhao Maijia) dies, what happens to the church? He has been nailed to this place, and he doesn’t fear death. How can I fear death? If he is sent to labor camp, I can give bring him food. If he dies, I can continue his work.” (Ibid., p. 151)

He Enzheng caught the train from Urumqi, and after a bumpy seven days, she reached Kashgar. When Zhao Maijian received the telegraph notice that she had arrived, he quickly came from Yarkand to meet her in Kashgar, where they were married. Simon Zhao’s wife Wen Muling witnessed their ceremony. After they were married, Zhao Maijia brought He Enzheng back with him to Yarkand to help serve the church. In 1954, their eldest son Zhao Huan was born, and was followed by Zhao Hong in 1955.

Because of their work spreading the gospel, the local Muslims often threatened to kill them; the government also regarded them as counter-revolutionaries and spies, and repeatedly asked them to confess and admit the charges. After the church in Yarkand was closed, He Anzheng went to work in a garment factory, and later in a kindergarten. It didn’t matter where they were, Zhao Maijia and his wife had a heart to serve God and others, and do their jobs to perfection; they thus enjoyed a very good reputation among others.

In 1966, He EnZheng brought their two children back to Zhao Maijia’s hometown in Shanxi, and then to her own hometown, Beijing, and stayed there for two years, escaping the great persecution that occurred during the Cultural Revolution in the areas around Kashgar. Zhao Maijia, however, who had stayed behind in Yarkand was labeled as a spy, a counter-revolutionary, a deserter, and many other charges were made against him; he was subjected to cruel criticism and persecution. Nevertheless, after the storm of the Cultural Revolution passed, Zhao Maijia still returned to Yarkand, and worked there as an accountant until he retired in 1987 and moved to Kashgar. He Enzheng returned to southern Xinjiang to join him in Yarkand after the Cultural Revolution.

In 1989, Zhao Maijia suffered a stroke, which left him unable to speak and greatly reduced his mobility. Each time he would hear or see a song by “Gospel Mission Group,” however, it always brought tears to his eyes. On March 7, 2007, after serving 60 years to advance the gospel in Xinjiang, this representative of the “Back to Jerusalem Movement” finally rested from his work and went to his Lord. Zhao Maijia really was like a grain of wheat [as his Christian name depicted], that was planted in China’s far west, in Kashgar, Xinjiang. His vision, instead of vanishing, has become the precious spiritual heritage of the church in China, inspiring tens of thousands of Christians to continue tirelessly in this struggle. As Zhao Maijia once said: “The road from Xinjiang to Jerusalem is like a tightly locked heavy bronze door, but we hope that the next generation can continue to bear the burden where we ourselves have failed” (ibid, p. 182). It is reported that He Enzheng said: “Zhao Maijia and I will die in this place, for when we came here, it was not our intention to return home alive. But you all must continue to press forward.” (ibid, p. 188).

He Anzheng passed away in 2009 at the age of 92, faithful to the Lord to the end. After her death, Zhao’s descendants, in cooperation with a group of agricultural experts from Taiwan, built “Canaan Farm,” a modern agricultural demonstration farm in Kashgar, Xinjiang. This farm introduces the most advanced agricultural machinery and technology and employs young Uighurs who have graduated from local agricultural schools. The hope and purpose of this farm is to help the local Muslims, both rich and poor, and also let them know Jesus’ love. The Canaan Farm project has been well received both by the local government and people.

About the Authors

By Yading Li

Senior Associate, Global China Center; Chinese Editor, Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity.

Translated by Sarah V. Brown

After completing her B.A. in Chinese Language and Literature at Dartmouth College, Sarah Brown spent more than three years teaching English in northeast China. After her stint in education, she worked as a Translation Consultant. She is currently pursuing a M.A. in Asian Studies at Georgetown’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.

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