1859  — ????

Chan Sui-Cheung

(Chen Sui-Cheung)

"A Fisher of Men"

Chan Sui-Cheung (Cantonese form of his name) was born in the village of Lau Kong, Guangdong, in the sight of the rock where the famous Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier, exclaimed, “Rock, open!” referring to China, at a time when the Chinese government would not tolerate the presence of any “barbarian” in their country. Mr. Chan himself often gave expression to the same sentiment, for he earnestly longed for the salvation of his people. And more than once he compared the hearts of his countrymen to adamant rocks, or the igneous rocks so plentiful in that part of China.

The name “Chan” [Chen in Mandarin] is that of one of the largest clans of the Empire (this article was composed before the 1911 revolution), and it is an honor to wear it. Sui Cheung was his “baby” name, and might be translated “Following Elegance.”

It will be seen that Mr. Chan belonged to a very large family, and had a “good name,” which, however, might mean nothing, as all Chinese names are high sounding. In later years he took the name of Yeuk Yu, which means “A Weak Fisher.” This he undoubtedly applied to himself, self-deprecatingly, as being a “weak fisher of men.”

Mr. Chan was below the average in height and had a rather frail constitution. So poor was his physical endowment that if it were any indication of his spirit, this sketch would never have been written. A strong spirit in a frail body, a courageous soul in a frail frame – this represents Chan Sui Cheung.

At eight years of age he entered a primary school, “but,” he says, “my memory was very poor, and the few columns of characters I learned daily I was unable to repeat, no difference what schemes were employed.” In fact, for many years, his vocabulary seemed limited, and he never was what is popularly called “eloquent.”

At fourteen he entered the high school. His reasoning faculties were now developing, and he says of this time, “I began to understand truth and comprehend the first principles of knowledge.” In elementary school the treacherous memory of Chan Sui Cheung often brought the teacher’s rod down upon his head. In high school, he learned to compose essays and write couplets, as all Chinese youth were wont to do.

Chan belonged to a literary family, some members of which had attained to the Second Literary Degree, and he was destined for the same honors by his parents. But, alas! the weakness of his body and the poverty of the family prevented him from remaining very long at school, and when he was seventeen, he, with others from his native village, embarked for the “Shores of the Flowery Flag,” as they called the United States.

Here he remained two years as a cigar-maker, and then returned to his native land. Having no profession and being unused to manual labor, he again visited the high school, where, in all probability, his taste for learning received its first great impulse and made him a lifelong student. From this time, he ranked among the scholars. After several more years of study, he became a teacher.

At twenty-three, he married a daughter of the Lee family. She was frugal and looked well to the ways of her household, although, in these days of her unbelief, she spent considerable sums on idol worship.

It is not always as easy to support a wife as to get one, and at twenty-five we find Mr. Chan once more turning his steps toward America in order to make his fortune. Coming to Chicago, where there was a large Chinese colony, he was induced to attend a Sunday school. The following year he heard the gospel, and almost immediately he accepted the truth. He says, “I became conscious of my sin and renounced all my former wrongdoing, and was baptized by the Rev. E. P. Goodwin, D.D., of the First Congregational Church, in 1885, in the twenty-sixth year of my age.”

It was Chan Sui Cheung’s good fortune to have some faithful teachers, who not only taught the principles of Christianity, but also the power of Christ in the soul. He, therefore, never made much of Chinese philosophy in his preaching.

He was a thorough Chinese in his regard for propriety, and was always offended at indiscreet conduct. From his experience, he was thoroughly convinced that in Chinese schools and Sunday schools, in America, only elderly or mature women should be employed as teachers.

It must not be supposed that the acceptance of Christianity was an easy matter for him. By inheritance and by his sympathetic nature he was strongly drawn to Confucianism. And it was almost with trepidation that he took the covenant of the church above mentioned. “The weakest of the weak,” he became strong as the power of Christ possessed him.

The great magnet, aside from the divine truth, which drew his heart to Christ, was the life he saw lived by such disciples as Dr. Goodwin, Dr. Shipman and Mrs. Brown, and these, though dead, lived in Chan Sui Cheung.

His brother in China died, and at the request of his wife and mother, he once more turned his face toward his native land. He was sad, for he knew that persecutions were in store for him.

As soon as he reached home, he sought out all the Christians in the neighborhood and began to hold Christian services. He says of this time: “There were in this region only six or seven Christians. I was the only one who became a preacher. My relatives regarded me as the scum of the earth. I was ridiculed, slandered, and persecuted, and those who were my most intimate friends looked upon me as the earth’s offscouring.”

Once when he attended the funeral of a relative, he did not prostrate himself before the grave, as the others did, but waited until the last and repaired, somewhat, the grave. Upon his return some of the young men jeered at him for his lack of reverence for ancestors, to which he replied: “I did more than you. You made your bow and hastened away for fear the spirits would catch you, while I remained behind to repair the grave.” After this he was not greatly molested, although he sometimes was lonely, from lack of fellowship and kindred spirits.

In the spring of 1891, he was first regularly employed by the American Board Mission. He was located in a valley called Hoi In, nine miles from his home. Here he has labored ever since, although the first years of his ministry were largely devoted to study and self-improvement.

At this time his wife was still a pagan. When his mother died, his wife almost forced him to worship her corpse. She would spend the money he gave her for buying provisions for heathen worship. He remonstrated with her many times. At last, in desperation, he used the argument of corporeal (sic) punishment.

When he told what he had done, he was asked how he would like to have the same means tried with him, as he had been known to do some foolish things, too. He smiled and made no reply. But several years afterwards, when the subject of wife-whipping came up among church-members, he said: “I do not think that anything can be gained by whipping our wives. It does not change their hearts. More can be gained by gentle means.”

But for ten more years his wife resisted every entreaty to become a Christian. She held out even when her own daughters, one after another, came into the church. There was a happy family when, at last, only a few years ago, she confessed Christ.

He was no doubt influenced by missionaries in entering the ministry, but, having entered sacred work, he ever after felt himself drawn and held to it by the Spirit of God. And this, although the strenuous life of a Chinese evangelist was not suited to his weak body and quiet temperament. He was a reticent man, and not eloquent in his sermons. But he developed wonderfully.

He was a close and constant student of the Bible. His delight was great when he first caught Paul’s meaning of the law and grace, as recorded in Romans. He often prayed the he might be crucified with Christ. When, upon one occasion, he gave way to his temper, he prayed earnestly that his temper might be nailed to the cross. In the village where this incident occurred, such has been his influence that there is now a Christian school and a goodly number of church members.

Mr. Chan had a quick grasp of spiritual truth. Once, when at the close of the year, he was asked what he had learned during the year, he replied, “To cast all my care upon God.”

He delighted to refer to favorite passages of Scripture. His Chinese Bible, especially the New Testament, was marked through and through. It was always a pleasure to talk to him of divine things, for his spiritual perceptions were keener than is usual among even home Christians. His prayers were always earnest, and spiritual and full of faith.

He never stopped growing. He seems to develop every year. He has a well-stocked library, and is a constant reader of all good literature - secular and religious. But perhaps his chief work has been to train other workers. The Mission not having regular or elaborate facilities for this, he has largely supplied the need. He has, alone, trained a number of earnest men for the ministry.

The Bible has always been the principal textbook, no difference what the attainments of the student might be. He called his pupils together early in the morning, and several times a day, for study. No time was wasted. On “market days” each pupil was expected to preach to the people. On other days they preached in the villages. In this way he prepared them for their work, so that the American Board Mission has now ten or twelve men who were taught by Chan Sui Cheung, and these men are as well – if not better - trained as the graduates of our training school, that is, for the special work they have to do.

See him teaching. The theme is “The Crucifixion of Christ.” The teacher and the students are all seated around the table, Bibles in hand. He thus applies the theme: “You and I have crucified Christ. It was your sins and mine that nailed the Lord of glory to the cross.” And in this way, he continued until his eyes and those of his pupils were suffused with tears – a rare scene even among Christian Chinese.

No pupil ever got a false impression from his teaching. They knew that what he taught was not a foreign gospel, but the unchangeable truth of God. One of these pupils thus speaks of his experience under Mr. Chan. “In the morning, we were up before daylight, and we often sat up as late as nine or ten o’clock at night to study. There were several sessions during the day. When not studying, we were preaching, so that my head fairly ached at times.” No drones were allowed, and he got out of his pupils more than any foreign teacher could have done. There is no hesitation about sending younger men off to him for training. They always get not only the theory, but the spirit, of the gospel.

In preaching he was true and faithful. The thirteen years of his services have seen a communion service of two or three increased to nearly one hundred. He is loved by his people – they may lean upon hm a little too much at times. They go to him with all their pecuniary and other difficulties. At our annual conferences he holds a prominent place.

Of his call to the ministry, he has no doubt, and at one of these annual meetings he moved the entire audience by declaring that when a man had put his hand to the gospel plow he should never turn back. And then, appealing to his own experience, he devoutly affirmed that he never found rest to his soul until he promised God that he would make preaching his lifelong work. And thus, he has great power with others.

From extreme modesty he has declined ordination, but he is a bishop in his own diocese. He is a bishop of souls and an instructor of preachers. His own best teacher has been the word of God unfolded by the Spirit, to which he acknowledges his allegiance on every occasion. Oh, for the sake of China, that such men could be multiplied a thousand-fold!


Taken from Illustrious Chinese Christians: Biographical Sketches, by William Preston Bentley. Cincinnati, OH: The Standard Publishing Company, 1906, 205-215.

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