When Zhang Depeng was introduced to Christianity, he had a number of obstacles to overcome before he could be baptized. The struggle to conform himself to Christ at the beginning of his journey must have strengthened him to stand firm in the face of persecution at the end.
Dapeng was born in Duyun, Guizhou in 1754. Forty years later, he moved 60 miles east to the city of Guiyang to work with a silk merchant. This business relationship proved to be his catalyst for conversion.
The silk merchant’s son, Wang Zheng, went to Beijing to take exams. While there, he got to know Catholics and was baptized Xavier. Upon his return to Guiyang, he enthusiastically started sharing his faith in Jesus with anyone who would listen. Dapeng was intrigued and began to read Xavier’s Christian books. As his interest in Christianity grew, his desire for baptism intensified. But there were problems.
Dapeng and his wife had not been able to have children, so he had taken on a concubine. With his concubine, he had a son. Having two women under his roof was a stumbling block that caused Dapeng to momentarily abandon the idea of becoming a Christian. When catechists came from Sichuan to open a mission, they encouraged him to look for a solution. Wanting to make sure that the concubine was well cared for, they separated and he supplied the dowry for her marriage to a Christian man.
Stern opposition to his baptism then surfaced from extended family. There was fear that relatives who held positions within the government might suffer if Dapeng went through with baptism. But he had made up his mind.
In 1798 Dapeng traveled to Longping to begin preparing for baptism with Peter Wu. In 1801, Dapeng was baptized Joseph by Fr. Matthias Luo.
Many people came to learn catechism from Dapeng. His wife and son, Anthony, were among those who converted.
There was a great deal of hostility towards Christians in their region and Dapeng was frequently on the run, hiding from various individuals and groups. In 1812, Anthony was arrested and offered freedom in return for revealing his father’s hiding place. Anthony refused, was sent into exile, and died a year later at the age of 19.
Having fled as far as Chongqing, Sichuan, a bishop encouraged him to return to Guiyang to strengthen the faithful there. Upon returning, he got to work sharing the faith and nine people converted. This enraged the local authorities and a price was put on his head. Dapeng’s brother-in-law decided the price was right and helped get him arrested. When family and friends begged for his release, the governor agreed on one condition. Dapeng would have to renounce his faith. He flatly refused and was sentenced to death by hanging.
On March 12, 1815, Joseph Dapeng walked to his place of execution with tears in his eyes. To friends standing nearby he said, “These are tears of joy. Pray to God for me.” To those who wept for him he said, “Please don’t cry. I am dying because of faith in God, not for having committed a crime.” He had struggled and sacrificed in order to follow Jesus, with these final steps of the journey he could see eternal happiness awaiting him in heaven.