History in Focus
Raid on Cikou Church

Western missionaries were not always welcome in Yunnan. And when in 1867 they opened a mission in the upper Mekong valley, on the gates of Tibet, they incurred the wrath of Tibet's rulers.

The snow mountain lands of Tibet have always been the holy grail for missionaries: a land of pious people worshipping idols. Fearing for their power, Tibet's monastic rulers never welcomed the missionaries. They closely watched over any foreigner entering their territory and any missionary work on Tibetan land was quickly stopped.

But since the Opium Wars of the western colonial powers against China, treaties permitted missionaries to work freely anywhere in China. And in the Sino-Tibetan borderlands of the upper Mekong valley, secular rule was with the Chinese magistrates. Since the missionaries could not enter Tibet proper, what better could they do than open missions right on Tibet's doorstep?

In 1867, Benedictine monks opened a mission at Cikou, a small hamlet on the western banks of the upper Mekong. A small church was built. The missionary work in the remote region was hard and arduous. Tibetan monks tried to sabotage their work whenever they could. And even thought the mission was far north of the next Chinese garrison town, work under the distant protection seemed safe enough.

But in 1905 the tables turned. Eastern Tibet rose against the brutal Chinese occupation. And since the missionaries had been living under Chinese protection, they became a target as well. First the mission at Batang was burned, then the lamas set their sight on the missions further down the Mekong valley.

Mekong Village In 1905 Pere Dubernard was in charge of the misssion. As work there was often lonely he welcomed the arrival of George Forrest, a "plant hunter" collecting seeds for European gardens. Together they received the news of the Tibetan rising and the attacks on missions. Batang felt a long way away and Dubernard decided not to abandon his mission. He underestimated the power of the lamas.

A few days later they received news of an imminent attack. The missionary, Forrest and the small group of Christians set off southwards - their only way of escape. Crossing the mountains was out of question. But soon the refugees found themselves encircled. Forrest managed to escape. From a hideout he withnessed how the angry lamas set on their small band with arrows and knifes, hacking many to death. Women and children committed suicide by drowning in the river.

The monks scoured the countryside for many days, looking for him. Forrest managed to hide for several days, before escaping to the safety of the Chinese garrison. There he learned of the paters fate:

Pere Dubernard escaped for two days, but was eventually run to earth in a cave further up the valley. His captors broke both his arms above and below the elbow, tied his hands behind his back, and in this condition forced him to walk back to the blackened site at Tzekou [Cikou]. There they fastened him to a post and subjected him to most brutal mutilation; amonstst the least of his injuries being the extraction of his tongue and eyes and the cutting off of his ears and nose. In this horrible condition he remained alive for the space of three days, in the course of which his torturers cut a joint of his fingers and toes each day. When on the point of death, he was treated in the same manner as Pere Bourdonnec, the portions of the body being distributed amongst the various lamaseries in the region, whilst the two heads were stuck on spears over the lamaseried of the town of Atuntze [Deqin].

The Chinese retaliated with vengeance. All over eastern Tibet, monasteries were burned and monks slaughtered. New missionaries arrived in the Mekong valley. But they never reestablished the mission in Cikou, preferring instead a site further north where they established the Cizhong church, still standing today.