A More full bio here:
He was born, to Christian parents, W. H. Ni (Nee) and Peace Lin on November 4, 1903 in Swatow, Foochow, in that great and ancient civilization, China. The story of his grandfather and parents is a monumental chapter unto itself. His grandfather, U.C. Nga, a beneficiary of Western missionaries allowed into China along with the forced "Boxer" trade became the first ordained Chinese pastor. He had five brothers and four sisters, and his mother, during her third pregnancy (the first two children --girls), was anguished like Hannah, and like the mother of that great Old Testament prophet, Samuel, her prayers, while the boatman watchman cried "...all is well..," were answered. He was intitially named Shut-tsu (one who lauds one's ancestor's attributes) or Henry, but after first renaming himself Ching-fu, (one who reproves) but reconsidered its harshness and he changed it to To-Sheng, or Watchman, after his mother relayed their story. As a seventeen year old he would consider himself "saved" after his discipling from Miss Dora Yu, only the second woman in China to get a medical degree.
He was tutored under the Episcopal missionary Margaret Barber, but later went on to establish his own ministry, but took her prayer in her bible she left him when she died in 1930,
I want nothing for myself, I want everything for the Lord.
Even though not formally schooled, he was intelligent, motivated and read avidly, and his books on the Triparte Man and other subjects are as important as any famous author of this genre.
He developed his faith as an ongoing process, where he discovered the power of naively believing for miracles when needed, and then achieved balance in its practice in everyday life. Even though he wanted no denominational tag, calling the building the church assembly hall, and the English Brethren hymnal he chose to translate for his church he renamed Hymns, but not before the name Little Flock (Hsiao Chun) in its title, Hymns for the Little Flock became their nickname.
During the 30's he and his church was surrounded by upheavals. There were revolutions involving Communists in the mountains, in the Southeast: Western emulating President Sun (where Mandarin became pushed as a National Chinese dialect --helping Bible reading expansion, as well--, a challenging General Yuang, who replaced the departed Emperor, and the Japanese incursions. He had just overcome serious health problems when back in Shanghai he was rebuked on doctrinal issues (Nee stressed open communion) and his cardiac malfunctions returned.
He married a fellow believer, Charity Chang, a longtime neighbor and also taught by Dr. Yu, but they left no children. When the Japanese wrecked havoc on their homeland, they fled first to Hong Kong where he left her behind at his parents home there, and he continued on to London, England, and at Keswick, speaking before fellow believers, that included a Japanese gentleman, Watchman invoked an intercessary prayer:
The Lord reigns; we affirm it boldly. Our Lord Jesus Christ is reigning, and he is Lord of all; nothing can touch his authority It is spiritual forces that are out to destroy his interests in China and Japan. Therefore we do not pray for China, we do not pray for Japan, but we pray for the interests of thy Son in China and Japan. We do not blame any men, for they only tools of thine enemy. We stand for thy will. Shatter, O Lord, the kingdom of darkness, for the persectuions of thy Church are wounding thee. Amen.
He did not remain overseas too long, and he returned to his homeland where he and his family and church languished in Shanghai during the wartime situation almost exactly those in a town under siege.
Watchman Nee did not promote an overly ascetic lifesyle, but, of course, lived by Biblical principles. He worked with a group that became known as the "Little Flock". He had a close relationship with a disciple, Witness Lee from 1925 until 1950, and he wrote written a biography, Watchman Nee, A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age.
The freedom to directly establish churches throughout mainland China came to an end when his Christianity clashed with Communist policy and their Party sponsored "Three Self Movement". Originally the Little Flock had joined it, but by 1955 they withdrew, a time when fundamentalist rival Wang Ming-tao was arrested after he published We shall be steadfast because of our faith and then they drew the ire of the authorities that put out this ptolemic against them:
Religion is religion and faith is faith; they must not be mixed up with a person's private counterrevolutionary ideas and used as a cover behind which to spread the poison of hatred towards country and people. Every Christian should enter positively into the struggle to expose these arrested men's crimes.
He endured deprivation accordingly , and he was eventually imprisoned when he wouldn't comply with unjust requirements of the state regarding his ultimate allegiance. This incarceration included the brutality of harsh political re-education. While others of his flock left for abroad, setting up congregations, (eventually thousands) he adamantly decided to stay in his homeland for what he believed, and he went to be with Jesus, dying in prison in 1972.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon