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Watchman Nee
Watchman Nee
Born Template:Birth-date
Foochow, China
Died Template:Death-date
Anhwei province, China

Watchman Nee (Template:Zh; Foochow Romanized: Ngà̤ Táuk-sĭng; 1903–1972) was a Chinese Christian author and church leader during the early 20th century. He spent the last 20 years of his life in prison and was severely persecuted by the Communists in China.[1] Together with Wangzai, Zhou-An Lee, Shang-Jie Song, and others, Nee founded The Church Assembly Hall, later which would be also known as the "Local churches" (Chinese: 地方教會).

Born into a Methodist family, Watchman Nee experienced a religious revival, and joined the Church of Heavenly Peace, Fuzhou in 1920 at age 17 and began writing in the same year. In 1921, he met the British missionary M. E. Barber, who was a great influence on him.[2] Through Miss Barber, Nee was introduced to many of the Christian writings which were to have a profound influence on him and his teachings.[3] Nee attended no theological schools or Bible institutes. His knowledge was acquired through studying the Bible and reading various Christian spiritual books.[4][5] During his 30 years of ministry, beginning in 1922, Nee traveled throughout China planting churches among the rural communities and holding Christian conferences and trainings in Shanghai.[6] In 1952 he was imprisoned for his faith; he remained in prison until his death in 1972.[7]


Early life

Nee Shu-Tsu (Watchman Nee) was born in Foochow, China. Nee's grandfather, Nga U-cheng, born in 1840, was a Congregational preacher of the American Supplies Commission. He died in 1890. Nee's father was Ni Weng-Sioe (W. S. Ni), born in 1877, and the fourth of nine boys. He was an officer in the Imperial Customs Service. He died in Hong Kong in 1941. Nee's mother was Lin Gwo Ping (Peace Lin), who was born in 1880. She died at the age of 70, in 1950. Nee's parents were Methodists, and Nee was baptized as a child by the American Methodist Episcopal Mission.

When Nee was 17 years old (1920), and still a student, he went to hear an evangelist by the name of Dora Yu in the Church of Heavenly Peace, who charged the people to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, a call that Watchman Nee accepted.[8] From that day on, he consecrated himself completely to Jesus Christ and to the preaching of the Gospel in China.[9] After his conversion, many of his class-mates were converted due to his testimony and consecrated living.[10] During Nee's college years, Miss. Margaret Barber, an independent British missionary was his teacher and mentor. She treated him as a young learner and frequently administered strict discipline.[11] Miss Barber died in 1930 and left all her belongings to Watchman Nee.[12]

Watchman Nee became intimately familiar with the Bible through diligent study of the Bible using various different methods.[13] His development was strengthened by the influence of Jessie Penn-Lewis, Robert Govett, D. M. Panton, G. H. Pember, John Nelson Darby, Theodore Austin-Sparks, Andrew Murray, mystic Madame Guyon, and many others, reading as many as 3,000 books from various authors since first century.[14] In the early days of his ministry he spent one-third of his income on his personal needs, one-third on helping others, and the remaining third on spiritual books.[15] He had an ability to select, comprehend, discern, and memorize relevant material, and grasp and retain the main points of a book while reading.[16] In his gospel preaching and ministry, Nee always stressed more on the "inner-life" issue in a believer's life rather than the "outward-work".[17] Nee claimed that to be a Christian is altogether a matter of the divine life.[18] He believed that a belief is not a religion, and therefore he did not establish headquarters or create a hierarchy of leadership positions in the church.[19] He once stood up and said against a certain collected assembly:

"You may well have light and truth, but knowledge alone will benefit you nothing."[20]

Today many of his written books are published in English, although most have been translated from Chinese. He published regular articles in his own magazine, with The Present Testimony and The Christian being some of them.

The Normal Christian Life

Probably the best known book of Watchman Nee's is The Normal Christian Life. It was based on talks given by Watchman Nee at the time of and subsequent to his trip through Europe in 1938-1939. It expressed theological views on the first few chapters of the New Testament book of Romans. In the later sections of the book he presented his views on what the normal Christian life should be.

Later years

Between the period of 1940-1960, the local church in China underwent many trials and tribulations. Many of these local churches had been founded by Watchman Nee based upon his conviction of "one church for one city or town" on the ground of oneness among the believers. He asserted that geographic boundaries were the only legitimate ground to have different churches to express the one body of Christ on the earth (the local church). He strongly promoted the view that various ways of separating churches, such as apostles and their ministries, spiritual gifts, racial or social status, or different doctrines and missions was condemned by the word of God as division and sin, and as the works of the flesh.[21]

In the period between 1923–1949, more than 700 local churches were created with an attendance of more than 70,000.[22] During the Chinese Communist takeover, these "assemblies" formed the core behind the house municipalities. Through the efforts of Nee and his colleagues, local assemblies were founded all over China and among other Chinese-speaking communities in the Far East. Some of Nee's co-workers in this work later would become known outside of China (e.g. - Witness Lee, Stephen Kaung, Faithful Luke, Simon Meek, and others).[23]

In 1949, Watchman Nee's co-labourer Witness Lee emigrated to Taiwan. In 1952, Watchman Nee was imprisoned by the Chinese government for his faith. He remained in prison until his death twenty years later.[11] Watchman Nee's writings on matters of the individual Christian life have been a source of inspiration to Christians throughout the world, though his writings on the local churches - which he considered to be central to his ministry have been largely ignored by mainstream Christianity so far.[6]

Persecution and death

Watchman Nee felt led by his belief in God to remain in Mainland China in spite of the threat of Communism, and to sacrifice everything to this end.[24] Watchman Nee was arrested by the Chinese Communists in March 1952 for his professed faith in Christ as well as his leadership among the local churches. He was judged, condemned, and sentenced in 1956 to fifteen years' imprisonment.[4][25] During this entire time, only his wife was allowed to visit him.[26] In his final letter, written on the day of his death, he alluded to his joy "in the Lord":

"In my sickness, I still remain joyful at heart."[27]

He died in confinement in his cell on May 30, 1972. After Watchman Nee's death, when his niece came to collect his few possessions, she was given a scrap of paper that a guard had found by his bed. What was written on that scrap may serve as Watchman Nee's testament:

"Christ is the Son of God Who died for the redemption of sinners and was resurrected after three days. This is the greatest truth in the universe. I die because of my belief in Christ. Watchman Nee."


The theological influence of Watchman Nee (English for Nee To-Sheng ), went much further than his own circle reached; not only in his native country China but also outside in other countries.[28] He changed his name to Watchman Nee because he saw himself as someone that stayed up in the middle of the night to awaken men of the coming of Christ.[29] In 1928, Watchman Nee settled in Shanghai where he based his own speaking and publication work, the Shanghai Gospel Bookroom, which published books by Nee and others, as well as some Chinese translations of English-speaking authors - most notably the Christian teacher and writer T. Austin-Sparks, with whom Nee had a very close relationship fostered during his significant time at the Honor Oak Christian Fellowship Centre on Honor Oak Road in London, England.[30] Nee's eschatological views were influenced by people such as Robert Govett and D.M. Panton. Nee's book Come, Lord Jesus, about the book of Revelation, quotes Govett's work several times.

Ministry, sufferings, and commission

Watchman Nee's ministry used eight different means to carry out what he believed had been wrought into him by God: preaching the gospel, teaching the Bible, traveling and revivals, contacting people, corresponding with people, holding conferences, conducting trainings, and producing publications.

Nee suffered much for his belief that, according to the Bible, denominations are wrong in that they divide the One Body of Christ.[31] Because his firm stand for the oneness of the Body of Christ against the denominations, they caused him much suffering.[32][33] Some denominations despised and criticized, some opposed, and did their best to destroy his ministry.[34] They also spread false rumours about him and misrepresented him to the extent that Watchman Nee once responded,[35]

"The Watchman Nee portrayed by them I would also condemn."

By the time Nee was arrested in 1952, approximately four hundred local churches had been raised up in China through his life and ministry. In addition, local churches had been raised up in the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. Today the local churches have grown to over 2,300 worldwide through the ministries of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee.


Watchman Nee not only spoke frequently both privately and publicly, but he was also a prolific writer. His publications included gospel tracts, periodicals, papers, articles, newsletters, hymnals, and a chart of biblical prophecies. In addition to publishing various periodicals, papers, gospel tracts, etc., Watchman Nee also published many books for the carrying out of his ministry. Some of these books were messages published in his periodicals and reprinted in book form.

In addition to writing and publishing books and hymnals, some spiritual books in English were translated by him and under his publication ministry through the years.[36]

Published works

In English there are approximately fifty-five books by him available, published through Christian Fellowship Publishers.[37] Another source in English is The Collected Works of Watchman Nee, a 62 volume set covering his entire ministry - published by Living Stream Ministry [38] located in Anaheim, California, United States. These are made available primarily from notes taken by students during his many talks and translated by various publishing group.

Some of his best known books are:

  • The Spiritual Man
  • Spiritual Authority
  • Mystery of Creation
  • Gospel Dialogue
  • The King and The Kingdom of Heaven
  • Interpreting Matthew
  • Come, Lord Jesus
  • The Better Covenant
  • Aids to Revelation
  • The Overcoming Life
  • The Normal Christian Life
  • The Breaking of The Outer Man and The Release of The Spirit
  • The Song of Songs
  • Authority and Submission
  • Christ the Sum of All Spiritual Things

Watchman Nee's best known books on "Church", "Church Life", and "the Church issues":

  • The Normal Christian Church Life
  • Church Affairs
  • The Church and the Work: Rethinking the Work
  • The Glorious Church
  • Further Talks on the Church Life
  • The Orthodoxy of the Church


There are also many books, booklets, magazines and articles published by Living Stream Ministry located in Anaheim, California, United States. Most of Watchman Nee's writings are from his own notes and magazines he himself published. Nee gave great importance to the end-time view of separate rapture and to apostles not exceeding their regional boundary in appointing elders of a locality; e.g., apostles of the churches in Judea, apostles of the churches in Asia Minor, apostles of the churches in Texas; elders of the church in Jerusalem, elders of the church in Ephesus, elders of the church in Dallas. In his later writings, he mainly focused on the Church and the Body of Christ (Eph. 4:23).[39]

Nee's Name

His original name was 述祖(pinyin: shu zhu). According to Chinese naming tradition, 祖 is the one of two phrases used to represent his generation among the whole family. His brothers' names were 懷祖,宏祖,信祖, etc. After his conversion, he changed his own name to 儆夫(pinyin: jing fu) which means 'watchman'(his English name was firstly Henry). The more famous name 柝聲(pinyin: tùo shēng) was a similar variation, which means the Chinese watchman's knocker (or plaque) and its sound.儆夫 is more used in his daily life, and 柝聲 in church life and sermons. According to a late interview of his fellow 張錫康([pinyin:zhang xi kang] A believer who used to serve in the church at Shanghai during 50s.He worked for Nee as an accountant in Life-chemics pharmaceutical factory[生化藥廠], and was prisoned for 3 years at the same time with Nee.), during 1942 to 1946, the years his ministry interfered by his co-workers at Shanghai, he changed his name to 折葦(pinyin: che wei) for limited uses, which means the bruise reed in Bible, Mat.12:20, to represent his self status then.[40]

Books about Watchman Nee

  • Chan, Stephen C.T. Wo Ti Kau Fu Ni To Sheng [My Uncle Watchman Nee]. Hong Kong: Alliance Press, 1970.
  • Chen, James. Meet Brother Nee. Hong Kong: The Christian Publishers, 1976.
  • Kinnear, Angus I. The Story of Watchman Nee: Against the Tide. Fort Washington, Pa.: Christian Literature Crusade, 1973.
  • Leung Ka-lun. Watchman Nee: His Early Life and Thought [Chinese]. Hong Kong: Graceful House Limited, 2005.
  • Watchman Nee: His Glory and Dishonor Template:Zh icon. Revised and enlarged edition. Hong Kong: Graceful House Limited, 2004.
  • Lyall, Leslie. Three of China's Mighty Men. London: Overseas Missionary Fellowship, 1973.
  • Roberts, Dana. The Secrets of Watchman Nee. Gainesville, Florida: Bridge-Logos, 2005


  1. Chan, Kim-Kwong, and Alan Hunter. Protestantism in Contemporary China. Cambridge: University Press, 1993: pages. 121-123.
  2. M. E. Barber, Biography, by James Reetzke, Chicago Bibles and Books
  3. Watchman Nee, A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age (ISBN 0-87083-625-0), by Witness Lee, Living Stream Ministry
  4. 4.0 4.1 Melton, J. Gordon: Religious Leaders of America. Detroit: Gale Research, 1991: page. 407
  5. Lee, Witness: Watchman Nee, A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age (ISBN 0-87083-625-0), page. 23
  6. 6.0 6.1 "The Writings and Sermons of Watchman Nee", Dimensions of Truth.
  7. Patterson, George. N: Christianity in Communist China. Waco, Tx: World Books, 1969: pages 72-73
  8. Nee, Watchman, Watchman Nee's Testimony, Living Stream Ministry
  9. Hanks, Geoffrey: Seventy Great Christians. Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 1994: pages. 295-298
  10. Compiled notes from K.H. Weigh. "Watchman Nee's Testimony." Anaheim, California: Living Stream Ministry, 1974 (1st edition)
  11. 11.0 11.1 Melton, J. Gordon. Religious Leaders of America. Detroit: Gale Research, 1991: page. 407
  12. Lee, Witness: Watchman Nee, A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age (ISBN 0-87083-625-0), pages. 16-19
  13. Lee, Witness: Watchman Nee, A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age (ISBN 0-87083-625-0), pages. 23-27
  14. Lee, Witness: Watchman Nee, A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age (ISBN 0-87083-625-0), page. 25.
  15. Nee, Watchman, Watchman Nee's Testimony, Living Stream Ministry.
  16. Lee, Witness: Watchman Nee, A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age, page. 25
  17. "Watchman Nee's Life and Ministry: Burden and Commission", Living Stream Ministry.
  18. Lee, Witness: Watchman Nee: A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age, page. 85-86
  19. Fu, Tina. "Christians March Across Capital." China Post 4 May 1998: 20
  20. Watchman Nee's Life and Ministry: Means of Ministry, Living Stream Ministry.
  21. Patterson, George N. Christianity in Communist China. Waco, Texas: World Books, 1969: pages. 79-80
  22. Kauffman, Paul E.: China Yesterday. Hong Kong: Asian Outreach, 1975: 100-101.
  23. Entrepreneur, AC Magazine (1999), Huei Liu, Copyright 1999 AC Media Inc.
  24. Hanks, Geoffrey. Seventy Great Christians. Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 1994: pages. 296-297
  25. Hanks, Geoffrey. Seventy Great Christians. Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 1994: pages. 295-298
  26. Lee, Witness: W. Nee, A Seer of the Divine Revelation, Living Stream Ministry, page. 124
  27. "Watchman Nee's Life and Ministry", Living Stream Ministry.
  28. Bays, Daniel H., ed: Christianity in China from the Eighteenth Century to the Present. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996: page. 311
  29. Nee, Watchman: The Body of Christ, A Reality: (1978) CBS, Christian Fellowship Publishers. Inc.
  30. J. Gordon Melton: Watchman Nee, The Encyclopedia of American Religions, 5th edition: Gale Research Inc.
  31. Lyall, Leslie. Three of China's Mighty Men. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1980: page. 141
  32. Kauffman, Paul E: China Yesterday. Hong Kong: Asian Outreach, 1975: pages. 100-101
  33. Lee, Witness: Watchman Nee, A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age (ISBN 0-87083-625-0), The Suffering of Watchman Nee, pages. 173-177
  34. Lee, Witness: Watchman Nee, A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age (ISBN 0-87083-625-0), pages. 173-177
  35. Lee, Witness: Watchman Nee: A Seer of the Divine Revelation in the Present Age, page. 177
  36. "Watchman Nee's Publications: Books Translated", Living Stream Ministry.
  37. "Christian Fellowship Publishers, Richmond, Virginia, United States
  38. Living Stream Ministry - Publisher of Watchman Nee and Witness Lee
  39. The Collected Works of Watchman Nee, Publisher: Living Stream Ministry, The Mature Period, 1942-1951 (Vol. 47-62). Available at "The Collected Works of Watchman Nee", Living Stream Ministry.
  40. 李常受,今時代神聖啟示的先見,台灣,1996,頁3-4。

External links

See also

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