Priest not bowed by Cultural Revolution torturers

Even a senior communist official later expressed admiration for the strength of Father John Tian’s faith reporter, Hong Kong 
August 6, 2019

A poster is displayed in late 1966 in Beijing’s street featuring how to deal with so-called “enemy of the people” during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. (Photo by Jean Vincent/AFP)

Father John Tian and his sister had their heads shaven in the shape of a Christian cross and they were forced to wear mock crowns of thorns on their heads during China’s Cultural Revolution.

This was just one experience they endured during this tumultuous period that lasted from 1966-76. 

During this decade, millions of people were publicly abused and shamed or killed, with a death toll estimated at between 500,000 and two million.

Catholic John Ji, now aged 77, was like Father Tian from Nanyang Diocese, in landlocked central-eastern Henan province.

Ji said the priest came from a large Catholic family.



“He was the fourth among four brothers and an elder sister,” Ji said. “The eldest one later becomes the Vicar Capitular of Zhumadian Dioceses of the same province.”

“The second eldest used to be a seminarian, never ordained but kept his faith until his last moment. His sister was a consecrated virgin who was also tortured during the so-called struggle sessions.” 

Ji said that Father Tian, who was ordained as a priest in 1950, was long considered to be an enemy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

However, he had staunchly resisted any government orders that contradicted Catholic doctrine and Canon Law.

Persecution had also come in various waves after the communists came to power in China in 1949.

That had included bans on the “Holy Mass” and confiscation of church property.

Many members of the clergy and religious were forced to get married during the Cultural Revolution.

But when asked to marry, Father Tian replied, smiling, “Who will marry an old scarecrow?”

Revolutionary leader Mao Zedong famously said that “all ghosts and monsters” should be subjected to criticism sessions.

But, after a tip-off, Father Tian was able to escape a CCP official’s plan to have a group of non-Christian youths publicly shame him.

In hiding, he suffered from hunger and thirst before being arrested and detained in a commune office in Jingang of south-central Hunan province.

Father Tian was interrogated and beaten by CCP members who were scolding him.

As recalled by Zhang Jiucheng, a lay Catholic who endured mistreatment along with the priest, the militia used a thick stick to strike his head and body.

When the stick broke, they started to punch and kick him, Zhang said.

It was only when a bystander called out that Father Tian was close to death that the beating stopped.

Even still, he was later subjected to sleep deprivation as a form of torture.

In later years, there were other periods when Father Tian was interrogated and assaulted.

But Wu Yufu, a senior CCP official, once admitted that he “admired” Father Tian’s spirit.

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