Bishop Peter Joseph Fan Xueyan

Bishop Peter Joseph Fan Xue-yan
Photo taken in November 1990. Probably the last photo Fan had taken while he was alive.

Bishop Peter Joseph Fan Xueyan (December 29, 1907 – April 13, 1992) was a Chinese Roman Catholic priest and bishop who lived in China during the 20th century. He was born in Xiao Wang Ting (south of Beijing), China on December 29, 1907. He was ordained a priest on December 22, 1934, in Rome and he shortly thereafter returned to China to work in the diocese of Baoding. He worked in parishes, schools, seminaries, and in the Catholic Relief Agency during 1937–1951. His work took him to several provinces in China.

He was appointed the bishop of Baoding diocese on April 12, 1951 and ordained on June 24 of that year. He was consecrated by the archbishop of Hankou, Giuseppe Ferrucio Maurizio Rosà.

The Chinese government sought to control religious activities in the country and in 1957 it instituted the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), which is a government mandated organization to oversee the Roman Catholic Church in China. The organization required the church to disavow the authority of the pope and conform to the dictates of the government. Bishop Fan, as well as many other Catholics loyal to the successor of Peter, would not renounce the Pope’s authority and he voiced criticism of the CCPA. In 1958, Bishop Fan was arrested and sent to a penal farm (a type of forced labour camp) until he was released in 1969. After the release, he was immediately sent back to Xiao Wang Ting and kept under continual surveillance,  because he was regarded as the “five black categories“.  There the local government forced Bishop Fan to do heavy physical works for 11 hours, every day, until he was arrested again in November 1977, simply because Pope St Paul VI had sent him a letter in 1976.  Under international pressures, the Chinese government soon released Bishop Fan in 1980, together with other priests in Baoding Diocese like Ji Yongxian and Qu Jingfeng. From 1980 to 1982 Bishop Fan devoted to the revival of the Catholic faith in Hebei province (Yuyencia). He encouraged followers to take back control of the churches previously occupied by CCPA and asked those priests who joined CCPA (many of them even married and had children) to confess their guilt. On January 1, 1981 Bishop Fan ordained Francis An Shuxin (who later became the Bishop of Baoding diocese) as a priest, even though An was lack of study in theology by then. Bishop Fan commented: “In the current phase we do not have a decent seminary, we can not expect our priests to be as intelligent as St Thomas Aquinas, but all our priests should be as loyal as St John Vianney. Knowledge is not the most important, but virtue is.” Fan’s effort for reviving the Catholic faith and competing with CCPA was quite successful. By the end of 1995, there were 14 priests in the “underground” Catholic Church in Hebei when CCPA only had 8. However, the Chinese government arrested Fan again in 1982 for “colluding with foreign forces to jeopardize the sovereignty and security of the motherland(里通外国罪)” (it was alleged he had had contacts with the Vatican and was secretly ordaining priests in his diocese). He was released in 1987, but placed under house arrest and continually moved around. In November 1990 he went missing and was assumed to have been dead.

On April 16, 1992 police officers dumped a plastic bag holding his frozen body in front of his relatives home. The government claimed he had died on April 13 from pneumonia. His body was found to have had broken bones and other injuries that may have resulted from torture. The government ordered that Fan should have a quiet funeral, but this was defied and a crowd of 40,000 people came to see the funeral. Local priests and bishops conducted novena prayers for the bishop. In 2001, out of the fear that Fan’s cemetery would become a sacred place for “underground” Catholic Church members, the government demolished every single piece of the cemetery. However, Church members remember the location where Fan was buried and still secretly go to pay homage to their beloved Bishop.

According to Wikipedia, Bishop Fan may have been the longest-serving prisoner of conscience in the world.


The plastic bag holding Fan's freezing body
The plastic bag containing Bishop Fan’s frozen body was found in front of the Church of Xiao Wang Ting (Fan’s hometown) on April 13, 1992. Two years after he was kidnaped by the secret police.


Bishop Fan’s Funeral:


Cemetery of Bishop
The communist government demolished Fan’s cemetery in 2001.


This is the place where Bishop Fan was buried. After the government demolished the cemetery, local church members marked this place with a plastic bouquet of flower and constantly go to pay homage to their Bishop.

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