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Chinese bishop who braved Cultural Revolution dies at 99

Bishop Stephen Xiangtai Yang of Handan spent 15 years in labor camps until 1980 for defying China's communist regime

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Published: October 18, 2021 05:51 AM GMT

Updated: October 18, 2021 06:37 AM GMT

Chinese bishop who braved Cultural Revolution dies at 99

Bishop Stephen Xiangtai Yang of Handan endured persecution from China's communist regime. (Photo supplied)

Retired Catholic Bishop Stephen Xiangtai Yang of Handan Diocese in Hebei province in northern China, who was persecuted and forced to spend years in labor camps during the Cultural Revolution, has died at the age of 99.

He died from complications from old-age diseases on Oct. 13, according to a notice from the state-controlled Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC).

The prelate was admitted to a local hospital after his health condition deteriorated. He had respiratory problems and inflammatory swelling of the body, leaving him unable to eat and sleep for days.

In a statement, Handan Diocese paid tribute to Bishop Yang.

“For 72 years, Monsignor Yang has demonstrated strong faithfulness to the Lord, kindness to all, a life of simplicity and relentless dedication to his flock. Now that he has completed his journey, we request clergy, religious and faithful to pray for eternal rest of his departed soul,” the statement read.  

Bishop Yang’s death brings end to the life of an extraordinary churchman who stood firm and never gave up amid persecution from the communist regime.

In 1966, during the Cultural Revolution, he was rearrested, faced a trial in 1970 and sentenced to 15 years in prison

Stephen Yang Xiangtai was born in Wu’an City in Hebei province on Nov. 17, 1922.

He studied at the major seminary in Kaifeng in neighboring Henan province and was ordained a priest on Aug. 27, 1949. After serving as a parish priest in Kaifeng for a year, he returned to his hometown and preached in Wu’an for 16 years.

Father Yang was arrested in 1954. However, he was released following trial and returned to his ministry.

In 1966, during the Cultural Revolution, he was rearrested, faced a trial in 1970 and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was sent to labor camps in Quzhou city, Handan brick factory and Tangshan salt factory.

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During the time of Deng Xiaoping, Father Yang was released on March 15, 1980, and acquitted of all charges.

For the next 16 years, Father Yang served in various districts in Hebei including Handan, Shexian, Wu’an and Cixian, which later became part of the Diocese of Handan.

He became the rector of the diocesan seminary and chaplain of the Congregation of the Consolation of the Holy Spirit.

On Nov. 30, 1996, he was ordained auxiliary bishop by his predecessor Bishop Peter Chen Bolu and was appointed Bishop of Handan on Sept. 17, 1999.  

Bishop Yang didn’t want to be tagged as an “underground bishop,” though he was ordained with the Vatican's mandate, and he also refused to give in and join state-sanctioned church bodies despite oppression from the Chinese regime, church sources say.

On June 21, 2011, he secretly ordained his successor, coadjutor Bishop Joseph Sun Jigen of Handan, with the Vatican's approval. In retaliation, the authorities arrested two priests and put Bishop Sun in custody but released him three days later.

Following his detention, Bishop Yang suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized for days.

Bishop Yang denounced cross demolitions by Chinese authorities in the name of so-called Sinicization of religions and supported strong protests by priests against cross demolitions in Wenzhou in Zhejiang province in 2015.

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