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Persecution in China · Ad Sinarum Gentem ·
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Persecution of Christians
Church persecutions 1939-1958
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Conspiracy of Silence (Church persecutions)

Thomas Tien Ken-sin, SVD (田耕莘; Hanyu pinyin: Tian Gengxin) (October 24, 1890—July 24, 1967) was a Chinese Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church and chair of Fu Jen Catholic University. He served as Archbishop of Peking from 1946 until his death, and was elevated to the cardinalate in 1946 by Pope Pius XII.

Background The Church in China 1939-1958

For centuries, access to the people of China was difficult for the Catholic Church, because as a Church, she did not recognize local Confucian customs of honouring deceased family members. To the Chinese, this was an ancient ritual, to the Holy See, it was a religious exercise, which conflicted with Catholic dogma. As a result of this and its foreign origin, the Church encountered much resistance in China. Within month of his election, Pope Pius XII issued a dramatic change in policies. On December 8, 1939, the Sacred Congregation of the Propagation of Faith issued at his request new instruction by which Chinese customs were considered not superstitious, but an honourable way of showing esteem for one's relatives and therefore permitted by Catholic Christians.[1] The Government of the Republic of China established diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1943, within a short interval. The Papal degree changed the ecclesiastical situation in China in an almost revolutionary way.[2] As the Church began to flourish, Pius elevated China's status within the Church, established a local ecclesiastical hierarchy, and received the Archbishop of Peking, Thomas Tien Ken-sin SVD, into the College of Cardinals.[3]

After the Second World War, an estimated four million Chinese professed the Catholic faith. By 1948, the Catholic Church operated some 254 orphanages and 196 hospitals with 81,628 beds, carrying out a great deal of pastoral work throughout China.[4] While Catholics represented less than one percent of the population, they had increased dramatically. In 1949, there were in mainland China:

The establishment of Mao Zedong's communist regime in 1949 put these early advances on hold and led to the persecution of thousands of clergy and faithful in China. The losses in the following years were considerable. Some of the Catholic hierarchy, including the archbishops of Nanking and Peking, left the mainland and eventually made their way to Taiwan. In 1951, the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Riberi, was expelled, as were many foreign missionaries, who were accused of acting as agents of imperialist forces. Hundreds more Catholic clergy experienced increased supervision, frequent arrests and torture, and Catholic laypeople were under tremendous pressure to renounce their faith. The Holy See reacted with several encyclicals and apostolic letters, Cupimus Imprimis Ad Apostolorum Principis and Ad Sinarum Gentem (1954).[6]

In 1957, a schismatic Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which does not recognize papal authority, was formed by the Chinese Communist Party. Bishops and priests who refused to join the Patriotic Association were imprisoned, forced to engage in degrading and exhaustive manual labor, and many were martyred in captivity.


Thomas Tien Ken-sin was born in Chantsui, Yangku, (Shantung province) to Kilian Tien Ken-sin and his wife Maria Yang. Baptized in 1901, he studied at the seminary in Yenchowfu before being ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Augustin Henninghaus, SVD, on June 9, 1918. Tien then did pastoral work in the Yangku Mission until 1939. He entered the Society of the Divine Word on March 8, 1929 in Holland, taking his first vows on February 2, 1931 and his final ones on March 7, 1935. He was raised to Apostolic Prefect of Yangku on February 2, 1934.

On July 11, 1939, Tien was appointed Apostolic Vicar of Yangku and Titular Bishop of Ruspae. He received his episcopal consecration on the following October 29 from Pope Pius XII himself, with Archbishops Celso Constantini and Heinrich Steicher, MAfr, serving as co-consecrators. Tien was later made Apostolic Vicar of Qingdao on November 10, 1942.

He was elevated to Cardinal Priest of Santa Maria in Via by Pope Pius XII in the consistory of February 18, 1946. Tien, the first cardinal from China, was then named the first Archbishop of Beijing on April 11 of that same year. In 1951 he was exiled from China by the Communist regime, and spent this time in Illinois in the United States, to where he came that year for treatment of a heart ailment[7]. He was one of the cardinal electors who participated in the 1958 papal conclave, which selected Pope John XXIII, and was Apostolic Administrator of Taipei from December 16, 1959 to 1966. From 1962 to 1965, he attended the Second Vatican Council, and voted in the 1963 papal conclave, which selected Pope Paul VI.

Tien died in Taipei, at age 76. He is buried in the metropolitan cathedral of that same city.


  • The Cardinal's last name is also listed as Tien ken-Sin Tung-Lai.
  • He greatly promoted devotion to Our Lady of China[8].
  • For the 1946 consistory, Tien was forced to borrow from the wardrobes of the late Cardinals George Mundelein, William Henry O'Connell, and Patrick Hayes[9].
  • Tien was the first Cardinal also from the Society of the Divine Word.
  • He also spent time in a West German hospital[10].
  • The Holy See has not recognized any of CPCA-approved successors of Tien as Archbishop of Peking, though in his 2007 letter to the faithful in China, Pope Benedict XVI expressed an openness to dialogue with the CPCA-appointed "bishops."


  1. Jan Olav Smit, Pope Pius XII, London, 1951, 186-187.
  2. Smit 188
  3. Smit 188.
  4. Herder Korrespondenz Orbis Catholicus, Freiburg, 5,1950, 201
  5. Alberto Giovanetti, Pio XII parla alla Chiesa del Silenzio, Milano, 1959, 230
  6. Giovanetti, 232
  7. TIME Magazine. Red Hats February 11, 1957
  8. Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The Great Upper Church
  9. TIME Magazine. On the Roads to Rome February 18, 1946
  10. TIME Magazine. The Succession October 20, 1958

External links

Preceded by
Paul Montaigne, CM
Archbishop of Beijing
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Joseph Kuo Joshih
Archbishop of Taipei
Succeeded by
Stanislaus Lokuang
no:Thomas Tien-Ken-Sin


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