Br, Joche-Albert Ly

The Marist Brothers in China

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The Marist Brothers in China

On the 8th March 1891, Brother Marie-Candide with five confrères went to found a mission at Peking (China) at the request of the Lazarist Fathers.

Modest and laborious beginnings. Few students at first and very slow progress. Discipline was failing and what influence could these newly arrived have in a country whose language they were struggling to learn, in a pagan environment that was full of mistrust of anything that was not Chinese?

The brothers lived poorly in a house basically furnished and earned just enough for their modest subsistence. “Each one has his chair,” writes the Brother Director, “and, according to need, takes it to the different rooms where he is called.”

In 1895, Brother Marie-Candide died of typhus. The following year, Brother Elie-François who replaced him also died from the same disease. Their successor, Brother Jules-André, would have an even more tragic end.

However, despite these very difficult beginnings, the Marist work extended bit by bit. In 1900, the insurrection of the Boxers broke out. From the 13th July to the 15th August, the district of Pé­Tang, in Peking, was besieged. The brothers of Chala-Eul had sought refuge there with their orphans; Brothers Jules-André, Joseph-Félicité, Joseph-Marie Adon and the postulant Paul Jen, were killed.

On the 25th February 1906, the five brothers of the community of Nan-Chang were murdered because they were Christians. A mandarin, sub-prefect of the Province, committed suicide in the mission. The populace accused the brothers of murder.

From 1949, it was the communist persecution. The Marist works were closed little by little. The bamboo curtain fell on China. The foreign missionaries were all expelled, without being able to take a single book or a page of personal notes. The Chinese brothers could not leave their country. Most of them were arrested and many were tortured and submitted to forced labour. Brother Joche-Albert, arrested on the 6th January 1951, was shot on the 21st April by the communists at Sichang. Many Chinese brothers died without anybody knowing how or where.

The communist persecution beat down on a vigorous Marist Province that had a full future ahead of it. In 1948, the last statistics before the closing of the borders, it included two hundred and ten brothers, of whom one hundred and six were Chinese. An admirable harvest for the pioneers of 1891: in a little more than fifty years, a Province that was in the majority Chinese was born! A good example of inculturation long before the term existed. How many old missionaries expelled after forty or fifty years of presence, without returning to their country of origin, had taken on the manners and even the physical traits of their country of adoption! The photographs bear this out.

Before 1949, about forty Chinese brothers were able to leave the country to join other Marist communities. The sixty-odd brothers who remained in inland China had to endure the rigours of persecution. Eight are still alive; the youngest (sixty-seven years old in 1999) was only a postulant during the tragic events. Some have been able to leave China recently. With what emotion they visited the places of our Marist origins in France and at the General House in Rome! Two of them were present at Rome to attend the canonisation of the Founder in April 1999.

Waiting for China to open once more, the Province of China maintains the Marist flame with courage.

Alain Delorme fms

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