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  • Writer's picturePhilip Niño Tan-Gatue

Mark Ji Tianxiang: Patron Saint of Acupuncturists?

November 1 is All Saints’ Day.  This is a fact that many people conveniently forget, going about dressed as ghosts and goblins.  True, while Pope Saint Gregory the Great instituted All Saints Day as a counter to Samhain, that doesn’t mean I should give a crap about Samhain.  I’m Catholic, and I honor all saints.

Such as Saint Mark Ji Tianxiang.

Saint Mark Ji Tianxiang. Photo from flickr

So what do we know about this gentleman?  He is one of gaboodles of martyr saints from China.   Catholic Saints Online (link) states:

The Roman Catholic Church recognizes 120 Catholics who died between 1648 and 1930 as its “Martyr Saints of China”. They were canonized by Pope John Paul II on 1 October 2000. Of the group, 87 were Chinese laypeople and 33 were missionaries; 86 died during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.

Incidentally, this reinforces my theory that it’s easier to be real Christians in hostile environments.  Japan and China has zillions of saints.  The Philippines, supposedly the only Catholic country in Asia, has… two.

But I digress.

Most people know the following about St. Mark:  He had… addiction issues.  From (link):

It honors St. Mark Ji Tianxiang, a Chinese layman who was murdered in 1900, along with dozens of other Catholics in his village, in the vicious persecution of Christians during the Boxer rebellion.  That’s not the unusual thing.  The Church has canonized many martyrs, including many Chinese martyrs.  What’s unusual about St. Mark is that he was an opium addict who was barred from receiving the sacraments for the last 30 years of his life. (Jim Manney)

Wait a minute, you could actually BAR people from receiving communion?

Mark couldn’t receive communion because his addiction was regarded as gravely sinful and scandalous.  He prayed for deliverance from his addiction, but deliverance never came.  Nevertheless he remained a believing Catholic.  At his trial he was given a chance to renounce his faith, but he refused. It is said that he sang the litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary as he was led to his execution. (Jim Manney)

Looks like he more than made up for it, then.

The question now is why am I suggesting this dude as patron saint of acupuncturists and of Chinese herbalists?  Am I implying that acupuncture facilitates the release of neurotransmitters such as dynorphins and enkephalins from the spinal cord?  Am I suggesting the activity acupuncture has on the periaqueductal gray of the spinal cord?  Maybe…

I had first heard about St. Mark Ji Tianxian from my friend and acupuncturist Joey DeStefano.  I searched the internet for more sources and found little talking about his profession.  I did find the story of St. Mark Ji Tianxian as related in an interview with Gene Luen Yang (Comics and Faith by Gene Luen Yang, Sojourners website, link)

There is one character within Saints (Comic strip about the boxer rebellion created by Yang) that is actually based on a canonized person. I changed the way he died, and once I did that I felt like I couldn’t use his real name anymore. But the acupuncturist [in Saints] is based on this real person who actually died as an opium addict. He was an acupuncturist who was very well off. He was Catholic for his whole life; he was known to treat poor people for free, everybody loved him. In his 40s he had this bout of stomach illness, and he cured himself with opium. But he got addicted. They didn’t have the understanding of addiction they have today. He just kept trying to kick it and kick it and kick it for 20 years. After a few years the parish priest refused to give him communion, and he really felt like he was estranged from the church. But he kept going to Mass. When the Boxer Rebellion happened, the Boxers descended on his house and killed his entire family. He asked that he be the last to die, so that none of his family would die alone. A century later, this opium addict was canonized by the church. His name is Saint Mark Ji Tianxiang.

So, just because he was an acupuncturist he can be the patron saint of acupuncturists even though his being an acupuncturist had nothing to do with the way he died?

Note, that according to Yang, the following factors were in place:

1) He was very well off – that means that being rich isn’t a crime in itself, despite what some class warfare antagonists want to believe.

2) He was Catholic for his whole life – I know Chinese Catholics who even keep count of what generation Catholic they are.

3) He was known to treat poor people for free – there we go!

4) He had an addiction to opium during a time when addiction wasn’t understood as it was now.  Now we would use NADA protocol ear acupuncture to treat him.

5) No matter how misunderstood he was by his parish priest, he did not use that as an excuse to leave the Catholic Church (as many use that as an excuse) but he kept on with the struggle.

6) And finally, he was given a chance to die as a witness for Christ.

My interpretation of this was that the martyrdom itself is not the cause of his sainthood.  He did not become a saint merely because he died for Christ.  His whole life was probably holy.  Why God allowed him to suffer as an opium addict, we cannot know for now, but we do know that it must have been humbling and painful for him.  Humiliation was God’s way of bringing Mark closer to Himself.  When he was ready, God called him to heroism.

Hence, his practice of Chinese medicine helped him become a saint.  And so informally, fallibly, and authority-usurpity, I declare Saint Mark Ji Tianxian the patron saint of acupuncturists.

He was canonized on October 1, 2000.  His feast, celebrated collectively as the Martyr Saints of China on July 9.

And since it’s All Saints Day, I will list ALL of them.  (thanks, Wikipedia)

Saint Peter Sanz, O.P., Bishop, was martyred on 26 May 1747, at Fuzhou.

All four of the following were killed on 28 October 1748:

1. Saint Francis Serrano, O.P., Vicar Apostolic and Bishop-elect 2. Saint Joachim Royo, O.P., Priest 3. Saint John Alcober, O.P., Priest 4. Saint Francis Diaz, O.P., Priest.

5. Saint Peter Wu, a Chinese lay catechist. Strangled on November 7, 1814.

6. Saint Joseph Zhang Dapeng, a lay catechist, and a merchant. Srangled to death on March 12, 1815.

The following martyrs belong to this period:

7. Saint Gabriel-Taurin Dufresse, M.E.P., Bishop. He was arrested on May 18, 1815, taken to Chengdu, condemned and executed on September 14, 1815.

8. Saint Augustine Zhao Rong, a Chinese diocesan priest. Tortured and died in 1815.

9. Saint John da Triora, O.F.M., Priest. Put in prison together with others in the summer of 1815, he was then condemned to death, and strangled on February 7, 1816.

10. Saint Joseph Yuan, a Chinese diocesan priest. Condemned and strangled on 24 June 1817.

11. Saint Paul Liu Hanzuo, a Chinese diocesan priest, killed in 1819.

12. Saint Francis Regis Clet of the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians). Executed by strangling on February 17, 1820.

13. Saint Thaddeus Liu, a Chinese diocesan priest.  Condemned to death, he was strangled on November 30, 1823.

14. Saint Peter Liu, a Chinese lay catechist. Arrested, and was strangled on May 17, 1834.

15. Saint Joachim Ho, a Chinese lay catechist. He was strangled on July 9, 1839.

16. Saint John Gabriel Perboyre, Strangled to death in 1840.

17. Augustus Chapdelaine, M.E.P., a priest of the Diocese of Coutances. Condemned to death in prison, and died in February 1856.

18. Saint Laurence Bai Xiaoman, a Chinese layman, and an unassuming worker. He was beheaded on February 25, 1856.

19. Saint Agnes Cao Guiying, a widow, born into an old Christian family.  She was executed on March 1, 1856.

Three catechists, known as the Martyrs of MaoKou (in the province of Guizhou) were killed on 28 January 1858, by order of the Mandarin of MaoKou:

17. Saint Jerome Lu Tingmei 18. Saint Laurence Wang Bing 19. Saint Agatha Lin Zao

All three had been called on to renounce the Christian religion and having refused to do so were condemned to be beheaded.

In Guizhou, two seminarians and two lay people, one of whom was a farmer, the other a widow who worked as a cook in the seminary, suffered martyrdom together on July 29, 1861. They are known as the Martyrs of Qingyanzhen (Guizhou):

20. Saint Joseph Zhang Wenlan, seminarian 21. Saint Paul Chen Changpin, seminarian 22. Saint John Baptist Luo Tingyin, layman 23. Saint Martha Wang Luo Mande, laywoman

In the following year, on February 18 and 19, 1862, another five people gave their life for Christ. They are known as the Martyrs of Guizhou.

24. Saint John Peter Néel, a priest of the Paris Foreign Missions Society, 25. Saint Martin Wu Xuesheng, lay catechist, 26. Saint John Zhang Tianshen, lay catechist, 27. Saint John Chen Xianheng, lay catechist, 28. Saint Lucy Yi Zhenmei, lay catechist.

a) Martyrs of Shanxi, killed on July 9, 1900 (known as the Taiyuan Massacre), who were Franciscan Friars Minor:

29. Saint Gregory Grassi, Bishop, 30. Saint Francis Fogolla, Bishop, 31. Saint Elias Facchini, Priest, 32. Saint Theodoric Balat, Priest, 33. Saint Andrew Bauer, Religious Brother;

b) Martyrs of Southern Hunan, who were also Franciscan Friars Minor:

34. Saint Anthony Fantosati, Bishop (martyred on July 7, 1900), 35. Saint Joseph Mary Gambaro, Priest (martyred on July 7, 1900), 36. Saint Cesidio Giacomantonio, Priest (martyred on July 4, 1900).

To the martyred Franciscans of the First Order were added seven Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, of whom three were French, two Italian, one Belgian, and one Dutch:

37. Saint Mary Hermina of Jesus (in saec: Irma Grivot), 38. Saint Mary of Peace (in saec: Mary Ann Giuliani), 39. Saint Mary Clare (in saec: Clelia Nanetti), 40. Saint Mary of the Holy Birth (in saec: Joan Mary Kerguin), 41. Saint Mary of Saint Justus (in saec: Ann Moreau), 42. Saint Mary Adolfine (in saec: Ann Dierk), 43. Saint Mary Amandina (in saec: Paula Jeuris).

Of the martyrs belonging to the Franciscan family, there were also eleven Secular Franciscans, all Chinese:

44. Saint John Zhang Huan, seminarian, 45. Saint Patrick Dong Bodi, seminarian, 46. Saint John Wang Rui, seminarian, 47. Saint Philip Zhang Zhihe, seminarian, 48. Saint John Zhang Jingguang, seminarian, 49. Saint Thomas Shen Jihe, layman and a manservant, 50. Saint Simon Qin Chunfu, lay catechist, 51. Saint Peter Wu Anbang, layman, 52. Saint Francis Zhang Rong, layman and a farmer, 53. Saint Matthew Feng De, layman and neophyte, 54. Saint Peter Zhang Banniu, layman and labourer.

To these are joined a number of Chinese lay faithful:

55. Saint James Yan Guodong, farmer, 56. Saint James Zhao Quanxin, manservant, 57. Saint Peter Wang Erman, cook.

When the uprising of the “Boxers”, which had begun in Shandong and then spread through Shanxi and Hunan, also reached South-Eastern Tcheli (currently named Hebei), which was then the Apostolic Vicariate of Xianxian, in the care of the Jesuits, the Christians killed could be counted in thousands. Among these were four French Jesuit missionaries and at least 52 Chinese lay Christians: men, women and children – the oldest of them being 79 years old, while the youngest were aged only nine years. All suffered martyrdom in the month of July 1900. Many of them were killed in the church in the village of Tchou-Kia-ho (or Zhujiahe), in which they were taking refuge and where they were in prayer together with the first two of the missionaries listed below:

58. Saint Leo Mangin, S.J., Priest, 59. Saint Paul Denn, S.J., Priest, 60. Saint Rémy Isoré, S.J., Priest, 61. Saint Modeste Andlauer, S.J., Priest.

The names and ages of the Chinese lay Christians were as follows:

62. Saint Mary Zhu born Wu, aged about 50 years, 63. Saint Petrus Zhu Rixin, aged 19, 64. Saint Ioannes Baptista Zhu Wurui, aged 17, 65. Saint Mary Fu Guilin, aged 37, 66. Saint Barbara Cui born Lian, aged 51, 67. Saint Joseph Ma Taishun, aged 60, 68. Saint Lucia Wang Cheng, aged 18, 69. Saint Maria Fan Kun, aged 16, 70. Saint Mary Qi Yu, aged 15, 71. Saint Maria Zheng Xu, aged 11 years, 72. Saint Mary Du born Zhao, aged 51, 73. Saint Magdalene Du Fengju, aged 19, 74. Saint Mary Du born Tian, aged 42, 75. Saint Paul Wu Anju, aged 62, 76. Saint Ioannes Baptista Wu Mantang, aged 17, 77. Saint Paulus Wu Wanshu, aged 16, 78. Saint Raymond Li Quanzhen, aged 59, 79. Saint Peter Li Quanhui, aged 63, 80. Saint Peter Zhao Mingzhen, aged 61, 81. Saint John Baptist Zhao Mingxi, aged 56, 82. Saint Teresa Chen Jinjie, aged 25, 83. Saint Rose Chen Aijie, aged 22, 84. Saint Peter Wang Zuolong, aged 58, 85. Saint Mary Guo born Li, aged 65, 86. Saint Joan Wu Wenyin, aged 50, 87. Saint Zhang Huailu, aged 57, 88. Saint Mark Ji Tianxiang, aged 66, 89. Saint Ann An born Xin, aged 72, 90. Saint Mary An born Guo, aged 64, 91. Saint Ann An born Jiao, aged 26, 92. Saint Mary An Linghua, aged 29, 93. Saint Paul Liu Jinde, aged 79, 94. Saint Joseph Wang Kuiju, aged 37, 95. Saint John Wang Kuixin, aged 25, 96. Saint Teresa Zhang born He, aged 36, 97. Saint Lang born Yang, aged 29, 98. Saint Paulus Lang Fu, aged 9, 99. Saint Elizabeth Qin born Bian, aged 54, 100. Saint Simon Qin Chunfu, aged 14, 101. Saint Peter Liu Ziyu, aged 57, 102. Saint Anna Wang, aged 14, 103. Saint Joseph Wang Yumei, aged 68, 104. Saint Lucy Wang born Wang, aged 31, 105. Saint Andreas Wang Tianqing, aged 9, 106. Saint Mary Wang born Li, aged 49, 107. Saint Chi Zhuzi, aged 18, 108. Saint Mary Zhao born Guo, aged 60, 109. Saint Rose Zhao, aged 22, 110. Saint Maria Zhao, aged 17, 111. Saint Joseph Yuan Gengyin, aged 47, 112. Saint Paul Ge Tingzhu, aged 61, 113. Saint Rose Fan Hui, aged 45.

And lastly

114. Saint Alberic Crescitelli, a priest of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions of Milan, who carried out his ministry in Southern Shaanxi and was martyred on July 21, 1900.

Some years later, members of the Salesian Society of St John Bosco were added to the considerable number of martyrs recorded above:

115. Saint Louis Versiglia, Bishop, 116. Saint Callistus Caravario, Priest.

They were killed together on February 25, 1930 at Li-Thau-Tseul.


Manney, Jim.  “This Addict Is a Saint” accessed November 1, 2013 accessed November 1, 2013 dated September-October 2013, accessed November 1, 2013 accessed November 1, 2013

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