In a land area of about 80,000 square kilometers, the diocesan territory covers Yan'an and Yulin cites, Dingbian and Jingbian counties, and Anbian town.
Yan'an, a Prefecture-level city in northern Shaanxi province in China, was the main base of the Communist Party of China, which set up an interim government there during 1936-1948, after the 12,500-kilometer Long March to avoid attack from the Nationalist army, which later fled to Taiwan.
Shaanxi became an apostolic vicariate in late 17th century. In 1887 it was split into Shaannan (south) and Shaanbei (north) vicariates. Shaanbei was renamed Yan'an in 1924. It had been managed by Spanish Franciscans until missionary work was stopped by the Communist land reform in 1934, while China was still in war with Japan. Bishop Celestin Ibáñez, all 33 priests and 3 Franciscan friars left Yan'an the next year and continued to work in neighboring provinces.
In 1936, when the Communist army occupied Yan'an, only a few priests remained to serve in other parts of the diocese and missionary work almost stopped. Foreign missionaries were later expelled from mainland China and native priests could not return to the diocese until they died.
Bishop Pacificus Li Xuande was appointed the second bishop of Yan'an in 1951, but could not assume office and died in 1972. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), priests were imprisoned and churches were demolished. Most Catholic laypeople lost their faith except for very few who persisted to pray secretly.
When religious activities revived in early 1980s, the government-sanctioned "open" Church authority allotted an area covering Dingbian, Jingbian and Anbian from Ningxia diocese to Yan'an diocese. The diocese's name was changed officially to Yulin, when the government made administrative revisions in 1990.
Among the 24 native priests, only Father Joseph Wang Zhenye returned to the diocese in 1984. He was ordained a bishop in 1991 without papal approval. The diocese has been gradually restored in recent decades under the leadership of Bishop Wang and his successor Bishop Francis Tong Hui.
Today, the diocese is based in Maotuan village in Jingbian county and has about 40 churches and mission points, but is unable to regain several old churches.
One of them is the Qiaoergou church in Yan'an city, which was built in 1934 but was confiscated as a school to train the Communist cadres and an art academy. It also became the venue of a plenary meeting of the Communist Party's Central Committee in 1938. The church has been lately restored as a sanctuary of the Chinese Revolution and was declared a national monument. It is unlikely that the former church will be returned despite the diocese has been demanding for years.
The area belongs to temperate semi-arid continental monsoon climate with four distinct seasons and long duration of sunshine. The average temperature of Yan'an is 7.7-10.6 degrees Celsius and annual precipitation is about 500 mm. Yulin's average temperature is 10 degree Celsius and annual precipitation is about 400 mm.
Coal mining is the first source of income. There are oil and gas developments of Yan'an and Yulin cities which boost the economy recently. Agriculture is another important industry in the area.
Yan'an has an area of 37,030 square kilometers and a population of 2,150, 800 as of the end of 2006. It borders Yulin city to the south. Yulin at the far north of Shaanxi province has an area of 43,578 square kilometers and a population of 3,516,300 as of the end of 2006.
Both cities locate at mountainous area of the Loess Plateau and border the Yellow River on the east. Yulin has common border with Inner Mongolia. At the North/Northwest of Yulin is the Ordos Desert, though the countryside is very green due to the many small shrubs which have been planted to slow the process of desertification.