The Iron Wall Between Mao and Pius XII
The Homeric struggle between communist China and the Catholic Church in the time of Mao Tse-toung is rich in lessons for understanding the challenges to religion today in the most populated country in the world.
A History of Undermining the Church
When the manifestations of Catholic resistance at Zikawei were taking place, the government obtained signatures of priests from Chekiang on a document approving of their politics; another attempt was then made to seduce the Catholic clergy. The government set its sights upon the vast province of Kiangnan in which Nankinth—the ancient capital—was the archbishopric. The Bureau of Religious Affairs had gathered a core of Catholic “patriots” around the previous vicar general, Fr. Li, whom the communists considered to be the sole cleric responsible for the archbishopric. He was, in this case, assigned the title of “pro-archbishop” (even though this apostolic administration had been assigned by the nuncio to the bishop of Shanghai).
Fr. Li sent an invitation to 18 priests for a banquet. 13 priests came, but at the end of the meal, when the conversations intensified, 12 from among them withdrew. Even with this setback, the Bureau of Religious Affairs did not back down; it gave out a new invitation to all priests of Kiangnan for a banquet in the best hotel of Nankin on June 16. For the most part, the priests did not dare refuse, but once there, the communists declared that the priests would not leave the premises without having studied the significance of the anti-imperialist movement—for the love of the country and the Church. Similar sessions of indoctrination were held simultaneously in other nearby regions. Finally, in the month of August, the communists lead, under escort, about 50 priests to Nankin to have a council that would last about 10 days.
A text containing 10 articles was proposed and debated. It included, this time, a sizeable innovation; it was thankful, for the first time, for the authority of the sovereign pontiff concerning the organization of the Faith. It avoided attacking the ecclesiastical authority of bishops and deliberately excluded the words “Triple Autonomy.” [Editor’s note: This created a schism on the Chinese mainland. The Church would make all decisions with no Vatican intervention]. It did not refrain of course, from condemning—without citing names—the “anti-patriotic” attitudes under the cover of religion and principally the submission of religion to the “imperialist” interests. The vague language used in the document made it possible for the authorities to incriminate priests according to their own judgement. It was a major concession, designed to facilitate reconciliation between Church and State and the priests in attendance were made to feel strongly that this was the last chance to bring about peace in their ministry, without which, war would become definitive and totally destructive.
There were however, two articles liable to prick their conscience: one which condemned the refusal of communion to members of the Neo-democratic Youth, and another which decreed that in the case of conflict between governmental and ecclesiastical authority, one must obey the government. But in the end, the last clerics who resisted, finally surrendered on these issues and signed the document because they feared that any further delay in negotiations would have disastrous consequences. All but three clerics signed to “save the Church” while protesting their fidelity to the pope, but when the pseudo pro-archbishop invited them to a solemn high Mass in “his” cathedral, they almost unanimously refused communio in sacris with someone who had been excommunicated. Only four priests recognized his authority as “prelate.”
Upon returning to their homes and recovering little by little their spirit, one after the other, with a few exceptions, either immediately or under the pressure of their faithful, the clergy ended up sending the authorities an official retraction of their signatures. One from among them who strongly pushed his confreres to retract their signatures went so far as to ask for the authorization to make public reparation in Shanghai (which was not his diocese, but where he was well known). In one of the large churches, he made the Stations of the Cross. Before beginning, he took the Cross, publicly admitted his fault in order to repair the scandal caused, and humbly asked the Christians to pray for him.
Running Hot and Cold
This was one of the most serious attacks against Chinese Communism. A signal was sent to the other “Patriotic Ecclesiastical Congresses.” Several of these congresses were likewise held in many cities in China. This “anti-patriotic” signal was so clearly perceived that the government felt forced to return to harsh methods of persecution. From February to March 1954, a new wave of arrests and assassinations of priests occurred. In Chunking, for example, many resistant priests were shot and others imprisoned even though their parish churches were closed to the public. In Hankow, three priests were detained by the police and their churches were devastated. Even in Beijing on Ash Wednesday, 28 priests were incarcerated and their chapels were occupied by the police. After a three-month respite from violence in view of the new and vain attempt at “reconciliation,” the persecutions began again with extreme violence and intensity using torture of varying kinds in most cases. The major seminary of Zikawei, in particular, became one of the most feared police interrogation centers.
Autumn of 1954 brought with it a very short truce, at least in Shanghai: the reopening of the residence of Zikawei, the buildings of Christ the King and of the Catholic supply store of the Franciscan Fathers and of the liberation of the priests who were interned there (unlike those who were imprisoned) as well as fewer arrests of the faithful. Even the parish life grew: (there were 13 baptisms of adults at Easter as was needed in the absence of priests), evening prayers, discreet catechism formation, all night adoration and instructional meetings. But a perverse and worrisome phenomenon began to affect lay people: the laying off of Catholics, their exclusion from schools, eliminations from official organizations, hospitals, and many other jobs. It was because of this that the encyclical letter of Pope Pius XII Ad Sinarum Gentem (October 7, 1954) was sent to Chinese Catholics. It reminded them that the entire Church supported them in their sufferings and exhorted them to throw away the false association between fidelity to the hierarchical Church of Christ and an unpatriotic attitude. The Church renewed, at the same time, the condemnation of apostates: “those cannot be considered or honored as Catholics who profess or teach doctrines other that those exposed by Us above. It is the case, for example, of those who adhered to the adverse principles called the “Three Autonomies” or to the principles of the same genre…” The encyclical came as a comfort to those faithful whom the communists pursued for their refusal to adhere to the “patriotic” Church.
Red September or the Hallali
This respite had only been a lull: the renewal of general persecution was undertaken within the framework of a second campaign, called “the repression against the revolution” (Agency Hsin Hwa July 29, 1955). In the month of August, the arrests of the “Anti-revolutionaries of the Association of the Christian Youth continued, who have insulted the Christian patriots favorable to the movement of the Three Autonomies by treating them as rebels.” (Agency Hsin Hwa August 28, 1955). A wave of arrests fell upon all of China under the same pretexts. The night of September 8th, 1955 marked the arrest of Monsignor Kiung in Shanghai, the soul of the Catholic resistance in China. During the same night, 7 Chinese priests of the diocese, 14 Chinese Jesuits, 2 Carmelites and 300 Christians were apprehended who constituted the “sinister band of criminals Kiung P’in-mei”: thus were they conveniently named from then on. Four other bishops (from the dioceses of Taizhou, Hankou, Guangzhou and Baoding) along with some of their faithful were also imprisoned.
The government, eager to have the offers of peace forgotten that were being made by the bishop of Shanghai, applied to him, as well as his “accomplices,” the epithet of “international spies.” The daily Hsin Wen-pao wrote: “This group of criminals, with Kiun P’ in-mei as their leader, on the payroll of imperialist spies and under the cover of the religious habit, is hiding behind the organization of the Catholic Church and has extended its actions to all of China to gather information. They have stolen important military, administrative and economic information from the nation, and have transmitted it to imperialist spy organizations.” (Jean Lefeuvre, op. cit., p. 360).
In order to provide evidence for these fantasies, the authorities of a government “that never makes mistakes” spread enormous lies: “They have created a revolutionary party of public salvation, a committee of young Chinese revolutionaries as well as other diverse organizations.”
A new assault was made on September 26th. Seventeen “criminals” of the group who were arrested on September 8th had already been shot. The Communist government implemented the same tactics which had been used five years previously: denunciations, false witnesses, mob meetings and popular judgements. This second wave was even more powerful: 10 other secular priests and 8 other Jesuits, 38 seminarians, 5 religious and 600 more Christians were apprehended. The newspaper “Sin Wen Je Pao” in Shanghai on September 17th reported: “A series of prosecutions were held in Shanghai on September 12th which tried 1,900 Catholics. Throughout the 22 districts in other parts of China, similar prosecutions were held on September 13, 14th and 15th. Altogether, the sessions were attended by more than 30,000 Catholics.” In the provinces of Tchekiang, Kiangsu and Fukien, people from all social classes and the Catholics themselves, organized a meeting in order to denounce the criminal activities of the clique Kiung P’in mei” (Albert Galter, op. cit., pp. 159-160).
The Communist Replacements
Having now imprisoned almost all of the Chinese priests responsible for parishes, and having thrown the most engaged part of the Shanghai clergy into their dungeons, the henchmen of the communist authorities proceeded to occupy the churches of the city. These churches were attended by nearly 100,000 Christians but they had become the centers where the government could now gather its 1,000 “Catholic patriots.” This usurpation was undertaken in every city where there was a faithful Catholic community.
In 1957, the People’s Republic of China established the association of Chinese Catholic Patriots (ACCP) according to similar principles as those of the TSPM [Translator’s note: Movement of the Three Autonomies] founded upon Protestantism. In response, Pius XII published his encyclical Ad Apostolorum Principis on July 29, 1958, in which he condemned the activities of the ACCP and declared that the bishops who participated in the consecration of new bishops chosen by the ACCP were excommunicated.
From 1966 to 1976, the “cultural revolution” was orchestrated by president Mao, and the priests, religious, faithful and Catholic churches were attacked by the young communists called “red guards.” The churches were ridded of their religious symbolism, seized by the government and remodeled for profane usage. Thousands of anonymous Catholics were imprisoned, sent to labor camps or executed.
Born in Shanghai in 1937, a former student of the Jesuits, the “rebel” Harry Wu spend 19 years of his life in 12 camps of “re-education” i.e. “work and reform” in Laogai. Freed in 1979, he was able to seek exile in the United States in 1985. Since then, he has returned to China four times to investigate the prison camps. He was detained in 1995 and condemned to 15 years in prison, but under international pressure and through the intervention of Hillary Clinton, he was finally set free. Since then, the Chinese Solzhenitsyn [Editor’s note: Solzhenitsyn was arrested, imprisoned and exiled for criticizing Stalin] devotes his time to explaining the realities of this other archipelago of Communist terror to the west, less commonly known than the well-investigated USSR. He has published a book on this topic: Retour au Laogai (French edition Belfond). Interviewed by Bruno de Cessole in no. 420 of the Spectacle du Monde (March 1997), he revealed the means used to “reform” individuals.
It is impossible to provide a credible account of the population who remained faithful to the true Catholic Church and it is even more difficult to ascertain the number of those who converted to the “patriotic” Church. One can have absolutely no confidence in the fabricated statistics from the Bureau of Religious Affairs, which had a tendency to pretend that the two Catholic communities were roughly equal in size: it is evident that in the new phase of their sordid dealings with the Vatican, the government was interested in exaggerating the numbers belonging to the “patriotic” Church and reducing as much as possible the number of true Catholics. We don’t know, on the other hand, how many thousands – or tens of thousands are currently in prison or in centers of “re-education.” It is clear that the community of faithful Catholics is superior in number to the other community (the report 50 years ago was at least a 1000:1 ratio). According to the Holy Spirit Study Center in Hong Kong, there were approximately 12 million Catholics. This number included the number of registered and unregistered (clandestine) Catholics. However, in the more remote central regions of China, the estimations of faithful vary from 10 – 30 million. The unregistered Chinese Catholics represent between one third and two thirds of the total population of Catholics who attend Mass regularly.
These remote regions represent a community in which priests exercise their ministry in a semi-clandestine manner, with some of them being completely clandestine, 17 bishops in particular and an indefinite number of priests, with certain among them being ordained in secret. To date, only 7 “patriotic” bishops have not been recognized by the Holy See. Between 60 and 70 official bishops (of the “patriotic Church”) were recognized by Pope Benedict XVI who were thus defined in a Letter of May 27, 2007 to the Chinese Catholics whose situation : “…other pastors, pushed by their own particular circumstances, consented to receive the episcopal ordination without a pontifical mandate.” Certain of these have asked thereafter for “the possibility to be received into communion with the successor of Peter and with their other brothers in the episcopacy” and they obtained from the pope “the full and legitimate exercise of episcopal jurisdiction.”
It should be noted that the clandestine bishops “constrained by particular circumstances,” had also been consecrated “without a pontifical mandate.” But their consecration and the ordinations that they performed thereafter were evidently valid and licit since they had been carried out for the safeguarding of the Roman Church under circumstances of exceptional ecclesiastical emergency. But for them, there have not been to this day, the validation by the communist authorities, by way of exchange, of the validation by Rome of the 70 bishops that Pius XII considered excommunicated. ...Will the circus continue?
While the crucial question remained of the attachment of the Chinese Church to the pope or, of its status as a Marxist mouthpiece in disguise, the “patriotic” Church began to take a turn that risked terrible consequences for true Catholics. The negotiations in question under the cover of “regularizations” were in place to accord Roman acceptance of the schismatics, and therefore, to betray the Roman Catholics in their fidelity to the pope! Five examples of events following the Letter of Benedict XVI illustrate the consequences of this dilemma:
April 2013 – April 17th marked the death of the “official” bishop of Shanghai, Monsignor Aloysius Jin Luxian (known as Monsignor Jin). From 1951 – 1955 he was one of the priests of Monsignor Kiung. In 1955, he was a member of the group of priests that were arrested and he was condemned to five years in prison, a condemnation prolonged to 15 years in 1960. He was released in 1972, but kept under surveillance until 1982. He who, according to the rumor, became a “friend” of the regime was chosen by the government of Deng Xiaoping to reopen the seminary of Sheshan (in which the future cardinal Zen himself became a professor). In 1985, he was designated by the authorities as auxiliary bishop of Shanghai without a pontifical mandate. In 1988, the titular bishop in the same conditions, the true bishop according to the pope, was Monsignor Joseph Fan Zhongliang. In 2005, “reconciled with Rome,” Monsignor Jin was seen confirmed by the Holy Father as auxiliary, and Monsignor Joesph Fan Zhongliang as the titular bishop even though he was elderly and ill. The question remained to know who would preside over the funeral of Monsignor Jin, titular bishop for Beijing and auxiliary bishop for Rome. For the Vatican, it was Monsignor Thaddeus Ma Daqin, consecrated bishop coadjutor July 7, 2013 but this bishop having decided to leave the association of “patriotic” priests was silenced by the government in the seminary of SheShan. The Vatican yielded: this would be the third “patriotic” bishop recognized by the People’s Republic who would officiate.
September 2016 – The coadjutor bishop of Wenzhou, Monsignor Shao Zhumin, had been stopped by the police on September 8th (feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin) and taken “on a trip” to the northeast of the country, even though he was busy making preparations for the funeral of his bishop who died the day before, Monsignor Vincent Zhu Weifang (originally a priest of the official Church). The objective of removing the bishop was: to prevent him from succeeding Monsignor Weifang because he wasn’t a member of the official Church. His secretary, also a priest of the clandestine Church and chancellor of the diocese, had been sent into Yunnan. Having returned to his diocese, Monsignor Shao Zhumin had been detained three more times up until May 18, 2017 and for the duration of 7 months, he underwent pressure to integrate into the patriotic association (the official Church) i.e. pressure to sign a document containing four conditions that would have allowed him to be recognized by the Party: to recognize the independence of the Church vis-à-vis the Holy Father; to admit the nomination of bishops by the Chinese authorities; concelebrate the Mass with a bishop that is not recognized by the Vatican; and to respect the dispositions surrounding other religions. The enforcement of this program was scheduled for February 1, 2018. The bishop held on heroically in the refusal of these conditions. This decision put his life in danger on a daily basis. He was finally set free January 3, 2018, under international pressure and thanks to the intervention of the ambassador of Germany, Mr. Michael Claus, who had dared to post a message regarding this injustice on the Embassy website.
In November 2016, two consecrations of “patriotic” bishops took place on the 30th of the month.
The first took place at the cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Ankang (a remote diocese of the province of Shaanxi, comprising nearly 5,000 faithful): the new bishop, Monsignor John Baptist Wang Xiaoxun was recognized by the Communist power and received a mandate from the pope (which he read privately before the Mass). The six bishops present were both recognized by the power and by Rome at the same time…
The second consecration, on the other hand, took place in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of Chengdu (a large diocese of 100,000 faithful) under even more “critical” conditions: the principle bishop who performed the consecration, Monsignor Fang Xingyao, was recognized by Rome even though his proximity with the regime was well-known. But, even more seriously, the second co-consecrating bishop was already excommunicated, because he himself was consecrated without a pontifical mandate. The faithful even tried to prevent the latter from coming by blocking the entrance to the cathedral, but the bishop came in and took his place under the protection of the police.
January 2018 – From the Asia News we heard again: At the insistence of the Chinese government, Pope Francis ordered two bishops to resign from their charge to make way for two bishops that were consecrated without a Roman mandate, and therefore, excommunicated, but recognized thereafter. Ordained in secret in 2006, the bishop of Shantou, Monsignor Peter Zhuang Jianjian received a letter on October 26, 2017. This intimated him to give up his seat to “Monsignor” Huang Bingzhang, a pion of the communist regime, long-disputed at the Popular National Congress. Monsignor Zhuang Jianjian refused to be led to the “Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics.” He likewise refused to attend the alleged Conference of Chinese Bishops in order to find out who was responsible there—three bishops of whom two were not recognized by the Holy See. All of this made sense. The next day, he was taken to another location where another bishop was waiting for him. Monsignor Celli, a Vatican diplomat, who, in order to convince him to resign, assured him that he would give the bishop three names from whom to choose his successor. This successor could then choose the vicar general. The bishop broke down into tears. The delegate of the Vatican then went to Fujian to make the offer to Monsignor Vincent Zhan Silu, the bishop of the semi-clandestine Church, (one of the seven that were until then not recognized by Rome). This bishop took Monsignor Zhuang Jianjian’s place…
One can guess the pain of the two regular bishops and the disarray of the faithful invited to receive the sacraments from then on from the vassal prelates of a government who persecuted them. How did they not feel profoundly shaken because they could not feel anything other than treason from the Vatican? Cardinal Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong and, in a certain way, the patriarch of the Chinese Church, came to Rome on January 10th to meet the pope. We do not know the result of this meeting.
February 2018 – The Cross, the bells, the statues and all religious decorations were removed from the façade of the Catholic Church of Yining (Xinjang): inside, the Stations of the Cross were likewise removed and all of the painted Crosses were erased—because the Cross represents a “foreign religious infiltration.” On February 27th and 28th, Asia News explained, “a few weeks after a meeting between the Chinese and a Vatican delegate, a “historical” project of agreement resulted in the nomination of bishops in the Catholic Church of China.” Since February 1st, the cult was not permitted within the Church except on Sundays at times fixed by the civil authorities; it is forbidden to all groups (2 or more persons) to pray elsewhere, including private homes, and each church must post this decree at its entrance: “Entrance forbidden to minors under 18 years old.” The article, signed by the director of Asia News (organ of the pontifical institute of foreign missions) finished with this citation of one of the faithful; “I am very sad that the Vatican is making these compromises with the government. Thus, it becomes an accomplice to those who desire our annihilation.”
The False Chinese Springtime
A long night extended itself over China. Impressed by a sort of economic liberalism introduced by the successor of Mao Tse-toung (who died on September 9, 1976) the “Little Helmsman” Deng Xiaoping—who succeeded him in 1977 after having eliminated the famous “Gang of Four” [Editor’s note: Group of influential Chinese communist party figures] comprising the widow of Mao etc.—… The westerners wanted to believe that a grand new idea of social life would sway the Chinese continent. Already in Mao’s time, Deng Xia, the vice-premier minister in charge of the economy and finances, spear-headed a campaign of the “Three Liberties” in 1969. He learned from the utter failure of the campaign “The Great Front Bond” initiated by “The Great Witness” in 1958 and he was greatly moved by a famine affecting 19 million Chinese. This campaign marked a de-collectivization of lands following the “70 Articles on Industrial Work.” But his appetite for economic reform didn’t prevent him, in the summer of 1957, from becoming the inflexible enforcer of the repression of the liberal movement called the “100 flowers” and to send to Laogai the Chinese Goulag, hundreds of millions of persons. He is the same person who on June 4th, 1989, ordered the evacuation of the local protestors from the Tien Anmen [public square] of Beijing occupied by thousands of youth promoting the “5th Modernization,” that is to say, the democracy. The massacre that followed thereafter put an end to the “Springtime of Beijing” and to the illusions of the naïve observers.
In the communist leader’s mind, economic modernization must be distinct from all other liberalization and cannot contradict the fundamentals of the Marxist regime, particularly in its materialistic and atheistic conception of man and his rights. Opening the country to foreign investors was wanted by the latest of the Marxists Mandarins, Xi Jinping. But this doesn’t mean anything for the population of the country in the way of an alleviation of the constraints of the communist ideology, but simply the coherent choice of the best way to assure international supremacy to communist China.
For the faithful Christians, the election of Xia Baolong, former secretary of the party of Xinjang from 2012-2017, whom Xi Jinping elected vice president of the National Assembly and Secretary General of the Chinese Advisory Policy Conference on March 14th, was a cause for worry in the anticipation of further persecution. During the course of four years, Xia collaborated with Xi Jinping when he was the secretary of the party in the province. It was he who launched a campaign of destruction of crosses and churches in the province for three years in the name of the “necessities of urbanism.” In the course of his campaign, which had its debut near the end of 2013 and was finished toward April 2016, approximately 500 churches were destroyed, of which a great number were Protestant. Dozens of pastors and lay faithful who wanted to defend their Faith were stopped, menaced and judged. The authorities were likewise followed by the government and the lawyers who defended the Christian communities were condemned.
No concessions are to be expected from the new Chinese government after the amendment of the constitution. This has resulted in concentrating the authority over the vital sectors of the Party and the army in the hands of Xi Jinping—assuring the renewed vigor of his power. However, in his inauguration speech, the new Chinese emperor did not hide his visceral attachment to communist ideology and his intention to give the party a very strong role in the control of religion and its “Chinese-ation.” His refusal to meet the pope who invited him to Rome and his sudden radicalization in the negotiations of the nomination of bishops speak volumes. Will the pope continue to sympathize with his interlocutor until he denies Catholics who have remained faithful to the Catholic Church?
Warnings were given to the Roman authorities by Cardinal Mindzenty and Monsignor Kiun among many others, who told them of the double language systematically used by the communist interlocutors and their disrespect of contractual commitments. The communist strategy in the matter had been described magisterially by the best analyst of Marxist praxis, Fr. Dufay, concerning the foreign missions of Paris in In China, the Star against the Cross (1954), a work that should be highly recommended to the members of the secretary of the Vatican state (p. 58): “Extend the hand to Catholics today and destroy tomorrow those who will not compromise, just as the alliance with Nazism was followed by a ferocious war. These are the moments of evolution, the different moments of class struggle, consecutive levels of revolutions, and therefore different moments of truth…Universals are absent, hence the absence of norms that are valid everywhere and always, and heterogeneous notions of the truth. All of this makes it possible to grasp the metaphysical impossibility of dialogue with Communism: words cover different concepts such that all common grounds of understanding vanish. Dialogue is not only impossible in a country submitted to the red dictatorship, but it is synonymous with suicide. Because, when Marxism is in power, it necessarily imposes its interpretation of words and ideas…the individual is infallibly trapped.”