CHURCH MILITANT: BISHOP KUNG AND CATHOLIC RESISTANCE IN COMMUNIST CHINA






Publication: Theological Studies
Author: Meynard, Thierry
Date published: June 1, 2012

CHURCH MILITANT: BISHOP KUNG AND CATHOLIC RESISTANCE IN COMMUNIST CHINA. By Paul Mariani. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 2011. Pp. xv + 282. $39.95.

Mariani narrates the dramatic events of the crackdown on the Catholic Church by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the 1950s. Since 1962, these events were known, thanks to Jean Lefeuvre's Les enfants dans la ville: Vie chrétienne à Shanghai et perspectives sur l'Eglise chinoise (1949-1961), but M. has incorporated additional documents from Catholic sources, personal interviews, and even from the Shanghai Municipal Archives.

M. 's title refers to the young Catholics, mostly anonymous, who promised to lay down their lives to defend the Church, who served as bodyguards to the clergy, and who carried secret messages and prevented "progressive Catholics" from having access to the Eucharist. For his subtitle, M. has chosen the emblematic figure of Kung Pinmei (Gong Pinmei), who became bishop of Suzhou in 1949 and then of Shanghai a few months later (and subsequently was made a cardinal in petto by John Paul II in the 1980s).

Unlike the rest of China, the Shanghai Catholic Church had a prestigious lineage (starting from the late Ming era), an extensive kinship, and the strong support of the universal church, and by 1949 sponsored some 66 churches, 63 schools, and charitable organizations. However, at the time of a nationalist and patriotic revolution, close ties with the West became a big liability. Under the strong leadership of Kung, the Shanghai diocese experienced a profound revival. Kung believed that the Church needed to stand on its own feet; so he emphasized the spiritual life of the laity and encouraged native priestly and religious vocations. (Indeed, we find this same pattern during the Qing dynasty [1644-1911] when missionaries were occasionally expelled.) The internuncio, Anthony Riberi, also played an important role by establishing the Legion of Mary in 1947, whose close-knit groups were trained in a spirituality of witnessing, sacrifice, and resistance.

In the first two years of the CCP, the Catholic Church in Shanghai enjoyed a great degree of freedom because the local Religious Affairs Bureau had adopted a gradual policy of control. However, tensions progressively built up. First, unlike the Protestants, the Catholics rejected the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (independence from foreign influence in terms of government, finance, and personnel). Second, during the Korean War, most Catholics resisted pronouncing themselves against American imperialism, because they opposed the idea that the Church was imperialist by nature, as portrayed by CCP. However, cracks started to appear: priests and "progressive Catholics" in Nanjing wrote a manifesto of independence and reform.

The first full-scale attack in 1951 produced limited results: when Riberi and the majority of foreigners were expelled, their departure created a vacuum that the Chinese clergy and laity filled with an intense activity of prayers and sermons. After the Legion of Mary was banned, the members refused to admit that they were doing anything wrong, much less criminal, and in fact shifted their activities to catechism groups. When the Jesuits were expelled from Aurora University, the students resisted the campaign of reeducation.

In the second assault, that of 1953, the police occupied Xujiahui, the hub of the Catholic Church in Shanghai, and Christ the King Parish. With the remaining foreign priests being arrested and deported to Hong Kong, Chinese Catholics and clergy, like Jin Luxian (the current bishop of Shanghai recognized by the government) manifested a strong resistance.

Internal documents show that the CCP became very impatient with this continuing resistance. After sacking the first secretary of East China, who was accused of being too lax, the new leadership launched the final attack. Fascinating documents reveal how the CCP operated to eliminate a group they considered subversive. In August 1955, the Shanghai Propaganda Department created a task force of 1000 cadres with different offices and for more than a month prepared a war plan. On the night of September 8, 1955, Bishop Kung was arrested along with seven diocesan priests, 14 Chinese Jesuits, two Carmelite sisters, and 300 leading Catholics. During the next three weeks the campaign unfolded as planned. To seal their victory, the government organized a rally on September 25 at the Shanghai Race Track with 14,000 people and 40 repentant priests.

This book will surely interest church historians. Though the church has experienced many persecutions, modern ones are different in the very sophisticated means of manipulation that the state uses. A limitation of this book is that it overlooks the campaigns of the government against similar groups at that time. Yet it remains a pioneer work, and we can only hope that one day native Chinese researchers will be allowed to follow M.'s lead.

Author affiliation:

Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou THIERRY MEYNARD

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