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China's Catholics of Guizhou: Three Days with Three Bishops | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D. | October 3, 2008
Editor's Note: Dr. Anthony Clark, assistant professor of Asian history at the University of Alabama, is in Beijing, China, to spend four months as
director of the University of Alabama Chinese Language and Culture Program in the capital of China. During his time there, he is writing a series of articles for Ignatius Insight
about Catholicism in China; this is the third article in that series. For more about Dr. Clark, see his bio at the end of this article.
In the nineteenth century several intrepid French missionary priests from the
Paris Foreign Missions Society (M.E.P.) traveled to China's southern Guizhou
province, where many holy Chinese Catholics later sacrificed their lives rather
than apostatize. Just one hour outside of Guizhou's capital city, Guiyang,
rests the grave of four Chinese saints who were beheaded in 1861 when a Qing
dynasty official led a persecution against Catholic believers.
repeated challenges, the Church has continued in Guizhou ever since the Gospel
was planted there nearly two centuries ago. The Catholic faithful there have a
turbulent history, but in spite of two hundred years of suffering the Church in
Guizhou can now boast a flourishing community.
was recently granted audiences with the three bishops of Guizhou during a
three-day visit to the cathedral in Guiyang, the provincial capital. I was
first granted an audience with the ninety-year-old principle bishop of Guiyang,
His Excellency Wang Chongyi. Second, I was granted a private interview with the
eighty-year-old "underground" bishop, His Excellency Hu Daguo. And finally, I
had a brief interview with the young, recently consecrated bishop, His
Excellency Xiao Zejiang. The situation in Guizhou with the bishops is complex,
but the devotional life of the faithful is rich.
most Catholics outside of China envision the sanctioned Church under the
watchful eyes of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association they imagine clergy
and faithful largely independent of Rome's direction. And when they imagine the
"underground" community, they conjure a vision of Catholic clergy and faithful
dodging Chinese authorities, practicing their faith in hidden locations.
Despite this image, both the sanctioned and "underground" Catholic communities
are in many cases only slightly distinguishable.
Guiyang, the "underground" bishop actually lives at the cathedral along with
the two bishops recognized by the Catholic Patriotic Association. Which bishops
are in communion with the Pope is common knowledge among the Chinese faithful,
and if a bishop is in open communion with Holy Father it matters little which
community he is in. Conditions are not perfect, however, and the authorities
commonly harass members of the "underground" clergy; the more publicly active
bishops are sometimes arrested and mistreated. The "underground" bishop who
lives at the Guiyang cathedral must maintain a low profile to avoid being
hassled by the local police. Although Bishop Hu lives at the cathedral with the
other bishops, he is nonetheless forced to carry his Episcopal ring, given to
him by Pope John Paul II, in his pocket.
first audience was with Bishop Wang Chongyi, a warm and welcoming man who was
ordained a priest in 1949. We were allowed to speak candidly in a closed room.
Bishop Wang gave me an account of how the Church had suffered through the first
few decades of the Peoples Republic of China, founded in 1949. The new
Communist government viewed all religion as superstitious, and thus attempted
to eradicate it in China; this was an era of extreme danger and suffering for
Catholics. Bishops and priests were forced to laicize, and during the Cultural
Revolution (1966-1976), clergy and professed women were apprehended, ordered to
apostatize, and often beaten by Chairman Mao's Red Guards or Party officials.
Wang, then a priest, was personally "struggled against" and ordered to renounce
his faith. Refusing to do so, the Communist authorities condemned him to hard
labor. He described that time as a period of extreme hardship, and he informed
me that he personally knew many priests who were tortured and murdered by the
authorities for refusing to apostatize. China has many, many martyr saints who
died for Christ during the Maoist era, but they are now forgotten to the world
because there are no records of their lives.
Catholicism openly during Mao's rule was life threatening, and as Bishop Wang
stated: "No matter where you looked or how hard you searched, you could not see
a Catholic anywhere; the faith was in their hearts, invisible to the outside."
For decades there was not a Mass or sacrament offered openly in China. Bishop
Wang said that, "If you were a Catholic you thought that the Church was over in
China; there was no more Catholicism here." Catholic churches and properties
were all taken by the government and destroyed or reassigned to secular
uses—schools, factories, restaurants, or Communist Party halls.
beautiful cathedral in Guiyang was terribly mistreated during the Cultural
Revolution; the top section of its tall clock tower was destroyed, and was not
repaired until 1982. "Things for the Church here got much better starting in
1979, when Deng Xiaoping gained control," asserted Bishop Wang. He stated that
Deng openly promoted religious tolerance, though this did not entail complete
freedom for Chinese Catholics. Once Catholics were again allowed to worship in
the 1980s, the cathedral in Guiyang was restored in 1982. Despite the growing
freedom in the Chinese church, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association still
looms over its clergy.
Catholic Patriotic Association was founded to keep the Church in China
disconnected from the Pope's leadership in Rome, and priests were officially
forbidden from mentioning the Pope's name during Mass, or in any other context.
Bishops were also to be elected "by the people," which meant in reality that
they were to be elected by the Party. "Even though we were shut off from the
Holy Father by the government," Bishop Wang stated, "we remained loyal and
connected to him in our hearts, and by our prayers." He also said, "If we
mentioned the Pope's name in Mass we were arrested by the police and put into
jail, so when we got to the part in Mass where we were supposed to mention the
Pope's name out loud, we mentioned him in our hearts. We remained faithful to
the Pope." Regarding episcopal elections, Bishop Wang Chongyi informed me that:
"In most cases when the Patriotic Association approaches a priest who it has
chosen to be consecrated a bishop, the priest first finds out through various
means if the Pope approves of his election. If Rome approves, the priest
accepts his election, but if Rome does not approve, he declines the election
and remains a priest." There have been a few who have accepted their election
without Rome's approval; however, implicit communion with the Pope is requisite
for acceptance by the faithful in China.
the complexities of exercising pastoral responsibilities in Communist China,
Bishop Wang assured me that the spiritual life of Chinese Catholics is vibrant
and increasingly free from government intervention. At the end of our meeting,
Bishop Wang gave me a private message he wished me to convey to the Holy Father
in writing, and then he gave me his apostolic blessing. After our open
discussion of the state of the Church in China, I realized that all the while
the director of the Guizhou Catholic Patriotic Association, Fr. Ma, was sitting
in the next room. There is more freedom in the Chinese Church than previously,
but in the end the government's tendrils remain firmly entrenched in Church
following day I was taken by Fr. Liu, a priest at the cathedral, to meet one of
the most holy people I have ever encountered, "underground" Bishop Hu Daguo.
When first seeing Bishop Hu one notices that his small, frail body is stooped
over, and his legs are clearly unable to walk comfortably. I later learned that
these health problems result from his many years of torture and imprisonment by
the Communist authorities. Bishop Hu is commonly called "the third bishop in
Guiyang," because while he is a consecrated bishop he is only listed on the
official Guizhou records as a priest.
I arrived at Bishop Hu's small and humble room he sat in an old chair, and the
first words he said to me were "Thanks be to God." His manner was peaceful and
cheerful, and he punctuated his speech with two phrases: "Thanks be to God" and
"I am deeply grateful for God's help." I asked Bishop Hu about his personal
experiences as a priest in the "underground" Catholic community, and even while
discussing his time in prison and the tortures he endured, he smiled, laughed,
and thanked God for His blessings and help. Bishop Hu recalled that he began
his seminary training in the 1940s and was ordained in 1950. He recounted that
during the Cultural he was arrested by 300 Red Guards and placed in the middle
of a large crowd. After being restrained, a tall white dunce hat was placed on
his head to humiliate him, and he was denounced and physically beaten. They
demanded that he apostatize, but he refused. Bishop Hu was imprisoned because
he would not denounce his faith and leave the priesthood.
a sign of despair or regret, Bishop Hu described his ordeals in prison. He was
imprisoned for more than twenty years, denied the sacraments and any object
related to his religious beliefs. Thus, he was denied Holy Communion or
confession for over two decades. He used his fingers to pray his daily Rosary
and he remained loyal to the Pope in spite of constant pressure to be loyal
only to China.
Hu described four methods employed on him to disengage him from his faith.
First, he had to endure constant lessons on Marxist thought. He said that,
"They used this method to try and brainwash me." Second, the Chinese
authorities enlisted an attractive woman and tried to force Bishop Hu Daguo to
marry her. Third, the Communist authorities offered him an extremely
high-salaried job, hoping to entice him with wealth. Fourth, Bishop Hu was
beaten and mistreated, which has left his legs partially crippled and his body
stooped over. None of these methods were effective. I told Bishop Hu that I
admired him for his courage, but he insisted that I should "admire God" instead
discussing Bishop Hu's experiences during the Cultural Revolution and his
twenty-year imprisonment, we briefly discussed his situation as an
"underground" bishop. I learned that if more than only a small number people
visit him, or if he attracts attention, he is visited by the police and
scolded. In fact, Fr. Liu recalled incidents when the Chinese authorities sent
police to visit Bishop Hu. Bishop Hu's final comments were on Communism; he
noted that the Party is evil, and he suggested that there is no room for
optimism regarding Communism's place vis-à-vis the Church. It was clear that
his comments were meant to imply that any influence Communism has on the
Church's work in China are laden with difficulties; this final comment was
clearly directed at the corrupting role the Patriotic Catholic Association has
on the Chinese Church. He has experienced first hand how the post-1949 Chinese
officials have treated, and continue to treat, clergy who openly reject or
denounce the government's enforced divisions between the Chinese Church and the
Catholic leadership in Rome.
the end of our meeting, Bishop Hu asked for his old and tattered purple stole,
which he kissed and placed over his shoulders. Fr. Liu and I knelt before the
frail bishop while he prayed for us and imparted his blessing. After blessing
us, Bishop Hu asked Fr. Liu for his blessing, and the weak bishop knelt humbly
before the young priest to receive God's blessing.
my final day at the Guiyang cathedral I was given a brief audience with the
recently consecrated Bishop Xiao Zejiang, a youthful forty-one-year-old man who
received his theological training in part from an American Jesuit teaching at
Shanghai's Sheshan Seminary. We openly discussed the very few bishops who are
not presently sanctioned by Rome. Bishop Xiao himself was selected by the Pope,
and his Episcopal ring was sent to him by Benedict XVI.
are nonetheless some bishops who have been consecrated without Rome's approval,
and their position in the Catholic community remains wooly. One large problem
is that some priests are pressured by the authorities to accept consecration,
and these pressures are sometimes quite serious. Certainly, they are validly
ordained bishops, but their standing with Rome is strained. In many cases the
Chinese authorities ask priests who are too young and inexperienced to be
bishops, perhaps mostly because they feel that they will be more easily
influenced by Party representatives. Bishop Xiao assured me candidly, however,
that such bishops are in fact committed to the Church's teachings and to
spreading the Gospel. Present circumstances in China remain problematic for the
clergy, and until the Chinese Church is given complete freedom from government
involvement, the Chinese authorities will continue to influence episcopal
ordinations. Bishop Xiao imparted his apostolic blessing to me before I
departed, and Fr. Liu hailed a cab to take me back to my hotel.
There are still many
Catholics who venerate the grave of the four Qing dynasty martyr saints of
Guizhou, despite the government's prohibition against visiting the site. The
martyr saints remain powerful examples of Christian sacrifice in a world
hostile to the Church and the Gospel she teaches. The Catholics in Guizhou have
endured many hardships over the past few centuries, but their faith in Christ
has endured despite their suffering.
During a walk through
Guiyang, Fr. Liu and I discussed the Catholic devotion to Mary, and it was
clear that in China that devotion is particularly strong. In the cathedral
there is a banner that proclaims, "Our Lady of China, cause of our joy, pray
for us!" And after every Mass the faithful remain in their pews to offer
thanksgiving to God and to honor Mary through beautifully sung songs and
chanted litanies. As one of the Catholic faithful said to me, "We Catholics are
all one family, no matter what country we are from," and this is true.
I have seen and learned much
during my visit to Guizhou, but perhaps the most important thing I learned was
that they remain firm in their love for God and loyalty to the Church, and
whatever hardships and complications they are forced to endure, Christ will
remain the center of their lives.
Grave of the four Catholic martyr saints of Qingyanzhen.
Bishop Wang Chongyi delivering a homily at daily Mass in the Guiyang cathedral.
Dr. Anthony Clark with the "underground" bishop, Hu Daguo.
The back door of the Guiyang cathedral in Guizhou, China.
The front of the Guiyang cathedral in Guizhou, China.
Prayers after Mass in the Guiyang cathedral.
[Photos courtesy of Dr. Anthony Clark.]
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles and Excerpts:
China's Struggling Catholics: A Second Report on the Church in Beijing | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D. | September 13, 2008
China's Thriving Catholics: A Report From Beijing's South Cathedral | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D. | August 20, 2008
Two Chinese Churches? Or One? | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D.
On Writing A History of Christianity in China | Preface to Christians In China: A.D. 600 to 2000 | Fr. Jean-Pierre Charbonnier
Two Weeks in the Eternal City: From the Vatican Secret Archives to the Basilica
of St. Charles Borromeo | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D.
Catholicism and Buddhism | Anthony E. Clark and Carl E. Olson
Worshipping at the Feet of the Lord | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D.
Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D. is assistant professor of Asian history at
the University of Alabama.
He did his doctoral studies at the University of Oregon, where he studied
Chinese history, philosophy, and religion. His more recent research has
centered on East/West religious dialogue. He has also been researching the
history of Catholic martyrs in China and has recently finished writing a book on that subject.
Dr. Clark has presented papers at numerous academic conferences and has
also been a guest on "EWTN Live." and "Catholic Answers Live" to talk about Catholicism in China. He is also a contributing editor
for This Rock magazine.
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