China has long been a country of interest to me. Since childhood, I’ve had an interest in language, so it isn’t surprising that I’d take an interest in Chinese and its unique writing system. For a time, I had an interest in Russia and the countries which made up the Eastern Bloc. While I could never be a Communist, thanks to my Catholicism, the way in which the Chinese government is also fascinating to me as well.
There was a time in China when the Chinese government was trying hard to get rid of religion altogether. Many great Buddhist and Daoist temples suffered damage, their priests and monks imprisoned. In addition, many great Protestant and Catholic leaders were imprisoned. One of the greatest of these was Ignatius Cardinal Kung Pin-mei. Cardinal Kung was a native of Shanghai and became the first Chinese-born bishop of that diocese. Like Pope Francis, he was a Jesuit. He is remembered as a very good and faithful bishop, loyal to the Pope in Rome. The decisions that bishops had to make under Communism were difficult ones. In Poland, the bishops did have a greater deal of freedom than they did in nearby Czechoslovakia or in Hungary. Some bishops sought conciliation with their governments. Others refused cooperation. The prudential choices that Bishop Kung had to make couldn’t have been easy, but he was firm. He refused to cooperate with the state-founded Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and forbade those who belonged to it to receive Communion. He ended up being sentenced a very lengthy prison sentence. When he was finally paroled, his family was able to get him to come to the United State to receive medical care. Soon after, Blessed John Paul II revealed that he had secretly named him a cardinal. The Chinese government was by no means happy by this turn of events.
At the same time in Shanghai, there still were a number of bishops. One of them, Bishop Joseph Fan Zhongliang, was secretly ordained a bishop in 1985 for the underground church in Shanghai. Bishop Fan was recognized as Cardinal Kung’s legitimate successor by the Vatican, though he was never recognized as such by the State. After Bishop Kung was imprisoned, as in other in places in China, the state sanctioned church took over all of the properties. Bishops were ordained without papal permission. Ordaining a bishop without papal permission is a huge matter. It is punishable by automatic excommunication, both for those who receive the illicit ordination and for those bishops who perform it. Bishop Aloysius Zhang Jiashu was the state appointed bishop for Shanghai. By means of faculties given by the Vatican, the underground church was free to ordain bishops without obtaining a papal mandate. However, the canonical penalties still applied to those in the state sanctioned church.
One of the bishops who received illicit episcopal ordination was another Jesuit named Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian. Bishop Jin, like Cardinal Kung, was a native of Shanghai. His life story is a fascinating one. He died earlier this year at age 96. Before his death, he got around to writing his memoirs. The first volume, which has been translated by William Hanbury-Tenison, was published by Hong Kong University Press in English. The Memoirs of Jin Luxian: Learning and Relearing 1916-1982 can be obtained through Amazon. It is a valuable memoir, in that we are able to hear Bishop Jin’s side in the various controversies which surrounded him. Bishop Jin is still a controversial figure. In China, the underground church still exists. It is made up of very loyal Catholics who view joining the Patriotic Association as imcompatible with the Catholic Faith. All Chinese Catholics, at least those who belong to the state-sanctioned church, must join the CCPA. There are similar assocations for Protestants, for Buddhists, for Daoists, and for Muslims. This is all a part of the Chinese Communist Party’s approach to religion. They now recognize that religion can play an important role in their efforts to build a harmonious society. At the same time, though, they are suspicious of it and wary of anything which could threaten their own power. Perhaps they fear another Taiping Rebellion. The Taiping Rebellion took place in the mid-19th century. It was lead Hong Xiuquan, who viewed himself as the younger brother of Jesus. Hong sought to establish his own kingdom in Nanking. It lead to a very bloody Civil War which only finally ended in 1871 with the defeat of the last Taiping army. There are some who view Bishop Jin as a traitor. For those who revere Cardinal Kung, Jin’s harsh words about him don’t help matters much. M.A. Thiessen wrote a piece on Bishop Fan and Bishop Jin. He highlights some of the biting criticism which Bishop Jin had for members of the underground church. You can read it all here.
While the Chinese government doesn’t want to eradicate religion these days, it wants to control it. We’ve seen it in Tibet. The Panchen Lama is a very important figure in Tibetan Buddhism, as he is the one who is supposed to be able to recognize the next incarnation of the Dalai Lama. The whole system of Living Buddhas is one unique to Tibetan Buddhism. The lamas had indentified a boy as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, but the Chinese government refused to recognize it. They got other Tibetan monks to recognize another boy as the Panchen Lama. The first boy and his family have never been seen again. The government approved Panchen Lama shows up at various Buddhist events in China from time to time. China has even passed a law making it illegal for such Tibetan lamas to reincarnate outside of China, something which seems like high comedy for a political party which espouses atheism. After the current Dalai Lama passes, perhaps there will be a Dalai Lama in exile and a state-approved Dalai Lama. Most of the bishops of the state approved church have been legitimized by Rome, though there still are some that aren’t. For a time, the Holy See and China would mutually agree on candidates for episcopal ordination. However, there have been a few ordained recently which were excommunicated by Pope Benedict XVI for having received illicit episcopal ordination.
Despite Bishop Jin’s eventual cooperation with the government authorities after his arrest, it didn’t save him from a lengthy prison sentence. He experienced the insanity of the Cultural Revolution while in prison. After finishing his prison sentence, he spent some more years in state custody where he worked as a translator. As a seminarian, he proved to be a brilliant student. After his ordination, the Jesuits sent him to Europe, where he mastered Italian, English, and German. By this point, he already spoke Chinese (Shanghaiese and Manadrin dialects) and French fluently, not to mention being able to handle Latin well. In the days when Bishop Jin was a seminarian, all theological courses were taught in Latin, even if they happened to be in China. He received a doctorate and returned to China after the Civil War. While in prison, he continued to work on his languages, eventually mastering Russian.
As I get older, I realise more and more how precious are the memories of our elderly. I am thankful for the time I spent with my late grandparents and great-grandparents. My great-grandmother on my dad’s side was born in 1904 and died in 1999. My great-grandfather on my mom’s side was born in 1900 and died in 1983. My great-grandmother was a wealth of knowledge about all of our ancestors and was more than willing to talk about them. Bishop Jin, who was born in 1916, grew up in Republican China, saw World War II, lived through the various turmoils of the People’s Republic of China, and at the time of his death saw his native city as one of the most populous and prosperous in China. He entered prison in his late 30s. By the time he was released, he was in his fifties and nearly into his sixties. He was an eighth generation Catholic. His family was prosperous, but beset by misfortune. Both parents died when he was young. His older sister died while he was in the seminary and his younger brother disappeared, never to be seen again.
In 1985, he was illicitly ordained a bishop in the state sanctioned church without a papal mandate. For this, he was criticised by his Jesuit confreres and by the Vatican. He was not recognized as a Catholic bishop at the time. However, in the year 2000, his situation was finally regularized. He was named the coadjutor bishop to Bishop Fan. A coadjutor takes over the governance of the diocese in the event of the death or resignation of the ruling bishop. As Bishop Fan was not recognised by the government, Bishop Jin continued on as the de facto governing bishop. His accomplishments were impressive. Not only was a parish for foreigners created, but 100 churches were recovered and a thriving seminary was opened. Bishop Jin went to other areas of China recruiting seminarians and sisters. At the time of his death, the Shanghai diocese had 150,000 Catholics, 100 priests, 6 deacons, and 140 churches. He died as a bishop in good standing in full communion with the Pope and as a Jesuit. Archbishop Savio Hon, a Hong Kong-born bishop who works in the Vatican wrote a tribute in honour of Bishop Jin which you may read here.
Bishop Jin was a complex man. I don’t agree with all his opinions or the way in which he did some things. Thankfully, though, he was able to end his days in full communion with the Pope and the Catholic Church. I hope and pray that he may rest in peace. I would very much loved to have met him. Thankfully, he left us a memoir.
For those who don’t, Rome Reports comments of his passing.
Bishop Jin’s memoirs can be obtained here. I’ve found them fascinating, especially because of the wealth of recent Chinese history Bishop Jin himself experienced. Thankfully, he wrote them. Volume one is complete and volume two is currently in translation.