April 19, 2005
Oil for the lamps of ChinaBy Charles A. Coulombe
Living in a Los Angeles suburb as I do, Chinese culture is inescapable. Here in the San Gabriel Valley, formerly lily—white towns like Monterey Park and Temple City have become Sinicized; wags have dubbed such former WASP strongholds as San Marino and Arcadia 'Chan Marino' and 'Arcasia' as their demography metamorphoses. In my neighborhood such tell—tale signs as the erection of exotic 'mini—mansions,' the proliferation of extremely authentic restaurants purveying cuisine of various obscure Chinese regions, and gyms, banks, churches, and beauty salons boasting Chinese lettering poignantly show that the East has moved West.
This does not bother me at all ——— quite the contrary, in fact. The truth is, I love China and the Chinese. Certainly, as with most Americans, the food was my first introduction to the culture. Now, whether in the most Americanized Cantonese place in Chinatown, or the latest obscure provincial cuisine house nearer my home, I revel in it.
In Ireland, during the course of a national lecture tour in 1993, having subsisted off of the (admittedly delicious if heavy) local provender for weeks, I found myself being given a tour of downtown Limerick. When, among the beautiful sights of that historic town, I spied a small Chinese takeaway, against my will I began to run toward it. It was the first and last time in my life that I actually began to slather at the mouth. It didn't matter that the chow mein and chips offered up was only a dim echo of the real thing (as I know it) ——— it was enough to satisfy the craving.
But my education in things Chinese did not halt at the food. From the time I discovered the Chinese Information Service maintained by the Nationalist government in Los Angeles, when I was 13, until the dark day nine years later when President Carter de—recognized our wartime ally, its publications were a large part of my political and cultural formation: Sun Yat—Sen's Three Principles of the People, Chiang Kai—Shek's Aphorisms, Soviet Russia in China, China's Destiny, and innumerable books on every conceivable aspect of Chinese history and culture ——— albeit from a heavily Kuomintang viewpoint ——— were served me and eaten up. Among other things, the result was an indelible preference for the Wade—Giles English transliteration of Chinese, prevalent in pre—World War II China and in contemporary Taiwan, over the Pinyin�favored by Peking (Beijing). Confucius and Lin Yutang both filled my reading.
I Long to Visit
Touring China is a great dream of mine. I long to see the Forbidden City in Peking, the Great Wall, and so many other places. To walk along the Bund in Shanghai, and listen to 1930's Jazz from the band of the Peace (formerly Cathay) hotel in that city ——— ah! What could be better? Hong Kong and Macau, Tientsin and Tsingtao ——— all of the storied places I read about. More than that, as a Catholic pilgrim, I would see the shrines of Our Lady at Sheshan and Dong Lu and Petang� and Guiyang and Longtian and Chingyang, the Cathedral in Peking where a handful of Chinese converts and French Sailors held out for weeks against the Boxers in 1900, the island of Sancian where St. Francis Xavier died, and so many others. For that matter, given the innumerable number of Chinese martyrs of my Faith over 400 years, there are pilgrimage sites in virtually every province of the country (for a list with biographies of the Chinese Martyrs, see this site). But it will not happen any time soon.
Why? Because I hate the Chinese government. Not merely dislike it, but loathe and abominate it. Why? For the same reason that Jews were not precisely friendly to the Third Reich. Because, as one may see at the website of the Cardinal Kung Foundation innumerable Catholic and other Christian bishops, priest, and layfolk are routinely murdered, tortured, and imprisoned in China. I can only look at the fortunes made by American entrepreneurs off the China trade as a Jew in the 1930s had to look at similar profits made by commerce with Germany ——— as blood money.
The Chinese foreign ministry sent condolences on the death of Pope John Paul II; under the circumstances, this was rather as though Nero had sent his sympathies to the Christians of Rome at the martyrdom of St. Peter. They further indicated that the persecution would cease if only the Pope broke off diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
Yet I believe that there is a way out of the impasse in which the Chinese government finds itself —— not only with the Church, but with the soul of China itself. The breaking of this impasse, since Peking's effective abandonment years ago of Marxist ideology in favor of capitalist profiteering by the Beijing rulership, is essential if the country is to avoid civil unrest at best, and breakup at worst. To do so, three reconciliations are necessary ——— measures that fly in the face of the regime's stated ideology, but which are in reality hardly radical for an oligarchy that has shown itself capable of 180 degree turns in the pursuit of pragmatic goals.
The first of these is with the Church. Rather than expect the Holy See to recognize a government that continues to 'embrue its hands with blood of the Saints' over one that has consistently tolerated Catholicism, Peking needs to release all Catholics and other religious prisoners immediately, and to allow the 'Underground' Church, which has continued to accept the supremacy of the Pope, to operate openly. Moreover, it ought to encourage the 'Patriotic Church,' formed to repudiate that supremacy under government insistence, to reconcile with Rome. (Much the same should be done with the Three—Self Movement, a similar group formed by the government as a shotgun wedding of all Protestant groups in China, and then likewise severed from their foreign co—religionists).
Ending Foreign Hatred
Such an action would certainly inspire some sort of reciprocal action on the part of the Holy See. But it would have two other immediate results immensely beneficial to the regime. On the one hand, the Peking government's standing overseas would rise to much greater heights, and a great deal of foreign hatred (including my own) would dissipate overnight. Moreover, the burst of loyalty of native Catholics to the regime would also be quick ——— Catholics have a long history of rallying at breakneck speed to governments that stop persecuting them, from Imperial Rome to 19th century America; inevitably the government that acts so wisely finds no stronger supporters than the Catholics in its midst.
In the longer term, various government functionaries in China have begun complaining about the ethical and spiritual void that both Marxism and Capitalism have left in the Chinese people. This too is something the Church could address, if allowed to act freely.
It is true that this would indeed require a radical change; but no more radical than some this government has already accomplished in the past few decades. Moreover, there is a past precedent. The Chinese Imperial government at various times did its best to annihilate the Church in China. Nevertheless, as the 1912 Catholic Encyclopedia tells us,
'An important imperial decree of 15 March, 1899, established on an official basis the relations between the Catholic clergy and the local authorities of China; the bishops were placed on an equal footing with the viceroys and the governors, the vicars—general ranked with the treasurers, provincial judges and Tao—t'ai, priests with prefects.'
Had this decree and the peace it brought not been marred by the Boxer Rebellion, the reconciliation between the Chinese authorities and the Church would have been complete.
The second reconciliation appears already to be in progress ——— between Peking (in Wade—Giles. Beijing in Pinyin)) and the Kuomintang. In my youth, when the KMT ruled Taiwan and declared the reconquest of the Mainland to be its goal, such a thing was not possible. But much has changed since then. The KMT no longer rule Taiwan, and on the Mainland, the legacy they left behind is being quietly re—examined. Of course, both the CCP and the KMT venerate Sun Yat—Sen; but even Chiang himself is being rethought by Mainland authorities. The Presidential Palace he occupied has been turned into a museum to rival the Forbidden City.
Both parties oppose Taiwan's independence, and the KMT would certainly like to regain power in Taipei. On the Mainland ——— as was the practice in Communist Europe ——— there are in the People's Congress eight 'non—Communist' parties represented, mummified remains of pre—Communist political movements. One of these is the Revolutionary Committee of the Kuomintang, whose forebears fifty years ago decided to collaborate with Mao. Recently, a KMT delegation from Taiwan, including the party's vice chairman, visited the Mainland: in Canton they paid their respects to the graves of a group of KMT rebels against the Manchu Emperor; at Nanking they visited Sun Yat—Sen's tomb and the Presidential Palace museum noted earlier; and in Peking they conferred with both government officials and the leadership of the Revolutionary Committee. So successful was the trip that the regime has now invited the Chairman of the KMT to lead a second junket.
Merging the Two Chinas
The third reconciliation would be a bit trickier, but here too we see that it is already happening in a sense ——— that is, with China's four millennia—old Imperial past. Even now, obscure Imperial palaces and temples, long ruined or neglected, whether by foreign invasion or successive revolutions (including the Cultural one of the 1960s), are being restored or even rebuilt and opened to a public hungry to connect with its heritage. One could see this taken even further. Just as South Korea ——— in many ways facing a similar ambiguity with respect to its own Monarchical legacy ——— brings its own Royal heir back to Seoul to perform various religious rites peculiar to his ancestors' office, has installed members of the Royal family in one of their palaces, and has even revived the changing of the Royal guard, so too might China.
If Jin Yuzhang, heir to the last Emperor, Pu—yi, and a government official (he is vice—mayor of Peking's Zhongwen district and a 'non—party' member of several government ethnic harmony committees) were employed performing various of the Imperial Rites at such sites as the Altar of Heaven and installed in the Forbidden City, he would be both a draw for tourists and yet another, less radical means of filling the country's spiritual void. Were this done under government auspices, so far from being a threat to the regime, he would be a further prop.
Of course, this would run counter to one of Sun Yat—Sen's three principles, republicanism. But as the CCP has had no reluctance to abandon another, democracy, this should present little problem.
Since the Chinese have historically enjoyed listing measures in threes ——— the three principles of the people, the three selfs, etc. —— I offer these 'Three Reconciliations' as a means whereby the current regime might peacefully acquire authority as well as power, and ensure itself a relatively peaceful and prosperous tenure.�
Moreover, I myself might at last pray at the shrine of Our Lady of Shenshan, and have a cocktail while listening to Slow Boat to China in the jazz bar of the Peace Hotel.
Charles A. Coulombe's most recent books are 'Rum: The Epic Story of the Drink that Conquered the World' and 'Vicars of Christ: A History of the Popes.'� He is currently working on a biography of four—time Olympic—gold—medal winner Pat McCormick.� In 2004, Mr. Coulombe was named a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Sylvester by Pope John—Paul II.