This book is the gripping blow-by-blow narrative of the tragic six-year conflict between the Chinese Communist Party and the Shanghai Roman Catholic community in the 1950s. Mariani has skillfully portrayed the militancy of Shanghai Catholics who—together with their bishop, Ignatius Kung (Gong) Pinmei—preferred martyrdom and long prison sentences to co-option into renouncing their allegiance to the pope and the universal Church.
After a detailed introduction retracing the deep roots of the Catholic presence in Shanghai, the author takes us through the successive phases of the conflict. Chapter 1, “The Lines Are Drawn,” retraces the mounting tension between the two sides soon after the entrance of the People’s Liberation Army in Shanghai in May 1949. Chapter 2,“Targeted Attacks,” discusses how in June 1951, the Communist Party began to strike against three main targets: Archbishop Anthony Riberi, the pope’s representative and a staunch opponent of any organization aimed at separating Catholics from the Vatican; the Catholic Central Bureau, the central coordinating and publishing arm of the Church; and the Legion of Mary, the lay movement disseminating the bureau’s publications and encouraging Catholics to remain faithful to the pope. The chapter describes the constant pressures put on legionaries by the Communists to resign and denounce the legion as a secret counter-revolutionary organization. It ends with the 1951 Chinese takeover of Catholic schools, especially Aurora University, and the failure of the Communist Party to turn many students against the Church and their former professors.
Chapter 3, “Arrests and Expulsions,” reveals the Communist Party’s early attempts and failures to create divisions between the foreign and Chinese clergy as well as among the Chinese clergy. From the night of June 15, 1952, onward, the government therefore resorted to systematic arrests and incarcerations [End Page 621] of leading clergymen and sisters, especially those most influential with the Catholic youth. By July 1954, most foreign clergy and sisters had been expelled, and their Chinese counterparts had been placed under house arrest or in prison for refusing to confess they had been working with “imperialists.”
Chapter 4, “Assault,” narrates the massive roundup of September 8 and 9, 1955, when Kung; several dozen priests, sisters, and seminarians; and at least 300 leading Chinese Catholics were arrested. Denunciations and indoctrination sessions lasted for months and even years. The chapter also reveals how some of those arrested in 1952 as well as during this latest assault cracked under pressure. Mariani describes in particular the case of Monsignor Fernand Lacretelle, whose confession after some 550 hours of interrogation between June 1953 and July 1954 accused the bishop of being an imperialist and implicated several priests by name. He writes also, but without details, about the confession made by Jin Luxian, the present government-recognized bishop of Shanghai.
Chapter 5, “Final Operations,” relates the March 1960 trial of Kung and thirteen Chinese priests who were found guilty of high treason. Their sentence ranged from life in prison for Kung to five years for two of the co-defendants who were said to have “showed some repentance” (p. 195).
The book ends with a twenty-seven-page epilogue on the Catholic Church in China since the Cultural Revolution. This last section should be read with caution because the author’s handling of sources and description of the Church’s developments during the past fifty-five years is somewhat questionable. Mariani excels in portraying Kung and many priests and Catholic laypersons of the so-called “underground church” as heroic faith witnesses and therefore great figures of the Chinese church. Yet when he describes the other half of that divided church, there seems to be a definitive mistrust for those so-called “official” or “patriotic” people. Moreover, as this reviewer knows Jin personally and has had long conversations with him, it appears that some of the bishop’s quotes are not put in their proper context.
This caveat apart, this book, based on recently declassified Chinese sources, is a...