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Beijing perceives threat, launches crackdown on Catholics - The Times of India

Patrick E Tyler ()
30 January 1997

Title : Beijing perceives threat, launches crackdown on Catholics
Author : Patrick E Tyler
Publication : The Times of India
Date : January 30, 1997

It was the day before Easter 1995, and they came on bicycle, horse
cart and on foot, thousands of Roman Catholics from the underground
church, and they climbed up into the pine forest on what is called
Yujia Mountain, though it is scarcely a hill.

There, they chased away several troops who had never intruded into
their place of worship before and who insisted that they were
conducting training exercises essential to the national defence.

Then, the Catholics, more than 10,000 of them, began to pray. They
filled the pine forest here with their song. The leaders set up a
platform from which they read out the Scriptures, and the people
danced and revelled in their community all the way up to the potent
spiritual moment of the Easter sunrise.

Today, the leaders are in jail, charged with interfering with the
military training exercise. Others 'are on the run. And a visit to
this onetime hotbed of religious fervour is a sombre thing.

Over the last two years, Yujia and dozens of other centres of
under. ground religious activity in China have been the target of
a' crackdown by the Communist Party authorities, who see religion,
as a vehicle for political organisation, dissent or outright
opposition to the party's rule.

The harsh treatment of Catholics in China dates to the 1950s, when
Mao's Communists expelled the last papal representative and set up
the Catholic Patriotic Association, an official church under
Communist control. Driven under. ground, the unofficial Roman
Catholic Church received a broad: mandate from the Vatican to
presevere by ordaining Its own bishops and adapting the liturgy to
local conditions.

When China emerged from the Maoist period, some churches reopened
and religious tolerance expanded during the 1980s, with Beijing
seeking to lure more religious believers into the
government-supervised religious organisations.

But without a reconciliation with the Vatican, millions of
Catholics remain underground, where some local governments have
tolerated them. Still, they are subject to periodic assaults
ordered by central authorities.

The first clues that repression hangs as heavy as the winter haze
over this village in Jiangxi Province, in southern China, are the
wall slogans that the police have painted in recent weeks:

"Catholics are not allowed to engage in illegal propagation

"Catholics are not allowed to go to other areas and establish

"Get rid of all illegal religious gatherings and activities,"

To enter this village as a stranger is to set off alarm bells. The
villagers know that strangers have been sent to live here as spies
against their neighbours, and to report to the public security
police station any violation of the harsh rules.

"The government is afraid that if we practice our religion, this
will be harmful to security," Zou Chunxiang, 56, said as her
neighbours crowded around her. "The government is afraid we will
conspire with foreign countries and overthrow the state."

Some of her neighbours giggle at such a prospect, but Miss Zou is
silent because all of the men in her family are either in jail or
on the run for practising their faith.

The new wave of religious repression in China seems in largest
measure the product of President Jiang Zemin's policy to shore up
the "socialist spiritual civilisation" of a population that pays as
little attention as it can to central authority.

Beginning in 1994, Mr Jiang began to preach to the party faithful
that "social stability" Is of paramount importance to the party's
survival. Therefore, it must be preserved at all costs, even if
that means slowing the pace of Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms,
reimposing price controls when they are needed and crushing
political and religious groups whose activities could serve as a
vehicle to challenge the government's legitimacy.

To bend religion to the interests of the state, Communist Party
strategies have devised plans to ban house churches, arrest
religious leaders, register church members and use military means
if necessary to block their unregistered gathering places.

The most recent phase of the crackdown began here in November, when
the police started arresting underground organisers to prevent them
from holding a Christmas celebration on this modest mountain. Up
until 1995, Catholics from all parts of Jiangxi travelled here four
times a year to pray.

The Cardinal Kung Foundation in Stamford, Connecticut, an advocacy
group named for the Chinese prelate Cardinal Ignatius Kung, whose
Chinese name is Gong Pinmel and who spent 32 years in prison before
his release in 1988, estimates that 80 people were detained In this

A copy of an action plan to "destroy the organisation of the
Catholic underground forces around Yujia was obtained by local
Catholics and smuggled out of China. It was published by the
foundation this month.

Local Catholics said recently that many of their number were still
in detention and that those released had been forced to pay stiff
fines to the police, equal to half a year's income.

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