Saturday, September 30, 2017



Christ Crucified in China

By Theresa Marie Moreau

First published in The Remnant Newspaper
October - December 2012

Communism is not love. Communism is a hammer,
which we use to crush the enemy.

                                                        -- Chairman Zedong Mao
                                                            Time Magazine, September 13, 1963

“Number 494! Number 495!” called a policeman, standing in the middle of Xuhui District Police Station. “Pack your things. Today, I permit you to see each other.”

It was January 25, 1969, when Wenli “Eddie” Chen, No. 495, packed his few possessions – underwear, comforter, towel, toothbrush, soap and white enamel cup with a blue colored-lip – into his barely used, 1940s duffle bag, with a top zipper and handle. He stood inside his cell, waiting.

“Go! Go! Go!” ordered the policeman, after he unlocked the door.

Chen hurried outdoors, toward a large, olive green wagon, which resembled a World War II ambulance, with the doors in the back. He stepped inside and saw his best friend, Jijia “Joseph” Wu, No. 494, who was thin, kind of short and wore eyeglasses that gave him the appearance of an owl.

With a lurch, the wagon sped toward Shanghais Jiao Tong University, where Chen, Wu and several others, with their arms cuffed behind their backs, formed a line up on the stage, facing an audience, which included Chen’s mother. Behind each suspect stood a soldier, and in back of the soldiers, a man Chen never saw, who read out – in staccato voce – the sentences.

No lawyers. No judge. No court.

From behind, Chen heard his name called.

“Active counterrevolutionary criminal Chen Wenli, male, age 28, birthplace Zhongshan, Guangdong province, of bourgeois family background, student, unemployed, residence No. 354 Xinhua Road.

“Active counterrevolutionary criminal Chen Wenli, from a bourgeois family, has had reactionary thinking ever since the Liberation. He has hated Socialism deep to his bones ever since the Liberation. Since 1956, he has used a radio receiver to listen to the stations of the enemies. He has scattered rumors everywhere, drumming up support and waving the flag and screaming and shouting for imperialism, revisionism and reactionaries. Since the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution he has…actively recruited counterrevolutionary members and organized a current counterrevolutionary group. Criminal Chen has attacked the socialist system furiously, attacked Mao Zedong Thought, that of infinite brightness, attacked and slandered our Great Leader Chairman Mao and the Proletarian Headquarters headed by Chairman Mao and Vice Chairman Lin Biao as deputy. Criminal Chen’s crimes were serious. After the case had been uncovered, Criminal Chen set up a conspiracy of silence with the other criminals, compelling them not to confess their crimes. The criminals were investigated, and their crimes were confirmed.

“According to the ‘Regulations on Strengthening Public Security Work in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution’ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council, the judgment is as follows:

“According to the law, Criminal Chen Wenli is sentenced to 15 years in prison.” Soon, the hearing was dismissed.

“All prisoners will be escorted to the prison now,” the military representative announced.

Wenli Chen, graduation 1964

A muscular, post-military Chen climbed into the back of the same police wagon and sat on the floor, next to Wu, his friend accused of being a member in Chen’s “counterrevolutionary group.” For a fleeting second, the two made eye contact, then Chen glanced out the front window. Comrade Wang, a Communist Party Xuhui District Residence Committee member and head of investigations, caught him.

“This one is real bad!” Wang screamed as she pushed Chen’s head down and jerked up his hands, cuffed behind his back. She screeched, “He’s still looking outside!”

Wang’s comrade, sitting on the bench, said to Chen, “Fifteen years is very heavy. In Tilanqiao, if you are good and willing to transform, we will reduce your sentence. If you are bad, we will increase your sentence.”

After a short ride, the wagon slowed down at a guarded entrance, almost stopped and Chen stole another peek. Mounted on the left side of the front gate was a white sign with Chinese characters: SHANGHAI PEOPLE’S PRISON, commonly known as Tilanqiao (pronounced tee-lan-CHOW), for the surrounding district where the massive institution stood, at 147 Zhangyang Road.

Slowly, the wagon drove through one gate, then another gate, and rolled to a stop inside the prison. The doors in the back popped open, and the prisoners jumped down. Escorted into the reception building, where handcuffs were removed, Chen looked at his freed hands, swollen and red. One by one, the men were fingerprinted. Chen stepped up to the counter, where they pressed his fingers upon a paper, and he sneaked a look at the three Chinese characters on top: TRANSFER PRISONER DOCUMENT.

“You are not allowed to look at the paper!” someone screamed furiously and sent him to the reception room. Chen looked outside and saw Comrade Wang. A faint smile tugged at his lips, while he looked at her.

“You are real bad! Our investigation is not finished yet. We will add to your sentence!” she screamed, stomping the ground.

A prison guard in the front said loudly to Comrade Wang, “There is nothing for you to do. You can go now.” To anyone listening, he said, while trying to hide a smirk of derision, “Don’t worry about them. They are crazy.”

Chen, now officially Prisoner No. 6641, waited with the others, until another door opened, and one guard ordered them, two by two, into the prison yard, where more guards stood.

“How many years?” a guard asked each one.

“Fifteen years,” said Chen, when it was his turn.

“Go! Go! Go!” the guard directed Chen toward Cellblock No. 3

Separated a final time from his friend Wu, Chen was escorted into the five-story block building and up the stairs to the second floor. Each floor had 90 cells, in two rows of 45, back to back in the center of the building. He walked down a corridor, lighted by dim, overhead bulbs dotting the ceiling every 10 to 15 feet. To one side, the outer wall with windows. To his other side, a row of dark cells. He walked to the end and finally, around 4 p.m., he found himself in Cell No. 45.

Interior of Tilanqiao cellblock

Calm, Chen entered the tiny cell, approximately 5 feet by 7 feet, made even smaller with a raised wooden floor recessed into the cement room to permit the inward swing of the iron-bar door. He sat down between two of his three cellmates.

To his right, next to the iron bars, sat Zhenhua Jin. Around 30, he was a Chinese doctor of acupuncture, a type of doctor that was also a fortune teller, an astrologer of sorts. He was in Tilanqiao because he knew Mao’s birth date and checked the fortune of the Chairman. Unfortunately, someone reported him to authorities, and he was arrested and sentenced.

Across from the acupuncturist sat Zhifang Xu, snug between the grille gate and the nei-wu, the neat stack of inmates’ belongings. An old man, in his late 50s, early 60s, he had complained that the rations he received from the People’s Government were not sufficient, which meant that he was not happy with the Communists, which meant that he attacked socialism, which meant that he was a counterrevolutionary.

To Chen’s left sat Wenbin Qing, around 50, who insisted on sitting in the corner, across from the bucket used for human waste. Before the Communists seized power on October 1, 1949, he had been a top-of-the-line Grade 8 Worker for a factory, where he had joined his co-workers, underground Communists who had agitated for more money. After the takeover, Qing was falsely accused of joining a pseudo People’s Liberation Army.

Chen’s first few months in Tilanqiao were dull and routine, even the day when his entire second floor moved up to the fifth floor. Most of the time, inmates sat in study groups, the daily brainwashing sessions. But occasionally, the daily boredom was alleviated during yard time, when the men were ordered to the basketball courts, bald patches of cement with tufts of grass. Between the two cellblocks, they usually repeatedly walked the circumference of the yard, but sometimes they watched performing teams of prisoners.

Many artists found themselves behind bars after the Communists rounded up and arrested them during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-76), the regime’s attempt to rid China of the Four Olds – Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits and Old Ideas. Those arrested included musicians from the Shanghai Brass Orchestra, the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra, the Shanghai Choir, and dancers from the Shanghai Ballet Institute.

Because they produced nothing for the State, musicians and artists were classified as bad elements, one of the Nine Categories of Enemies: bad elements, capitalist roaders, counterrevolutionaries, foreign agents, intellectuals, landlords, rich peasants, rightists and traitors. Not classified as criminals, the entertainers had been processed through the administrative system under the military administration, and most had been sentenced to labor re-education farms or factories. Only labor transformation cases were classified as criminal and processed through the People’s courts.

Inside the prison walls of Tilanqiao, the entertainers marched and sang revolutionary songs as they held up their “Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung,” a pocketsize book with a red plastic jacket slipped over the cardboard covers. A few times, Chen saw Haishen Lu perform. A famous singer in the Shanghai Choir, he was tall and thin and sang like an Irish tenor, with a rich tone and a vibrato that hinted of classical training, before the Communist takeover. For the inmates, Lu performed the “Usuli Boat Song.” Normally, its stirring notes and lines celebrate the beauty of a simple life upon the Usuli River, but during the Cultural Revolution the lyrics had been perverted with political propaganda.

Many years after his release from prison, Haishen Lu performs, circa 2010

Life for Chen in Tilanqiao was miserable, but bearable, until one morning when, Xinwei Zhou walked over to his cell. Zhou was the fifth-floor worker prisoner, who assisted the guards in dealing with the inmates.

“Wenbin Qing and Wenli Chen. Give me the ‘Quotations,’” Zhou ordered.

The two handed over their books. They knew something was wrong.

One day, during a simple chitchat between cellmates, Qing had told Chen about a previous cellmate, Yongjin Yan, who had been a guerilla fighter in Jiangxi province. Yan had described his hideout deep in the mountains, then grabbed Qing’s “Quotations” and scribbled a nonsensical character on the cover.

“Show this secret code on your book, and you will be accepted inside the mountain hideout,” Yan told Qing.

“I will escape and meet you in the mountains,” Qing told Yan.

When Qing told Chen about the mountain hideaway, he grabbed Chen’s “Quotations” and wrote the secret sign on the cover.

The secret sign

Someone must have reported their discussion to prison authorities.

“Everything is Yongjin Yan’s problem, not our problem,” Qing told Chen. “You can only confess about Yan.”

That meant don’t talk about anything else except Yan, especially not the jokes and rude remarks that they had made about Mao. They knew Yan had already been sentenced to death, because it had been in the newspaper.

They waited.

Abruptly, Chen was removed from Cell No. 45 and transferred to Cell No. 7, closer to the guard’s desk. It was the summer of 1969. He had been in Tilanqiao only six months, and already he was sinking deeper in the deadly Communist quicksand. Chen entered the cell, settled down and briefly introduced himself.

“I worked for a Shanghai cable manufacturer as a technician. I was arrested for talking, but they accused me of being in a counterrevolutionary group,” he said, then turned to an older man in the cell, “I graduated from Tongji. Once you were my teacher.”

“There were so many students, I can’t remember you,” said Zhongyue Pan.

A professor at Tongji University, a civil engineering school, Pan had taught theoretical mechanics and mechanics of materials, but following the Hundred Flowers Campaign (1956-57), he received the invisible “hat” of a rightist and was accused of hating the New Society after China was “liberated” by the Communists. Subsequently, he was sentenced to work in the Labor Welding Machine Factory, a prison factory. Years later, he was targeted during the Campaign to Purify Class Ranks (1967-69), when the Communists aimed to purify the Party and to purify the masses of landlords, counterrevolutionaries, bad elements and rightists.

Chen attended daily struggle meetings around the guard’s desk, where inmates sat on small blocks formed from personal stacks of square Chinese toilet paper sheets tied together. Knowing he was in line to be struggled, Chen tuned out the meetings as his thoughts dwelled on ways he would handle the all-too-certain trouble that he faced in the days ahead.

After the first week, as inmates were called out of their cells to attend the struggle meeting, Chen was stopped.

“Stay inside,” Zhou, the worker prisoner, told him.

From his cell, Chen listened to the screams of the strugglers coming from the guard’s station around the corner, on the other side of the fifth floor.


“You have to be honest!”

“You have to confess!”

Chen didn’t know who was being struggled.

Then Zhou appeared again and said, “Come out.”

“Yes,” Chen said.

As he left his cell and started for the guard’s station, Chen heard a familiar baritone voice just around the corner.

“My arms will be paralyzed! My arms will be broken!”

It was Wu, Chen’s good friend, who screamed as inmates pulled his arms behind his back so the guard could squeeze a pair of handcuffs onto his upper arms.

When Chen turned the corner, their eyes briefly met. Hunched over in pain, Wu walked between two prisoners escorting him back to his cell down the corridor from the guard’s desk. As he neared his cell, he hollered to Chen.

“Eddie!” Chen heard his English nickname. “Eddie! I’m so sorry, because I hurt you last time! And I’m sorry, again, because, I will hurt you again!”

That was the last time Chen saw his good friend.

“Oooow!” Wu screamed as he entered his cell. “Both my hands will be paralyzed!”

Waiting, standing in front of the guard’s desk was Captain Lu. All guards were addressed by the inmates as “Captain.” Mid-height, he looked very strong. With his gold-rimmed eyeglasses, he looked very educated, much more educated than the usual thick-headed cadres shipped in from the countryside with only elementary educations.

“Stand here!” Lu hollered. “Kneel down!”

Two prisoners sitting on their toilet paper blocks jumped up. One grabbed Chen’s shoulders. The other grabbed his legs. They forced him into a kneeling position.

Lu hollered an old Chinese curse, “Your mother dropped in coffin!” as he slapped Chen, first with his palm then with the back of his hand, then he calmly walked around the desk and sat down.

“What anti-transformation activity have you done?” he asked.

“I didn’t do anything,” Chen said.

“Handcuffs!” Lu screamed.

The two prisoners, who had been standing by Chen, grabbed him and pulled his arms behind his back. Lu rose and slid the handcuffs into place on Chen’s upper arms.

Once the handcuffs clicked into position, the prisoners sitting around Chen started screaming at him, accusing him.

“You’re not honest!”

“You’re a reactionary!”


“You must confess!”

“Confess, and you will receive leniency! If you don’t confess, you will be punished heavily!”

Chen said nothing. At first, he didn’t feel much pain, but after the minutes passed, he felt vomit erupt from his stomach. His organs felt like they were convulsing. Then his whole body shook.

“What do you think now?” Lu asked.

The screaming from the crowd of inmates continued.

“I did nothing,” Chen said.

“You’re very stubborn!” Lu said. “Do you know that if the handcuffs stay on for 20 minutes, both your arms will be paralyzed?”

The screaming continued for several minutes. Chen gradually lost the feeling in his arms, then he lost consciousness. When he woke up, he was back in his cell. The handcuffs had been removed.

Chen’s old professor called, “Captain! Captain!”

Lu walked down the corridor.

At the cell, he stopped, stood on the other side of the bars and said, “This time is only a warning. We are very kind to you. We didn’t leave the handcuffs on too long; otherwise, both your arms and hands would be dead. You have to consider confessing everything.”

Then he left.

Chen’s hands and arms were very swollen.

“I have a worn-out shirt,” the professor said, as he went to the nei-wu stack and pulled out a threadbare white shirt yellowed with age. He ripped the material into long strips and made those into a rope. He told Chen to sit with his back to the bars, then tied his hands over his head, to the bars, to lessen the swelling. That night, Chen slept in that position, and the next morning, the swelling had subsided. Still a little red, his arms could move, but his hands and fingers, barely. When the others went outside, Chen stayed in the cell with the professor.

“What happened?” the professor asked.

When Chen had finished telling him about Wenbin Qing and the secret sign that he had drawn, the professor told him that a few days before, Qing had confessed everything when Lu ordered him to the front.

“If you don’t confess, it’s meaningless. He already sold you out. You just protect him, and he’s not a good man. What do you want to do?”

Chen considered his options. The authorities already knew everything.

“I have no choice,” he said.

Pan shouted, “Baogao! (Report!) Captain Lu! Wenli Chen wants to confess!”

There was a struggle meeting going on, but Lu walked over to the cell.

“You have to write everything down,” he said.

By clutching the pen between his numbed thumb and index finger, Chen wrote his version of Qing and the secret sign on his copy of Mao’s book of quotations. The entire episode filled only three pages of the authorities’ official onionskin paper with horizontal double red lines.

The next day, Lu picked up Chen’s confession and read it.

“That’s so simple. You’re so stupid. Why, in the beginning, did you refuse to confess? You begged them to torture you. You brought on your own suffering. Do you know that Wenbin Qing sold you out long ago?”

Whatever Chen wrote must have matched what Qing wrote, for the investigation was over. By the time the case was finished, it was sometime in January 1970, and he was relocated to the third floor, where he met Zixuan Li.

“I am an engineer,” said the old man, with a Sichuan dialect, for he had grown up in Chongqing. “I worked as a technician in a turbine machine factory in Shanghai.”

“Why did you get arrested?” someone asked Li.

“During the Cultural Revolution, I was cleaning up the office, and I accidentally broke Mao’s porcelain statue on the table. I was investigated for that, and then the investigators found out that I ran a ferry that Jieshi Jiang (Kai-Shek Chiang) took a few times. I was accused of being a counterrevolutionary and sentenced to 12 years,” he said.

Li looked at Chen.

“Oh, I see your face. It shows you are a good man,” said Li, who also dabbled in suan ming, Chinese fortune telling, which makes predictions based on facial structure and expressions.

“And I know you believe in the Man With the Outstretched Fingers,” he said, as he raised his hand and held out his first two fingers.

“Yes,” Chen said, smiling.

“You are Catholic?” he asked Chen.

“No. I want to be Catholic, but I am from a Protestant family,” Chen said.

“I came from the French priest school. I am Catholic. I can sing a song,” Li said, singing softly, “Veni, creator Spiritus mentes tuorum visita, imple suprerna gratia, quae tu creasti pectoral.”

Chen had heard the song while listening to his black and brass, RCA shortwave radio, with the 11 dials, in his bedroom at his family’s home, located in Shanghai’s International Concession. He had always remembered the melody.

When Li finished singing “Veni Creator Spiritus,” he warned Chen: “You will encounter danger, but you will pass it. In the most difficult time, do not do anything silly.”

Chen had been warned.

Summer had passed. By the time Chen pulled his thick, winter coat out of his travel bag, he was moved down to the first floor in Cell Block No. 3. He didn’t know it yet, but his Big Case had already started, and he had been reclassified as a confinement prisoner, which excluded him from the study group and eliminated all visitation rights.

After the move to his new cell, every day for a couple weeks, Chen was forced to stand at the head of a long table placed in the corridor under the windows. At times, he was ordered to bend over in the jet-plane style, an extreme-bow position at the waist, with arms extended up in the back.

The inmates, seated on long benches on both sides of the table, screamed at him. But one in particular beat him. It was his cellmate Ming Tang. And he was bad. He was a typical Party boss, for which the Chinese characters are 党棍, literally “Party stick,” a perfect description for cadres, Communist tools who are professional strugglers, those who beat down others. But when Tang was struggled during the Cultural Revolution, he refused to cooperate and be struggled. For that, he was sentenced 12 years.

Tang, a former mayor of Shanghai’s Luwan district, had also been an officer in the full-scale Korean War (1950-53), and he was very proud of his service. Chen overheard him bragging one day to the two younger cellmates.

“When you were in Korean War, how were the American soldiers? Were they big and strong?” they asked.

“Yeah, but their size didn’t help them. Whenever we caught them, we used our cigarettes to burn their penises, and they confessed everything. They’re not brave. They’re timid,” he said, laughing.

Tang derived a sadistic pleasure from inflicting pain on others, including Chen. “Confess!” Tang and the others screamed as Chen stood, bowed over, at the head of the table.

“I already confessed!” Chen answered, thinking they were referring to the previous case involving Qing and the secret code.

“Confess that you joined a counterrevolutionary group,” the guard said.

“I don’t know about any group,” Chen answered.

“What is the name of your counterrevolutionary group?” the guard demanded.

“I don’t know of any group,” Chen answered.

In extreme pain from bending over, Chen fell to the floor.

Someone began reading from Mao’s little, red book, the Chairman’s August 1, 1945 speech, “The Situation and Our Policy After the Victory in the War of Resistance Against Japan.”

“It is up to us to organize the people!” he read, screaming. “As for the reactionaries in China, it is up to us to organize the people to overthrow them. Everything reactionary is the same; if you do not hit it, it will not fall!”

When the reader reached the word hit, the others screamed, “Hit! Hit! Hit!” and used their fists to hit Chen.

The reader continued: “This is also like sweeping the floor – ”

Drowning out the reader, the strugglers screamed, “Sweep the floor! Sweep the floor! Sweep the floor!”

The reader continued: “ – as a rule, where the broom does not reach, the dust will not vanish.”

Tang and the others chanted, “Use a broom! Use a broom! Use a broom!”

After a few weeks of struggle, in December 1970, Chen was moved from Cellblock No. 3 to Cellblock No. 1, where authorities sent the lifers, those who could expect to live out their days in Tilanqiao, until death – either by old age or execution.

Perhaps his move had been an early Christmas gift from the Divine Will, for it was after his transfer to Cell No. 7, on the second floor, when Chen saw one of the most famous prisoners in Tilanqiao, during the pre-study group yard time.

“Ready for yard time! Ready for yard time!” Telian Shao, the second-floor worker prisoner announced as he walked through the corridor. Shao had been sentenced to life in prison, because he killed his wife after he found out that she had a lover.

As the guard unlocked the cell doors, the inmates lined up, two by two, and waited to walk to the basketball court between Cellblock No. 1 and Cellblock No. 2.

Before transferring to Tilanqaio, Chen had been in the Xuhui District Police Station, where one of the cellmates had been a former investigator for the police department. He had told Chen about executions in the basketball courts between the cellblocks. When Chen saw the basketball courts, he remembered, and he understood.

In the yard, inmates stayed in two-by-two line formation, walking around the circumference of the court. They nodded and smiled to one another.

“You see the first one?” whispered Chen’s cellmate Youzhen Hong, who was walking behind him.

Chen looked toward the front of the line, where he saw a short man wearing a policeman’s blue, thick cotton jacket with four pockets in the front – two at the chest and two at the waist – thick cotton pants and thick cotton shoes, commonly called the big-head shoes. The white cloth badge he wore over his chest indicated that he was Prisoner No. 28234.

He is wearing government clothes. He must not have any family visit him, Chen thought.

“That is Pinmei Kung,” Hong whispered.

Chen had heard about Shanghai’s Roman Catholic Bishop Pinmei “Ignatius” Kung. He respected the man.

Kung and several hundred other Shanghai Catholics had been arrested on September 8, 1955, in a big round-up of those who had refused to renounce the authority of the Pope and join the Three-Self Reform Movement. With its three principles – self-government, self-support and self-propagation – it was the regime’s Communist, Marxist, atheist version of the Roman Catholic Church. Unsuccessful at winning over Communist converts, the Movement was replaced by and integrated into the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, on July 15, 1957.

Then-Bishop Pinmei "Ignatius" Kung before his arrest

After his arrest in 1955, Kung wasn’t sentenced until more than four years later, on March 17, 1960, along with 12 other Catholic priests, after a two-day “trial” in the Court of Criminal Justice, Shanghai City Intermediate People’s Court, Chung Hsing, No. 162.

In part, the verdict and subsequent sentencing read as follows: “Defendant: Kung Pin-Mei, alias Kung Tian-Chueh, male, born in 1901, Ch’uan Sha county, Shanghai City. Prior to his arrest, he was the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Shanghai diocese, and concurrently Bishop of the diocese of Soochow. Former residence in this city’s Sze Ch’uan South Road, No. 36. Now under arrest…

“On the basis of the evidence for criminal activities on the part of Ignatius Kung’s counterrevolutionary and anti-government organization, our court is perfectly cognizant of the fact that the accused, Ignatius Kung, is the leader of this counterrevolutionary and anti-government organization, hiding under the cloak of religion, he is collaborating with the imperialists in the betrayal of his motherland, and has served as an important tool for the imperialists to overthrow the people’s democratic political rights of our country to such an extent that he has accomplished serious violations of the country’s interests. In this case, each defendant has infringed the people’s republic’s law against counterrevolutionary activities…all of which criminal activities are punishable by law. Our court, in accordance with the concrete circumstances of the defendant’s criminal activities, and with respect to any expression of repentance on the part of the accused subsequent to their arrest, has decided to pass the following judgment:

“1. The accused, Ignatius Kung, is the head and leader of the counterrevolutionary and anti-government organization; he is in league with the imperialists, betrayed his motherland, and his crimes are of a very serious nature. But after his case had been brought forward, when confronted with actual circumstantial evidence, he did not deny his role, and furthermore he had something to reveal on the subject of how the imperialists under the cover of religion plotted subversive actions. Under the magnanimity of the law we hereby sentence him to lifetime imprisonment, and hereby strip him for life of all his political rights.”

The two-day "trial," March 16-17, 1960

The Most Rev. Pinmei "Ignatius" Kung can be seen
behind Luxian "Aloysius" Jin, who is bowing to the court

The "judges" of the "court" deliver the sentences

During his incarceration, Kung had never been allowed any visitors. His mother and other relatives made countless attempts to see him, but authorities never permitted the bishop any visitation rights. His family also made endless efforts to get care packages to him, even through the Red Cross, but it is believed that he never received a single one.

Chen stared at the old man in the shabby, government clothing. Barely 5 feet tall, the bishop of Shanghai symbolized the strength of the Roman Catholic Church, not only in China, but in the world. Even with the machinery of death and destruction that Mao and his madmen geared toward Kung, the man never surrendered to the regime. His courageous strength and endless faith in God and Pope made him one of the most hated, most feared men by the Communists.

Yes, Chen had a great respect for Kung, the bishop of Shanghai.


After a supper of steamed rice topped with a few shreds of boiled Chinese cabbage, Wenli Chen sat on the wooden floor in his dimly lit cell. With his back against the cement wall, he listened to the general din inside Cellblock No. 1.

From one of the upper floors, he heard someone ask, “That’s your stuff?”

Then a very distinct baritone voice, with a clear and articulate pronunciation, answered, “Yes, yes, yes. That belongs to me.”

Chen recognized the voice immediately. It was his best friend, Jijia “Joseph” Wu. Every evening, worker prisoners made their rounds, noting with chalk on the iron bars each prisoner’s next-day rice account. Usually, the rations were 2 ounces for breakfast, 3 for lunch, 3 for supper. Prisoners were allowed to decrease the amounts, but never to increase.

“I want to change 3 to 2 for tomorrow’s lunch,” the same deep voice resonated.

Again, Chen heard his friend. But it would be the last time. For Wu, who had been a medical surgeon at Shanghai’s Central Hospital of Hongkuo District, would take his own life some time later. Like others in Tilanqiao, who fashioned rope from rags to hang themselves or who sharpened found-pieces of metal to cut open their veins, the “Alcatraz of the Orient” would prove too much for the man.

But Chen wasn’t the only one to hear Wu’s voice. So, too, did one of his new cellmates, Jian Ying, the cell’s duty prisoner ordered to keep an eye on Chen and report all his activities and thoughts to the authorities. He knew that Chen and Wu were involved in the same case.

“Did you hear something?” asked Ying, whose nickname was “Twisted Mouth,” because his lips were deformed and twisted ’round.

“No,” Chen answered, pretending he had heard nothing.

Like a lot of prisoners, Ying was repulsive, but even more so than the others. When he opened his mouth wide enough to speak, his gums looked infected and inflamed. His eyes appeared blood red and always looked watery.

“I need medicine for the trachoma in my eyes!” Ying would call out whenever Xuexing Ye, one of the prison’s doctors, walked by.

“Your eyes are not just trachoma. Your eyes are trachoma from syphilis,” mocked Ye, who was also a prisoner, convicted of being a counterrevolutionary and sentenced 12 years.

But Ye would give Ying the medicine for his eyes and some clean gauze for the open sores on his body. Chen and his cellmates looked on in horror, as Ying removed his underwear and old bandaging, then wrapped the gauze around his penis, which was entirely covered in bloody sores, dripping with yellow and green pus.

“You are so dirty and diseased. You are scattering germs everywhere!” complained a disgusted Youzhen Hong, normally a compassionate and timid person. Hong had been arrested during the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries (1950-53), because he had been a Nationalist officer.

“I don’t have any disease, only a skin rash,” a defensive Ying replied.

A tool of the authorities, Ying pried into Chen’s life, to find out about his bourgeoisie background.

“Your family was very rich before,” Ying said, with his mouth twisting.

“My father was an artist and did not run a business,” Chen said.

“Your grandfather must have several wives and own a lot of property,” Ying said.

“You are wrong. My grandpa and my family are very upright and honorable people.”

“Oh, I knew you came from a foreigner slavish family and that you’re a believer in foreign religion.”

“Hmp,” was all Chen said in response.

But it was Chen who found out about Ying.

Every year in December, prisoners were required to write a “Year-End Summary of My Thoughts,” a curriculum vitae, detailing the inmate’s course of life, from birth to the present and had to include the transformation of spirit and thinking, transformation from the old man to the new man, from life in the old society to that in the new society.

Ying was busy writing his year-end summary, when Shao announced, “Time for self-study! Duty prisoners go to front desk for meeting!”

As the duty prisoner of the cell, Ying had to immediately respond, when the guard unlocked the door and ordered him out and to the front. As for his writing, without time to put it away, he had to put down his work and leave it out in the open.

No sooner had Ying disappeared down the corridor, than Chen leaned over and peeked at what his cellmate had written: Born in 1913, he came from a dilapidated landlord family in the Jiangsu countryside. He traveled to Shanghai, became a trainee in a newspaper and joined the Communist Party in 1930. In the early 1930s, he was promoted at the newspaper to clerk, then staff member, then chief of staff. In 1935, he joined the Guomindang (Kuomintang, the Chinese Nationalist Party) Central Committee of the Investigative and Statistics Bureau. In 1939, he became the chief of the Zhenjiang Station, Japanese-controlled Political Security Bureau. In 1945, he joined the Nationalist’s Loyalty Salvation Army. In 1948, he joined the People’s Liberation Army.

Chen couldn’t believe what he was reading. Sure, Ying was a Communist. All the old-timers in Tilanqiao knew that. And he had always described himself as a “special duty officer,” which meant only that he was a spy. But the real shocker, Chen learned from reading the summary, was that Ying was no ordinary spy. He was a triple spy, a triple agent – not only for the Communists, but for the Nationalists and the Japanese.

That was as much as Chen had time to read, when he heard the approach of Ying’s footsteps, and quickly resumed his seat, acting nonchalantly as Ying reentered the cell and settled down on the floor.

Chen learned more about Ying later while sharing gossip with other inmates: When the Communists gained control in China, Ying finally went public as a Communist and was awarded a position of a high-ranking officer in Shanghai’s Public Security Bureau. Not long after his great promotion, he was given a list with 11 names of Nationalist spies who had gone underground. He would be the one responsible for rooting them out and arresting them.

Excited to be part of the hunt, Ying ordered his men to arrest the 11 underground Nationalist officers. After every one was caught, Ying proudly reported to Yang Fan, the chief of the Public Security Bureau, and also the deputy mayor of Shanghai.

“Good,” Fan said, “but missing one.”

“Oh, nobody is missing. All the names on my list are caught,” Ying said with confidence.

“Missing one: The name is Jian Ying.”

Ying was immediately arrested and labeled an enemy of China, accused of being a spy for the Nationalists and Japanese. He was sentenced to life in prison. The Communists had no more use for him, he knew too much, and the best place to keep someone who knows too much is always in prison. But even in Tilanqiao, Ying was a loyal Communist. Whatever the Reds asked him to do, he did it. He reported inmates’ activities and thoughts to the authorities, and his reporting on others gained him many merits, for in the 1960s, his life sentence was reduced to 15 years.

Ying always had one eye on Chen, who was not yet aware that authorities had fabricated a story about an in-prison counterrevolutionary group, of which, he was the mastermind.

In February 1971, official questioning began.

One night, around midnight, Chen woke to the sound of a heavy duty skeleton key turning in the cell-door lock, three, 360-degree clockwise turns. Ordered from his sleeping spot on the floor near the toilet bucket, Chen was escorted by two guards to the fifth floor, the top floor. Inside a big cell, made of three or four cells together, authorities had set up an interrogation room behind steel bars and a single gate of iron bars.

Several guards gathered behind a simple, kitchen-sized, four-legged table, behind which were two or three chairs. Some of the guards sat. Others stood.

Chen was ordered to sit on a very low stool, shaped like a Geta, a traditional Japanese wooden sandal, but only slightly, very slightly, larger.

In the beginning, one of the guards announced the Party’s policy splashed everywhere in Tilanqiao on large-character posters: 坦白从宽,抗拒从严, “If you confess, the government will be lenient; if you resist, the government will be harsh.”

The interrogation was to give him a chance to confess, to receive leniency. Then the guards insulted Chen, questioned him, insulted him some more.

“Your problem is just like a shallot mixed with tofu. Do you know the meaning of shallot mixed with tofu?” one asked.

“Yes, I know the meaning. It means a big mess.”

“What? How do you explain that?” one shouted.

“Tofu is light and tasteless, and a shallot has a very strong smell. You could pick all the shallot pieces out with a pair of tweezers, but the smell of the shallot would still be in the tofu. Just like the saying, ‘You can’t wash yourself clean, even if you jump in the Yellow River.’”

“What is the name of your organization?” asked Captain Chen.

“I don’t know any organization.”

“What?! This son of a bitch is real bad and reactionary. Handcuff him!” shouted one of the interrogating guards.

Chen’s hands were cuffed behind his back, with one hand from above, the other from below. When he lost consciousness, they removed the cuffs and threw water on him and began the process all over again. That went on for three or four hours.

Finally, a guard escorted Chen out of the interrogation room and back to his cell.

“Don’t let him sleep,” the guard told Ying, then slammed the door shut.

But when the guard finished his shift and left, Captain Xingming You took over and made his rounds. As he walked by Chen’s cell, Ying gave a dozing Chen a shove to wake him up.

“No. Don’t waken him,” You said.

“But the guard who just left told me not to let him sleep,” Ying said.

“He has to sleep to confess his crimes. If you don’t let him sleep, how can we get the information out of him?” You said.

Early one morning, after enduring hours of interrogation and torture, Chen was escorted to his cell by You. On the way back, in the stairway between floors, the guard talked in a low voice to Chen, so no one would hear.

“Wenli Chen, why are you so stubborn? You have to scream; otherwise, it will hurt your heart. If you try to show you are strong, they will hate you. The more you show you are strong, the more they will hate you.”

Back in the interrogation room later that night, Captain Chen continued to ask, “What is the name of your organization?”

“I don’t know any organization.”

“You’re real dishonest and cunning. How can you say that you don’t know the name of your counterrevolutionary organization? Do you remember once, when you went to a movie in the auditorium, and somebody asked you about the lid on the sewer?” the interrogator asked.

“Yes, he asked me, ‘What is the meaning of SMC?’ I was feeling very regretful, because I have a big mouth and am too honest and always helping everyone, and that I should simply reply, ‘I don’t know,’” Chen said.

“What did you say?”

“I told him, ‘SMC was the abbreviation of Shanghai Municipal Council.’”

“Why did you emphasize the letter S?”

“I didn’t emphasize anything. He asked me, and I explained it to him.”

“Hmm. What else did he ask you? You’re very dishonest. Why do you never confess completely?”

“That is because you’ve interrupted me.”

“Okay, we don’t interrupt you. Continue!”

“And then he asked me, ‘What is the meaning of PWD?’”

“What did you say?”

“I explained to him that PWD was the abbreviation of Public Works Department.”

“Why did you explain to him like that?”

“I just answered his question.”

“No! Your answer had another meaning! You’ve emphasized the letters S-D-P. This is with the connection of your organization! What does the letter S stands for?”




“No! You’re always beating around the bush!”


“Hm. Almost. Remember, another two letters, D and P.”

“Oh! Yes! Is it Social Democratic Party?”

“You have known it all along! Why didn’t you confess it in the beginning, rather than beat around the bush with us?”

Oh, my God. How could I know it all along, when I just now realized, by your hints, what you want, Chen thought.

“Go back and write your confession!”

Understanding that the authorities had already fabricated a story for their own political purposes, Chen returned to his cell, determined to give them what they wanted. He pulled out his copy of the “Red Banner” magazine, which guards had, somehow, overlooked and left behind when they had previously removed the rest of his belongings. It was a special issue of the 9th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, and proved quite useful to Chen, who copied the inside information nearly verbatim, when writing his confession regarding the make-believe Social Democratic Party.

Busy in his cell, writing his confession, from out of nowhere someone screeched his name.

“Wenli Chen! I want to shoot your skull in half!” a military representative shrieked in a high-pitched voice, as he stormed by Chen’s cell. A prisoner said that the MR’s family name might be Zhang.

Several months after the official questioning had begun, Chen finished writing his tell-all piece of fiction, in the summer of 1971, around the same time when Shao, the worker prisoner, went from cell to cell, ordering, “Hand over your copy of the ‘Quotations of Chairman Mao Tse-Tung.’”

When Shao returned later with the books, Chen opened his copy and noticed that one page had been torn out. It had been the one on which Biao Lin had written the preface, “Study Chairman Mao’s writings, follow his teachings and act according to his instructions.”

“Divorced! Divorced! The wedding picture has been torn,” sang out Chen’s cellmate Jiaren Fu.

After a lengthy power struggle, Mao had ousted Lin from his inner circle in July 1971. On September 13, 1971, Lin boarded a plane to defect from China, after a rumored failed attempt to assassinate Mao. Lin intended to save his own life and those of several family members; however, the Trident No. 256 crashed in Mongolia, and all nine onboard perished. Sources in Beijing reported the plane ran out of fuel. Sources outside China reported the plane was shot down.

Wreckage of a plane, reported to be that of Biao Lin, with what appear to be bullet holes

Biao Lin and family, circa 1949

It was during that same volatile period when Chen was ordered, with other inmates, to the auditorium to attend a Big Lesson, during which authorities would deliver the monthly Situation Report. First, they would report on the situation in the world, and how horrible imperialism is. Second, they would report on the situation in China, and how wonderful Communism is. Third, they would report on the situation inside Tilanqiao, and how horrible the prisoners are and how wonderful the authorities are.

“Okay. Ready for Big Lesson,” Shao announced, sometime after lunch in his first trip around the second floor. Then, with list in hand, he walked around a second time, from cell to cell, announcing the names of those ordered to attend.

“You, Wenli Chen. You, Jian Ying,” he called out.

The two stood up. Ying grabbed a notebook to take notes, to show what a model prisoner he was. A couple minutes later, a guard walked down the row and unlocked the cells, one by one. Prisoners stepped out and lined up, two by two, in the corridor, waiting for the guard to lead them across the yard to the auditorium, a recent addition to the prison.

The British-built prison, with shanghai municipal gaol originally carved into the concrete over the entrance, was commonly known as Ward Road Gaol (Jail), when it received its first prisoners, in 1903, and was located at 117 Ward Road. When the Japanese occupied Shanghai’s International Settlement during World War II, the penal institution was renamed Tilanqiao Prison, for the district it was in. But after the Communists took control of Shanghai, on May 27, 1949, they renamed the facility Shanghai People’s Prison. Adjacent to the prison had been a vacant field, seized by authorities, who used the property as an execution ground in the mid-1950s, when they liquidated counterrevolutionaries during the regime’s Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries. Chen heard from old prisoners that they had heard gunshots coming from the field every day during that period.

Once in the very large auditorium, Chen and the others followed the instructions of the guards, who ordered them to sit, row by row on the bench seats, which resembled church pews. The auditorium was, in general, laid out like a large traditional Catholic cathedral, with an aisle down the middle, from front to back, and down both sides. There also one in the middle, from side to side.

Chen sat down in the right, front section. Ying sat down to his left.

Several guards were seated on a platform, raised like a theatrical stage. Facing the prisoners, they peered from behind a long wooden table, topped with a crisp, white tablecloth, meticulously draped to the floor. All wore the same style uniform: green tunic jacket, blue pants, and a green field hat, from which gleamed, in the middle above the brim, the National emblem of the People’s Republic of China, with its five stars – the single large star representing the Communist Party and the four smaller stars representing Mao’s four social classes.

Military Representative Zhang, sat in the middle. To his right sat Captain Xu, who, at the beginning of the Big Lesson, as usual, read the list of “Do Nots,” the rules of the meeting:

“Do not look around. Prisoners must follow the instructions of correctional officers.

“Do not talk. Prisoners must listen to the speech carefully.

“Do not leave your seats. If a prisoner needs to go to the toilet, he should report to the correctional officer first and receive permission from the officer.

“Do not break the rules. If any prisoner breaks the rules, he will be severely punished.”

In his poor Mandarin heavily laden with the sensuous Suzhou dialect, Xu gave a rundown of the international political situation.

“We support the Pakistan people’s struggle against Zionism,” he said, continuing, “American imperialism already has become an old street passing the rat.”

Chen snickered to himself. Xu always mistook the Chinese character Palestine for Pakistan, and he always mixed up the saying, “The old rat passes the street.”

Xu announced the great progress with the Cultural Revolution, the huge increase in production, the resulting bumper crop, and, finally, reached the situation in the prison.

“The majority of the prisoners are being transformed, but there is a handful of anti-transformists sabotaging the atmosphere of reformation, such as – ” Zhang, sitting in the middle, grabbed the microphone that rested in its stand on the table, yanked it toward his mouth, and with a very shrill voice, screeched, “Wenli Chen! I want to shoot your skull in half!”

Ying whispered to Chen, “He does not want to kill you. He wants you to confess your sins, and the People’s Government will forgive you. He wants to save you.”

Zhang, tall and big, continued sitting and addressed the prisoners.

“We feed you so good, you grow white and fat, but some prisoners are still blaming us. You’re shameless! Now, there are some prisoners who are still adhering to their superstition, such as some kind of Catholic.”

Raising his voice, Zhang screeched, “Kung, Pinmei! You! Stand up! Immediately!”

Chen saw someone, sitting six or seven rows ahead, stir in his seat. It was the bishop. Already a septuagenarian, he placed his hand on the back of the bench in front of him, and pulled, to help himself rise and stand. Steady on his feet, he released his grip on the bench back and stood still.

“How is your thinking nowadays?” Zhang asked, holding the microphone, his voice echoed in the otherwise dead-silent auditorium.

“I keep the same religious beliefs,” Kung said, facing the cadre, answering calmly, speaking in the Shanghainese dialect, softly, yet loudly enough for everyone to hear him.

“Ah! You are really reactionary!” Zhang screeched, then ordered, “All prisoners with Catholic beliefs stand up immediately!”

That was a mistake.

Chen watched as a very thin, elderly man wearing a traditional Chinese jacket, sitting a few rows in the front of him stand up immediately, very fast. The old man did everything very fast, as if always in a rush.

Around the auditorium, others stood.

Then Chen stood. He feared nothing; after all, he was following the instructions of the cadre. More and more stood, until at least one-third of the prisoners were on their feet in the auditorium. Chen knew that not all of them were Catholics.

At the table, the guards puffed away on cigarettes, creating a gray cloud above their heads.

Using both hands, Xu, leaned over and covered the microphone, which was still in front of Zhang. Other guards rose from their seats and circled around Xu and Zhang, all panicked, whispering among themselves. All, except one. Captain Zee remained sitting at the far right-side of the table. He didn’t move.

Silence spread through the auditorium.

“See how antagonistic these anti-transformists are! They cause much trouble to the government!” Ying whispered aloud.

Behind Ying, stood a prisoner who whispered, “The emperor himself is not nervous, but eunuchs are filled with fear.” (Meaning: Ying is on the government’s side, like a servant, and whenever the government gets in trouble, he gets nervous.)

Finally, Zee leaned over, slowly wrapped his hand around the microphone and leisurely pulled it toward himself. He was thin, a few inches shorter than the rest, with a bit of a high forehead and thin hair. And he was very composed.

“Sit down. Sit down,” Zee said, who spoke with a Henan dialect. “What do you want to do? The policy of our Party is, persistently, freedom of religious believers. But we do not allow anyone to use religion to perform counterrevolutionary activity.”

Zee saved the meeting.

Everybody sat down, and a cloud of calm settled over the auditorium.

Xu dragged the microphone back in front of himself and said, “Now, I declare that the struggle with the Get Rid of Theism study group is a complete victory!” He continued, “Prisoners, mongrels, raise your dog ears. Listen carefully! If you do not honestly obey, we will increase your sentences! Chop your heads off! The hands of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat will never soften!”

Whenever Xu finished his speeches, he always punctuated the end with threats, a signal that the meeting was nearly done. Prisoners didn’t care what he said. He always threatened to chop their heads off.

Xu completed his speech, finally, with, “You’re dismissed!”

The prisoners remained sitting until signaled that it was time for their row to stand, line up two by two, and return to their cells. On the way back, Chen saw the elderly man, who was the first to stand up after Kung. About 15 people ahead of him in line, he walked with his back straight and his head held high, joyful with his victory.

Ying, walking in line beside Chen, whispered aloud, angrily, to everyone around, “Look! How reactionary Xibing Zhang is!”

Back in their cell, Ying scolded Chen, “Xibing Zhang is really reactionary. You saw how many anti-transformists disturbed the Big Lesson. Why did you stand up, too?”

“It was the military representative’s command. I’m a Catholic!” Chen answered, fibbing.

“But you should not have stood up. How much trouble has it created for our People’s Government?”

“Oh, you’ve underestimated the People’s Government. Should a government, which is armed to the teeth, be disturbed by a handful of caged prisoners?”

“Hm. I will see your end.”

“I’m sure that you’ll see to it that I am shot, and that the bullet will break my head in half. I believe it may happen, but you won’t see it.”

Furious, Ying grabbed some paper and started writing a report about Chen’s remarks. Just then, Shao passed by and called out to the adjoining cell, Cell No. 6, “Ready to move!”

To Ying, Shao said, “Xibing Zhang is moving in.”

Youzhen Hong, Chen’s cellmate who had pointed out Kung to him during yard time, said, “Ah, Xibing Zhang is a foreign monk.”

Ying responded, “He is the most reactionary one! He is more reactionary than Pinmei Kung. Pinmei Kung listens to him, everything that he says. You guys have to be careful!”

Chen heard footsteps in the corridor and looked out. It was the elderly man, the Rev. Fr. Xibing “Matthew” Zhang, with a white badge on his chest – Prisoner No. 28258. He passed by, and the two made fleeting eye contact.

That day was the most exciting day, ever, in Tilanqiao for Wenli Chen.

The Rev. Fr. Xibing “Matthew” Zhang

Zhang had been arrested on September 8, 1955, the same night that Kung had been arrested. And nearly four years later, on March 17, 1960, the Feast of Saint Patrick, the two were sentenced, with 11 other priests, after a two-day “trial.”

In part, the verdict regarding Zhang, read as follows:

“Defendant: Chang (Zhang) Hsi-Pin (Xibing), alias Chang Teng-Ja, Ma Tien-An, male born in 1909, citizen of Shanghai City. Prior to his arrest he served as councilor for the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Shanghai, and concurrently as parish priest for the Ta Tung Road Church. Former residence at this city’s Ta Tung Road, No. 370. Now under arrest…

“3. The accused, Chen Je-Min, Chang (Zhang) Hsi-Pin (Xibing), Chu Shu-Teh, are guilty of taking an active and positive role in the Ignatius Kung counterrevolutionary and anti-government organization, of planning to overthrow the people’s democratic political rights, of being in league with the imperialists, of betraying the motherland and other criminal activities, and they are therefore guilty of very serious crimes. In accordance with the law, they are sentenced each to 20 years imprisonment, and we hereby strip them of their political rights for 10 years.”

Before Kung and Zhang were arrested, Shanghai Mayor Yi Chen invited them to his home. He had a long history with the Chinese Communists, going back to the 1920s, and was the first mayor of Shanghai after the Red takeover. He had been with Mao, on October 1, 1949, when the Chairman announced the founding of the People’s Republic of China. And when Chen later died in 1972, Mao reportedly personally oversaw the funeral arrangements and made his final public appearance at the services. After conversing for a while, Mayor Yi Chen said to the two visiting priests, “Today, you are my guests on the high seat – ”

Kung interrupted and said, “I know your meaning,” and he completed the Chinese saying, “Tomorrow we will be your prisoners under the stairs. Please, go ahead.”

Two days later, Kung and Zhang were behind bars.


Surrounded by fluffy piles of loose thread, Wenli Chen tugged at a piece of scrap material, unraveling the loose strands, as he listened to the chitchat of his cellmates.

The small talk centered on a decision of the authorities, that Tilanqiao’s prisoners should study philosophy, in particular, that of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, known in the People’s Republic of China as the Great Revolutionary Teachers.

“Hey, Ying. What is philosophy?” asked Jiaren Fu, busy undoing the weave in one of the rags cascading from a bag of cloth beside him.

“Oh, it’s a very complicated topic,” answered Jian Ying. “Proletariats have proletariat’s philosophy. Capitalists have capitalist’s philosophy. There are all kinds of different philosophies – ”

Chen interrupted Ying.

“You’re missing one. There was the philosophy of survival of Shaoqi Liu,” he said sarcastically.

The conversation stopped.

Since his transfer to Tilanqiao in January 1969, Chen had read several pieces in the People’s Daily, which claimed that Liu – formerly the No. 2 man in China – had surrendered to the enemy in order to survive. His downfall accelerated in a power struggle after he publicly criticized Zedong Mao for his failed policies of the Great Leap Forward (launched in May 1958) that caused the Great Chinese Famine (1958-61). Mao waited years to retaliate, but retaliate he did, with the launch of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-76), during which Liu was publicly and privately humiliated and tortured until his death on November 12, 1969.

Red Guards struggle Shaoqi Liu

Shaoqi Liu on his deathbed

Still pulling at the threads, Fu sought out an expert, Xibing Zhang, an elderly priest in the next cell.

“Hey, Zhang,” Fu softly called out. “What is philosophy?”

From his cell, Zhang answered like a professor, “The word philosophy came from the Greeks. In ancient Greece, scholars divided knowledge into three categories: Philosophy, to distinguish authenticity. Humanities, to distinguish between beauty and ugliness. Ethics, to distinguish between good and evil. It’s very simple.”

Impressed, never had Chen heard such an exact definition of knowledge.

“Were those the words of Socrates or Aristotle?” Chen asked, wanting to learn more.

“Oh, I don’t remember,” Zhang answered, chuckling.

Intelligent and lighthearted, Zhang was held in high regard by many. When one of the men in prison didn’t understand something, he would ask Zhang, who was esteemed as educated, articulate, kind-hearted and virtuous.

Nianchuan Xie was one of those who sought Zhang’s opinion. Sentenced to life in prison for trying to escape from the Communist regime in China, Xie was well-read, eloquent and loved to show off his knowledge. But what he loved even more – was to learn.

“Zhang, what is the logic of debate?” Xie called out softly from Cell No. 5, next door to the old priest in Cell No. 6.

Chen sat on his toilet-paper cushion, in Cell No. 7, and eavesdropped on the conversation.

“The purpose of debate is to sort out the facts, to increase knowledge,” explained Zhang. “Debate should be logical. Logic is the way of thought. It should be reasonable; otherwise, someone’s mind is out of order.”

“What is formal logic, and what is dialectical logic?” Xie asked.

“Concept, judgment, reasoning are the three basic elements of formal logic. During the debate of formal logic, one has to debate according to facts and reason. Changing concepts, verbal abuse and personal attacks are not allowed; otherwise, it means the individual failed,” Zhang answered. “About dialectical logic, it is a very funny term. As a matter of fact, dialectics was a type of method or verbal skill in debate. It did not define the rules, so it was a totally different concept of logic.”

“I have found one example of human attack,” Xie said, with book at hand. “It is in the next-to-the-last paragraph of Engels’ ‘Anti- Dühring’”

In 1877, Engels wrote, “Herr Dühring himself was once a young barrister, and he lives in Berlin, where even in my day, thirty-six years ago, to say nothing of lieutenants, Referendarius used often enough to rhyme with Schurzenstipendarius!”

From his cell, Xie softly said, “Engels wrote that Dühring had been a referendary, and he also wrote that Referendarius was with the same rhythm as Schurzenstipendarius, which is petticoat pensioner, slang for pimp in England.”

Xie had also read Engels’ unfinished work, “Dialectics of Nature,” which asserted that man, from his labor created himself. Communists – materialists and vowed atheists – promote the ideology that God does not exist, that God is merely a superstitious belief; therefore, God could never have created man.

One of the most popular slogans repeated by the Chinese Communists was LABOR CREATED THE WORLD, taken from “Dialectics of Nature,” in which Engels attempted to apply Karl Marx’s theory of dialectical materialism to science. More specifically, Engels applied it to the theory of evolution, in the book’s Chapter 9: “The Part Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man”:

“Labor is the source of all wealth, the economists assert. It is this next to nature, which supplies it with the material that it converts into wealth. But it is also infinitely more than this. It is the primary basic condition for all human existence, and this to such an extent that, in a sense, we have to say that labor created man himself.”

Xie broached the topic of evolution.

“Scientific phenomenon, scientific research, which means every new research result is compared to the old result. Sometimes it adds something, and sometimes it subtracts something and sometimes it proves the old conclusion was wrong.”

Xie paused.

“So recently, the result of the research is not perfect. It could even be wrong. So how can you use the imperfect or absurd result to prove a truth? Evolution is only a result.”

He continued.

“Right now we find out that evolution is a species that can change. In evolution, the species can change gradually over time, but inside, all species have a live secret code that cannot be changed. So that means that evolution is not perfect, so evolution is not a truth, so maybe later on, the live secret code is not perfect.”

One of Chen’s cellmates, who tapped into the conversation, added, to ingratiate himself with Zhang, “And maybe the live secret code is created by God.”

“Oh, no. God wouldn’t create such things,” Zhang answered, implying that God would never create something imperfect.

Unexpectedly, one day, Telian Shao showed up at Chen’s cell.

“Captain wants to talk to you,” he said.

As Chen walked out of his cell, Shao whispered, “Congratulations!”

Li stood near the stairs at the end of the row of cells and escorted Chen down to the bottom floor.

Captain Chen spoke first, “Wenli Chen, since you came to prison, you have committed very serious crimes. You have written a huge amount of fake material, seriously disturbed our routine work, causing us to lose enormous material and human resources – ”

“It’s ridiculous,” Chen said, raising his hand. “The material, you forced me to write.”

“Please, don’t interrupt me. Let me finish my words. You will have plenty of time to talk later. We Communists are always looking forward. Though your transformation performance was very bad in the beginning, after the interrogation, you have changed your behavior. On the current situation, we can say you are better. So, according to the reason that everyone knows, the government did not blame the responsibility on you. But in the future, if you anti-transform again, the government will blame you with the new and old accounts.

“Now, I announce the decision the government has made: to rescind your confinement and to restore your family visitations. You may pack your belongings and get ready to transfer back to Cellblock No. 3. Now, this is your turn to talk. What do you want to say?”

Shocked to learn that he would be leaving Cellblock No. 1 and be separated from Xibing “Matthew” Zhang, the Catholic priest, and Pinmei “Ignatius” Kung, the bishop of Shanghai and Suzhou, Chen had to think fast.

“According to the words you’ve said, ‘the reason that everyone knows,’ I fully understand your decision. The reason I had a better behavior is because of the good leadership of Captain Li. I believe I could have a better transformation atmosphere in the first cellblock, so I wish to stay,” Chen said.

“Well, I accept your request. Anything else?”

“That is all, and I wish to have a special family visitation. My parents haven’t seen me in quite a long time. They might be very anxious.”

“Captain Li will help you.”

“Why don’t you thank the leniency of our great Party?” Li asked.

Yang added, “You see, we have cured your arms. If you feel any discomfort in the future, we will treat you with the best doctor in the world.”

Captain Chen waved his hand and dismissed Chen, who was accompanied up to his cell by Li.

“How good our Party treated you. From now on, don’t fight anymore,” Li said, then turned and ordered, “Telian Shao, give him the postcard for a family visit.”

It was June 1972. His Big Case – opened in November 1970 – was finally closed and his confinement was at long last lifted. Chen hadn’t seen his parents in nearly two years, and for the special visit, he was escorted by a guard to a small room, with concrete walls and a single window backed by iron bars wrapped with curly strands of barbed wire.

“Your visit has started,” the guard announced, as he took a position in the corner, to watch Chen and his parents greet each other with a 12-foot separation.

“What happened, exactly?” his mother asked him.

“I didn’t do anything, but in the beginning, they suspected that I did something wrong, but now everything has been cleaned up, so they let me see you. How is your health?”

“We’re fine,” said his mother, as she shook her head slowly.

“What happened to your hair,” his father asked.

“It fell out,” Chen said, as he looked at his parents, who looked older, grayer, sad. With restrictions in speech, they continued with small chitchat. Then they had nothing more to say.

“You don’t need more time?” the kind-hearted guard asked.

“No. The time is enough for us,” Chen said.

Then it was time to go.

With his visitation rights reinstated, every month after that, Chen helped Zhang walk to the visitors’ room, where each had a 10- to 15-minute visit with family members. Chen’s parents always visited him, and Zhang’s three sisters – two of them nuns – always visited him. After each visit, Zhang walked slowly back to his cell, holding gifts. Sometimes a bath towel, other times an enamel basin, but whatever it was, it always had the figure of a fish.

With his hand on Chen’s arm, to steady himself, Zhang explained, “In the early Christian Church, under pressure of the Roman Empire, the Christians used the figure of the fish to show their Christian faith. The word fish in Greek is the first letter of the sentence of Jesus Christ is our Savior.”

Zhang had endured persecution for the faith and had undergone intense interrogations while he was held in the No. 1 Detention Center, before he was sentenced and transferred to Tilanqiao. During those interrogations, he was excited to have his chance to fight for Christ, and although he was weak in body, he had felt full of strength and wisdom when he debated with his Communist interrogators.

Because Chen’s confinement status had been lifted, once again, he could meet with his study group. For his first day back, he joined the men seated on the floor in the corridor. Everybody greeted him, and he sat beside Zhang, which gave them an opportunity to communicate.

As duty prisoner Shifeng Wang read from the People’s Daily an editorial about how life under the old society was so tragic and about how fortunate life was for everyone under the ruling of the Communist Party, Chen turned to Zhang.

“Does that mean having his hand to the plow and looking back?” Chen whispered to the old priest, who smiled and stared at Chen.

“Dreams of paradise on earth will result in hell on earth,” Zhang whispered back.


And then Gaoming Wang moved in to Cell No. 7.

“You have to be very honest. I am not like Jian Ying. He is educated and too gentle. I’m uneducated, and I’m not too gentle. If you are not honest, I will beat you,” he threatened Wenli Chen.

Chen didn’t respond.

Wang had the well-earned reputation of a brutal struggler. To prepare for the sessions of public humiliation and torture, he always slipped into his favorite pair of sandals, made with thick wooden soles and single straps across the instep. In the heat of the struggle, he would whip off one of his sandals and beat the victim, helpless to protect himself.

A short and skinny thief, Wang was rumored to have stolen everything he ever had and had been in and out of prison. During one of his arrests, in the 1940s, he made an attempt to escape, but pursuing guards shot him in the leg, leaving him with a limp for the rest of his life.

On his way to the struggle sessions in Tilanqiao, Wang’s odd gait, resounding with the clippity-clop of the wooden sandals, could be heard floors away.

It was Wang who had beaten Xibing Zhang, the old, sickly priest during the Get Rid of Theism “study group,” which Captain Xu had declared a complete victory during the Big Lesson. The struggle sessions had extended over many months, during which the targets had been Bishop Pinmei Kung and Zhang. Because Kung had been the object of international concern, authorities seated him to the side and did not force him to speak; however, Zhang had to actively participate in the debate.

For the opposing debate team, authorities chose Trotskyites, old Party members, Party bosses and a few in-prison thugs, including Wang and his wooden sandals.

But Zhang did very well.

During one intense session, a speaker for the Communist side spoke at length, but the context had no substance. A second speaker also made a long comment, but his verbal and mental skills lacked clarity and depth. The arguments for the regime’s debaters contained no logic, but were filled with paradoxes and proof that they were not real materialists.

Then Zhang stood up. He asked a simple question that threw his opponents into a fury against one another. Enraged, Wang grabbed one of his sandals, jumped up and beat the priest.

“Stop!” yelled a guard. “Why do you hit him? Do you know our Party’s policy does not allow beatings?”

The guard then turned and spoke to Zhang.

“Xibing Zhang, I don’t know how to help you. If you are continuously against transformation, irritating these prisoners who require transformation, they beat you because they are angry. Sometimes, I can’t stop them immediately. Do you understand?”

Yes, he did, and so did the others. The guard implied that he would not be held responsible if someone beat up the priest or even beat him to death.

Wang’s temper flared up with the slightest ignition. After moving into his new cell, he and Chen were cleaning up one evening after supper. Chen used an old rag to mop the floor, but he accidentally wiped too close to Wang’s shoes.

“You wet my shoes, you anti-transformation!” Wang hollered. “You tried to bully me. I’m not gentle. I will beat you!”

“I will beat you!” Chen threatened in return.

Chen moved fast and grabbed Wang by his clothes, pushed him into the corner, then thrust the dirty rag into Wang’s face, rubbing viciously. And Chen didn’t stop there. He picked up one of Wang’s wooden sandals and pounded his head and face until his skin turned a bright red. Only then, Chen released him.

“Prisoner beat me!” Wang screamed.

“They fight each other!” cellmate Jiaren Fu hollered.

Captain Jingen Li rushed down the corridor.

“I didn’t fight him. He beat me,” Wang blurted.

“You say that only he beat you, and that you didn’t fight? Who believes that?” Li said.

After opening the iron-bar door, Li removed Wang from the cell and handcuffed Chen’s hands behind his back, which remained cuffed for a week. The next day, Wang balked when it was time to go out. He was so bruised, he feared public humiliation.

“No. You have to go out,” Li ordered

In the yard, inmates laughed at him, and someone yelled out, “Look at the Big-Headed Baby!”

Li, the squadron officer in charge of Cellblock No. 1, was referred to with derision as the “Smiling Tiger,” because he always smiled when he spoke with inmates. Not that he was nice. He wasn’t. He just wanted inmates to reveal to him their true thoughts, which he would use against them. He was clever enough to outwit some of the inmates, but not all.

Li targeted Zhang and Kung, but the priest and bishop were too quick-witted for the cadre.

One day, Zhang noticed that a cellmate, from a very poor family, wore a threadbare shirt. Sympathetic, the priest gave him one of his T-shirts; however, prisoners were forbidden to give anything to anyone.

Li ordered Zhang to report to the guard’s desk.

“Xibing Zhang, I know you are a Catholic priest. A Catholic Church member is not allowed to tell a lie; otherwise, he is going to apostatize. Am I right?” Li asked.

“You’re right,” the priest said.

“Now, I ask you: Have you ever bribed anybody?”

“No. I have never bribed anybody.”

“Ah! You have apostatized! You are telling a lie!” Li shouted, thrilled with himself.

“No. I did not tell a lie. My words I told you were true. I said that I have never bribed anybody.” Li removed the T-shirt from a drawer, held it up and said, “This is the evidence. You cannot deny!”

“Yes. I recognize this T-shirt that I gave to someone, but you can’t say that I was bribing and that this T-shirt I gave was not a gift.”

“How can you explain that?”

“According to the ancient Chinese culture, giving a gift means I want something back. Furthermore, bribing definitely has an intention. When I gave to him this T-shirt, I didn’t want anything in return. As a matter of fact, he is in dire circumstances and can’t give anything back to me. This was a kind of relief, such as when the government sometimes gives prisoners winter clothes. Could you say the government bribed prisoners?”

“I will tell your sisters that they’re working hard to earn money to buy you clothes, but you actually give the clothes away as gifts.”

“Do you know, I believe my sisters will support me and agree with me, because, actually, I’ve received some spirit transformation under your good management. I’ve become not so selfish. And, by the way, they will thank you, too.”

“Go! Go! Go! Go back to your cell! You’re talking all this sophistry!”

“Captain Li, please, give him back his T-shirt. He really needs it.” Zhang asked, as he left.

Again, Li went after Zhang, after someone reported that the old priest used his fingers to count.

First, Li walked over to Kung’s cell and questioned the bishop.

“Do you know what the tradition is in the Catholic Church of counting on fingers?” Li asked Kung.

“I have no idea,” Kung responded.

Disappointed, but not daunted, Li asked another prisoner, Rongsheng Ji, who was a Catholic.

“Do you know what the tradition is in the Catholic Church of counting on fingers?”

After thinking awhile, Ji answered, “Oh, you have reminded me of a way to say the rosary. This is a real good way. I don’t know why I haven’t thought of it.”

Tipped off, Li went back to Zhang.

“You’re still performing superstition in the prison,” Li said to Zhang.

After studying Marxism, Zhang understood Li’s meaning.

“The meaning of superstition is when someone believes as fact something he does not thoroughly understand. But I thoroughly understand the Bible, so it’s called religion. It is different from superstition,” Zhang said.

“You’re saying rosary by counting your fingers,” Li said.

“Captain Li, who told you that? I did not tell you that. If another Catholic prisoner uses this way and tells you and you tell me, you are the teacher, isn’t that right?”

Exasperated at being outsmarted yet again, Li resorted to threats, “Your performance is not good for you!”

Relentless, Li persisted, trying to pit one priest against the other.

“You’re in violation of your religious rules. You don’t fast on Friday,” Li said to Zhang, one day.

“According to the rules of our Church, it is no use to fast when under the difficult period of the Church,” Zhang said.

Then Li went to Kung.

“Zhang Xibing said it is no use to fast under the difficult period of the Church, and you may do as well,” Li said.

“Father Zhang’s saying is correct. It is no use to fast when under the difficult period of the Church. But you are real cunning. I tell you clearly; I will not be fooled. If I listen to you and stop fasting, you will say, ‘Hey, Kung Pinmei gave up his religion. From now on he doesn’t obey the rule of his Church anymore.’ I will not give you the opportunity to slander our Church!”

In reality, Li the Smiling Tiger was just Li the Paper Tiger, unable to sink its claws into Zhang or Kung. Despite all of his attempts to make them betray the Church, he failed. The priests lived within the prison walls, peacefully accepting their special apostolates as great gifts of the Divine Will.

Chen, who was in the cell next to Zhang’s, heard on a few occasions someone unlock the old priest’s iron gate and order him over to the cadre’s desk. No one could hear what the two men were talking about, but everyone believed that the authorities were trying to talk Zhang to give up his Catholic faith.

Everyone was wrong.

The guards were interested in learning about the Catholic faith for themselves. Some of them were even baptized by Zhang, including Captain Zhou, the Eurasian guard with the Chinese father and Russian mother.

For baptism, Zhang’s catechumen would wait for the last whistle, at 8:30 p.m., when all prisoners were ordered to sleep, and only two guards would be on duty in the cellblock. One would sit at the desk on the first floor near the gate, giving an opportunity to the other, who made the rounds, to unlock Zhang’s cell door. The two men would then surreptitiously climb the stairs to the fifth floor, where the neophyte had already secreted away the items Zhang had requested: a white table cloth, wine, clean water, unleavened bread and a candle. Everything for the altar. After the Sacrament of Baptism, the guard collected everything and escorted Zhang quietly back to his cell and locked the door.

While behind bars, Kung also baptized a few Communist cadres, but he had a special mission among those inmates who would never walk out of Tilanqiao alive.

Shijin Du, who had spent time on the prison’s Death Row near Kung’s cell, witnessed the bishop’s gifts to the condemned. After moving into Chen’s cell in October 1973, Du described what he had observed when he had been assigned to accompany prisoners to their executions.

“Sometimes prisoners are sent to Bishop Kung’s cell,” Du told Chen. “Before they are frightened, but after, they are calmed down.”

Chen and others believed that the bishop bestowed upon the inmates the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, the Last Rites.

Around August 1974, prisoners were moved around again, and Zhichuan Wang was moved into Chen’s cell. A young man, in his early 20s, he had been a fishmonger for a grocery store, when he had been accused of attacking Mao. His speech crime was regarded as an oral problem with a dental ill, and he was sentenced to 20 years. During his incarceration, he had undergone atheistic indoctrination that had been highly successful. When in Chen’s study group, he often ridiculed Christianity and insulted Zhang, who smiled and ignored the insults. But not always.

One day, Wang said, “Religion is bad. Nuns kill babies. Priests rape nuns.” At that, the priest defended himself, “I have never done that!”

“You did! You did! You are a rapist garbed in a religious coat!”

“We are not discussing this! We are on another topic,” said study group duty prisoner Shifeng Wang.

After the session ended, Wang the duty prisoner stood outside Chen’s cell and used the opportunity to ask the young man, “Why do you always attack the priest?”

“I hate Catholic priests,” he said.

“You cannot say that. Xibing Zhang is a real good man, a real gentleman. He has been here a long time, and everybody respects his high morals,” the duty prisoner explained.

Chen told the young man, “You were wrong to accuse someone without any basis. And, by the way, your 20-year sentence was for saying that Mao suffered hemorrhoids of the mouth; whereas, the priest was imprisoned simply because he insisted on his religious faith. You both are the same: innocent.”

Because Chen had been in the People’s Liberation Army, the young man admired him.

“I will listen to you and admit that I have been stupid, and I will apologize to the priest tomorrow,” he said.

The next day, when the young man saw the priest, he apologized immediately.

Zhang responded in kind.

“I have to say sorry to you, because yesterday I was angry at you. As a Catholic, I should not be angry, because anger means hatred. Afterward, I begged God to forgive me. Now, I beg your pardon,” Zhang said.

“I feel really ashamed,” the young man, looking very embarrassed, whispered to Chen.

Wang’s attitude changed. At first he had only been interested in talk about movies, food and Chen’s life in the army. But then, he began to ask about the classic writers, and even inquired about the Bible. Chen told him stories from the Old Testament, about Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, Moses, and more.

Eventually, Wang asked, “How can I become a Christian?”

“Talk to Zhang,” Chen told him.

Wang shared a story with Chen that he had heard about Zhang, who had been held in the No. 1 Detention Center for several years before he was sentenced and transferred to Tilanqiao.

Zhang, he explained, had used buttons from his old, worn-out shirt to make prayer beads. And because the doors in detention centers were generally solid, with only little peepholes for the guards to peek through, the inmates never knew whether or not the guards were on the other side of the door, watching them. One day, a guard caught Zhang praying with his beads.

“Give up religion,” the guard told Zhang.

Zhang refused.

The guard then put handcuffs on the priest and said, “Whenever you give up your religion, I will remove the handcuffs.”

But Zhang did not give up religion and remained handcuffed. During meals, no one dared to help him, so with his hands cuffed behind his back, he picked up the aluminum can, poured the food on a newspaper, knelt down on the floor and ate like an animal. When he had to relieve himself, he had to do so by himself.

After nine months, a guard asked the priest, “What are your thoughts?”

“I have done my penance for nine months,” the priest said.

The guard reluctantly removed the handcuffs and said, “I don’t want you to continue your penance.”

Wang, who had previously been in a cell near Kung’s, also shared with Chen a conversation he had overheard between the bishop and a few high-ranking cadres inspecting the prison after American President Richard M. Nixon had visited China in 1972.

Walking through Tilanqiao, the cadres stopped in front of Kung’s cell.

“Pinmei Kung, you know, during Richard Nixon’s visit, he asked about you. The door of the prison is always open for you. We don’t want to keep you forever, and we do not request you to give up your faith of religion. The only thing we ask is, you have to cut off the relationship with the Vatican. We will release you immediately. You may learn from Luxian Jin. He realized. We performed magnanimous act immediately.”

Luxian “Aloysius” Jin had been arrested on September 8, 1955, the same night that Communists swarmed on Shanghai Catholics and arrested hundreds, including Kung and Zhang. The three were sentenced together on March 17, 1960. In a photograph of the legal proceedings, Jin was the only one to bow in submission to authorities.

To the high-ranking cadres, Kung answered, “You men look like the people standing outside a full theater, waiting for a return ticket. I tell you honestly. This ticket you can never get, even if you wait your whole life.”

Chen told Wang that he had reminded him of a similar incident, when after Nixon’s visit, a few high-ranking cadres stopped in front of Zhang’s cell.

One said, “Xibing Zhang, I tell you frankly, unmasking – ”

“Captain, please,” Zhang said, interrupting the cadre. “Do not unmask diorama; otherwise, you have nothing to play.”

The cadre laughed and said, “I want to know your opinion of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement.”

“This policy for the religion is just like your policy of business socialism reformation, the public-private partnership of Church, limiting, using and reforming religion, for the purpose of eliminating religion.”

“You’re very vicious!”

But Zhang survived in prison, and he never surrendered.

Before 1975 rolled around, marking the end of his prison term, the authorities required him to write a summary of his 20-year transformation. When he finished his first draft, he passed it to everyone in the study group, asking for their opinions. Everybody complimented him on his work. So with only a few minor modifications, Zhang finished his summary, then asked Chen, whose Chinese characters were beautiful, to make a copy for him, to keep as a memento.

Chen readily accepted the task. He began with the priest’s early life, his birth in Shanghai, in 1909, to a merchant family, and his education at St. Ignatius Middle School (Xuhui Middle School). In 1925, he joined the Archdiocese of Shanghai. In 1928, he attended Aurora University, where he studied three years of liberal arts, three years of philosophy and three years of theology. Upon his graduation, he served as principle of Aurora Middle School in Yangzhou, XinXin Middle School in Xuzhou and YouYuan Middle School in Suzhou. In 1949, he served as the principal of the College of Liberal Arts of Marist Brothers, while simultaneously serving as pastor of St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Shanghai, until his arrest on September 8, 1955.

About his crime, Zhang wrote that the Communist regime’s ideology was atheist and that to believe in God is criminal. Although the law of the People’s Government expresses freedom of religious faith, it only means freedom to believe in atheism. Zhang ended his summary using ancient Chinese characters.

“The time was flying like an arrow, sun and moon shifted like shuttles. Today, it is 1975. Goodbye 20 years. Reluctant to leave, future will be vague. What do I have? What do I want? My shape will be in this space for how long? Why not let bygones be bygones? Looking back to the process of my transformation, the way was circuitous and bumpy, just like a wrecked wagon with an old buffalo, every step was difficult. Looking forward to my future, more than 60 years of age, physical weakness and obstinate diseases are wrapping my body. Should I quit by facing difficulties, or should I go forward? Of course, I should choose the latter. I shall forget my old age, muster my remaining courage, step on my new journey, to use all my strength, dedicate my life until death; otherwise, I don’t have other way!”

A week or two after Chen had finished his task, authorities ordered him to pack his belongings. He was leaving Tilanqiao and heading for the western province of Qinghai, for a labor camp, for laogai, for labor transformation.

It was February 1975. As he waited outside his cell, he and Zhang stared at one another for a long time.

Finally, Zhang broke the silence.

“Don’t be sad. I’m sure we will meet again. Otherwise,” and he pointed toward the sky, “we will talk to each other every day.”

And then someone by the stairs shouted, “Come! Come! Come!”

It was time for Chen to leave. He picked up his 1940s-style duffle bag, stuffed with his belongings, turned and rushed down the corridor.


WENLI CHEN was released in March 1979, and he quickly sought out the Rev. Fr. Xibing “Matthew” Zhang, who baptized him and gave him the name of Philip. In May 1980, Chen left Shanghai for Hong Kong, and in May 1985, he left Hong Kong for America. In 1987, Chen married Zhang’s relative, Teresa, and they have one daughter, Cecilia.

May 1980, Wenli Chen leaves for Hong Kong (left to right): Wenli Chen's sister,
father, mother, Fr. Xibing Zhang, Wenli Chen, an unidentified friend, Wenli Chen's brother-in-law

The REV. FR. XIBING ZHANG was finally released from Tilanqiao in the autumn of 1978. In November 1981, Zhang was rearrested and locked up in the No. 1 Detention Center and later released. Six years later, in November 1987, he was arrested yet again. While under arrest, he suffered heart problems and was transferred to Tilanqiao Prison Hospital. After receiving treatment, he was moved to the Shelter of the Shanghai Archdiocese, officially described as a nursing home for elderly clergy; however, in reality, it was where priests were held under house arrest. Zhang and the other priests were closely monitored and subsequent reports about them were filed with the Public Security Bureau by Luxian Jin’s secretary, whose nickname was “Mrs. Bishop,” because of her close relationship with Jin. Zhang died on May 30, 1990.

While still in prison, the MOST REV. PINMEI "IGNATIUS" KUNG was secretly, in pectore, elevated to cardinal in 1979, by Pope John Paul II. In 1985, Kung was released from Tilanqiao, but held under strict conditions of house arrest, until his nephew Joseph Kung was able to arrange for his uncle’s release, to receive medical care in America, in 1988. On March 12, 2000, the cardinal died, at the age of 98, a free man, forever faithful to Christ and Pope.

In 1982, LUXIAN "ALOYSIUS" JIN was released from prison. In 1985, the Communist authorities of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association consecrated Jin the official bishop of Shanghai. He died in 2013.

Patriotic Bishop Luxian "Aloysius" Jin, circa 2008

ACKNOWLEDGMENT: I would like to thank Wenli Chen for sharing his story with me.

ENDNOTE: All Chinese names have been written in a manner to avoid confusion and to remain consistent with the English standard of writing proper names: given name first, family name last. In Chinese, names are traditionally written with family name first, given name last.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: “Blessings of the Divine Bounty of September 8: In Commemoration of the 40th Anniversary of the September 8 Persecution of the Catholic Church in Mainland China,” published by the September 8 Editorial Board.

Theresa Marie Moreau can be reached at

1 comment:

  1. Reading through this was like really being there. The pictures appear out of nowhere just at the right place in the story.The picture of the prison and then that of the cell block were like 'being there.' This story shows us that there is simply NO LIFE if we live under atheistic communism. Our Lady warned us at Fatima but it became too late when the Communist thought threaded its way to the top (the Pope). She said that the Consecration of Russia would be done "late" but it will be done. Please let it be soon. God help China!!