The question of whether Pope Francis will finally achieve the dream of many of his predecessors to visit China moved to the forefront of international chatter recently when he declined to meet with the Dalai Lama on the occasion of that worthy’s visit to Rome last year.
Many in the media immediately assumed at the time that the Pope’s refusal to meet with the Dalai Lama was political, that he was fearful of upsetting China’s rulers who might then take it out on negotiations between Beijing and the Vatican on normalizing relations between the two bodies.
That notion has since been laid to rest by Francis himself during an in-flight press conference held aboard his plane as it left the Philippines on Jan. 19. There, Francis explained that the reason the meeting didn’t happen was due to protocol that prevented a get-together while the Dalai Lama was in town to attend another gathering.
The Pope then assured reporters that a future meeting date had been set but did not say when.
But the kerfuffle raised by the media over the apparent “snub,” has served to remind everyone about the delicate politics involved with the Church’s negotiations with the Chinese that is likely based on a fear by the country’s Communist rulers of a loosening grip on power more than a Marxist rejection of religion as an “opiate of the masses.”
A way needs to be found that would allow the Chinese rulers to back away from their decades-long stand against religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular.
But politics and negotiations have never been strangers to the Catholic Church in China whose historical association with the country began with Franciscan priest John Montecorvino who arrived in 1294 during the Yuan dynasty. Five years later, he built the first church and some years after that, Catholicism became a thriving concern. In the 1600s, Jesuit missionaries arrived and, impressed with their technical and accounting expertise, emperors of the Qing dynasty named many of them to important civic positions.
In later years however, arriving Dominicans criticized the Jesuits’ approach to proselytization and complained that the Order had gone native. That internal strife tried the patience of Chinese rulers who eventually outlawed Catholicism and tried to stamp it out. A low point was reached during the Boxer Rebellion, a nativist reaction to foreign imperialism, in which Catholics were targeted for murder.
The 1900s saw a return to normalcy with the number of Catholics in China growing into the millions before the communist movement triumphed in 1949 and established the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
All religions were then considered threats to the new order and placed under control of the State Administration for Religious Affairs which moved quickly to bring the Catholic Church to heel with the creation in 1957 of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association with its state-approved bishops.
That action marked the official split between the government of China and the Vatican which continued to support an underground Catholic Church that refused to acknowledge control by the state. While not moving to overtly stamp out the underground Church, the government has done its best since diplomatic relations were severed in 1958 to make life for its faithful as difficult as possible by closing churches, not allowing new churches to be built, discriminating against believers, and jailing for long periods priests and bishops who continued to be loyal to the Pope.
Even today, Catholics continue to be imprisoned for refusing to submit with Roman Catholic bishop Cosma Shi Enxiang only the latest reminder. The 94-year-old cleric had spent the greater part of 60 years imprisoned and the last 14 in house arrest, all because of his loyalty to the underground Catholic Church. Reports have surfaced of his death recently but there has been no official word from the Chinese government.
Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Ma Daqin has been in detention since his ordination in 2012 when he resigned the Patriotic Association to join the underground Church.
Eager to relieve its followers from such oppression, the Church has been involved in diplomatic efforts to end the impasse between itself and the PRC for decades but a difference of opinion in how even to approach the table has prevented real progress.
Those sticking points have been described as the “two China” problem and the question of independence: China demands that the Church end its diplomatic relations with Taiwan before anything else can be discussed while the Church wants China to first agree to the primacy of the Pope as leader of the universal Church including the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
Such is where matters have rested for decades until there was a recent indication by the Church that it would be willing to move its embassy from Taiwan to the mainland. But even with that concession, the PRC has balked, refusing to recognize the Pope’s sole authority in the consecration of bishops.
Benedict XVI tried to walk a line between church and state when he reasserted the Church’s claims to primacy while also acknowledging the right to govern by the PRC.
But there may also be another problem: freedom of religion in particular and human rights in general which some believe must be guaranteed if any settlement with the PRC is to work. Without freedom of the press for instance, how can the Church publish its various newsletters and public communications? Without the sanctity of private property, how can it be certain its buildings are safe from seizure?
Which brings things to the present except to say that in the last ten years or so, China’s climb to a world economic power has added complications to the mix that could bode good or ill in its relations with the Catholic Church.
On one hand, the country’s newfound power has made its leaders more arrogant as their navy expands the government’s claims in the South and East China Seas even as it grows closer to the enemies of the West. Meanwhile, China has moved aggressively in Africa and Central America in its efforts to secure natural resources as well as investing heavily in enterprises around the world.
However, on the home front, prosperity has raised the expectations of an increasingly restive population tired of the state’s one child rule, unresponsive government administrators, official corruption, and lack of freedom. As a result, the government finds itself putting out brush fires of angry citizens from towns remote from the country’s prosperity to villages in the way of development to disenfranchised voters in Hong Kong.
At the same time, some reports indicate that the Communist Party itself is currently in turmoil with some kind of internal power struggle going on. And so long as that struggle continues, Vatican diplomats can’t be sure which side might be friendly to their interests putting negotiations on hold.
Events, it seems, are pulling China in different directions and the question is which will win out. Will it be more freedom or more control? Will the Party choose to put a lid on demands for more openness in order to maintain its overseas military aspirations or ease off on domestic issues where pressure is building due to rising expectations?
Amid all this, Christianity is growing quickly in China with some estimates claiming over 100 million with about 10 million of those members belonging both to the underground and Patriotic Catholic Churches.
For that reason alone, China cannot be ignored by the Vatican and in a recent interview Pope Francis insisted that his door is always open to envoys of the PRC.
The Pope’s implicit optimism may have been spurred by a January statement from Hua Chunying, a mouthpiece for the Chinese foreign ministry who said that his government was “willing to have constructive dialogue with the Vatican based on relevant principles” adding that “China is always sincere in improving ties with the Vatican, and has been making efforts to this end.”
So it might be in the interests of China, if it wants to appease a significant portion of its dissatisfied population, to walk through that door and come to a modus vivendi with the Vatican. If that happened, then Francis might indeed get his wish to be the first Pope to visit China.
Editor’s note: this is part 3 in an ongoing series exploring the history of dictators and their evil ideologies. See the previous installments: Part 1:”Why It’s OK to Be Intrigued by Evil Dictators“ and Part 2: “Does Everybody Want Freedom?” Have ideas for who you’d like to see Robert explore next? Get in touch on Twitter: @RobertWargas and @DaveSwindle
Celebrating its centennial, The New Republic recently mined its archive and republished an intriguing piece from its February 27, 1965, issue: an exclusive interview with Mao Zedong by the American journalist Edgar Snow. As TNR correctly notes, as far as interviews go this would be analogous to a Western journalist today being granted exclusive access to Kim Jong Un. The sit-down took place almost seven years before Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger arrived in Peking to re-establish relations with China.
Though the interview has value as a journalistic artifact, it isn’t the most satisfying piece of reportage when it comes to Mao the man. Snow, who was not exactly Red China’s greatest critic, wasn’t allowed to quote the Great Helmsman directly, and most of the discussion concerns issues of policy and military strategy. These are big subjects, and big subjects always make for big answers laden with propaganda.
Mao comes across as intensely theoretical; he seems genuinely infatuated with Marxist theory and its rigorous application to world affairs. When asked about the Vietnam War, for instance, Snow writes that Mao “repeatedly thanked foreign invaders for speeding up the Chinese revolution and for bestowing similar favors in Southeast Asia today.” He ”observed that the more American weapons and troops brought into Saigon, the faster the South Vietnamese liberation forces would become armed and educated to win victory.”
“Although Senator Kerry never fully revealed the source of those outrageous accusations, I recognized them as being the product of another KGB disinformation operation. In the 1960s and ’70s, when I was a leader of the Soviet bloc intelligence community, the KGB spread those same vitriolic accusations, almost word for word, throughout American and European leftist movements. They were part of a KGB disinformation operation aimed at discouraging the United States from protecting the world against communist expansion.”
In his book Disinformation, Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa notes that by 1968 there were 7 million anti-war protesters in the United States. Many of them, including Secretary of State John Kerry, were operating on disinformation about the Vietnam War thanks to a carefully constructed KGB campaign called “Operation Ares”.
Created by the KGB with the “dual purpose of counteracting American efforts to protect the world against communist expansion, and of creating doubt around the world about American power, judgement, and credibility,” Operation Ares was named by KGB chief Yuri Andropov after the Greek god of war. Pacepa details the great lengths to which the KGB went to follow through on the disinformation campaign, including the creation of the Stockholm Conference on Vietnam. The Conference, which met annually through 1972 acted as the clearinghouse for the distribution of “..fabricated descriptions of American atrocities committed against civilians in Vietnam, as well as counterfeited pictures supporting the allegations.”
In his discussion of Ares, Pacepa poignantly reflects upon Andropov’s belief that, by planting the seeds of disinformation, these lies about American involvement in Vietnam would grow into its own unique breed of acculturated disinformation:
“Eventually, American leftists would seize upon our Ares and would start pursuing it of their own accord. In the end, our original involvement would be forgotten and Ares would take on a life of its own.”
This past Sunday a group of Ukranian activists knocked down a statue of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin and smashed it to pieces in Kiev’s Bessarabska Square. While no one can be sure who started the protest, CNN reports:
Ukraine’s government news agency said a lawmaker with the nationalist Svoboda party claimed responsibility for the incident.
“This is the end of Soviet occupation,” the party’s Twitter account said. “End of (the) regime of shame and humiliation.”
…”Destroying the Lenin monument in Kiev is not just an act of vandalism,” [Communist] party leader Petro Symonenko said, according to a post on the party’s official website. “It is a sign that organizers of the protests are not for the European values, but rather for hate, fear and destruction of the state of Ukraine.”
Ironically, “European values” are exactly what drove the protesters to destroy the statue and encamp in Kiev’s Independence Square. In the face of rising debt and sinking bond prices, Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych turned down a trade agreement with the E.U. that “would have opened borders to trade and set the stage for modernization and inclusion” in favor of cultivating a deeper relationship with Moscow.
One hundred thousand protesters lined the streets of the nation’s capital over the weekend. Two thousand are there now, huddled around fires in a makeshift tent city in Independence Square, holding firm in their demand that failed Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych dissolve the government and answer their demand for immediate elections.
Golly, I feel old sometimes.
I became a buddhist in 1966. It turns out my new favorite Zen Master — boy, he’s gonna flinch if he reads that — is a guy who was about four years old at the time. His name is Brad Warner, and he’s rockin’ the Zen world.
Literally. Brad is a hardcore punk rock bass player, who recorded with hardcore bands like 0DFX (Zero Defex) and started a psychedelic band Dementia 13, and I’m telling you right here and now that my knowledge of punk rock is entirely derived from reading Brad’s books and a couple of Wikipedia articles: when punkers were listening to the Dead Kennedys, I was listening to Styx and Kansas.
I also like Glenn Miller. Sue me.
Brad then moved to Japan, where after a year of teaching English, managed to wangle a job working for Tsuburya Productions, which made Ultraman; he acted in bit parts in a number of Ultraman movies and did promotion in English for the company. He also married. While he was there, he also started to study Zen with Gudo Nishijima, a teacher in the Soto lineage, and as he tells it in his first book Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies and the Truth About Reality, Nishijima-sensei decided to confer Transmission, making him an official certified Zen Master and Nishijima’s Dharma heir. He then moved back to the US, lost his job, got divorced, and began writing for the general public with Hardcore Zen, followed by becoming a columnist for the Suicide Girls website, largely a repository of pictures of young hipster girls with lots of tattoos and few clothes.
Brad has been controversial more or less from the start. (Not every Zen Master writes for a porn site.) First of all, he doesn’t look the part.
This guy looks like a Zen Master.
This guy looks like a Zen Master.
And then there’s Brad.
I suppose a lot of people who follow PJ already know I’m a Buddhist, and have been for almost 50 years — a “devout Buddhist” if you like. I’ve written about it occasionally on PJ, going back to my first or second piece, when PJ was still in its pajamas. I’ve also written quite a lot about Buddhism on my moribund personal blog, Explorations.
Over the holidays, I decided to collect some of that writing, and add to it to put together a book on Buddhism with the working title Undecorated Buddha (or maybe Undocumented Buddha — I’m open to suggestions.) As I did with my 13 Weeks experiment, I’ve set up a Facebook page where people are invited to come and keep me honest.
At about the same time, Dave Swindle co-incidentally (or was it? Insert Twilight Zone music here) mentioned to me that he wanted more stuff on Eastern spirituality in PJ Lifestyle. We rapidly agreed on my writing a weekly Undecorated Buddha piece.
I hope you’re feeling better, Dave; I didn’t mean to trample you like that.
Now, you might ask “who the hell are you to write about Buddhism?” After all, I don’t have “Transmission”, no accredited teacher has given me the certificate.
About two thousand years ago, an Emperor of China asked the same question of an Indian guy we call Bodhidharma.
The lyrics of the anti-US song performed live by PSY and several other popular Korean singers in 2004 (shortly after the US invaded Iraq) were first translated into English two months ago on CNN’s iReport:
싸이 rap :
이라크 포로를 고문해 댄 씨발양년놈들과
고문 하라고 시킨 개 씨발 양년놈들에
딸래미 애미 며느리 애비 코쟁이 모두 죽여
아주 천천히 죽여 고통스럽게 죽여
Kill those f***ing Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives
Kill those f***ing Yankees who ordered them to torture
Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law and fathers
Kill them all slowly and painfully
PSY’s anti-American views weren’t discussed when the K-Pop star appeared on Ellen.
Exit question: Will anyone in the mainstream media ask PSY if he still supports killing US soldiers and their family members?
Related at PJ Lifestyle:
Stereotyping of Asian-Americans happens. But the first step to finding out whether there’s real truth behind these claims is identifying them. It may not even be possible to consider the diverse group of people who lived on a large continent and moved to the United States as a coherent unit of “Asian-Americans” that can be stereotyped as a homogeneous group. But stereotyping still happens. Here’s seven of these stereotypes. We’ll start with pretty bad stereotypes, and it’s gonna get worse as you read on.
7. Asian-Americans Can’t Drive.
A bad joke about Asians goes like this: “How do you blind an Asian? Put a steering wheel in front of him.” Here’s another: “What did the Asian get pulled over for? DWA (Driving While Asian).”
In reality, Asians are the ones taking you where you need to go. Also, rides from Asians do not result in fatal car crashes in as high of percentages as rides from other racial groups. Thirty-eight percent of taxi and limo drivers are immigrants, most often from South Asia (2.9% from Pakistan and 2.3% from India). You should give them a break next time you call a cab, considering that they now drive on the other side of the road. Besides, South Asia is one big chaotic traffic jam. In India, you might have to slam the brakes to avoid hitting a common street traveler: a cow.
So here’s the last one with two stereotypes for the price of one: “How do you know if an Asian has robbed your house? Your homework is done, your computer is upgraded, but two hours later, the thief is still trying to back out of your driveway.”