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Red Army clergy lose war of minds in China

Are uniform-wearing clerics ready to sacrifice themselves for the Lord or do they want to succumb to the devil?

Red Army clergy lose war of minds in China

Wearing Red Army uniforms are (from left) Father Zhang Xinke of Yantai, Father Zhang Jiaqi of Jinan, Bishop Zhang Xianwang of Jinan, Bishop Lu Peisen of Yanzhou, Father Thomas Chen Tianhao of Qingdao and an unknown nun of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. The photo has been removed from the internet in China. (Photo from the internet)

Published: January 01, 2019 02:58 AM GMT

Updated: January 01, 2019 03:15 AM GMT

In May, an event to promote patriotism was held in Jinggangshan, the birthplace of the Chinese Communist Party, for the five major government-recognized religions — Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Taoism and Islam.

A photo of five Vatican-recognized clergymen and a nun wearing old Chinese Red Army uniforms was circulated on the internet, causing uproar.

This picture first appeared on a Weibo account of a blogger named Knight of the Lord, who wrote: "I don't know the context of the event but only want to know whether these clerics and a nun have the most fundamental knowledge of Catholic doctrine and common sense on secular rites. Don't forget you are the shepherds of the church!"

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Images were later released of Buddhist and Taoist monks, but they wore robes instead of uniforms. 

Many tourists visiting Jinggangshan like to be photographed in military uniforms that they rent, but was it necessary for clergy to wear them? After all, military uniforms are related to war.

Religious people have their own dress code — priests in black robes, nuns in habits — that are a manifestation of faith. Some may say it doesn't matter, but why did Buddhists and Taoists not wear the uniforms?

One should know that the origin of the Red Army uniform was not so glorious. When China was under the rule of the Kuomintang (nationalists), Mao Zedong and others under the banner of the revolution launched the Autumn Harvest Uprising in 1927 to overturn the nationalist regime. This was actually the act of rebel bandits who later became an armed force that robbed landlords of their fields. It was a movement without any humanity, exactly the same as the Boxer Rebellion.

If the Catholic clergy did not understand the history of Jinggangshan, they could be accused of ignorance, but giving up their clerical clothing and wearing the Red Army uniform was like worshipping a demon. 

The Communist Party's oppression of human rights and religion are obvious to all. Do those clerics want to lead Chinese Catholics to submit to atheistic communists? Some may say that this was a display of Sinicization of religions, but Sinicization also has a bottom line.

Even though missionaries used to wear official clothing, they were serving in the imperial court. Today's priests are not officials, so only clerical clothing can represent their identities.

Some may argue that wearing the Red Army uniform was an act of patriotism. But love for the country is not equal to love for the party. The state and the party are fundamentally different concepts and should not be confused. 

The Communist Party consistently emphasizes the teaching of patriotism, but its main aim is to educate people to love the party, bonding the state and the party and brainwashing people. A cleric who could not make such a differentiation was probably brainwashed. It could be said that the Catholic Church in China has separated its connection to the universal church and walks the way of religious beliefs dictated by the party's atheism.

It was reported that one of the bishops involved in the photograph prohibited his diocesan Catholics from discussing the event and threatened legal action against media who reported it. If there is no problem and it is a patriotic manifestation, why is legal action necessary?

Religious organizations across China are conducting patriotism classes under the Communist Party's supervision, but no clerics have expressed their opposition. 

Our church pioneers once shed their blood for their faith. Are these clerics ready to sacrifice themselves for the Lord too, or do they want to succumb to the devil for the pleasures of the secular world?

Peter Lui is a journalist in China who writes about Catholic affairs.

This article was first published 19.6.2018.


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