"THE DAY I was released from jail I was told, 'get your baggage, you'll go out' " Archbishop Tang said recalling a day in June 1980, that ended his 22-years imprisonment by successive Chinese Communist governments. His 'crime' had been refusing to cooperate with the Chinese National Patriotic Association, an organization set up by Mao Tse-Tung in 1957 to make the Catholic Church in China independent of Rome. His trial was a private matter in police stations, his sentence was open-ended. He was kept eight years in solitary confinement in a cell 8 or 9 square metres. The only reading material he was permitted was a propaganda newspaper, The People's Daily. He credits prayer with keeping him from insanity.
Shortly after his release he discovered he had cancer and left mainland China for Hong Kong. Major surgery there appears to have been successful. After a lengthy convalescence, the 73 year-old archbishop visited various countries in Europe and went to the United States (April to June 1981). He had a private audience with Pope John Paul II.
The Vatican announced his elevation as Archbishop of Guangzhou (Canton) June 6. Fifteen days later a meeting of his people' organized by the Patriotic Association withdrew recognition of Archbishop Tang as the bishop of Guangzhou. At the moment it is impossible for him to return to his diocese. He remains in Hong Kong his birthplace in what he hopes will be a short exile.
Here he gives an exclusive interview to JOHN BANK.
J.B. WOULD YOU say your role in China at the time before your imprisonment was analogous to that of Cardinal Wyszynski in Poland — you were against the one party system; you opposed the domination of the Church by the Communist Party? D.T. No, no. no. You can never say we were just like Poland. The situation in China was very different from that of Poland. The priests and bishops in China never say anything publicly against the government.
Remember there are only 3 million Catholics out of the 1 billion population in China. We are working very prudently keeping to our job of religious affairs. We didn't say anything about the politics or speak out against the policies of the government. This is the way I've always done it myself.
Were you involved in a Stalinstyled show trial?
I had no public trial, but many private trials. I never went to a court. only to police stations.
You were appointed Apostolic Administrator of Guangzhou (Canton) in 1950 to oversee the archdiocese in the absence of the French missionary, Mgr Anthony Fourguet. Eight years later you were imprisoned indefinitely as a "counter-revolutionary" because you resisted the Government's strategy to bring all religious orders in China under the Patriotic Association. Did you know your sentence would be for 22 years?
I never had a formai trial in court, only many private trials in many police stations. I was never given, a, se p,t.e n.se
Were you under house arrest
or iriliviligon? '•
In jail for the 22 years. My jail I had no religious articles, no books no Bible, no rosary, cross or medal. Everything was taken away. I could not say Mass or engage in any religious activity. My jail was S or 9 square metres and I was always kept in this small space. Sometimes I was left out for a half hour in the sun from time to time — once a week or maybe three times a week.
How did you keep your sanity in those circumstances?
Everybody likes to ask me this question. The answer is simply: the grace of God, help from heaven. I have faith. I trusted God and had confidence in God. I prayed. I made some little physical exercises inside the cell.
They gave me The Peopk's Daily. Not much news in the newspaper, only propaganda, but 1 read every word.
Was your refusal to join the Patriotic Association one of the reasons why you went to prison? What was the charge?
Yes, that was one of the charges that put me in jail. I refused to join. 1 was against this movement for self autonomy through the Patriotic Association. Not only that. I'm against the independence of the Church. We are Catholic, we have some connection with the Holy Father and the Holy See. If they want to cut off the Church in China from the Holy Father, we are not Catholics. As a Catholic bishop I must defend the Catholic system. Therefore I cannot join the Patriotic Association.
How did the people who ran the priSon relate to you?
They had sympathy for me for sure. They knew I was a priest. They didn't know I was a bishop, but they knew I was a priest. Everybody knew how Communists treated religious people. I was always respected as a religious person. I was a political prisoner for religious reasons not a criminal, Even the official cadres respected me and did not ill-treat me.
But they did me no favours. They submitted me to the prison regime and followed the regulations. They couldn't have much contact with me.
Tell me about your release, when were you told you were free?
Why did they release me? I guess the time was sufficient to satisfy my infraction of the law. There was no sentence but they kept me for 22 years. The maximum for ordinary criminals is 15 years, I surpassed that by 7 years.
They had no reason to keep me so long.
Yet it was 15 years into my sentence and I didn't expect to be released. That was still the time of the cultural revolution (started by Mao Tse-tung in 1966) and my release then was impossible.
Later I thought my release would be politically in order and my case resolved. If 1 had some infraction or the law, my sentence should have run out.
My release was not sudden, Some months before I was given good food and my door was opened for several hours a day and I was allowed out. I began to think my release was not far away. The day I was released that very day — I was told: "Get your baggage, you'll go out,"
What about the difficulties now between China and the Vatican over your elevation as archbishop?
This is still difficult at the moment. We tried to get some contact between the Vatican and the Chinese Peking government, but there is only a small resolve and little progress.
Is it all tied up with the Peking government's demand for the
Vatican to end diplomatic relations with the Nationalist government on Taiwan?
I am Chinese. I came from China, and the government and officials of Canton know me very well. Therefore I'm in a good position to have contact, to try to encourage contact between the Vatican and the Chinese government.
The problem does concern the demand of the Peking government over Taiwan. The Vatican's relations with Taiwan have been reduced greatly from the level of Pro-Nuncio to Charge d'Affaires, which is the lowest degree of diplomatic relations. Now, when the American or Japanese governments were establishing diplomatic relations with China, the question of Taiwan came up ill the course of the conversations, There were no conditions put on those governments by China before they began discussions on mutual recognition. Now in the course of discussions between China and the Vatican, this question would arise. During negotiations we can talk about that, not before negotiations.
Until now, the Chinese government has put to the Holy See these conditions: you must cut off diplomatic relations with Taiwan before we can talk. This is very unjust. The Chinese nation is very big and the Vatican, small. China is saying it won't enter the negotiations with the Vatican unless links with Taiwan are broken first. But for the Americans it was not this way. Nor for the Japanese. While talking and negotiating, we can discuss this, not just now.
With regard to my evaluation, some people complain that the Holy See did things too quickly. The Vatican's decision to name me as Guanghoq's Archbishop was a routine ecclesiastical matter. It aimed to normalize my responsibility for the archdiocese since the former archbishop has long since died. Moreover it was a gesture of honour and encouragement to my country and my brothers and sisters in the Church improving relations between China and the Vatican, You must see this against the history of efforts by the Holy See to have contact with the govern ment and the Church in China. We waited for so many years, studying relations with the Chinese government. Two cardinals visited China and we tried to begin something: because there are so mans: people in China who hope the Holy See can do something for them. They have suffered so long and it would seem that nobody knows about them or shows care and concern for them. This is from a psychological point of view. Of course, they can survive. But hurnanis speaking, there must be some help. If the Holy See doesn't help, who will?
What do you want to tell British Catholics about the Church in China?
The first thing is to pray for the Church in China. One part of the Catholic Church in China is still suffering. They don't have the sacraments. They have very few priests and very few churches open. There is one church open in Canton for example, and an open church in other big cities like Shanghi and Peking, but no churches open in the countryside.
When priests from Hong Kong go on vacation to visit relatives in China, they are surrounded by people who come to them to receive the sacrament. After so many years without, they have a thirst for the sacraments.
But where shall we get the priests'! No seminaries, and many priests are in prison and labour camps.
Maybe you can tell the British people that when I was in jail I had a special grace of God which came from prayer — not only my own prayer, but the prayer of the whole Church including British Catholics and all who prayed for China. This prayer was personally effective for me. Prayer is the first and most important thing for the Church in China.
The second thing I'd like to tell them is to have concern for the Chinese Church. You can do some things for the Church in China, but it depends on the Chinese government if it allows material aid for the Church. Any material aid is not as important as the spiritual aid.
Catholics should also study about China and the changes in China. They should know China in the reality and not be fooled by a few open churches. They should know that, while there is some religious freedom in key cities. many other people do not enjoy religious liberty. Discussions of the Church in China must take place prudently. I say this not because I feel that imprudent discussions will harm or damage me. but rather those people in the Church in China who are in danger.
The Church in China needs media communications and social communications. You can do something.