Standing Fast

Church Militant
Bishop Kung and Catholic Resistance in Communist Shanghai
Paul P. Mariani
Harvard University Press, $39.95, 310 pp.

Sixty-plus years after the foundation of the People’s Republic of China in October 1949, the Catholic Church in that country remains split between what is generally called an “underground” church, loyal to Rome, and a “patriotic” church that, though it may respect the pope as spiritual leader, submits to the institutional leadership of the regime and the Communist Party. Paul P. Mariani, a Jesuit historian at the University of Santa Clara, and the son of a noted poet and biographer whose work will be familiar to many readers of Commonweal, examines the origins of that split, concentrating on Shanghai, which since the seventeenth century had become China’s largest and most important center of Catholic activity. The new regime, though promising religious freedom, believed that the truths of Marxism-Leninism would eventually triumph over outdated religious superstition, and insisted that in the meantime religion must not become a cloak for what it defined as imperialist and reactionary activities.

To do this, Beijing sought to replace existing church structures, both Catholic and Protestant, with “patriotic churches” under what was called the Three-Self movement, cutting the financial and administrative links of Chinese Christians to foreign missionary groups. Many Protestants joined the movement, hoping for the emergence of an indigenous church that could work with the regime. Catholics were generally far more...

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About the Author

Nicholas Clifford, a professor emeritus of Middlebury College, is a frequent contributor to Commonweal.