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Sino-Vatican Relations: Problems in Conflicting Authority, 1976-1986.

When the People's Republic of China was established in Beijing in 1949, the papal nuncio, then in Nanjing, asked for a meeting with Mao Zedong. The reply he got two years later ordered his expulsion from China. He went to Taibei, Taiwan to open the nunciature that still exists. Whenever the Vatican later sought ways to discuss the status of the Catholic Church in China with the regime, Beijing insisted that the Vatican first had to break diplomatic relations with Taiwan. This monograph, a revision of Leung's 1988 doctoral dissertation, centers on the decade after the death of Mao in 1976; a lengthy postscript covers events up to 1990. Although noting that technically the Holy See enters into diplomatic relations with states, Beatrice Leung uses the Vatican as a term of convenience.

After portraying the cultural encounter of China and Christianity from 1552 to 1949, L. analyzes the Vatican's Ostpolitik and its applicability to the Church in China. From 1949 to 1978 China persistently opposed religions in general. The Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA) sought to break the "interference" of the Vatican in China and led to the 1958 consecration of bishops without prior Vatican approval.

The ascendancy of Deng Xiaoping in late 1978 opened a new phase in attitudes towards religion. The United Front policy that all Chinese were to work for the welfare of the state was supported by the CPA and allowed religious activities within limits. L. indicates that the CPA has continued to impose constraints on the nonofficial Church which has remained loyal to the Pope. The 1980 Beijing visits of two cardinals (Roger Etchegaray of Marseilles and Franz Koenig of Vienna) at the invitation of the Chinese were preliminary steps towards a dialogue. The Pope's 1981 speech to overseas Chinese students in Manila was a further signal. A few months later he conferred the archbishopric of Guangzhou (Canton) on Bishop Deng Yiming (Dominic Tang), who had been released from prison after twenty-two years and was allowed to go to Hong Kong for one year for his health. Although Beijing denounced this papal appointment, there is some evidence that it received prior notification but returned the data unopened.

By early 1984, the bishops of Taiwan met with the Pope to preserve the diplomatic relations of the Vatican and Taibei and to assure him that they were ready to be a bridge between their fellow Catholics on the mainland and the universal Church. The Sino-British agreement about Hong Kong, concluded later that same year, led to the Church's building another bridge to Beijing to maintain religious liberty in the island after 1997. L.'s postscript highlights the Pope's condemnation of the repression in Beijing in June 1989. To protest China's persecution of Catholics, the Pope canceled his planned visit to Macao and Hong Kong in October that year. L. concludes that "the clash between the teaching authority of religion and state will continue if it does not accelerate."

This noteworthy study is marred by errors and unsatisfactory editing. Contrary to L.'s claim, the Kangxi emperor did not force the Jesuits to leave China in 1705, for the next year he ordered all missionaries to apply for a permit to stay in China provided they followed the practices of Ricci concerning the Chinese Rites. Her contention that Ricci was not as successful as St. Paul who preached Christ crucified, whereas Ricci preached "science and astronomy" and made the differences between Catholicism and non-Catholic beliefs "smaller than the truth" is a conclusion that shows a lack of reading of both his Chinese and Western works and the extensive literature about him and his confreres. Contrary to L.'s claim, Chinese Catholic literati were in fact consulted during the early 18th-century Rites controversy, since their opinions were translated into Latin and copies were printed in Rome. Again contrary to her assertion, after the suppression of their Order in 1773 the Jesuits were replaced by the Lazarists who took over the Beitang (North Church) in Beijing in 1785.

More precise editing would have resulted in removing the erroneous reference to Pope Paul VI in Hong Kong in 1959 and his statement about the Great Leap Forward (190); in adding the given names for many of the Westerners; in correctly spelling Costantini, not Constantini; and in accurate romanization of Chinese names (e.g. Luo Guang, not Lokuong). A second edition and any translations into Chinese should take these points into account.

These shortcomings aside, this first lengthy study on contemporary Sino-Vatican relations in English will be welcomed by a wide audience. Its significant interpretation of a very complex issue will be of special interest to those seeking to understand the Vatican's role in current international affairs.
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Author:Witek, John W.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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