(Left to right) Father Hezhou “John Nepomucene” Fu, Father Shiyu Li, Father Luxian “Aloysius” Jin, Bishop Pinmei “Ignatius” Gong, Father Xipin “Matthew” Zhang, Father Dianxiang “Gabriel” Zhen, Father Hongsheng “Vincent” Zhu.
“Ready for yard time! Ready for yard time!” Telian Shao, the second-floor worker prisoner announced as he walked through the corridor. Shao had been sentenced to life in prison, because he had killed his wife after he found out that she had a lover.
As the guard unlocked the cell doors, the inmates lined up, two by two, and waited for the order to walk to the basketball court between Cellblock Number 1 and Cellblock Number 2.
Prior to his transfer to Tilanqaio, Chen had been locked up in the Xuhui District Police Station, where one of his cellmates, Old Yu, had told him about executions in the basketball courts between the cellblocks.
Before he was arrested, Yu had been an investigator for the police department and had once been the supervisor of Officer Zhang, their jailer in the police station.
Yu explained that when Zhang worked for the Public Security Bureau, he zealously joined in the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries (1950-53). Day and night, he helped in the capture and interrogation of countless suspected enemies of the State.
However, the number of prisoners quickly surpassed the number of available cells. With not enough room in the jails, prisoners were liquidated, sometimes in the Tilanqiao basketball courts.
Like other executioners, Zhang enjoyed killing prisoners for the thrill of it. He would raise his pistol, only inches away from the back of the victim’s neck, and pull the trigger, sending the bullet into the neck and out through the mouth.
However, one time Zhang had either aimed a little too high or scratched the bullet on a rock for more explosive destruction. As a result, the bullet hit the back of the victim’s skull, and his brains and blood spattered everywhere around the basketball court, including Zhang’s face and clothing.
After that, Zhang began having nightmares, with visions of his victims haunting him in his sleep. Even during his waking hours, he feared that the dead would drag him into hell.
During exercise yard time, when Chen saw the basketball courts, he remembered what Yu had told him.
In the yard, inmates stayed in two-by-two line formation, walking circles around the court, nodding and smiling to one another.
“You see the first one?” whispered Chen’s cellmate Youzhen Hong, who was walking behind him.
Chen looked toward the front of the line, where he saw a short man wearing a government-issued policeman’s uniform, different from the usual prisoner clothing. He wore a blue, thick cotton jacket with four pockets in the front – two at the chest and two at the waist, thick cotton pants and army-issued thick cotton shoes, commonly called the big-head shoes. The white cloth badge he wore over his chest indicated that he was Prisoner Number 28234.
He is wearing government clothes. He must not have any family visit him, Chen thought.
“That is Pinmei Gong,” Hong whispered.
Chen had heard about Shanghai’s Roman Catholic Bishop Pinmei “Ignatius” Gong (Pin-Mei Kung). He respected the man.
Gong and several hundred other Shanghai Catholics had been arrested on September 8, 1955, in a big round up of those who had refused to renounce the authority of the Pope and join the Three-Self Reform Movement. With its three principles – self-government, self-propagation and self-support – it was the regime’s Communist, Marxist, atheist version of the Roman Catholic Church. Unsuccessful at winning over converts, the Movement had been replaced by and integrated into the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, on July 15, 1957.
After his arrest, in 1955, Gong wasn’t sentenced until nearly five years later, on March 17, 1960, along with 12 other Catholic priests, after a two-day “trial” in the Court of Criminal Justice, Shanghai City Intermediate People’s Court, Zhong Xing, Number 162.
In part, the verdict and subsequent sentencing read as follows:
“Defendant: Pinmei Gong, alias Tian-Chueh Kung, male, born in 1901, Chuan Sha County, Shanghai City. Prior to his arrest, he was the Roman Catholic bishop of the Shanghai diocese, and concurrently bishop of the diocese of Suzhou. Former residence in this city’s Sichuan Road South, Number 36. Now under arrest…
“On the basis of the evidence for criminal activities on the part of Pinmei Gong’s counterrevolutionary and anti-government organization, our court is perfectly cognizant of the fact that the accused, Pinmei Gong, is the leader of this counterrevolutionary and anti-government organization, hiding under the cloak of religion. He is collaborating with the imperialists in the betrayal of his motherland, and has served as an important tool for the imperialists to overthrow the People’s democratic political rights of our country to such an extent that he has accomplished serious violations of the country’s interests. In this case, each defendant has infringed the People’s Republic’s law against counterrevolutionary activities…all of which criminal activities are punishable by law. Our court, in accordance with the concrete circumstances of the defendant’s criminal activities, and with respect to any expression of repentance on the part of the accused subsequent to their arrest, has decided to pass the following judgment:
“The accused, Pinmei Gong, is the head and leader of the counterrevolutionary and anti-government organization; he is in league with the imperialists, betrayed his motherland, and his crimes are of a very serious nature. But after his case had been brought forward, when confronted with actual circumstantial evidence, he did not deny his role, and furthermore he had something to reveal on the subject of how the imperialists under the cover of religion plotted subversive actions. Under the magnanimity of the law we hereby sentence him to lifetime imprisonment, and hereby strip him for life of all his political rights.”
During his incarceration, Gong had never been allowed any visitors. His mother and other relatives made countless attempts to see him, but authorities never permitted the bishop any visitation rights. His family also made endless efforts to get care packages to him, even through the Red Cross, but he never received a single one.
Gong had lived in isolation in a cell on the first floor of Cellblock Number 1, until the Cultural Revolution erupted, then he was moved up to the second floor.
Chen stared at the bishop of Shanghai, forced to wear a shabby, policeman’s uniform. Barely 5 feet tall, the old man symbolized the strength of the Roman Catholic Church, not only in China, but in the world. His courageous strength and endless faith in God and Pope made him one of the most hated, most feared men by the Communists.
Yes, Chen had a great respect for Bishop Gong.
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THERESA MARIE MOREAU is an award-winning reporter who covers Catholicism and Communism.