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Winter Olympics venue tainted by China's massacre of Catholics

Chinese communists massacred hundreds of people, mostly Catholics, in 1946 in Chongli

Winter Olympics venue tainted by China's massacre of Catholics

A painting by Osamu Giovanni Micico remembering the martyrs in the Xiwanzi massacre. (Photo: Bitter Winter)

Published: January 17, 2022 10:48 AM GMT

Updated: January 19, 2022 12:14 PM GMT

Chongli, a popular resort town in northern China, will host the main events of skiing during the upcoming Winter Olympics. This beautiful town beholds a dark history of the brutal persecution and massacre of Catholics in the region during the imperial and communist regimes.

Communist China will hold the 2022 Winter Olympics from Feb. 4-20 in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic and amid diplomatic boycotts by the West due to crimes against humanity against Uyghur Muslims, constant trampling of human rights and an intensified crackdown on religious freedom.

The Olympics have brought to the fore the little-known but one of the worst atrocities against Catholics by communists in Chongli of Hebei province and the neighboring Chahar region during the anti-Christian insurrection, Chinese civil war and bloody Cultural Revolution under Mao Zedong.

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The greater Chahar region, which includes Xuanhua Diocese and Xiwanzi-Chongli Diocese, has been a Catholic stronghold since the arrival of missionaries in the late 17th century and early 18th century.

The first bout of persecution against Christians started in 1723 when the Manchu-Qing emperor banned all Christian missions in mainland China.

The ban prompted missionaries to move out of the Greater Wall of Kalgan (now city of Zhangjiakou in Hebei) and to settle in Xiwanzi village. Following the Treaty of Tientsin, which ended the first phase of the Second Opium War in China between the Qing dynasty and Western empires, the ban was lifted in 1858.

The uprising at the end of the Qing dynasty sought to destroy Westerners including Christians who enjoyed privileged positions in China

More missionaries, notably Belgian priests from the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM), also known as Scheut Fathers, arrived and contributed in making the region a haven for Catholic missionaries and the faithful, according to Scheut Father Jerome J. Heyndrickx, a prominent missionary and historian on Christianity in China.

Father Heyndrickx, 90, who is now involved with the Verbiest Foundation at Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, spent more than 20 years in Taiwan and visited China on many occasions.

“150 years ago, Xiwanzi already had its own Catholic church. In the locality of Qipanliang, near the new high-speed train station that connects the ski resort to Beijing, there is still an old chapel built in 1904 by the Dutch missionary Hadriaan van der Heijden. When he died he was buried here in 1910. Now, this old chapel has been officially recognized as a monument,” Father Heyndrickx wrote in an article for Verbiest Update, an online magazine of the Verbiest Foundation named after Theophiel Verbist, the founder of the CICM congregation.

A brutal tragedy unfolded during the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901), an anti-foreign, anti-colonial and anti-Christian uprising. Triggered by members of the Yihequan, a Chinese secret society that practiced boxing and martial arts, the uprising at the end of the Qing dynasty sought to destroy Westerners including Christians who enjoyed privileged positions in China.

The Boxer militia, supported by the imperial Chinese army, carried out brutal campaigns against Christians across northern China including today’s provinces of Hebei, Shandong and Chahar.

Many faithful were killed and about 5,000 took shelter at the Cathedral Church of Xiwanzi and survived the massacre, according to Bitter Winter, a magazine on human rights and religious liberty.

Later, Catholics drew the ire of the communists as many of them joined the anti-communist side after the end of World War II. The communists started to view Catholics as prime enemies colluding with foreign forces.

For example, Catholic priest Father Xu Muxin of of Nantun Rosary Church in Xuanhua formed an anti-communist resistance force in 1947 to battle the communist onslaught. In retaliation, the communists burned down the Rosary Church. Father Xing Yi of Hutuodian Church of Xuanhua fought against the communists and saw the church nearly wiped out due to heavy artillery bombing.

In the worst violence in 1946, the communists attacked Xiwanzi village. About 1,000 civilians, mostly Catholics, were brutally tortured and killed. Two years later, the communists recaptured and ravaged Chongli.

Earlier, the communists detained and tortured 33 Trappist monks of Our Lady of Consolation Trappist Abbey at Yangjiaping of Xuanhua, leading to their deaths in 1937.

Paul Hattaway, a prominent author, historian and director of Asia Harvest, described the persecution of the Trappist monks as “among the worst atrocities ever committed against any groups of Christians.”

Following the communist takeover of China in 1949, Catholics in the Chahar region and other parts continued to face abuses and persecution.

During the infamous Cultural Revolution, all religions including Catholicism faced severe persecution with most churches demolished or damaged

In September 1951, the communists arrested Belgian-born Bishop Léon De Smedt of Xiwanzi and other clergy in Kalgan. The bishop died in prison two months later due to harsh treatment. The communist regime banned the Legion of Mary by terming it a “counter-revolutionary force.” Between 1952 and 1954, all 27 foreign clergy from Xiwanzi Diocese were expelled.

In 1957, the communists set up the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), the state-sanctioned body to control the Catholic Church in China. Catholic bishops, clergy and faithful who refused to join the CCPA were abused and tortured.

In 1958, Bishop Leon Yao Liang of Xiwanzi was sentenced to 28 years in labor camps and prison.

During the infamous Cultural Revolution, all religions including Catholicism faced severe persecution, with most churches demolished or damaged. However, Catholics in Chahar were not spared after the end of the brutal campaign in 1990, Bitter Winter reported.

From 1990 to 2011, at least a dozen clergy including bishops and hundreds of local Catholics were arrested, tortured and jailed in Chahar.

In the most high-profile case, Bishop Augustine Cui Tai of Xuanhua was arrested in 2007 when he was still a priest. Chinese authorities rearrested him 2013 soon after his ordination with approval from the Vatican. His whereabouts remain unknown.

“Since his arrest in 2007, he has not been able to spend Easter in the diocese,” UCA News reported in 2020.

Meanwhile, muted voices on social media sites like Twitter are attempting to put a spotlight on the long-forgotten massacre in Chongli.

“The atrocious genocide Chinese communists committed against Chahar people in 1946 in Chongli. Thousands of our Christian civilians were massacred. Since this ghastly crime and the subsequent takeover, communist China has been systematically destroying our religions, our culture, our freedom, our human rights, our national identity and our natural resources,” reads a post from @ChongliMassacre.  

“They are still persecuting our Catholic Church, imprisoning our priests. They even want to use the county in which the genocide took place, Chongli, as the place for their 2022 Winter Olympics, as if nothing has ever happened. This is absolutely intolerable. China must expiate their crimes.”

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