China’s Modern Martyrs: From Mao to Now

Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D.

Part 1, Accusations

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not
recognize him.”
John 1:10

I have just returned from another year in China where I have witnessed the
Church grow. I have seen churches struggle to accommodate the crowds who come for
Holy Mass, and I have listened to countless stories of Christian suffering under China’s
Communist rule. Over the years I have traveled with, worshipped with, and prayed with
Chinese Catholics. Priests have risked their safety to meet me at secluded places,
accompany me on peasant-filled busses to remote places of Catholic martyrdom, and
send me surreptitious messages about the continued suppression, suffering, and
humiliation that China’s Catholics endure every day. I once sat across from a crippled
underground bishop, his spine permanently stooped over from twenty years of torture in a
Communist prison because he refused to denounce the Pope. The bishop’s eyes beamed
with joy, despite his distorted face, and he said over and over, “Thank you, Lord.” At
such times when I am with holy Chinese Catholics who have suffered tortures for their
faith, I recall the famous line from Saint Augustine: “God had one Son on earth without
sin, but never one without suffering.” This holy bishop, Hu Daguo (1920-2011), was
divinely connected to the suffering Son for whom he too had suffered. For nearly a
decade I have preserved testimonies, handwritten accounts, and archival documents that
outline how China’s Church has suffered under its Communist authorities, and in the 2
following series I will highlight some of those stories, stories that will help Catholics
better understand China’s modern martyrs, from Mao to now.

Looking Ahead: His Excellency, Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin 馬達欽主教

While most Westerners hear only of China’s “economic miracle” and its appalling
persecution of Tibetan Buddhists, few news sources or those persons in college
classrooms discuss the government’s consistent maltreatment and discrimination against
Catholic Christians. Only hours after Bishop Ma Daqin was consecrated the Auxiliary
Bishop of Shanghai in July, 2012, the 54-year-old champion of Shanghai’s Catholic
community was quietly escorted away by plain clothed Communist officers. He has not
been publically seen since. Bishop Ma was favored and recognized by Pope Benedict
XVI, and was set to succeed the recently-deceased Bishop of Shanghai, Aloysius Jin
Luxian, SJ, (1916-2013) a Jesuit who suffered 27 years of imprisonment before his
release. China’s Communist government only begrudgingly allows Catholicism to remain
active, and the state remains adamant that Church hierarchy remains obedient first to the
government, and governs the Catholic community in complete separation from the Holy
Father in Rome “in all matters except spiritual ones.” Ma Daqin is first a Catholic, and
for this he is now under house arrest.
During his ordination as bishop, Ma Daqin allowed the three consecrating bishops
who are in communion with the Holy See to lay hands on him, but when an illegitimate,
state-supported bishop approached him, Ma stood up to embrace the other bishops,
defying state interference in Church law. And after this bold act, the new Bishop Ma
announced in his public thank-you speech that he declined any further affiliation with the 3
Communist-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association. He would, he said, devote himself
only to his ministry as a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church. Shanghai’s crowded Saint
Ignatius cathedral erupted into a long and enthusiastic applause of open support for the
bishop’s defiance against the government. While unconfirmed, I was told by sources in
Beijing that Bishop Ma is still under arrest at the Sheshan Catholic seminary near
Shanghai, and is undergoing “reeducation” by the local authorities. China’s Catholics are
heartened by Bishop Ma’s courageous opposition to Communist control, and continue to
pray for a renewed era of clerical resistance to the state’s heavy, and often cruel,
interference in the Church’s life and affairs in China.

Looking Back: A Communist Attack Against God, the Trappist Abbey of China

The history of Communist hostility against Christianity in China reaches back
more than eight decades before Bishop Ma Daqin’s heroic defiance in Shanghai, and
perhaps one of the most tragic examples of how merciless the Party can be is the
appalling Communist massacre of thirty-three holy martyrs connected to Our Lady of
Consolation Trappist Abbey at Yangjiaping. Still today, Chinese Catholics only speak of
this incident in hushed tones for fear of the government. In 1947, a bedraggled and
terrorized group of Trappist monks arrived in Beijing, where the American Jesuit, Fr.
Charles J. McCarthy, SJ, (1911-1991) was the first person to collect the horrible stories
of what had happened to their celebrated abbey, then in ruins. The stories they provided
Fr. McCarthy had clearly stirred the young priest, for he later penned one of the most
harrowing accounts of Communist atrocities in China’s early modern history. He began
his narrative in vivid terms:

In the early morning hours of August 30, 1947, the Trappist Abbey of Our Lady
of Consolation . . . was reduced to ruins by fire. . . . The burning of their
monastery, affected by Communists who control this region, was but one act, and
not the most pathetic, in a long tragic persecution inflicted on the brave Trappist
Community. At present writing, sixteen Trappists are known to have died during
the ordeal.1
The death toll indeed rose beyond sixteen, and as the details of their deaths came to light
the inhumane tactics of China’s Communists also became known.
Perhaps our best source of what happened in 1947 at Yangjiaping Abbey are the
published descriptions by Fr. Stanislaus Jen, OCSO (1936-2003), one of the Chinese
monks who witnessed many of the incidents.2 Fr. Jen recounts that Communist forces
under Mao Zedong (1893-1976) had gained control of the area around Yangjiaping
Abbey in late 1937, and by 1939 had decided to begin a campaign against the Christian
monks. At noon one day some of the monastery Oblates left the enclosure to enjoy a walk,
and were startled to discover an army of 8,000 Communists that had surrounded the
community. Commanding officers entered the Abbey and demanded that the monks
surrender the few rifles they had been given during the Boxer Uprising in 1900 to defend
themselves; the situation was tense. Fearing an attack on the monastery, the monks
surrendered their rifles, and once they were unarmed the Communists forced themselves
into the Abbey and searched through every room, even upturning the floors. As Fr.
Stanislaus wrote, “Even the Oblates foresaw the end of O. L. of Consolation for the
monks.”3 5
Under orders of Chairman Mao’s leader of the People’s Liberation Army, Zhu De
(1886-1976), some of the monks were arrested; “they were stripped of their clothes, tied
by thumbs and big toes behind their back and hanged in trees in the valley for hours in
icy cold winter temperature.”4 Scoffing at Bro. Alexis Liu, OCSO (d. 1948), soldiers shot
bullets near his head to frighten him. The People’s Army eventually left the Abbey,
leaving behind representatives of the Communist police, and from that time on the
monastery was “completely under the control of the Communists.”5 During the decade
before 1949, when China became a Communist country, Chairman Mao was already
asserting strongly the Party’s position against religion, especially the Christian religion.
In one impassioned speech, Mao proclaimed that, “the imperialist powers have never
slackened their efforts to poison the minds of the Chinese people,” and this “policy of
cultural aggression,” he argued, “is carried out through missionary work, through
establishing hospitals and schools, publishing newspapers” to “dupe the people.”6
Christians, he told his followers, were imperialists determined to take over China, and
since nearly three-fourths of China’s Christians were Catholic, the People were
encouraged to attack Catholic institutions and convert them to their own way of thinking.

Accusations: The People’s Court and the Trappist Monks of Yangjiaping

An exceptional account of what the Communists did to the Trappists next is found
in Gerolamo Fazzini’s, The Red Book of Chinese Martyrs, though even this work does
not provide all the tragic details.7 By April 1947, the Communists began gathering people
near the Abbey and conducted “peasant association meetings,” during which the Party
cadres contrived false allegations that the monks had taken land from “the People,” and
that the Catholics were determined to tyrannize the Chinese. After pillaging the 6
monastery, the Communists organized an open-air trial before more than a thousand
villagers. At the first of these “People’s courts,” on 1 July 1947, two of the monks were
dragged before a crowd, accused of “oppressing the people of China,” and ordered to
give the Abbey’s goats to the peasants.
At another trial on 10 July, the monks were again presented to the People’s Court.
The thirty-nine-year-old Fr. Seraphin, OCSA (1909-1948), was, as Thomas Merton,
OCSA (1915-1968), wrote in his The Waters of Siloe, “marked out for particularly cruel
treatment,” and was “beaten across the back with clubs for two hours” in the presence of
the villagers, many of whom were formerly friends of the Abbey.8 The monks stood on
stage stripped to the waist – the Communists tore their habits during their arrests. The
charge: the Abbey had collaborated with foreign colonial powers during the Boxer
Uprising and used the guns received from the French government to oppress the Chinese
people. The verdict: the People’s court ordered the monks to repay to the local peasants
all it “had stolen from the people.” The next trial was held on the morning of 23 July. The
Communist soldiers kicked the monks as they walked from their residence to the Abbey
church, where the soldiers occupied the choir stalls while the monks began to chant the
morning Divine Office: Laudáte Dóminum de cælis; laudáte eum in excélsis, “Praise the
Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights above.”9 Peasants filed into the nave as
they sang.
Theresa Marie Moreau’s dramatic book, Blood of the Martyrs: Trappist Monks in
Communist China, describes the scene of this final trial in the Abbey church: 7
A table for the judges had been placed underneath the extinguished sanctuary
lamp. . . . Father Gulielmus Cambourieu [OCSO (1870-1947)], gifted with a
sensitive nature, whispered to his confreres, ‘Were all going to die martyrs. Let’s
make a general Act of Contrition.’ They were to be tried before another People’s
The Communist court summoned Father Seraphin to the platform and accused him of
spying among the neighboring villages, gathering information for the Japanese. After
denying the false charge, members of the People’s Liberation Army were ordered to beat
the monk with clubs. The abuse was so severe that Father Seraphin cried out, “Have a
little mercy.” His judge’s reply was direct: “The time for mercy is past; this is the hour of
our revenge.”11 A Catholic woman named Maria Zhang was commanded to testify
against Father Seraphin, but after she defended him before the court the young woman
was tied to a column and beaten on her head and back. Collapsing from the abuse, the
Communists thought she was dead; “they took one of their crude festal banners, threw it
over the prostrate form, then calmly resumed the trial.”12
Selected village representatives gathered in the nave, and at last demanded that
the entire Trappist community should be executed. The Party cadre officiating at the trial
coldly informed the monks that, “the people’s decision is our decision; for the
Communist government is the people’s government.”13 One after the next, the Trappist
monks were forced to the corner of the church, near where the vigil lamp of the Blessed
Sacrament was suspended, and their hands and feet were shackled in chains. Their
rosaries, scapulars, and holy medals were taken away, and they were escorted to the
monastery refectory, where they were imprisoned to await their punishment. The monks 8
submitted to Christ’s divine will, for as Saint benedict had written in his Rule, “monks
are men who can claim no dominion even over their own bodies or wills.”14 The trial and
the accusations were a charade. The Abbey and the surrounding villages had always lived
in peace, and the monks had even helped the villagers on many occasions. The Party had
carefully orchestrated the trials and beatings; they had turned the villagers against the
monks with fabricated rumors and encouraged them to raid the monastery’s provisions
and seize its land and animals. The Trappists had lost everything but their lives, but many
would lose even this.

The Hidden History of China’s Communist Government

China’s current government is careful to hide the events of this tragedy, and few
people in and out of China today are aware of the unpitying violence the Communist
Party has inflicted upon China’s Catholics. Over the past several years the horrific events
of the Trappist martyrdoms in 1947 China have punctuated my research on other
historical events. After Mass at Beijing’s West Church, an elderly Catholic man called
me to the parish center to show me materials he had gathered about the Yangjiaping
massacre, and suggested a surreptitious meeting with one of the Abbey survivors. I later
met this survivor and recorded his tragic story of what happened. Last year, Theresa
Marie Moreau kindly sent me a copy of her summoning book, Blood of the Martyrs, and
in a recent correspondence she expressed her hope that the Trappist martyrs of China are
someday elevated to the honor of the Altar as canonized saints in the Catholic Church.
And during research visits to important Catholic archives in Europe, I inadvertently came
across several rare documents related to the Trappist monks in China who were tried,
tortured, and martyred by Chinese Communists. 9
Other accounts of Communist persecution of China’s Catholics have been given
to me during recent trips to China. “We can’t say anything about this,” they tell me, “but
you can.” In the next several columns I write for Catholic World Report, I will honor the
wish of these holy and suffering Chinese Catholics, and tell some of these stories so more
may know about the atrocities committed against the Church in China by its current
government. Mao’s People’s Liberation Army, his Red Guards, and his Party officials
have buried priests alive, tortured them in cruel prisons, and subjected countless faithful
Christians to “reeducation” classes and years of harsh conditions at remote Labor Camps.
In the next issue of “Clark on China,” I shall outline what happened to the Trappist
monks of Our Lady of Consolation Abbey at Yangjiaping after their trials. Relying on
several sources, including the report taken by Fr. Charles J. McCarthy in 1947 and the
testimony given to me by one of the survivors, I will describe the terrible death march
inflicted on the monks, and the awful torments they endured under China’s People’s
Liberation Army. As one Communist soldier informed the monks, “Before long, in our
territories there will be no Catholic Church.” Despite their sufferings, or perhaps because
of them, the area around Yangjiaping now boasts a thriving Catholic population. The
Trappist monks, and the Chinese Catholics today who remember their torments in 1947,
highlight well the words of Saint Peter in his first Epistle:
Beloved, do not be startled at the trial by fire now taking place among you to
prove you, as if something strange were happening to you; but rejoice, in so far as
you are partakers in the suffering of Christ.


[Poniższych obrazów nie znalazłem, a szkoda. Gdyby ktoś znalazł, daj mi znać MD]

001: Our Lady of Consolation Trappist Abbey before its destruction by Chinese
Communists in 1947.
002: Our Lady of Consolation Trappist Abbey church during Holy Mass before its
destruction by Chinese Communists in 1947.
003: The monks Our Lady of Consolation Trappist Abbey before their persecution by
Chinese Communists in 1947.
004: The survivors from Our Lady of Consolation Trappist Abbey after their suffering
under Communist persecution. This photo was taken in Beijing, October 1947; Fr.
Charles J. McCarthy, SJ, is seen in the back row, fourth from the right.
All photographs are from Ren Dayi任達義, Yinshui siyuan Chahaer huai laixian
Yangjiaping Shengmu shenwei yuan Shengmu shenle yuan zhi muyuan 飲水思源察哈爾
懷來顯楊家坪聖母神慰院聖母神樂院之母院 (Hong Kong 香港: 1978).
任達義, Yinshui siyuan Chahaer huai laixian Yangjiaping Shengmu shenwei yuan
Shengmu shenle yuan zhi muyuan 飲水思源察哈爾懷來顯楊家坪聖母神慰院聖母神樂
院之母院 (In Remembrance of Our Lady of Consolation Abbey, Yangjiaping, Chahar
Province, the Mother House of Our Lady of Joy, Liesse) (Hong Kong 香港: 1978). 11
1 Charles J. McCarthy, SJ, “A Trappist Tragedy,” in Paolino Quattrocchi, Monaci nella
Tormenta [Abbaye de Cîteaux, 1991], 136.
2 The document I am relying on most is a fascimile of one of Fr. Jen’s books, provided to
me by an anonymous Catholic at Beijing’s West Church: Fr. Stanislaus Jen/Ren Dayi,
OCSO 任達義, Yinshui siyuan Chahaer huai laixian Yangjiaping Shengmu shenwei yuan
Shengmu shenle yuan zhi muyuan 飲水思源察哈爾懷來顯楊家坪聖母神慰院聖母神樂
院之母院 (In Remembrance of Our Lady of Consolation Abbey, Yangjiaping, Chahar
Province, the Mother House of Our Lady of Joy, Liesse) (Hong Kong 香港: 1978).
3 Stanislaus Jen, Yinshui siyuan ,17-18.
4 Stanislaus Jen, Yinshui siyuan, 18.
5 Stanislaus Jen, Yinshui siyuan, 19.
6 Mao Zedong, “The Chinese Revolution and the Chinese Communist Party,” in Selected
Works of Mao Tse-tung, Vol. 2 (Beijing: Foreign Language Press, 1965), 312.
7 See Gerolamo Fazzini, The Red Book of Chinese Martyrs (San Francisco: Ignatius Press,
2006), pages 285-310.
8 Thomas Merton, The Waters of Siloe (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1949),
9 Psalm 148.
10 Theresa Marie Moreau, Blood of the Martyrs: Trappist Monks in Communist China
(Los Angeles: Veritas Est Libertas, 2012), 29. 12

11 Merton, The Waters of Siloe, 256.
12 Stanislaus Jen, Yinshui siyuan , 99.
13 Stanislaus Jen, Yinshui siyuan , 99.
14 The Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter XXXIII (London: Baronius Press, 2005), 48.
15 I Peter 4:12